In the remote Kimberley town of Warmun, nestled on the lands of the Gija people, a remarkable performance is emerging from the wreckage of scattered cars. “The Journey Down” is a captivating journey of sound, storytelling, and culture, making its way down the Western Australian coast from Kununurra to Perth.
At the heart of this unique performance is a percussive sculpture fashioned from an old rusty ute, lovingly named Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool, meaning “old car” in Gija language. Composer and sound artist Jon Rose embarked on the transformation of this old car wreck into a musical instrument back in 2017, collaborating closely with the Warmun community.
Together, they created a significant cultural object through an arts project curated and produced by Tura New Music. The project aimed to highlight the importance of cars in the recent history and stories of Indigenous peoples.
From Kimberley to Perth: The Journey of Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool
The Western Australian Museum in Perth recognized the cultural significance of this unique vehicle and acquired it for permanent display. “The Journey Down” was conceived to transport this remarkable musical car over a 3,000-kilometer journey from the state’s far north to Perth.
Tura New Music’s Artistic Director and the project’s Creative Producer, Tos Mahoney, describes the collaboration as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It brought together non-Indigenous artists, Indigenous artists, traditional owners, and elders in a deeply immersive creative process.
Bridging Cultures Through Dance and Culture
Miriwoong man Chris Griffiths, serving as a cultural adviser throughout the journey, ensures a respectful passage through the lands of traditional owners. Beyond that, he actively participates in the performance by showcasing the Wangga dance, also known as the Warangtha.
The Wangga dance tells the story of a short but significant figure who, according to Griffiths, originates not only from Kununurra but from throughout the Kimberley region. This figure serves as a protector and guide, ensuring respect for the land. Griffiths adds with a grin, “If we do [disrespect country], he’ll appear and give us a hell of a fright.”
Creating a Unique Soundscape
Percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson plays a pivotal role in the performance, exploring the extraordinary sounds that Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool can produce. From its rumbling and oceanic tones to fiery explosions of sound, every part of the car offers a distinctive auditory experience.
Tomlinson and her fellow artists identify the various sounds the wreck can make and use them to create compositions for the show. They use fencing wire strung tautly across the open bonnet for bowing and strumming, while the battered doors serve as drums, changing their sound with each performance.
These sounds, often associated with daily life like a visit to a local mechanic or a drive through town, are transformed into an art form.
Sharing Stories Through Art and Education
“The Journey Down” also serves as a canvas for storytelling, with Dreamtime tales and personal narratives painted across the car, including the work of Gija artist Shirley Purdie. These stories, whether real or mythological, are a testament to history in all its forms.
In addition to public performances, the cast takes time to visit schools, demonstrating to students how everyday items, such as washing machine pipes, can be transformed into musical instruments. Griffiths imparts the Wangga dance to students and encourages them to share their own car journey stories.
The final destination for Warnarral Ngoorrngoorrool is Boola Bardip, the Perth site of the WA Museum, where it will be permanently displayed, a testament to the remarkable fusion of art, culture, and history that has taken place along “The Journey Down.”
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