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Issue #1637      May 7, 2014

Party for the Pilliga

Musicians, comedians and NSW dancers recently volunteered their time for Maria’s Party for the Pilliga. Maria Rickert, owner of Pilliga Pottery near Coonabarabran in central NSW, organised the show to draw attention to and raise money for the fight against coal seam gas (CSG) in the region.

Kaakaa Wakakirri dancing at Maria’s Party for the Pilliga. (Photo: Koori Mail)

Goomeroi man Kevin Bennett, the front-man of roots outfit The Flood, performed because he’s concerned about what CSG mining will do to the Pilliga.

“I’ve seen the devastation in America that (fracking, one of the methods of mining for nonconventional gas) causes,” he said when the Koori Mail caught up with him after the gig. “And this place here is right on top of the Great Artesian Basin. If we wreck that, we’re buggered.”

The Pilliga is Goomeroi country. And Bennett, who turned 60 this year, is a Goomeroi man – but he didn’t know that until nine years ago. “There were rumours in our family about being blackfellas but we had pale skin and, perhaps because of the stigma, perhaps because of the Stolen Generations, we lived like white people,” he said.

“I was born at the sawmill where Dad worked about 50 kilometres from Barradine in the Pilliga scrub. When I was 10, I went to school in Sydney and lived with my grandmother. It was really a culture shock. I became a city boy; forgot all about my country roots.”

He immersed himself in music and the music industry.

Then in 2005 he discovered he had Goomeroi heritage, thanks to some investigation into his family history by a relative. So, he returned to his country for the first time since leaving. “When I came back I was gobsmacked at just how beautiful it is,” he said.

Last year Bennett was unexpectedly welcomed to his mob by local Goomeroi Elders. “They came to a gig I was doing at Tamworth and did a ceremony. It was a beautiful moment and it meant a lot to me,” he said.

“The crowd went nuts. The place was suddenly overrun by blackfellas with spears.” On the night of the gig, as the sun set over the Pilliga forest, Kaakaa Wakakirri emerged from the creek bed and prowled like warriors to a dance circle near the stage. There they danced. The crowd was enthralled by these ancient and vibrant performances.

At one stage Kaakaa Wakakirri – which means “Brothers Dancing” in Ngemba language – invited the audience to join in the dancing – an invitation taken up by many. Later that night, the Koori Mail caught up with two Kaakaa Wakakirri performers, Martin Gordon and Laurance Magick Dennis.

“We dance to keep our culture alive and keep it strong,” Mr Gordon said. “Dancing is how we share our culture with the world.”

Mr Dennis, 41, a Yuin-born man who grew up on Goomeri country, reckons that Kaakaa Wakakirri has given him spiritual nourishment during his 10 years with the troupe. “It has grown my spirit and made me committed to my family and to my country,” he said.

Both men performed at Maria’s Party because they are concerned at the threat CSG mining poses to country. “I feel good a lot of people are here against CSG mining,” Mr Gordon said. “I want my son to be able to walk up to a spring and drink from it safely.”

“Yeah,” Mr Dennis added. “I want my kids to go to a river and have a swim – like our ancestors.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Save The Sundarbans

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