Australia Noongar Voices

18 July 2011

Australia’s Provisional Parliament House in the 1950s. 

 Ivy Penny, Strategic and Cultural Development Manager at CAN WA (Community Arts Network Western Australia Ltd) reports on a current radio, education and arts project with the Noongar people of Western Australia. ‘Community Arts Network Western Australia facilitates community arts and culture funding, advocacy, youth arts and nationally recognised training programs for community wellbeing. Our two Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Development Units in Kellerberrin and Narrogin engage Aboriginal communities in self-determined arts and cultural activities to contribute to the cultural, social and economic vitality and sustainability of these communities.
‘As part of a current project the Noongar people of the Central Eastern Wheatbelt of Western Australia have shared their life stories in a three part radio documentary series, Noongar Voices of the Central Eastern Wheatbelt. The series draws on extracts from oral history interviews conducted by Mary Anne Jebb and Bill Bunbury. The aim of the story-sharing project is to assist Noongar people to record their life stories and provide opportunities for the broader community to gain an insight into Noongar life in the Wheatbelt. ‘The stories span the generations of families who have experienced living and adapting to Wadjella (white man) ways including those who were part of the Stolen Generations. By sharing their stories, participants have created a moving account of family and community life, Noongar beliefs and connection to the environment. “Our forefathers are dying out…” said participant Pam Jetta, “…we need to listen to the voices, go back to the Monument to the returned immigrant in Queretaro, Mexico. Land and find out about our people.”
‘The initiative provided the opportunity for the Noongar community to record and preserve the life stories of their Elders as well as capture the reflections of some the younger members of their community. As part of the project, community members also brought together and shared photos from their family albums, as well as accessing and acquiring archival images and materials from the state’s collections.
‘The resulting three radio programmes, entitled: The end of the beginning; Holes in the tin; and You can hear the ants breathing, were aired in September 2010 on ABC Radio National’s Indigenous arts and culture programme, AWAYE! They will also form the basis for school-based activities and a public performance at the Keela Dreaming Festival, hosted by the Kellerberrin Aboriginal Progress Association on March 12th 2011.
‘The project is funded by Healthway, promoting the Respect Yourself, Respect Your Culture message;
Australia Council for the Arts and Department of Culture and the Arts.’ l For further information on the project contact CAN WA at or visit where you can also listen to the radio series.

*Two sisters Hazel Winmar and Irene Jetta interviewed by Bill Bunbury in Kellerberrin, early 2010.

Museum of Australian Democracy
Historian Dr Barry York reports on a growing collection of oral histories documenting the history of Australia’s parliament. ‘The recording of oral history interviews at Old Parliament House in Canberra began in 1995. Over the next decade former workers and staff who worked in the building during the period 1927–1988 were interviewed.
However, in 2007, following a review of the Oral History Program, the Old Parliament House decided to focus on three new categories: former parliamentarians, individuals who personally knew Australian Prime Ministers, and activists of political parties that were represented in the provisional Parliament House, as well as continuing to conduct interviews with former staff and workers. ‘This broadening of scope reflected the creation of a new research centre in the building, the Australian Prime Ministers Centre, and a task force to redevelop Old Parliament House as a Museum of Australian Democracy. The Museum was launched in May 2009. ‘The earliest interview in the collection dates back to 1995, featuring an elderly building worker who had helped to build the Provisional Parliament House in 1927. Other interviewees since then include parliamentary staffers, journalists, construction workers, stenographers, police, drivers, managers, librarians, typists, gardeners, waitresses, caterers, paymasters and hairdressers. There are also interviews with individuals who attended the opening ceremony in 1927.
‘The new Museum has also entered into an agreement with the Australian National Library to cooperate in the recording of interviews with former federal parliamentarians and political party activists, known as the ‘Old Parliament House Political and Parliamentary Oral History Project’. As of September 2010 the holdings in this project total twenty-seven former federal members of parliament. ‘There are now more than 200 interviews in the Museum’s Oral History collection. Interviews with former federal parliamentarians are substantial, ranging from three to fifteen hours, and take the life story approach while emphasising their political careers and experiences. ‘In interviews about the building, we focus on the daily routines of labour and leisure, the ways in which physical spaces were used, political processes and the people who were here.’
l The Museum’s website is at: For more information on the oral history collection contact Barry York,

Source: International News Section of UK's Oral History Journal, Spring 2011

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