Culture Evolves: Reviving ceremony and seasonal knowledge systems
Written by Vanessa Morris
“Aboriginal people. First Nations people. We are the oldest theatre practitioners in the world. The song. The dance. It’s all one. You can’t seperate it all — it’s all ceremony.
So I’ve realised through dance, is the most powerful way. Someone could be talking that story, but to act it and see it live within dance — it just hits people really sharp.”
— Brent Watkins, Culture Evolves (2023)
Country. Culture. Ceremony. Story. Language. Lore. Interconnected with knowledge of animal and plant behaviours indicating seasonal change.
For generations, intricate understandings and knowledge systems have slid between colonial cracks, lost through the forced introduction of western structures and controls.
Designed to inspire, nourish and tell stories of trauma in ways less triggering, more healing — Culture Evolves will revive the bogong moth ceremony and raise awareness of endangered species central to this.
All while honouring the historical account of Gunnai Kurnnai man Boondjil Noorook travelling from the Bogong Moth ceremonies to 90 Mile Beach in Gippsland.
In April 1770, Boondjil Noorook was the first Aboriginal person to see the Endeavour, the boat of James Cook.
A story never told. Until now, through Culture Evolves.
“The bogong moth ceremony — this ceremony was for around 20 mobs. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of people from all different nations.”
This will be the performance’s first iteration that will continue to grow through connection with Elders, communities and between mobs across the southeast.
“[I plan to] put a call out to see which mobs can hopefully in the next few years, actually go down and be there in Spring when the bogong moths are coming back. To be able to practice those ceremonies, with not just Gunnai Kurnnai, but all mobs that were involved.”
“Building relations in between mobs — to build relationships through dance and ceremony.”
For countless millennia the bogong moth and pigmy possum have played roles in this ceremony for groups stretching as far as Gunnai Kurnnai Country to Yorta Yorta Woka.
Often seasonal knowledge of plants and animals disappears along with the passings of Elders, and Culture Evolves will step towards reviving and preserving Gunnai Kurnnai seasons.
Bogong Moth Season, which resembles the western Spring Season, will be presented, as well as a crossover with Sealing Season.
“We were gifted a seal song to perform — which is the second season.”
“I have two identities – I’m a culture man and I’m straight up hip-hop.”
Sighting inspirations spanning from krump through to culture, Brent’s style blends hip-hop and traditional dance to a backdrop of language, ambience and beats in Culture Evolves — including two self-produced tracks.
As a culture man with Noongar Yamatji ancestry, at times movements reflective of this bloodline have unintentionally, yet organically, come through.
“[Years ago] I was up performing, this one Noongar lad was like oh that’s shake a leg from Noongar way, and I never got taught, just my body I guess, just started doing it, not even knowing I’m connected to that movement.”
“It’s crazy when actually things happen — going within your soul and your DNA, things are coming out that are already there, you just don’t know that are present within.”
Ancient storytelling through dance and movement comes natural, where his knowledge of animals in 2018 theatre production Muniak Mulana was compared to world-class research.
“That there was an honour [..] just for them to realise that we’re not just doing animals, but we study animals and those animals having meaning, within emu, within father dreaming, kangaroo within community. There is so much more to what people are seeing.”
“Culture is still alive and we are practicing it. And we are strong in it as well.”
Embracing culture and knowledge systems of First Peoples is part of healing Country, and something Brent explores in Culture Evolves.
“In the past I’ve focused a lot [..] on the trauma — deaths in custody, suicide rates — where this time around, especially since covid, I’ve gone on this healing journey and realising that the world needs to heal.”
“The biggest thing is everything behind my work always comes back to protecting Country, healing Country — but not only that, healing everyone, because its not only mob I’ve realised that have generational trauma — it’s everyone.”
“Its trying to share awareness of healthy Country, healthy people.”
Central to individual and collective healing, truth and story telling is needed.
“We’re actually telling a true story. Every little bit — there’s no false parts in it at all — even the hip-hop. Everything we’re dancing is a story.”
Led by Brent Watkins, a Gunnai Kurnnai artist, performer and man with Noongar Yamatji ancestry — Culture Evolves will be performed with a team including Uncle Sean Ryan (Kuku Nyunkal), Phillip Egan (Mutti Mutti and Yorta Yorta), Dylan Kerr (Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta).
As the custodian of the story, Culture Evolves has been developed with the guidance of Gunnai custodian, Uncle Wayne Thorpe.
Written by Vanessa Morris
Proud Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri woman
Presents 3RRR’s Banksia which celebrates First Nations arts and culture
Double Bill: Culture Evolves by Brent Watkins & Kisiskâciwan by Jeanette Kotowich
Friday 5 – Saturday 6 May 2023
90 minutes, including short interval