One million shearwaters have their rookeries on Phillip Island and they fly 15,000 kilometres in their annual migration from Bass Strait in the Southern Ocean to the Bering Sea in the Northern Pacific. The short-tailed shearwater is celebrated as a symbol of creative, cultural and environmental interconnectedness.
The third Shearwater Festival held on Phillip Island on November 22 and 23 brought the community together in a creative, cultural and environmental celebration of the short tailed shearwaters. The Festival involved school children and families as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous creative artists, musicians and Elders.
The two-day Festival began on Saturday morning with a colourful Street Parade along Thompson Avenue in Cowes, led by Indigenous Elders and artists and a shearwater puppet with a seven-metre wingspan. The ‘Moon Bird’ puppet had been made by Artist-in-Residence Annie Edney. Following the bird were drummers, percussionists and singers along with different kinds of sea creature puppets made and carried by local school children in the Shearwater Education Program leading up to the Festival.
The Street Parade made its way down to the Cowes Foreshore where Senior Boon Wurrung Elder Aunty Carolyn Briggs, welcomed people to her Country with a smoking ceremony. A group of Indigenous dancers and local Indigenous school children called Baarny Bupap (Water Babies) performed traditional Creation Dances and a Shearwater Dance choreographed especially for the occasion by Steve Parker and Lowell Hunter.
There were opening speeches from the CEO of the auspicing organisation, the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Mr Paul Paton. The newly appointed mayor of the Bass Coast Shire Council, Mayor Kimberley Brown also spoke. Phillip Island Nature Park Board Member, Stephen Davie and Bruce Procter from the San Remo Bendigo Bank also expressed their appreciation in being involved of the Festival.
On Saturday afternoon there were creative and cultural workshops at the Cowes Cultural Centre. They included singing and dancing workshops, Indigenous story-telling and an opportunity to learn to play the gumleaf with well-known Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Herb Patten. A participative ritual performance facilitated by local dance teacher, Tony Norquay completed the day.
In the early evening, Graeme Burgan, Senior Education Ranger at the Phillip Island Nature Park, conducted an environmental talk on the latest research on the shearwater birds at the Cape Woolamai Surf Life Saving Club. He led dusk and dawn walks at Cape Woolamai to see the shearwaters return at dusk and take off at dawn from their rookeries.
The Sunday Concert at the Cowes Cultural Centre was filled to capacity. It featured high profile musicians Kutcha Edwards, Archie Roach, Yirrmal and the Yolngu Boys, Marcia Howard and Rose Bygrave and members of the Deep Listening Band and Friends, Steve Sedergreen, Mike Jordan, Ron Murray, ToK Norris and Uncle Herb Patten. Archie Roach, much loved Indigenous musician received a standing ovation at the end of the concert.
The Shearwater Festival is auspiced by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages and sponsored by the Bass Coast Shire in partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park and ABC Gippsland. The Bendigo Bank and District Aboriginal Corporation also contributed support to the Festival this year.
You can hear Education Ranger Graeme Burgan from the Phillip Island Nature Park talking about the short-tailed shearwaters on http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2011/10/06/3333621.htm