Local students perform songs in Wadawurrung language

Published on 04 October 2022

Kelly Caldwell and Queenscliff Primary School students sing at the launch of the Songtimes project

Students at a Queenscliff school have performed a series of songs in traditional Wadawurrung language as part of a collaboration with the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation to increase knowledge of Wadawurrung language and culture. The ‘Songtimes’ project was officially launched at the New Hall in Point Lonsdale last night, with eight children taking part in the performance of five songs that teach the Wadawurrung names of plants, birds, colours, body parts and phrases.

Queenscliff Primary School (QPS) First Nations Studies teacher Kelly Caldwell devised the initiative in collaboration with Kamilaroi woman Associate Professor Melitta Hogarth – one of the Project Leads of the University of Melbourne’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Curricula Project – and the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners. Caldwell then recruited close friend Ben Shaw and musician Ben Talbot-Dunn to record the songs professionally so they could be taught to her classes of 158 students.

“We’ve written these songs together with the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners to teach children the language of the land on which they live, and to respect the beauty of that language,” Caldwell said. “It also helps start conversations around the true history of the settlement of Australia and history of the Wadawurrung people, and the importance of keeping language alive in the voices of both First Nations people and non-First Nations people.” Caldwell explained how the students’ appreciation and usage of Wadawurrung language had now expanded beyond the classroom. “Many of the children at QPS now refer to animals by their Wadawurrung name when they see them when they are out on Country,” Caldwell said.

Each recording on the CD begins with a cultural story giving context to the lyrics, as told by Wadawurrung woman and Language Officer Stephanie Skinner. In partnership with Caldwell, Skinner and Wadawurrung woman Corrina Eccles provided support by aiding with pronunciation and recording, using traditional instruments such as clap sticks and possum drumming in the backing tracks, and cultural storytelling. “Partnering with Kelly on this project has been a great experience, and it’s lovely to see Wadawurrung language being used more and more in our community for everyone to learn even a small bit of our culture,” Skinner said.

The project, which forms part of a First Nations Studies subject embedded into the school’s core curriculum, began as a self-funded exercise but soon gained the support of the Borough of Queenscliffe. Queenscliffe Mayor Ross Ebbels praised the efforts of Kelly and the QPS students for their dedication to learning important Aboriginal history in a fun and engaging way. “These songs aren’t just a teaching tool, they’re a joyful source of family and community music,” Cr Ebbels said. “I’m so pleased that a project as culturally significant as ‘Songtimes’ originated in Queenscliff.”

The ‘Songtimes’ recordings and stories are sold as part of a songbook illustrated by Wadawurrung artist Billy-Jay O’Toole and can be purchased via songtimes.au.