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Kakadu Man : the words of Bill Neidjie : for unaccompanied choir

by Tom Henry (2015)

Kakadu Man


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Work Overview

This work is a setting for unaccompanied choir of the words of the late Aboriginal elder, Bill Neidjie (c1920-2002), who was leader of the Bunitj clan, in Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The text is taken from the book 'Gagudju Man: Bill Neidjie': JB Books, Adelaide, 2002, which contains 'the environmental and spiritual philosophy' of Bill Neidjie, and was transcribed (in the form of poetry) by the anthropologist Stephen Davis, with the final text selected from many hours of recorded interviews with the late elder.

Bill Neidjie was probably the last speaker of the Gagudju language of northern Kakadu. His leadership was crucial to the decision to lease his traditional lands to the Commonwealth of Australia, opening it up to the general public as the world-heritage listed 'Kakadu National Park'. Aware that the wisdom and philosophy of the traditional owners and occupants of this land might die with him, Bill Neidjie decided to break with strict cultural tradition and publish some of his people's traditional stories. He became known as 'Kakadu Man' after the title of his first book.

The composer provides the following background to this work:

'The words of Bill Neidjie have occupied my thoughts for some years. I first came across the book 'Kakadu Man' when I visited Kakadu National Park in 2005. Apart from the powerful impression of the escarpments and unique landscape features, the story, philosophy and poetry of Bill Neidjie's words made a deep impression on me. This encounter led me to explore other works by Bill Neidjie, (e.g. 'Story about feeling') and to try to learn more about Aboriginal culture.

By setting Bill Neijdie's words to music, I wish to try to better understand the bond between Aboriginal people and their traditionally held land, and also to communicate his wisdom to a wider Australian and European public.'

The work toured Europe with the Australian Chamber Choir in June-July 2015.

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: SSAATTBB choir.

Duration: 18 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: 1. This earth -- 2. Tree -- 3. Rain -- 4. Sacred -- 5. Return to earth.

Dedication note: Dedicated to the memory of Bill Neidjie (c1920-2002)

Commission note: Commissioned by Australian Chamber Choir.

First performance: by Australian Chamber Choir — 13 Jun 15. Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middle Park, Melbourne


Performances of this work

14 Jun 15: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Middle Park, Melbourne. Featuring Australian Chamber Choir.

13 Jun 15: Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Middle Park, Melbourne. Featuring Australian Chamber Choir.

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