• 700 New South Wales primary school students came together to sing in the threatened Guugu Yimithirr language. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Nine children from the remote Cape York community of Hope Vale take centre stage to sing in language at Sydney Opera House.
Brooke Fryer

13 Aug 2019 - 10:58 PM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2019 - 11:03 PM

Seven hundred primary school students came together at the Sydney Opera House on Monday to sing in the Guugu Yimithirr language, the native tongue of Queensland’s Cape York.

Standing centre stage were nine children from Hope Vale, a remote school of 108 students in remote Cape York.

As part of the Cantabile Music Festival, the mass choir performed the song 'Nganhthaan Waandaar Nganhthaan Ngurraar' which translates to ‘We are white cockatoo, we are black cockatoo’,.   

The song was written and taught by Guugu Yimithirr Elder Lillian Bowen who told NITV News the song is about two different but unique types of people living and learning together.

“I feel so overwhelmed knowing that children are going to be singing one of my songs that I have been teaching for a long time, especially knowing it’s going to be here at the Opera House,” said Aunty Lillian.

“The children from Hope Vale have said they are happy themselves to share their language, our language from Cape York.”

Aunty Lillian, 67, has been teaching primary school students in Hope Vale Guugu Yimithirr for over 15 years and said the students learn language fastest when it is taught in song.  

Born in Hope Vale, Aunty Lillian grew up speaking Guugu Yimithirr and now writes workbooks for the students in language as well as developing songs, with nine currently in the works. 

Eleven-year-old Hope Vale student Brettaequa Leo said she was excited to sing in her traditional language with the mass choir on Monday night because it gave her the opportunity to tell everyone about her culture.

Miss Leo said she had grown up speaking Guugu Yimithirr, learning it from her mother.

The Cantabile Music Festival’s artistic director David Collins-White said he had visited Hope Vale and its students four times as part of the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program.

Mr Collins-White said he had worked with around 10 teachers as part of the program to “help incorporate music ... into the children's education from three-year-olds up to seven-year-olds”.

Mr Collins-White invited the students from Hope Vale to attend the music festival and to share their culture. 

Within the 700 students were 90 from China's Nanjing and Zhengzhou cities thanks to an education agreement Cantabile has with China's education system. 

The Hope Vale Primary School is a part of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy, working in partnership with Good to Great schools, founded by Noel Pearson, and Queensland’s Education Department.

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