Singing Up the Big House

Hazel Barr is happy. To celebrate she shares an ancient sugarbag song in Olkol, a language that is now spoken by only a few. She’s happy because the Olkola men of Kowanyama are building Algngga; a traditional messmate benched humpy; a special wet season shelter that hasn’t been built around here for well over 80 years.

But the men aren’t building Algngga for shelter from this flooded country – like their old people once did. They are building it to keep their culture alive and strong and to send a message to the outside world. Olkola mob believe their humble shelter is a symbol for the ‘big house’, a special building they have been dreaming of for more than 20 years. For longer than Hazel can remember the people of Kowanyama have been asking for a state of the art Culture and Research Centre to house one of our Nation’s most significant cultural collections.

At the moment this priceless collection is sitting in storage in a temporary space. And who knows, maybe by ‘singing it up’ and making Algngga once again, Hazel and the men’s efforts will conjure the ‘big house’. Maybe they will be finally heard in Canberra or Brisbane and the world will finally hear about the supreme strength, power and innovation of the Olkola people and their resilient ancestors.

The shelter will be on permanent display in the middle of Kowanyama for local mob to learn about. The men have also built a scale model which will form part of an exciting video installation to be launched at the opening of the new Umi Arts building in Cairns in April.

Cultural transmission, language retention and retrieval is one of Australia’s greatest urgencies. Thanks to Umi Arts for recognising the significance of this project and The Department of Communications and the Arts for funding it.

You can follow the Kowanyama Project on Facebook.

You can also support the upcoming Ngethn O’ Festival.

Kowanyama will be hosting its inaugural arts festival during the early dry season (April/May) of 2019.

The festival will honour and celebrate the cultural heritage of its ancestors and their children with a series of film nights, presentations, exhibitions, traditional ceremony, dance and other cultural activities. Festival events will be organised to maximise opportunities for the participation of youth.

The festival is seen as a progression of Kowanyama’s key principle of the transmission of cultural knowledge of its ancestors and their children through the use of new media. These are the founding principles that have led to the establishment of Kowanyama’s campaign to establish the Kowanyama Culture and Research Centre and the proposal to develop a future state of the art Indigenous culture and research centre to house the impressive museum collection.

Story and Video by Tom Hearn – BushTV Founder