Live Review: Bowerbird Collective @ The Living Kaurna Cultural Centre

15 October 2023 | 10:40 am | Chris Reid

Bowerbird’s latest project, 'Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons', combines these concerns into an eloquent and powerful artistic, cultural and environmental statement. 

Bowerbird Collective

Bowerbird Collective (Credit: Denis Smith)

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The nationally and internationally renowned Bowerbird Collective, led by violinist Simone Slattery and cellist Anthony Albrecht, produces multimedia performances combining contemporary classical music with video to create immersive experiences that raise environmental awareness. 

Bowerbird also works with Indigenous communities to celebrate Indigenous culture and history, emphasising Indigenous connection to Country and management of the environment. Bowerbird’s latest project, Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons, combines these concerns into an eloquent and powerful artistic, cultural and environmental statement. 

Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons was staged on the lawn outside the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre at Warriparinga in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. Warriparinga is a ceremonial meeting place, a site of great cultural significance to the Kaurna people, whose ancestral lands encompass the Adelaide plains and extend well north and south of the Adelaide metropolitan area. Warri Parri means “windy place by the river”.

Significantly, Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons was held on 14 October, the day of the referendum on the proposal to recognise Aboriginal people in the Australian constitution and establish the Voice to Parliament, and the timing of the event placed even greater emphasis on the importance of recognising Kaurna traditions and connection to Country. 

The feature element of Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons was an 80-minute video presentation about Kaurna Country and the Kaurna people shown on a huge screen and accompanied by Kaurna culture bearer Jamie Goldsmith’s narration, together with Adelaide composer David John Lang’s music for string quintet (Simone Slattery and Emily Tulloch, violins, Jason Thomas, viola, Anthony Albrecht, cello and Bonnie Grynchyk, double bass). Lang’s absorbing composition was informed by Kaurna elders Aunty Lynette Crocker, Uncle Jeffrey Newchurch and Jamie Goldsmith.

Developed over two years in collaboration with the Kaurna community, the video, by local photographer and videographer Denis Smith, Anthony Albrecht and Simone Slattery, with sound recordings by Andrew Skeoch of Listening Earth, describes the migration of Kaurna people from the coast in the warmer months to the hills in the cooler months and identifies the species, foods and traditions of the people and the nature of the region. Passages of the video include The Plains, The Breeze, The Sun and Wardlipari (The Milky Way).

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The Taikurtinna dance ensemble (led by Jamie Goldsmith, yidaki, with Karruck Rankine, Matt Rankine, Brian Goldsmith, Yapuma Goldsmith, Adrianne Semmens and Ilya Goldsmith) performed traditional and contemporary dance and ceremony during the screening, offering the audience unparalleled insights into Kaurna knowledge and traditions. 

The traditional dances included a Fishing Dance, a Cleansing Dance, an Emu Dance and a Spirit Dance, demonstrating typical forms of traditional dance. Additionally, dancer Adrianne Semmens (who dances with Australian Dance Theatre) choreographed three dances for women and performed them with Ilya Goldsmith: The Mangroves, Sheoaks and Karrawirra Pari. These dances illustrated elements of the video, and the combination of video, music and dance worked brilliantly. The audience was enthralled.

The afternoon’s events also included heartfelt performances by singers Katie Aspel and Nancy Bates, emphasising their experiences as Indigenous women, the Firesticks Alliance’s presentation on cultural burning practises, Jason Tyndall and Uncle Brian Goldsmith’s analysis of 19th-century landscape paintings of the region to identify some of its characteristic flora and fauna, and the screening of an earlier Bowerbird film, Winaityinaityi Pangkara - The Country of the Birds. The afternoon’s program provided a rich and thoroughly engaging consideration of contemporary and traditional Indigenous culture. 

Kaurna Yerta - The Seasons enables Kaurna elders and culture bearers to share their knowledge in a respectful manner and encourages the maintenance of their knowledge. Bowerbird’s collaborative approach to working with Indigenous communities, ecologists and environmentalists produces highly original and powerful multimedia performance works that sensitise audiences to the value of traditional culture and the environment at a crucial time in human history. Bowerbird’s approach also provides an artistic and facilitative model for other organisations wishing to work with Indigenous communities and the environment.

The Bowerbird Collective is making a vitally important contribution to environmental awareness, the appreciation of Indigenous culture and community building. Their next event will be the Lyrebird Festival, 23 - 26 November, exploring the spectacular Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains of NSW. Don’t miss it!