COURAGEOUS, political, and innovative; a local author is shining a spotlight on Nyungar performance.
Distinguished Professor at Curtin University and award-winning historian Anna Haebich has just released Dancing in Shadows: Histories of Nyungar Performance, the first comprehensive look at Nyungar performance culture and the healing and resilience it creates.
“It’s the first history of an epic journey that history forgot, about how the rich Nyungar performance culture has provided a lifeline for Nyungar people to survive the catastrophe of colonisation against the odds,” Prof Haebich said.
“You wonder how the culture was passed on under so much pressure.
“We realised (performance is) all about healing.”
Prof Haebich said the book had been four or five years in the making, with her research taking her well beyond books and papers.
“I’m used to looking at documents; a lot of historians find it difficult to move on,” she said.
The author spoke to hundreds of people, including singer Gina Williams, about their stories and work to keep Nyungar language up and running.
“Gina was a jazz singer in London, and thought ‘what can I do that’s special?’” Prof Haebich said.
“She started to sing in Nyungar, and she said it felt like the air was sucked out of the room.”
Prof Haebich said it was a great honour to be able to put the book together, tracing ancient family lineages now living in city suburbs and country towns and continuing to perform to celebrate their ancestors.
“It’s scratching the surface; there’s so much more to be written,” she said.
Dancing in Shadows: Histories of Nyungar Performance is out now from UWA Publishing.