Eumeralla war requiem to premiere in Port Fairy

On a peace mission: Composer Deborah Cheetham at the memorial in Port Fairy to aborigines massacred in the south-west.
On a peace mission: Composer Deborah Cheetham at the memorial in Port Fairy to aborigines massacred in the south-west.

Deborah Cheetham wants the requiem concert she has composed on the Eumeralla Wars between aborigines and white settlers in the south-west to take people beyond guilt.

Ms Cheetham wants the requiem, which is traditionally a mass for the repose of the souls of the dead, to help the non-indigenous and indigenous people of Australia make peace and build trust.

Ms Cheetham, an indigenous opera singer and composer, will premiere “Eumeralla, A War Requiem for Peace” at the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival on October 14.

She has taken the innovative step of composing the 70-minute concert  for choir, soloists and orchestra with songs in language from regional Gunditjmara dialects.

Some of the songs will be sung by non-indigenous adults while others will be sung by the indigenous Dhungala Children’s Choir, which includes members from Heywood and Portland.

Ms Cheetham said she wanted non-indigenous people performing in the requiem to give them the opportunity to learn about the history of the Eumeralla Wars and learn some of the local languages.

The audience will also have an English translation of the songs to help their understanding of the aboriginal experience.

Ms Cheetham was inspired to create the work about the little-known Eumeralla wars of resistance in the late 1800s that claimed many aboriginal lives after visiting the Lake Condah mission near Macarthur.

She said she felt an overwhelming sense of unrest at the mission, like the voices of aborigines who had been massacred in the area were calling to her. 

Ms Cheetham, a Yorta Yorta woman from northern Victoria, has since spoken to many local aboriginal elders to hear their stories about the wars and its significant sites, which have influenced the work. She spent last week in Port Fairy completing the last four movements.

Parts of the work have previously been performed in Adelaide, Melbourne and Venice but the performance at the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival will premiere all 18 movements.

Ms Cheetham said she chose Port Fairy for the premiere because she wanted it to be in the country where the wars occurred.

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