Well before the Uluru Statement from the Heart issued its call for Voice, Truth and Treaty, Australia’s iconic First Nations’ Treaty Call rang out in Aboriginal rallies and the media. In 2017 the Uluru Statement echoed this rally call in its proposal for a Makaratta Commission leading to an Agreement. In 2023, Australia is now, whatever the coming Voice Referendum outcome, moving on to a lasting peace Agreement. Music has played a huge part in Australia’s journey to Treaty, and Yothu Yindi’s famous Treaty Song will forever occupy an honoured place in this history. In all Australian First Nations communities, the right to speak and be heard in our own Indigenous voices goes hand in hand with working towards an honourable Treaty, based on Truth Telling. Yothu Yindi’s powerful Treaty song was crafted skilfully and ethically to promote peace, truth and justice in Australia. It did not criticise, accuse, tell lies, incite divisive race hatred, or provoke violent, divisive factionalism. No honest campaign for a true Peace Treaty ever does that. Yothu Yindi’s Treaty Call shows that, in Australia, as in other countries, well crafted, well performed, widely distributed music can exert a wise, steady, guiding influence on human decision making. When the Australian Paliament listens and responds to the proposals of a united, undivided First Nations Voice, an honourable Treaty will eventually be made, and for that reason, I’ve supported the Referendum Yes vote with my Noonakoort Karnya Respect chorus, my Enshrinement anthem, and A Better Future (on the Songs from the Heart CD at Hyperion Records, see link below).
In 2017 I composed my Kooranginy suite for Ensemble Offspring. At that time there were riots in Redfern, the Australian First Nations campaign for a Peace Treaty was under attack, and the revisionist terra nullius debate was still raging. I raised consciousness of the 1788 British Invasion of Australia by incorporating truth telling dialogues and calls for justice in Kooranginy. I followed this up in 2018 with five more pieces – Burradowi, Warangka Makialo, Wonthaggi, Kaya Mary and Mary Moorditj Ngaangk – which declare First Nations presence and perspectives, as it persists in two way Australian scenarios. I’ve used my music to urge factions divided by mischievous propaganda, to listen to the truth and resolve their differences. Polyphonic music that includes contrasting voices is the perfect vehicle for overcoming factionalism.
In March 2018 I had my first Total Knee Replacement operation, but I pushed on, and in November 2018 Burradowi, Warangka Makialo, Wonthaggi, Kaya Mary and Mary Moorditj Ngaangk, were performed by Ensemble Offspring and Dharawal Inuk soprano Sonya Holowell at the ANU School of Music Studio, and were included in a second 2018 Indigenous Composers Initiative concert at the ABC’s Eugene Goossens Hall. This completed my ICI Composer Internship at ANU. In 2019 I composed for Sydney Living Museums, the Royal Australian Navy Band, and The Song Company’s challenging Nineteen to the Dozen concert tour, producing Karlinkiri Hearth, a wind quintet that commemorates the discovery of an ancient Dharug Aboriginal Smoking Hearth at Parramatta, and a phonetic a capella bushland soundscape. These two works – Karlinkiri Hearth and Untitled, were recorded and premiered at the Australian Museum’s Songs of Home Exhibition, and the Joern Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House. I then enrolled in my current Postgraduate Composition course at ANU.
Over Christmas and New Year 2020 a series of massive bushfires, followed by smashing hailstorms, devastated Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Shocked by the terrible environmental destruction in the Blue Mountains near my home, I composed Gandangarragal, a choral piece for River City Voices, but the performances were cancelled due to Covid. On March 13 2020 Covid pandemic health restrictions were proclaimed in NSW and Canberra, and strict lockdowns were enforced. These travelling and performance restrictions posed huge challenges for creative work of any kind, including my craft of composition. However, we Australian composers and musicians are a tough breed. Despite tragic deaths of family members and friends, we rose to the challenge pragmatically, by providing mutual support, and maintaining disciplined safeguards and health routines. In 2020 my composition output actually increased; I completed four Coursework units at Masters level, drafted three new instrumental compositions, and revised four earlier drafts. This increased output continued in 2021 and 2022, as I completed my major Portfolio commission (43 min of a capella SSAATTBB choral music for The Song Company’s mainstage production Songs from the Heart), Minninup Pool, a string quartet, Gathering Yams, a chamber orchestra piece, and Karollini, a set of ten Australian carols. AProf Kim Cunio, AProf. Christopher Sainsbury, AProf Samantha Bennett, Dr. Alexander Hunter, Dr. Thomas Laue, Dr. Sally Walker, harpist Emily Granger and Dr. Scott Davie and my commissioners have encouraged and supported my composition work throughout and after the Covid pandemic restrictions.
This Christmas my long awaited set of ten Australian carols, Karollini, will be released on Hyperion Records. Recorded under my direction on December 21-22 2022 at 2 MBS FM by Antony Pitts and Tonus Australis, with audio engineer Joseph Goddard, these two way Australian carols were birthed from 2002 to 2008 as small “seed” guitar songs as I was singing as a Cantor at St Patricks Cathedral Parramatta, and simultaneously consolidating my Indigenous cultural connections to Country through reconnection studies in Australian Aboriginal song making, history, culture and law at Sydney’s Eora and Tranby Aboriginal Colleges. With ongoing composition mentoring from the ANU School of Music, I’ve arranged these carols as SATB and piano choral pieces. In October 2023 Parramatta’s River City Voices Choir, conducted by Dr. Sarah Penicka Smith, will perform several of my carols in the annual Ngarra Burria First Peoples Composers concert.