Raymond Walker pictured here in front of his grand mothers artwork at the North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, Dunwich
Edited interview with RAYMOND WALKER and Louise Martin Chew
Cleveland, 15 February 2015
Raymond Walker is the grandson of Oodjeroo Noonuccal - the oldest son of her oldest son, Dennis Walker. Raymond Walker learnt to dance when he was six years old, taught by the Brady family from Cherbourg. From 1989 has researched and choreographed dance for songs from his Country (that includes Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), Quandamooka Country (Moreton Bay) Queensland. His dance possesses an inexorable rhythm and they express his spirit, an intrinsic connection to land, and have provided a crucial connection to his community with this important cultural tradition. He is descended from a long line of cultural warriors. His skin group is Nunka.
RW We researched the old stories too and put our song and dance to our stories. All the Noonuccal song and dance has only been made up since 1990, 1991. And the Walker brothers are the ones who created all that song and dance. Myself and my three brothers: Joshua, Che and Dennis.
LMC The words to those songs came from your discussions with the elders?
RW Yes that’s the old dreamtime stories and also, like in all our song and dance, it’s what tells the law of the Country or what’s happened during it. So it’s significant things that happened in the Country. We’ll do a dance about the wild hop bush, saying that the wild hop bush is in bloom, and when the wild hop bush is in bloom it tells us we can go and get the oysters because they’re at their fattest. And the two have the same name. The wild hop bush is called Kinyingyarra and the oyster’s called Kinyingyarra. So when we researched our language we realised that a lot of our law is in the language.
LMC In your work to revive these traditions, were you influenced by your grandmother’s role as an educator? In your drive to capture the culture?
RW My grandma was very, very strong. Then, because of the influence of white society I could say, the mission mentality, they didn’t like any of the women dancing. But later on, when they realised the women dance too, the women have their own song and dance, so we were allowed to revitalise that. We are yet to convince the women to revitalise the skin lap drum that they used.
RW Well we have a another song about the three ancestors - the brolga, the pelican and the koala. They were the first animals to take human form. The song it says [Sings song in indigenous language], the pelican, the brolga and the koala want to be men. It’s about them moving and dancing around. Becoming men. When we look at each other we can either say we come from the koala dreaming or the pelican or the brolga. You might be small (tall and slender), from the brolga dreaming and very elegant. Or you might be a mixture of the two or three.
LMC When you dance your body personifies those things?
RW Yes: like the koala you want to come out, the pelican, and the brolga.
LMC When you sing and dance your Country in different places, is there a real sense of connection for the young people coming through? What ties them in?
RW That ties me in when I sing the songs, nearly all the time I sing the songs. It’s like the ancestors will sing through me - it’s not me. I’m just a vessel. I’m just an instrument being used by the bosses.
LMC How did your elders feel when you started working to recreate the dance?
RW Thrilled yeah, thrilled. And all the young people on the island do our song and dance now. So all the brothers need to be very proud, should be very proud of it because, for the past 25 years it’s been our song and dance.
LMC That’s an amazing legacy.
RW Whereas before it was a lot of other peoples’ song and dance. We still do those other song and dances but only privately. We don’t do them for public.
RW My children all dance. And I’m hoping my eldest son will start to sing soon. My daughter dances strong, she’s got her daughter dancing strong. My son’s got his sons dancing strong. So even the grandchildren are dancing strong. You see them all dancing and it’s beautiful. And it’s all because us four brothers decided to revitalise the song and dance.
LMC That was an incredible decision. Before it was the Yulu Burri Ba dancers, what name did you use?
RW Before that we called ourselves Nunukul. It was a bit different to the way grandma spelt it. And Kunjeil. Kunjeil means to sing and dance and Nunukul was the family.
LMC So why change the name?
RW We changed it to include all the family groups of Stradbroke. We changed it to Yulu Burri Ba because Yulu Burri Ba means people of the sand and sea. Even our welcome song is called Yulu Burri Ba. Yulu Burri Ba talks of ‘We are the people of the sand and sea, we come from Moreton Bay’. [Sings song in indigenous language] We come from Moreton Bay, welcome to all the good people, welcome to all the good spirit.
RW So the stories about the sea eagle, that’s what we sing now about the sea eagle going, hunting the fish, because the mullet have arrived. We can see the sea eagle hunting. The story about the dolphins rounding up the fish. What else do we sing about? About the crane going out searching for its feeding ground and feeding.
LMC So it is all connected, which is why language is so important.
RW Language is important because it dictates what is there to be utilised. Like Bila we call a spear, the best spears are taken from the she-oak which we call Bila. When the she-oak is in bloom, when it’s in flower that’s when it’s the time to hunt the sand eel which we call Gila. It is, so it’s all connected, all the language is connected. So Bila also must be the time of flower, I bet pounds of peanuts the time of that flower a whale comes through, because the whale’s also called Jilingbila.
LMC So you want to write things that are signs of a generation but that don’t end with that generation?
RW Eternal yeah, so it’s all about passing on the knowledge, so that I can learn those songs, those same songs when I come back. Because we strongly believe in reincarnation.