The West

Noongar c aptures heart of WA
When an artist records an album, it makes sense to try to appeal to the biggest market possible. Think about how many of the performers in the recent Eurovision contest chose English as their preferred language.

When an artist records an album, it makes sense to try to appeal to the biggest market possible. Think about how many of the performers in the recent Eurovision contest chose English as their preferred language.

When I recorded my album Kalyakoorl with my friend and collaborator Guy Ghouse, I knew there would be far fewer people in the world who could understand every word. This is because the album contains contemporary songs written in Noongar language. It's believed there are very few full speakers of Noongar left in WA.

Kalyakoorl means forever and this album is all about legacy; not least my desire to ensure Noongar language remains embedded in West Australian culture for the sake of my kids. It is something I have not grown up with but I am determined to rewrite that script. The importance of our culture is very much on mind as we approach WA Day and contemplate our identity.

Our Aboriginal languages and lore are not found anywhere else in the world. When you consider there are seven billion people on this planet, it gives you some perspective of what a rare and precious jewel Noongar language is.

Over years, Guy and I have had long conversations about the importance of this. Our goal is to have more people appreciate that Noongar language and stories are part of our community fibre. I'm rapidly discovering music can play a big role in getting people to recognise this.


In 2012, I had an opportunity to perform in London, and as part of this I chose to sing the first couple of songs I had written in the language. I did so because it's the only thing about me (aside from my Aboriginal identity) that is uniquely West Australian. It was a turning point and I've been compelled to write and sing in Noongar ever since.

As an artist, my biggest priority is for people to listen to our songs and hear what an incredibly beautiful language Noongar is. I'm proud of it and hope people will embrace what we do and feel connected enough to the words to want to learn more.

The arts play a critical role in communicating Aboriginal culture and reaching people in a meaningful way. Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre has been proving this for more than 21 years. Bran Nu Dae by Jimmy Chi was one of the early productions of Black Swan State Theatre Company (a great celebration of WA). The movie Rabbit Proof Fence took our stories on to an international platform.

People are able to occupy a different space through the arts, either as a performer or as a member of the audience. It's immersive and it gives people context. In my opinion it's the most effective way of learning and culturally it's something which has happened in our community for generations. Language, learning and lore have been passed down through stories, songs, dance and visual arts.

All the songs we've written are informed by four principles given to us by my uncle Tom Hayden in Kellerberrin - Koort (heart), Moort (family/people), Boodja (land) and Koorlankga (children/legacy). According to Uncle Tom, if you have these things sorted in your life then everything else falls into place. He's right, and it's been our philosophy and approach to the music and to our performances.

Warangka (Sing), the opening track to the album, addresses this: the translation of the chorus is, "Sing, my heart, sing, my people, sing, our land, I sing . . ." It talks about the principles and sets the album up for the rest of the songs.

There are others - Kalyakoorl (Forever) talks about custodial responsibility and the responsibility we all have as people who live here now. It's about speaking well, walking gently, looking around us and understanding what a special part of the earth this is.

Guy and I are performing across the country and I am singing in Noongar (there are a handful of English words used). We have been overwhelmed and humbled by the response. People are reached and touched without understanding the words because we all know love and loss, we all know what joy and what sadness is in anyone's language. We connect through music.

I am proud that this journey is something born of Noongar land. We have been blessed with incredible support from elders and members of the community to do what we do, and to have that support reciprocated by audiences (new friends) brings hope for growth in the future.

If Noongar is a unique voice for the South West, who else sings for WA? My list will be different to others, but it includes Lorrae Coffin, John Bennett, Phil Walley-Stack, Candice Lorrae, the Bartlett Brothers, John Butler, Albert Wiggan, Theona Councillor, Kerrianne Cox, the Pigram Brothers, Eskimo Joe, Bryte MC, Pete Stone and the Assistance, the Pepperjacks, Lynn Hazelton, David Hyams and Mathis.

If you want to hear what WA is saying about itself, then spend your WA Day listening to any or all of these amazing artists.

I'm incredibly proud to come from WA and to be able to sing in Noongar language.

We all have so much to celebrate and much to be proud of living here. It really is heaven on earth, or as we would say it in Noongar - nidja boodja, baal kwobidak (this land, it is beautiful).

Gina Williams is an award winning WA singer who recorded the first album of contemporary songs entirely in Noongar language. She and Guy Ghouse will perform at the State of the Art music festival in the Perth Cultural Centre on Saturday

The West Australian

Latest News From The West

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West