by Nance Haxton

The Hand in Hand Irish Aboriginal Festival in Fremantle will celebrate the connection between the two cultures with food, poetry, song, dancing and art this weekend.

This is the fourth festival celebrating ancient and contemporary Irish and Aboriginal culture at the Kidogo Arthouse, featuring events such as a performance from Mary G from Broome on Saturday, a gaelic football match and a soda bread and damper cookoff on Sunday.

The artwork and songs of Gooniyandi artist Kenneth Dawson will feature in Hand in Hand.

Mr Dawson references his mob’s storylines from the Kimberley in his artwork, overlapping performances of songlines with his paintings.

“And so I paint and tell stories and also traditional songs that I’ll sing over these paintings to tell the storyline, to sing to the spirit of those paintings and that story from that particular place,” Mr Dawson says.

“It’s not just a piece of art that it looks nice on the wall, but these stories are the ones that very stand out on Gooniyandi country.

“All these paintings are very connected to me as a person and as a cultural being from the tribe of Gooniyandi.”

He says being part of the festival has been eye-opening for him to realise the similarities between the two countries, with both cultures having a strong storytelling tradition.

“And so Irish people tell stories as well and you can see that spiritual side – they are very grounded and connected to land as well and spirits – just like Aboriginal people,” he says.

“I think this is just the start of showing the similarity of the culture, coming together food wise, painting, singing, dancing, so there’s a lot of similarity and just to tell people of other cultures that this is just the start and hopefully in the future we can do other cultural stuff with other tribes in Australia or across the sea.”

Director Joanna Robertson originally came from Dublin to Australia more than 30 years ago, and says she has long noticed the connections and similarities between Irish and Aboriginal people, such as a shared history of colonisation.

“Lots of Indigenous people in Western Australia have Irish surnames, so I wanted to find out more about what were the stories, how do they get the surnames, let’s look at the love stories, the hidden stories the camaraderie,” Joanna says.

“Every Aboriginal person I know has got a story to tell about Irish family members.”

Joanna says the connections between the two cultures run deep, with similar respect for land, descriptions of Country, and experiences of having language suppressed.

“How did First Nations people in Australia keep their language going for 65,000 years?,” she says.

“We all over the world need to study what they did and have done and are doing so that we can revive the Irish language and keep that going for another 65,000 years and learn from First Nations people. Because what they’ve achieved and done, no-one else in the world has ever done that.”