Can you tell us your name, age and where you grew up
My name is Willurai Kirkbright, I’m 32 years old, I grew up mostly in Sydney and partly on the north coast, kind of in the rainforest around Wollongbar, Nimbin, Lismore
Where abouts in Sydney?
I started going to school in La pa (La Perouse), that was really different to all the other places in Sydney that I’ve lived because there’s a huge Aboriginal population there. Then I started primary school in Redfern, again a huge Aboriginal population and then lived predominately in the Marrickville area after that.
How close do you feel to your aboriginal heritage?
It’s a complex thing when people ask an Aboriginal person how close to their heritage they are, particularly in Australia where the White Australia policy prohibited us speaking our language and practising our culture. Both of my parents are Wiradjuri, which is from North-West New South Wales, so a lot of the knowledge I have is from them as well as elders, aunties and uncles. But I feel like a lot of our culture has to be salvaged all the time, right up to this point in time it’s still being suppressed. On a deeper level, I feel incredibly connected to my country, the land, the nature. One of the reasons I have a panel van is so I can get just get outta town whenever I want to. If I don’t do so, once or twice a month, I start to get an itch, like I’m suffocating or drowning in the city, I really feel like we [Aboriginal people] are not meant to live in cities. I also think a lot of my art comes out of my culture.
It’s very interesting you mention that because, I’ve listened to some of your music and I’ve noticed its very, hip-hop and trap influenced, I wonder if Aboriginal Australian culture shares in the sound and genre that was birthed from African American suffering. As some kind of artistic parallel stemming from a shared history of slavery.
Hip-hop is definitely from a culture of oppression, a culture of survival, it’s music that essentially comes from slave songs and Aboriginal people were-and still are slaves so I definitely feel connected on that level. Hip hop, trap music and trip-hop are kind of extensions of poetry, which is not that dissimilar to when I stand up and do public speaking. I’m trying to communicate my history, my suffering and what my people have been through, what I’ve survived…poetically.
I wanted to talk to you about the whole Soft Centre poem, how did that situation arise?
Umm…hmmmm…Oh my god, that’s such a big…That’s such a big question (laughs)
We can start with something smaller, how did you get in contact with Divide and Dissolve?
So Takiea, and Silvey, who are the two members of divide and dissolve decided that it was important to have an Aboriginal person’s presence in the show, which is something that’s lacking all the time. They asked me if I wanted to come up and do anything. At first, I was going to do some spoken word, then I decided to do a nursery rhyme that I created, that’s about how racism, white privilege, discrimination…this inherent racism exists within different communities.
The way that I originally wrote that nursery rhyme…was after a really racist event took place at the Red Rattler last year and the Red Rattler, myself being queer, is a really important, essential part of the community and has a lot to do with my queer identity evolving. It’s called ‘The Cat in the Rat House’- It uses the image of this White cat as this really problematic, inherent racism that we’re all socially programmed with, it exists in all of our subconscious, and we have to work out, we have to ACKNOWLEDGE and work out how that exists in our different communities no matter how PC or forward we think we are.
That was what’s interesting about the Soft Centre example because that’s a crowd whom I would say is particularly PC and fairly politically progressive. Yet your poem triggered an intense sense of White guilt, I spoke about it afterwards with my friends and we kind of concluded that it was supposed to make the audience uncomfortable in what was expected to be a safe space
Yeah but a safe space for who?
As an Aboriginal person, we’re constantly being asked to perform in places where we’re not safe. The reason I was so inclined to do that particular piece at Soft Centre is because electronic music is quite a White scene, and the concept of what’s normal and what’s comfortable is really determined by Western culture and a very White mentality. I still wanted it to be accessible–I didn’t want it to be me just screaming at the crowd, or me expressing just being sad or angry, I wanted to talk about my lived experience. I’m constantly exotified, constantly othered, constantly asked and treated in ways that would be different if I wasn’t an Aboriginal person and that happens to me as an artist, curator, musician, as a person and as a lover! I’ve had really complex relationships with, particularly White people as a lover, and that’s something that isn’t talked about.
Ilias Bakalla is the producer, director and interviewer of Women of color: The Intersectional Experience. He is a young journalist based in Sydney, Australia a lot of his work centers around intersectionality stemming from his formal education in the Sociology of religion, Gender and Cultural studies. He has authored a number of opinion pieces on civil religion and racial identities published in his blog; Fouzi Thinks and in The Artifice. He also writes extensively for the online-based publication; Sydney Scoop about cultural events happening in Sydney.
Louise Dietz-Henderson is the Filmmaker and editor of Women of Colour : The Intersectional Experience. Lou is a film producer, freelance photographer and videographer who studied her bachelor’s degree at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney, Australia. Lou currently resides in Sydney.