UQ Vice-Chancellor’s Concert Series: Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace


Eumeralla has a really deep
significance for me personally I had goose bumps, there were
tears, I know that many other people had similar responses. I’ve been to thousands of
concerts in my life and this was one of the most
electrifying. Resistance wars were fought all
across this country. Some people call them the
‘Frontier Wars’; of course for Aboriginal people it wasn’t a
frontier. Along the Eumeralla River, the
squatters of the time they wrote to the Governor of the
day and said, “We’re having trouble with all the
‘blacks’, they won’t move”. And the Governor said,
“Convince them.” And that was code for,
“Just shoot. Shoot at will”. ‘Eumeralla, a war requiem for
peace’ is a very significant work on a number of levels. It’s a fascinating work because it
takes the Catholic requiem mass and translates the Latin text
into the Gunditjmara dialects, and through that process, the
work engages in the reconciliation process. This translation by Vicki is
quite a landmark work because before it, the actual
grammatical use of language had almost disappeared. Most of the hard work is done
by the conductors of the choirs of course, but really it comes
back to that source material and we’re so very lucky to have
had this wonderful translation by Vicki Couzens. The University of Queensland
Orchestra and the chorus, and the Voices of Birralee and Talia, our beautiful
mezzo-soprano, and Don Bemrose who’s a
Gungarri man, so he’s coming back home to
Queensland and myself; alongside Dhungala Children’s
Choir. It was not an easy process, Deborah herself is the first to
admit the difficulties of the piece. The students had to learn this
piece without a reference point, without a kind of aural library
of what the piece sounds like that they could aim for; they
had to imagine how it would sound in their heads just from
using the score and that’s a really difficult thing to do,
and they pulled it off incredibly well and I was very
proud of them. It is a major landmark cultural
contribution to the process of reconciliation. It’s designed deliberately to
allow indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to
perform alongside each other. Here is an axis point into a
part of our history that many people don’t know
anything about. In order for us to actually
fully mature as a nation we must understand it. It’s a huge story, I think that
I could only ever have hoped to approach it through music. Music certainly can’t change
the past and it can’t directly affect the material conditions
of First Nations people today. But it can create the
conditions for awareness, for understanding and for
connecting people that might allow change to happen. If I get one person, (and
hopefully it’s many more), but even one person
questioning ‘Why didn’t I know?’, that starts to shift the
conversation, that starts to help us to heal that wound of
this part of our history, that… that really… it’s
left a wound that needs to be healed, and I think music
can do that.

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