Department of Health
  • 01 December 2015
  • Video of launch of Dhumba-nganjin and performance of Bruce Watson at Health Strategy, Productivity and Analytics Divisional Forum on 28 October 2014.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should use caution viewing this film as it contains images and voices of deceased persons.

    Lorraine Langley
    , Wirrigirri Messenger 
    Health Strategy, Productivity and Analytics Division  

    Hello everybody. I’d just like to add my thanks to everyone who has been involved with this project.  I know that some of you came along to yarns, and some of you contributed a story which has been terrific. 

    But I think probably the most powerful thing will be when you actually get to read the book because that will be the final part of the project, and you will see from everyone who contributed a story that is quite a personal reflection.  Hopefully it will be helpful to all of us ourselves to think a bit more about reconciliation more broadly.

    Now one of the stories in our book is called Reconciliation through song.  That was contributed by Bruce Watson from Mental Health, Wellbeing and Ageing Division.  Most of you will probably know Bruce but I’m not sure if all of you will know that he is a very accomplished folk musician outside of work and a songwriter.

    And when I read Bruce’s story I thought it was a very powerful story but I also thought it was a terrific opportunity that he could actually perform for us today, and that that would be a lovely way to end our Wirrigirri activities for the year.

    And I’m really grateful to Bruce for having agreed to do that. 

    Could you please join me in welcoming Bruce.

    [Applause]

    Bruce Watson, Manager, Performance & Accountability, Aboriginal Health 

    Mental Health, Wellbeing and Ageing Division

     

    [Bruce playing the guitar and singing:]

    There’s a photo on a wall in a museum in Hobart

    It was taken in October of 1903

    Of a woman and a man with an Edison phonograph

    Recording her songs of the land and the sea

    There’s a button on the wall there next to the photo

    If you press it you can hear the ghosts of her songs

    As they echo through the halls of that museum in Hobart

    A scratchy reminder of all we’ve done wrong

    (CHORUS):

    The man and the woman and the Edison phonograph

    Salvaging pieces of song

    White man’s black cylinder, the story of progress

    The song lives on  -  but the singers are gone

    Not yet 50 years since white man first settled

    She was born on an island in Bass Strait’s cruel seas

    Where the few who remained of her people were herded

    And left there to die of despair and disease

    And at 7 she was taken from her mother and family

    To work as a servant and be taught about God

    But she still learnt the old ways, the songs and the stories

    And with old Truganini she’d go bush for food

    And after Truganini, the scientists descended

    Was Fanny Smith now the last of her race?

    The futile debates it seemed never ended

    They took her dimensions and examined the shape of her face

    (CHORUS):

    The man and the woman and the Edison phonograph

    Salvaging pieces of song

    White man’s black cylinder, the story of progress

    The song lives on  -  but the singers are gone

    And the man in the photo was born to an immigrant

    He married a woman of inherited wealth

    He lived in a mansion overlooking the harbour

    Worked hard for their business, did well for himself

    And in time he became a gentleman of leisure

    He developed an interest in the native folks’ ways

    He collected and catalogued those cultural treasures

    Archived and referenced for future display

    He was a member of the Royal Society

    Propertied wealth, a man of propriety

    She and her people were torn from their land

    Betrayed, dislocated, dissected  -  according to plan

    -  But they came together through song

    (CHORUS):

    The man and the woman and the Edison phonograph

    Salvaging pieces of song

    White man’s black cylinder, the story of progress

    The song lives on  -  but the singers are gone

    There’s a photo on a wall in a museum in Hobart

    It was taken in October of 1903

    Of a woman and a man with an Edison phonograph

    Recording her songs of the land and the sea

    And the man had a son,  

    Who in turn had a son

    Who in turn had a son, 

    Who was me

    [Sound of archival recording of Fanny Cochrane Smith]

    Bruce continues speaking:  

    Thank you.

    [Applause]

    Could you hear what she was saying at the end there?  She says  ‘I’m Fanny Smith, I was born on Flinders Island, I’m the last of the Tasmanians.”

    Now I just want to tell a second story which is the story about the song, not what the song is about, but about the song.

    Because a couple of years after I wrote this song I was performing at the National Folk Festival in Canberra one Easter and someone said to me there’s a fellow called Ronnie Summers who you should meet.

    And it turned out that Ronnie is a great, great grandson of Fanny Cochrane Smith and he’s a musician. So I met him, I sought him out, and I told him my story and he knew the story of Fanny Cochrane Smith.   Although, interestingly he didn’t even know he was related to her.  In fact as a child he didn’t even know he was Aboriginal which is a very common story back in those days.  He’d be in his late sixties now but he eventually did find out and he knew the story.

    So we got on like a house on fire and like someone described it, it was as if we were related through song.  And it was like we had 100 years of catching up, of history to do.

    A couple of years after that we were both performing at the National Folk Festival again and we decided that we would sing that song together with Ronnie singing the verse about Fanny and me singing the verse about Horace, and singing the chorus together.

    That performance….sorry I’m going to show you a picture of that performance here (Bruce starts photo slide show) that’s Ronnie, and the next picture is of us at the National Folk Festival just after we’d finished singing the song.  

    The recording that I’m going to show you is from a concert we did on Flinders Island last year, which was a very moving thing to do a concert there a couple of kilometres away from where Fanny Cochrane Smith grew up at Whybalena on Flinders Island.  And that’s where Ronnie is living now.   

    So I’ll just show you the little end bit of that performance.. (film plays of Bruce singing chorus about Horace, followed by Ronnie singing the chorus about Fanny at live concert followed by crowd cheers and applause.)

    Ronnie has written a book about his amazing life.  That’s the book (shows photo of cover) and as part of that book he mentions our performance in Canberra.  And there is just a little bit of it here (shows photo of page of book) and he says what exactly echoed that thing for me as well:

    “It was the most overwhelming thing in me life . . . 

    When I looked up, we was playing to thousands of people and I reckon half of ’em was cryin’. . . “

    And at the end he says:

    “there was a special feeling, like a bonding, among all those people.”

    And we have also had the good fortune of recording that song together.

    So really my story of reconciliation is about two people getting together over 100 years ago – in fact 111 years ago this month -  to share music, and it’s also about two of their descendants getting together over 100 years after singing about it together.

    And in both cases, I can assure you, we had a real excellent time!

    [Applause]

    Thank you.

    Lorraine and I talked about whether we could get Ronnie here but it’s really just impossible – his health is not too good and he doesn’t fly so getting him from Flinders Island to here would have taken him about a week and wouldn’t have done him any good.  But we thought it might be a really good idea because this is being recorded if everybody yelled out a big hello to Ronnie.  Because this is being videoed and we can send him the video.

    So would you all do that? 1, 2, 3…

    Audience All:  Hello Ronnie!

    Bruce Watson:  Beautiful. Thanks very much and thanks to Lorraine.

    (Applause)

    End

Video of Bruce Watson performing at the launch of Dhumga-nganjin.

Reviewed 01 December 2015

Health.vic

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