WESTERN Australian of the Year finalist Noongar singer-songwriter Phil Walleystack devotes much of his time to helping disengaged children.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Aboriginal or not, children need to talk about their identity, find out where they are from and their culture because once you find your identity, you find yourself,” he said.
“When children learn about their identity, it encourages them to find out more about their language, their dances and their country; there are more than 350 Aboriginal ‘countries’ in Australia.”
Phil (37) grew up singing and dancing around the campfire with his family in Northam.
“I was fortunate; I come from a strong cultural identity where we learn our songs and dances. A lot of children don’t have that opportunity,” he said.
He volunteers for several charitable causes and his work with schools and communities includes Kidzucate and 12 Buckets, not-for-profit groups against bullying.
“I’m a big kid myself so I just have fun engaging with children and making them laugh; if you find mutual ground, you can talk about anything with them,” he said.
“I talk about chasing their dreams and to think big. My dream was to travel the world performing and making a living off the didgeridoo.
“A lot of people told me that wasn’t a realistic job, but here I am and I encourage young people to do the same.”
He blends the traditional sounds of didgeridoos, boomerangs and tapping sticks with contemporary instruments such as the cello, guitar and drums.
His world music has entertained audiences in the US, Middle East, Europe, China, Indonesia and Malaysia and he is currently collaborating with international musicians on a third album.
Phil used his music in Northam to break the cycle of alcoholism that many young people faced in his community and his development program for emerging artists to work with established people in the industry is gaining recognition.
In 2012, he founded Walleystack International, an Aboriginal entertainment and production company.
He regularly contributes to the weekly national program Aboriginal Beats, which promotes Aboriginal artists and music across Australia.
Other interests include serving on the board of directors for the Fly By Night musicians’ club in Fremantle, where indigenous singer-songwriters showcase their music once a month, and Noongar Radio 100.9fm.
Phil is also the founder of the Aboriginal-designed sleepwear brand, Jinda.
Indigenous musician-comedian Mark Bin Bakar (Mary G) nominated Phil for the WA award.
“To make it as a finalist was quite overwhelming and I started to think about other people who are so worthy. I’m very humbled; there are so many people I can think of who deserve to win it,” Phil said.
“I’m fortunate to have regular work and that allows me to donate time to schools and charities.”
There are 27 award finalists across seven categories in WA and Phil is one of four listed for the Aboriginal award. The others are Olive Knight, Angela Ryder and Gina Williams.
The winners will be announced on June 2.