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The Medics' Kahl Wallis Wins $20,000 National Indigenous Dreaming Award

27 May 2015 | 10:15 am | Staff Writer

The frontman's prize comes as part of the wider National Indigenous Arts Awards

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who could honestly deny that The Medics frontman Kahl Wallis is a deeply talented guy, but if there's anyone out there who still needs proof, then they can find it in his being awarded this year's Dreaming Award at the National Indigenous Arts Awards ceremony tonight.

Wallis will leave the Australia Council-backed event at the Sydney Opera House with $20,000 in hand as the recipient of the Dreaming Award, which provides funding assistance to an artist aged 18-26 to create a major body of work through mentoring or partnerships. The singer-songwriter will use the money to work on his debut LP — and collaborate with family members in his north-Queensland home of Cairns to delve into his history.

"Kahl will record his first full-length solo album, infused with traditional language, songs and stories, and make an accompanying documentary about his journey exploring his family roots," Australia Council board director Lee-Ann Buckskin said.

"He will work with several family members, including his uncle Jimmy Wallis, the last in his family to speak the Wuthathi language, and uncle Bunna Lawrie, the original frontman and songwriter for the legendary Indigenous band Coloured Stone."

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Speaking to the Australia Council's Martin Portus, Wallis explained that both uncles have been instrumental in his development as a musician and human, as well as crediting his parents with introducing him to a diverse spread of music while growing up.

"My uncle Jim Wallis has introduced me to Wuthathi country and shared stories and culture and my uncle Bunna Lawrie has always been a huge spiritual mentor and music educator in my career," Wallis said. "My father, Warwick, and mother, Gillian, raised me in a home always filled with music - Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Michael Jackson, just to name a few."

The chance to reconnect with his family is also a much-welcome prospect, having moved several thousand kilometres away from those closest to him, to Brisbane, to pursue music with The Medics and, now, as a solo artist.

"My Wuthathi mob come from the white sands of Shelburne Bay, Cape York, while I live over 2000 kilometres way in Brisbane, disconnected geographically but intrinsically linked through culture, song and bloodlines," Wallis told Portus.

"As a young Aboriginal man living in an urban city, music has been the way in which I stay connected to my heritage and share my heritage with others."

Looking towards his award win, Wallis said: "I’m truly honoured to receive this award. It’s given me the opportunity and freedom to explore music on a deep, cultural level."

"The guidance from family and mentors has helped shape the music I’m now able to record," he said. "The body of music I’ve been writing as a solo artist can now be fully realised, supported and nurtured to its potential."

In addition to Wallis' Dreaming Award victory, three more prestigious prizes will be handed out this evening: the Red Ochre, a $50,000 prize awarded since 1993 that recognises an artist's "oustanding contribution to and lifetime achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at a national and international level" — this year going to artist, activist, intellectual and educator Dr Gary Foley, and presented by Buckskin; and two $45,000 Fellowships, which will be awarded to Brenda L Croft, a NSW-based artist, curator and scholar, and Reko Rennie, an interdisciplinary artist from Victoria.

Speaking of the National Indigenous Arts Awards' cultural importance, Australia Council chair Rupert Myer AM explained, "The awards draw attention to the significant contribution Indigenous artists make to the artistic vibrancy and cultural life of Australia."

"They encourage us to experience, participate in and cherish the dynamic work that is created across Australia," he said.

This year's awards will be hosted by Queensland Theatre Company artistic director Wesley Enoch, with a presenting line-up also including visual artist Rea and Yirra Yaakin artistic director Kyle Morrison. Australia Council chief executive Tony Grybowski will speak at the event.