Perth Festival opened last night with the return of 2017’s triumphant sound and light installation in Kings Park, Boorna Waanginy. An eerily beautiful display in which the trees act as a canvas, the projection delivers a powerful message: we must rethink how we relate to our environment, or risk its continued degradation and eventual loss.
Directed by Nigel Jamieson with guidance from Noongar community Elders, Whadjuk Working Party members and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), Boorna Waanginy is the festival’s major free public event – powered not only by a set of formidable 20,000 lumen projectors, but also an underlying sense of hope for the future of our environment.
Shifting seamlessly between moments of celebration and beauty and moments of warning, the 1.5km walk-through isn’t just mesmerising, it’s moving. Traversing 700metres of red-flowering gums down Fraser Avenue, audiences become immersed in the six Noongar seasons – from the flutter of hundreds of birds and 20-foot tall numbats to scurrying lizards and, as the music turns ominous, a raging bushfire. The words of Noongar author Kim Scott surround you, narrating the changing seasons as they come to life before your eyes.
We go on to witness stories of creation – hearing how the earth came to be, how life evolved and man arrived – from both Noongar and western perspectives. We hear the story of the Milky Way and the ‘coming of colour’ to the world, and of the formation of the Yilgarn Craton, which has cradled our pocket of the world for centuries.
It’s enough to inspire wonder in even the most steadfast of adults – let alone the hundreds of children atop their parents’ shoulders pointing in awe at the projections of other children, each discovering the world around them as if for the first time.
And then come the words of warning. As if breaking news or an interruption to regular proceedings, snippets of real-life news segments reporting on the threats of urban sprawl to important ecosystems and of extinction caused by mining and pilfering ring out across a motionless audience. Those stories of creation suddenly take on a new fragility.
Without realising, we find ourselves meandering through the botanical gardens aside Lovekin Drive, glass jars lit from above dangling like lanterns just above head-height, softly swaying in the breeze. They contain threatened and extinct species preserved in yellow liquid. The narration speaks to memories of what once was – thriving ecosystems, abundant bushland – and of the witnessing of change. We’ve just been shown how much the land has given us, and now we are confronted with what we have taken away, the brightly-lit jars like guiding stars leading us to a better way of being.
The journey culminates at Seeds of Change, a spectacular student-created installation which looks to the future set on the sloping Peppermint Lawn. Surrounded by thousands of illuminated seed-pods, a screen plays a short-film on loop. Featuring Noongar Elders Dr Noel Nannup and Dr Richard Walley OAM, as well as conservationists, scientists and students, the film reminds us of the importance of caring for our land and our shared responsibility to do so. It leaves us with a sense of hope, but it’s also a call to arms. We are the current caretakers of this land that has formed over millennia, and that will be here – if we begin to listen – for millennia after we’re gone. We must do more.
Boorna Waanginy is open to visitors between 8pm and 11pm until Monday, 11 February. Last entry is at 10.30pm.