Rochelle Pitt-Watson on reviving Indigenous languages through song
Reviving Indigenous languages through song is the driving force for Rochelle Pitt-Watson’s music.
Her Quandamooka and Meriam heritage underlie all of her songs, and she hopes that performing them brings some relief from the stresses of these post-covid times.
Rochelle is one of the First Nations artists taking centre stage at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in May for Clancestry—A Celebration of Country.
She tells us on Streets of Your Town about the significance of being part of a festival that showcases and celebrates First Nations artists, on land that for thousands of years has been a meeting and cultural place for Indigenous people of this land next to the Brisbane River, or Maiwar.
“To actually be performing in Clancestry, it just feels like coming back home,” Rochelle says.
“Because for me this was our black arts. It wasn’t really recognised too much in Brisbane, we were always pushed to the side or just a little side act or something, but now having Clancestry here really showcases our mob, our culture, our talent, and it’s something to be proud of.
“Come and spend this one day or one part of a time here and connect with the First
Peoples of this country and you too can connect as well to the country and the earth, land.”
The festival celebrates First Nations arts, stories and cultural practices with a range of performances over the festival’s 50 events featuring from more than 130 First Nations artists, from May 13 to 28.
Rochelle is also a registered nurse, and describes singing in language as her therapy.
“When you speak in Indigenous language, it’s a spirit connection. It’s a heartfelt connection, and it’s different,” she says.
“It has a beautiful, soft flow to it as well. It’s not an abrupt type of language. And doing that for me as a healing and a therapy, because my old people were stopped and not allowed to talk in it. It was seen as a sin, a bad thing.
“I always portray that strong black woman. I want to look at bringing those endangered languages back in songs.
“It’s something I can record and leave here for the younger generations. My kids, my grandkids, and the community, if they ever want to learn about their culture, I don’t want them to say it’s a dying culture or anything like that. We’ve got the resources, we’ve got the energy and the willpower. We need to do things and act now on preserving what we have of our culture left.”
She invites us all to come to the festival and learn stories of the land, and that once we hear and understand these stories, we’ll appreciate connection with the land more.
“You might even learn about the stories of the land that we’re walking on. The good stories, the stories of why this certain mountain is over there or why that the certain cluster of trees is there,” Rochelle said.
“Once you hear those stories, you really appreciate and respect that land a bit more that it's actually living and breathing and alive, and you connect with it a bit differently than just walking on it to get to A to B. It’s funny, but there are always stories of the land.”
Behind the Scenes
One of my biggest highlights this month was having my Disabilities in Education audio doco featured on ABC Radio’s Editors Choice with James O’Brien! It’s my third audio documentary for the very wonderful crew at Griffith Review, and I am so thankful for being featured on James O’Brien’s show so that hopefully this important story is getting out to more ear holes!
I also loved putting together this story for In Queensland on the Brisbane company Underground Opera. If you thought that you could only see opera performed in concert halls—this story will make you think again!
And are you in need of a giggle in these covidy bloody covid times as I like to call them? Well the Brisbane Comedy Festival may be just the tonic you need.
Talk again soon my Wandering Journo tribe!
Don’t forget to reply to this email and let me know any story ideas for my next podcast! Mildred my cantankerous kombi and I are raring to go on another story gathering adventure!