In 2006 Waratah collaborated with Dharawal Aboriginal artists – elder and knowledgeholder Frances Bodkin, and musician-dancer Matthew Doyle – to create Dharawal Dreaming, a contemporary interpretation in music, dance and storytelling, of the Dharawal creation stories Miwa Gawaian (“How the White Waratah Came to Be”) and Miwa Gawaian and Wurrata (“How the White Waratah Became Red”). Dharawal Dreaming premiered in Korea in 2006, at the Jeonju Sori Festival (Jeonju City), and at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival (Gapyeong).
Dharawal Dreaming is a music production of 60 minutes duration, that incorporates storytelling and dance.
Dharawal Dreaming is based on Dharawal Aboriginal creation stories, and is created and performed by the music trio “Waratah” in collaboration with Dharawal performers Matthew Doyle, Deborah Lennis and Frances Bodkin. The project celebrates Australian contemporary music, indigenous music & stories, and native flora. Although an unlikely combination, these topics are linked through the fulcrum of Dharawal culture.
Dharawal Dreaming focuses on two related stories, and treats them sequentially – Miwa Gawaian (“How the White Waratah Came to Be”) and Miwa Gawaian and Waratah (“How the White Waratah Became Red”).
Dharawal Dreaming premiered at the Jeonju Sori International Festival in Jeonju City, South Korea, in September 2006. It also performed at the Jarasum International Jazz Festival in Gapyeong.
Dharawal Dreaming involves a creative team of six people, and is performed by five of them.
Three of the creative team are Dharawal people. They are:
- Frances Bodkin, Dharawal elder and knowledgeholder, storyteller, botanist, and Indigenous Education Officer with Mount Annan Botanic Gardens
Frances Bodkin is a Dharawal woman of the Bitter Water Clans. Her mother was a storyteller, and her grandmother and great grandmother were medicine women, all of whom passed their knowledge on to her. Frances is now herself an elder and knowledgeholder of the Dharawal people. She is also a recognised botanist, and is the author of Encyclopaedia Botanica, which has over 11,000 entries on Australian native plants.
Since 1998 Frances has worked as an Indigenous Education Officer at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens, a Garden for Australian natives. In this capacity she combines her formidable knowledge of Australian botany with her invaluable knowledge of Dharawal creation, history and law, and uses her mother’s stories to teach children at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens about the environment, and the animals, insects and birds which inhabit that environment.
Frances’ creative input as the knowledgeholder and cultural consultant is critical to the integrity of the work.
- Deborah Lennis, Dharawal storyteller and artist, and Indigenous Education Officer with Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens
Deborah Lennis is a Dharawal woman of the Salt Water Clan. Since 1998, Deborah has been learning the Dharawal creation stories from Frances Bodkin. Since that time Deborah has also worked as an Indigenous Education Officer at Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, and has been telling these stories to children and adults at both Mount Annan and Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens.
As an artist, Deborah has also been illustrating these stories for educational purposes in a variety of contexts. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Education degree in Aboriginal Studies at Sydney University. Deborah tells the stories in performance.
- Matthew Doyle, Dharawal musician and dancer, composer and choreographer
Note – for performances in Australia, Frances Bodkin fills the storyteller’s role, and for international performances, Deborah Lennis fills the role.
Matthew Doyle is one of Australia’s most acclaimed, accomplished and important contemporary indigenous artists. Singer, didjeridu player, composer, dancer and choreographer, Matthew is a graduate of NAISDA Dance College. He has since worked with many high profile artists and companies, including Bangarra Dance Theatre, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Children’s Choir, Taikoz, Riley Lee, Dale Barlow, Sandy Evans, Satsuki Odamura, Tony Lewis, Colin Offord, David Page, Michael Atherton, Michael Askill and many others.
Matthew has composed, choreographed and performed for a number of major international events, including three Olympiads (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 & Athens 2004). In 2005 he has performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Sydney, in China, and at World Expo in Aichi, Japan. He currently teaches at NAISDA and works in schools and communities.
Matthew is a Dharawal Aboriginal, and has been central in working with Dharawal elders and knowledge holders Gavin Andrews and Frances Bodkin, in researching and restoring Dharawal culture. He has composed a number of Dharawal Dreaming into a neo-traditional song series, and has choreographed many of them. In 1997, with Tony Lewis and Dhamor Percussion, Matthew created Wirid-Jiribin, the Lyrebird, a contemporary dance-drama extended from a Dharawal creation story, for the Festival of the Dreaming.
and the three musicians who comprise Waratah, an eclectic music trio which combines elements of jazz, Japanese music and world music:
Miwa Gawaian tells how the Spirit Woman Korrobori came to Earth from the sky, and created the world as a place to rest during her travels. She created trees and plants, to provide food, beauty and shelter. Then she created two sisters to look after the world she had crafted. She named the sisters Wurrata, the Beautiful One, and Wiridjiribin, the Rememberer. Korrobori showed the sisters all around the world she had made, and taught them which plants they could use for food, medicine, and other things.
When the time cam for Korrobori to return home, the sisters were sad, and begged her not to leave. Korrobori took her magic staff and planted it into the ground, where it turned into a beautiful white flower. She named it Miwa Gawaian, although this flower is now known as the White Waratah. Korrobori told the sisters that if they needed her, they could always talk to her through the Miwa Gawaian. She would hear them and come to help them.
Wurrata and Wiridjiribin were the ancestors of the Dharawal people. For many generations, only women named Wurrata were given the special task of tending the Miwa Gawaian, the gift of Korrobori.
Miwa Gawaian and Waratah tells of a time many generations later, when a particularly beautiful young woman named Wurrata was given the task of tending the Miwa Gawaian. Many young men of the Dharawal clans fall in love with Wurrata, but she wanted only to do her duty to Miwa Gawaian. Mananga, a great and powerful warrior, also fell in love with Wurrata, and wanted her for his wife, regardless of her duties to Miwa Gawaian.
Mananga tried many things, including magic, to make Wurrata fall in love with him, but it did not work. Finally Mananga threatened that if Wurrata refused to go with him, he would destroy the Miwa Gawaian. As he swung his axe at the flower, Wurrata threw herself in the way, to protect the Miwa Gawaian. Managa’s axe struck Wurrata instead. Mananga had killed the woman he loved.
Although verging on extinction in the mid-19th century, the Dharawal Aboriginal people of the greater south-western Sydney area survived, and today are actively regenerating their culture and language. Leading this regeneration have been Dharawal elders and knowledgeholders Frances Bodkin and Gavin Andrews. They have been assisted by Matthew Doyle, who has committed many of the Dharawal Dreaming stories to neo-traditional music and dance.
Among the Dharawal Dreaming stories are many about their principal totems, Wirid-Jiribin (the lyrebird) and Waratah (the flower) – including “How the White Waratah Came to Be” and “How the White Waratah Became Red”. It is from these stories that the trio Waratah has taken its name – with the full consent and approval of the Dharawal community.
All members of Waratah have worked with Matthew Doyle, individually and collectively. Tony Lewis has a long history of collaboration with indigenous Australian artists, and with Doyle in particular. Together, Doyle and Lewis created Wirid-Jiribin, The Lyrebird – a contemporary dance drama on a Dharawal creation story, performed by them with Dhamor Percussion – for the Festival of the Dreaming (Sydney, 1997).
Waratah has worked with Frances Bodkin, Deborah Lennis and Matthew Doyle to create Dharawal Dreaming. At the heart of the production are the creation stories of the Dharawal people, as recorded and written by Frances Bodkin, and in performance told in English by either Frances Bodkin (in Australia) or Deborah Lennis (internationally). Also central are Matthew Doyle’s interpretation of these stories in neo-traditional song (Dharawal language) and dance.
The members of Waratah have composed collaboratively to interpret and extend these stories into music that is contemporary, innovative and international in its scope. In doing so, the artists collectively present the Dharawal Dreaming, not as historical curiosities, but as living examples of eternal and universal wisdom.
Dharawal Dreaming also celebrates the extension of Dharawal culture and history into the contemporary Australian identity – for example, every Australian knows the Waratah as a flower and the floral emblem of New South Wales, but how many know the origins of the name?