Sunshine Coast Chamber Music Festival 2022 (June 17 – 19)
“The Sunshine Coast is home to the Kabi Kabi people, and one of their Elders, Aunty Helena Gulash, graciously agreed to join the festival’s production team as the First Nations Program Creative Director. It was she who devised and directed the closing concert, titled Singing Up Country.
She brought together a company of musicians, including J U N G A J I and Dean & Ney Ney Brady, Jem Cassar-Daley, Deline Briscoe, Airileke, Clint Branknell and backed by Topology.
Oh What a NIGHT! and dancers, both local and from far and wide, including WA and the Torres Strait, to present a very special and moving concert to close the festival. She chose Topology to be the support band.
Aunty Helena is wonderfully articulate and opened the concert with a short talk on how it all came about and what it set out to achieve. In essence the plan was to tell the First Nations story from the time the Europeans arrived.
The Welcome to Country was moving in itself. Far from the usual approach of a speech, or even a smoking ceremony, it was a joyous greeting in songs and dances that flung open the doors and invited the audience into, as one artist put it: “Music, songs and stories that celebrate identity”.
Then the many artists presented songs and stories that celebrate love, acknowledge maltreatment, including at the notorious Palm Island, and look to the future.
There was humour too. One artist – a Kabi Kabi man – explained some of the seasons of the Sunshine Coast and that, “right now”, we can expect rain. He said that low-flying black cockatoos with a special cry for the season, “warn of coming rain”. He told the audience that he saw four low-flying black cockatoos crying that special cry that very day. The audience groaned. Indeed, there was a localised shower of rain in the middle of the day and another in the early part of the evening! (We didn’t get it at the park.)
Throughout the concert there were images of First Nations art projected to the screen at the rear of the stage. They were beautiful images that enhanced every performance. And a shout-out to the sound design team. Outdoor performances are always difficult challenges for getting the sound right. This team got it right.
As a white person, I felt privileged to be invited into the personal lives of the performers, and to hear their stories and songs, many of which came from personal experience or connections, and to understand a little more of what First Nations people have gone through over the past 250 years. That privilege was driven by songs and stories that were not confrontational or accusing; they just presented the factual history and spoke of the impact in a sensitive, forgiving way, always with a steady and positive eye on the future.
I was in tears as I left that most extraordinary concert, which concluded a festival that, even over just one weekend across only a handful of concerts, created and delivered lots more than the sum of the parts. It was clear that the festival’s Artistic Director Lynne Bradley succeeded, and it was clear that the festival committee had, indeed, punched well above its weight”.
Singing Up Country, Sunshine Coast Chamber Music Festival, 2022. Photo © Barry Alsop Eyes Wide Open Images