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What to SEE/Music/Perth Festival

What to SEE: Songs For Freedom

23 February 2022

Lois Olney knows first hand the healing power of music. She is part of the line-up of artists performing at “Songs for Freedom”, a free outdoor concert in Melville.

“Songs For Freedom” is a glorious, open-air celebration of the living culture, stories and songs of Ieramugadu (Roebourne). The concert will feature songs by singer and composer Lois Olney and others, written as part of 10 years of song-writing development and intercultural exchange on Ngarluma country in the West Pilbara.

Olney will perform at Dyoondalup (Point Walter) on Saturday 26th February as part of the Perth Festival, with a fantastic line-up of artists led by broadcaster and Grammy award-winning artist Lucky Oceans. Rosalind Appleby chats with Olney about her life and the healing power of music.

Pictured is Lois Olney, she wears a beautfiully coloured dress. She is seated hands at waist whilst singing in to a microphone.
Lois Olney singing in Roebourne at “Songs for Peace”. Photo: Courney McFarland

Rosalind Appleby: Lois your people are from Roebourne but you grew up in Fremantle and only connected with them in recent years. Tell us a bit of your story.

Lois Olney: I was Stolen Generation, stolen in 1963. I was taken immediately from my mother’s arms at birth by Native Welfare to Ngala and stayed for eight months until adopted into a loving family, the Olney family. I was the second youngest of five children. I went back to Roebourne when I was in my 20’s, with my son, to try and find my mum, but she had passed away a year before I got back. My Uncle Slim Parker introduced me to family. I met Uncle at a bush meeting at the Yule River with my cousin May-May Hubert. Meeting family was overwhelming, although they are all very gentle folk. I found out I was a Ngarluma person. 

RA: You’ve been singing and performing since you were a teenager. How did you find your way into music originally?

LO: My mum, Jennifer Olney, said if I found a singing teacher I could do singing lessons at the age of 13. And I did. And I’ve never looked back from then.

RA: You first performed with the Roebourne Ieramugadu community as part of the Big hART Songs for Peace event in 2020. What was that like?

LO: Fabulous !!  Everything was great, seeing family, countryman and singing at home, especially to be in my mother and my grandparents’ country.  It was magic to me.

RA: How has music been part of the healing process for you?

LO: Music is my medicine. It helps me heal for all the sad things I’ve seen in life, and felt, it helps that pain heal, to subside. I lost my two brothers to deaths in custody, one older and one younger, so I fashion my songs to address how I feel in everyday life about the grief and loss that has happened.

RA: Which of your songs, written in collaboration with Lucky Oceans, are you performing at “Songs For Freedom”?

LO: PS I Love You is dedicated to my birth mother and father.  Dad was a Yamatji person from Meekatharra, a powerful law man. 

Lois Olney performs at the inaugural “Songs for Freedom” concert in 2021.

RA: Where does your musical inspiration come from? Who are your influences as a singer?

LO: Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey. My singing teacher was Shirley Bassey’s musical director years ago and he also taught me opera. I am a grassroots person, because of kinship, country and family and that’s how I write my music.

RA: What are your next steps as a musician?

LO: To work with youth and teach them how to be singers, like Lucky Oceans does.  And it will happen organically that I will record more songs. 

RA: What do you hope people will experience when you perform at Songs of Freedom 2022?

LO: I hope the audience experiences love and affection.

“Songs For Freedom” is a Perth Festival event presented by The City of Melville & Big hART with the Roebourne Community, 26 February 2022.

An exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art coming out of the Pilbara, “Country, Freedom, Peace”, opens on 23 February at Yagan Mia Wireless Hill Museum.

The inaugural “Songs for Freedom” in 2021 attracted more than 3000 people. Photo: Linda Dunjey

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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