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Noongar words and philosophy are the true hero in our Macbeth adaptation Hecate | Kylie Bracknell for IndigenousX | Opinion

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. – William Shakespeare

Life is indeed little. England’s bard must have sat beside many rivers and sacred places with wise souls to speak and write the way he did. His words emulate the teachings of my deman (grandparents) and mentors. They taught me that each time we see a falling star we know a new life is forming from an old soul, eventually returning to the sky when that life is “rounded” by sleep, and that all things in life are circular. I think of myself as a life extension of an old soul that has been loaned to me. I have always longed to be in the company of people older than me and wiser than me – to learn, to grow and to be inspired by their life’s performance.

There are so many stories that need to be told and remembered. We all want to go forward. We need to respect the elements. – Roma Yibiyung Winmar

We Noongar of the south-west of Western Australia constitute one of Australia’s largest Aboriginal cultural blocs, both in terms of population and a vast estate of lands and waters which includes Perth, Albany and Esperance. We share a common ancestral language with various regional dialects. As the first Aboriginal group in Western Australia to experience sustained foreign contact and British invasion, Noongar bore the brunt of land theft, frontier violence, and the dislocation from homelands and family resulting from successive government policies of segregation and assimilation.

Despite staggering odds, we Noongar find ways to continue to sing and speak the way our ancestors did. Noongar language is all around us in the names of local towns, suburbs, flora and fauna. Over 30,000 people identify as Noongar, and while Australian census data suggests that less than 2% of them speak the language at home, this number has grown exponentially in every census since 1996 as a result of continued efforts since the 1980s.

One of the most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life was sit with my grandmothers to learn our ancient Noongar language. The time spent with them and my everlasting connection with language is dear to my heart. Nine years ago, my cousin and modern theatre visionary Kyle J Morrison revealed his dream idea to develop a full Shakespeare work in Noongar language. Although initially surprised by the audacity of the idea, I jumped at the chance to collaborate and pay homage to the survival of our language.

We held a series of sporadic workshops over six years in which Noongar actors could reclaim the sounds of their mother tongue together in a safe, trusting and empowering environment. This process led to the formation of an ensemble of nine actors who have performed a 90-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, titled Hecate, in this year’s Perth festival. I ended up with the responsibility to adapt and direct Hecate, co-translating it with my husband. The production is receiving critical acclaim, standing ovations and full houses. Still, the real achievement is supporting the emergence of more than nine Noongar people who can speak Noongar language now and into the future.

Hecate is indebted to broader longstanding efforts in our community to share, revitalise and maintain our language. Under the guidance of our editor, Roma Yibiyung Winmar, and with the encouragement of other senior language speakers, we have worked together to craft Hecate with the utmost care and attention to detail. Noongar words and philosophy are the true hero in Hecate – the way we communicate, signal, celebrate, sing and cry our language has always been, and will always be, powerful. Why? Because we value truth in storytelling. Noongar people have always had the heart and organic ability to hold an audience captivated on story alone. Hecate celebrates the true strength of Noongar language expression, away from society’s stereotypes, tropes and confinements of us. In this production, we have not eased into simply fulfilling the ways theatre audiences expect us to look and sound as Aboriginal performers. Hecate pays tribute to boodjar (mother earth) and all her wonders – including us!

The courageous Noongar actors who bring these words to life on stage are truly inspirational and pave the way for a stronger Noongar speaking community.

Twelve Noongar words spoken in Hecate:

Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn] is an actress, voice-over artist, television presenter, writer, dramaturg and theatre director from the south west of Western Australia, the Noongar nation

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