Sacred Environment (abstract)

Sacred Environment is an oratorio venerating sacred land and the story it tells. This oratorio is the result of artistic research based on the ancestral lands of Yengo National Park in New South Wales, Australia, the traditional territory of The Wonnarua and Darkinjung people.

The commission from The Holland Festival for the Radio Philharmonic orchestra and Groot Omroep choir implied the genre of an oratorio, a non-staged setting of sacred or religious narrative. This genre resonated with me because I wanted to illustrate that nature itself is sacred, as holy as any Gothic cathedral or place of worship. The inclusion of the Didgeridoo in the line-up for the commission was the key to unlocking a path of questions leading back to the bushland of my own early settler family heritage, the aboriginal and colonial history of the area and the landscape and terrain in which they simultaneously existed.

I wanted to make the Concertgebouw into the bush where the iconic European concert-hall and the giant native tree trunks of the Australian bushland emphasise the symbiosis between Nature and Culture. The Concertgebouw represents the pinnacle of Dutch cultural society. It is a historic building where guests travel from afar to watch and listen to the worlds greatest musicians performing music by composers who have contributed to our western canon. This reminded me of the aboriginal concept of “corroboree”, a place where tribal men and women from Australia gather to sing, dance and celebrate their collective memory of Dreamtime stories, Song Lines and The Law. I was curious about the intersection between nature and culture. I imagined an image of bringing the bush into the Concertgebouw where it was no longer possible to tell where architecture ended and giant trees and branches began, blurring the lines between the two.

I recognise the importance of place and ancestral heritage to aboriginal traditions and it is something that resonates with me. The Netherlands is the ancestral home of my mother’s family and Australia is the ancestral home of my Father’s family. My search for a cultural identity is tied to this journey. It is an obsession that has been sparked by my experience as a migrant, having been born in England and moving to Australia, and then moving from Australia to the Netherlands, being the daughter of a migrant Dutch family and an Australian family that reaches back to the very first European settlers. The feeling of being both new and old in a place simultaneously is something that I experience strongly in both Australia and The Netherlands.

The music is drawn from the sound of the bush. The piece is busting with cicada rhythms, frog sounds and bird song. I wanted to recreate the breathless sensation I felt when confronted with the giant rock formations of the cliffs overlooking the river, the pyramid shapes of the mountains and stretches of bushland that reach beyond the horizon. Sensing the spirit of the land, the earth energy, dream-lines, the path of the stars, monolithic structures in the landscape, a feeling of being within the bush and the bush being within oneself is recreated through the power of sound wherein the intensity of the smell, light, heat, colour of the bush can be felt.

The imagery portrayed in the libretto represents the soul of the trees. They are the spiritual dimension of the forest, their ephemeral and fluid presence is internalised in the memory and exists in the imagination, adrift in the forest of the mind. The magnetic, seductive and liberating spirit of the bushland speaks and the sense that all plants, animals, minerals and people possess a universal soul connected to one another is emphasised by the connectivity of rhythms and harmonies within the music itself.

The libretto weaves a story of a woman lost in the bush surrounded and overwhelmed by the elements. Lists of native trees, minerals, animals, stars and water in their Latin scientific nomenclature envelope her story like the great monuments and icons of Deities, Saints and Martyrs. Latin names are employed so as to veil their true identity, keeping them hidden in plain sight and symbolising the inaccessibility of the bush to those who are not yet familiar with what it holds. To emphasise this, fragments of the Latin Mass including Libera Me and Lacrimosa have been included, resonating with the ritualistic revelation concerning the past and future holocaust/ apocalypse of the fragile environment belonging to our ancestors and children.

The story is told on four layers referencing Aboriginal traditional story-telling, where a story speaks on different levels depending on how far one has reached in one’s education and initiation. The meaning of traditional stories are themselves sacred and can only be revealed to those who have been prepared and are ready to receive their real meaning. Although this story is in narrative form, it is told through a language of symbols. On one hand it may tell a simple story of a woman who has lost her way, or it may tell the story of Mother Nature herself. The subject of the narrative outlines European versus Aboriginal spirituality and society and the concept of past, present and future, existing in one physical entity within the environment and the need to sustain the environment because it holds the treasure of our own existence. The environment is to be revered, teaming with beauty and complexity, an ecosystem likened to the most beautiful composition or complicated machine.

Kate Moore (April 2017)





Photos by Nina Frankova (Photos taken during our research expedition into Dharug and Yengo National Park following The Great North Road, May 2016)