Keniny Kaadadijiny: Restoring and developing dance for Noongar Boodjar

Author Identifiers

Trevor Ryan


Date of Award


Degree Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Performing Arts)


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Jonathan W. Marshall

Second Advisor

Clint Bracknell

Third Advisor

Pierre Horwitz


As Noongar people, we have a strong spiritual connection to boodjar, or Country, which relates to everything within landscapes that give us meaning and purpose. It is our law and culture to care for the natural environment and places of significance. Performing on-Country is a key part of maintaining it. Country is everything—weather, land, sea, sky, flora, fauna, groundwater—and song, dance, and Country are fundamentally connected; expressing Country through performance is part of Country as a living thing. In a Noongar context, it is not just “performance” in the sense of a fiction or purely symbolic act; Noongar performance makes manifest and maintains ever-present relationships that sustain Country, humans, and biota. However, along with other factors, the increasing irregularity and restriction of longstanding Noongar performance practices directly coincides with increased environmental degradation. In response, Aboriginal people signal the pressing need to restore languages and performance traditions decimated by the settler colonial project. Therefore, there is a need to better understand and appreciate how Aboriginal performance cultures contribute to humanity’s ability to coexist with nature.

This thesis explores the development of a series of novel Noongar dances which represent spiritual, cultural, and hence environmental affective values associated with Country, with a view to re-invigorating both cultural practice and links to Country itself, for Noongar and non-Noongar. My experience as a Noongar dancer, actor, drama teacher and cultural tour guide has led me to ask the following questions that I personally feel need to be answered. How can we as Noongar performers express our understandings of Country within movement? What kind of dances can we create for species and landscapes that are endangered on-Country and within performance traditions? And how can we share this, so to pass on and sustain across generations and communities for a deeper connection to Country?

The development of these dances was supported by a steering committee of Noongar elders who came from Noongar boodjar and hence were able to give cultural advice, guidance, authority; and further supplemented and supported by experts in the humanities and in environmental science and ethics from the local region. With the importance of recreating these Noongar dances within Country we reached out to the community to be involved and to participate in this amazing journey of development and discovery towards forming an ensemble to perform these new dances within Noongar country, which came to be known as the Mayakeniny “sound dancing” Dancer Group.

Our knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation through stories, song, language, dance, and art. Although settler-colonial practices have adversely impacted maintenance of this knowledge, as Noongar people we still have a responsibility to look after Country. In the past, Noongar performance repertoire helped us fulfill this responsibility. Given the considerable changes to Country and developments in technology from the early colonial period onwards, it is important to consider how we can create on-Country performances today that reach contemporary Noongar and non-Noongar audiences in meaningful and lasting ways.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is embargoed until 2nd December 2024.

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