Sharing stories of Country, the Sydney Opera House is hosting Yarning Country, an evening of storytelling and song reflecting on the 2021 NAIDOC theme Heal Country! by First Nations creatives.

The one-time event will take place on June 24 and will see creatives from across the nation bring stories, song and dance from Country to Tubowgule (Bennelong Point).

Yarning Country is curated and hosted by Warlpiri woman and former co-host of NITV’s The Point, Rachael Hocking.

With more than six years of journalism under her belt, Hocking is stepping into a role that calls on her creativity.

“I’m bringing with me a bunch of skills that I have in the media but being a bit more creative, which I’ve always craved in my profession and in my life,” Hocking told NIT.

With a love for gathering like-minded souls, Hocking has curated Yarning Country to share a variety of stories and bring new opportunities to First Nations creatives.

“I wanted the storytellers I invited to be part of this to really be experts on speaking to their Country. People who have already shared how they relate to Country … whether that be in poetry, country music, spoken word, hip-hop, playing around with electronic medium and dance as well,” she said.

“I really wanted to look at how our mob expressed their connection to Country every single day. 

“The artists I’ve invited are people who really reflect that, and perhaps aren’t sorts of people who would be invited to massive stages like the Opera House … we have so much talent in our communities but we don’t always get access to the same spaces that other people do.”

Heal our Country, Heal our Nation (2021) by Rhiannon Chapman. Photo supplied.

Hocking holds storytelling very close and understands the value in sharing.

“Storytelling is healing. Most of my understandings of my Songlines and the Dreaming that I have inherited have come through story,” she said.

“I learnt so much about my Bush Potato Dreaming which is a really important story for my family through my grandfather. I have been able to connect to Country whilst being kilometres away here on Gadigal land.

“Storytelling is a connection for us who live off Country as well.”

Hocking brings together an array of artists including Gadigal and Yuin woman Aunty Rhonda Dixon Grovenor and her daughter Nadeena.

“It’s really important for me and the other artists, that we always remember we are on Gadigal land,” said Hocking.

“Aunty Rhonda Dixon Grovenor and her daughter Nadeena will be welcoming us to Gadigal land, they are going to be sharing stories from Gadigal land. They will be telling us about the native plan regeneration that is happening on Country and reminding us about where we are. 

“I’m very grateful that we are able to host this event with Traditional Owners walking alongside us.”

Others involved in Yarning Country include Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Jeanine Leane, Bidjigal singer-songwriter Uncle Vic Simms and Yorta Yorta hip hop artist, rapper and storyteller Neil Morris, a.k.a. DRMNGNOW.

Growing up on Country, Morris recently returned home to live on Country again. He describes himself as someone who “needs Country on a day-to-day basis”.

“I see myself as someone who lives with the mentality that we are an extension of Country. We are not separate from Country so there is that constant dance and relationship that I believe that we need to keep investing in,” he explained.

“The more and more I live on Country and the more I get into my relationship with song and story, I go deeper into a relationship with Ancestors.

“Country provides you a profound feeling. As Blackfullas we have a greater access to feel that than other people, it is a privilege to connect to Country but there lies our responsibility.”

Morris feels a deep connection to the concept of healing Country — one that extends into his own storytelling.

“I want to really pay homage to the fact that performing my songs and words … are so much about challenging the paradigms [and] ideas of colonial Australia,” he said.

“[Performing] in a location like the Opera House, which represents an example of the opulence of the so-called lucky country and is right in the heart of … some of the first colonial impacts on this land, is something that is the kind of thing we need in order to work towards healing Country.”

Morris will be accompanied by other First Nations creatives during his set, including Noongar man Derek Nannup and Wiradjuri/Gadigal woman Akala Newman.

“I want to also acknowledge how special it is to share the stage with Uncle Vic Simms as a Bidjigal man, and Aunty Jeanine and the amazing legacies of both of their works respectively,” said Morris.

“It’s very special to share in this event with them … through story and song in this special place on Country. [Particularly] at this sensitive time in the world where this kind of curation is more and more important, where we connect across generations and stylistic forms.

“This in itself speaks so much.”

By Rachael Knowles