A video poem about relationships between people, birds and plants. It offers you a moment to quieten and listen to a story of the natural world. A poem spoken in English is flanked by Arrernte, an Australian indigenous language that is both endangered and enduring. You will see the detail of a songbird and perhaps remember vulnerable moments and the possibility of spirits that return. Birds like ancient languages are vulnerable too. This video holds a memory, a mourning and a celebration.
Director, Fiona Walsh, Artist’s statement
Australia is an enormous continent with a thin population. Sometimes I’m lonely for human company. My elder son and family live far away. My young son is buried here. This home is in the middle of Australia; so isolated in the world. I nurture a wild garden to provide habitats for wildlife. I live with animals and plants; tthey are my companions, my family too. I learn their habits, feel affection and concern for their wellbeing.
Arrernte peopler the indigenous people of the land I settle. I learn from them about birds and local foods. All creatures and places here have ancient stories. The myths of this country are close by; song lines connect people, sites and creatures.
I grieve for something by remembering it. When it reappears, in whatever form, I quieten to absorb more deeply. The genesis of the video is from the birds of the garden. My friend had died, some birds had died, and their kin disappeared. Poet, Kelly Lee Hickey, wrote about them in her poem named ‘New Year’s lament’ now published in ‘Borderlands’.
When the birds returned for a few fleeting days, I filmed them. These elusive avians are known as Spiny cheeked honeyeaters in English, and Arretyaletyale in Arrernte language. My Arrernte colleague and friend, Veronica Perurrle Dobson, told me more about them. An Arrernte worldview focusses on relations between people and certain animals and specific plants. Arrernte people believe the spirit of each creature comes from, and goes to, places in their country; heaven is a notion from a different culture.
I worry about the vulnerability of wildlife with our hotter drier conditions caused by climate change. Here, untold thousands of birds are dying from starvation and heat exhaustion. I find some reassurance in Arrernte beliefs.
To me, a proper way to live respectfully is to ask and work alongside indigenous people. When Veronica Perurrle spoke about the birds, we recorded her words. Then she asked if Kumalie Kngwarreye could read the writing. This video poem weaves one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in the world with the English language that colonised Australia just 232 years ago.
NB The definition of ‘echo’ is ‘sounds caused by repetition …’. The competition rules state that entries must be subtitled in English or Greek. The first half of this video poem is subtitled; the second half with the same content is not subtitled. The repeat without subtitles deepens the listening experience.
Fiona Walsh has a PhD in Botany and Anthropology. Her science degree was in Zoology. She has worked for Australian indigenous people for 37 years. She has always used photographs as a cross-cultural communication media. Ten years ago, Fiona began to learn documentary film-making. Fiona and colleagues have made more than twenty short and long form documentaries; some have screened on national television.
Fiona has lived in remote arid Australia for decades. She rarely goes overseas but in 2017 travelled with two colleagues to Delphi, Athens, Eleusis and Santorini. They considered similarities and differences between the ancient myths of old Greece and desert Australia.
Fiona was a research scientist with CSIRO, Australia’s national federal science organisation. She now works as an independent consultant in ethnoecology, community facilitation and documentary making. In 2020, she received a prestigious award from the Australian Academy of Science to further ecological and cultural research.
Video poems are a new creative genre for Fiona. These are self-funded videos.
Poet, Kelly Lee Hickey, is an artist, creative producer and researcher. Her practice explores intersections between people and place through writing and performance. Her writing has been published and performed in Australia, China, Finland, New Zealand, Indonesia and Germany. She has won poetry slam competition (2010) and a manuscript awards (2011).