Women’s voices take centre stage at Katjungka Music Festival

Mulan women making music


Ten Mulan women have come together to write, record, and perform empowering music, in the rare East Walmajarri language. The activity forms part of a two-week community health festival in the Katjungka region, coinciding with Mental Health Week.

Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial (KASPT) Community Liaison Officer, Brian Darkie Jnr, wanted to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of women in the area through music. The idea was inspired by an extremely successful music program for local Aboriginal men that was run in 2019.

“There is an incredible men’s music scene in the Kutjungka region, but we wondered why no women singers had emerged in the community,” he said.

“We wanted to encourage women to share their voices, their stories, and to reconnect with cultural knowledge through music, ultimately to improve their social and emotional wellbeing.”

To support this, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) Social and Emotional Wellbeing Officer, Shirley Brown, alongside the KASPT Team and Health Officer, Tonchi, engaged legendary musician, songwriter, and elder, Kankawa Nagarra ‘Olive’ Knight, to lead workshops and concerts with local women.

“It was great to see so many young women engaging in the music workshops,” Shirley Brown said.

“These workshops need to keep going for the future of our desert women, to break the cycle, and empower our young women to build strong communities.”


Olive Knight in the Kimberley
Olive Knight on country

The 10 Mulan women took trips on country with Kankawa Nagarra Knight and three local elders, to learn about bush foods and write a song about how the country makes you strong.

“It created an atmosphere of respect for each other, our community, and the land.” Tonchi said.

“Visiting important cultural places such as Lake Gregory, while learning how to speak the beautiful but fading East Walmajarri language of their grandparents, which can now be shared with the rest of the region through song, was incredibly powerful and has created a buzz of excitement in the community.”

The final song was called “Muntu Paja Marrka Munku, which translates to “Country Keeps Us Strong”. They debuted the music at the inaugural Katjungka Music Festival concert to more than 200 community members, receiving a wave of support.

“The crowd was in awe and the applause was huge,” Tonchi said.

“Young women in Balgo and Bililluna are now seeking their own chance to do the same! The Kutjungka women’s music revolution has begun.”

The final song recording will be available to download on Soundcloud in the coming weeks, and USBs will be distributed to people across the region, so that it can be enjoyed by the whole community and the language can continue to be shared and learned.

About the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial

The Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial is helping to develop a model of suicide prevention that meets the unique and culturally sensitive needs of the region’s Aboriginal communities. The Trial aims to identify the best approaches to doing this, which will inform a wider national approach.

The Australian Government chose the Kimberley as one of 12 national Suicide Prevention Trial Sites. This is due to the tragic over-representation of suicide in Aboriginal communities such as the Kimberley, where the age-adjusted rate of suicide is more than six times the national average.

The Trial is guided by the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) and covers the entire Kimberley region, with the following nine areas chosen to develop community-led responses: Broome, Bidyadanga, Dampier Peninsula, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra, Wyndham and Balgo.

A strong cultural framework underpins all its activities. Community decision making on suicide prevention strategies in local communities is a priority. The Trial is community driven through representation on the Working Group which is co-chaired by the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) Chief Executive Office, Rob McPhee. It is led by KAMS, and supported by WA Primary Health Alliance, Country WA PHN.

The five-year Trial comprises a planning and implementation phase and its findings and outcomes will be evaluated by the Australian Government, as part of a national evaluation.