Nooky / Corey Webster
Lyricist / Rapper, Composer / Producer
Nowra-born, Sydney-based Yuin Nation hip hop artist, Nooky, will be presented with the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award at the 9th National Indigenous Arts Awards on Friday, 27 May.
The 25 year-old was born Corey Webster. The story behind his nickname, like so much of what defines him, leads back to Nowra and family.
“I got the name because of my Dad, Noel. He had a pet chicken called Chooky when he was young. Here he was, this little blackfella country kid going everywhere with a chicken. Someone nicknamed Dad Nooky – a cross between Noel and Chooky. So whenever I went to the football with Dad everyone called me and my brother ‘Lil’ Nooky’ or ‘Yung Nooky’. When I started my music I just used what people called me - Yung Nooky – I was maybe 19 when I dropped the ‘Yung’. Nooky’s not like a stage name or anything – people mostly call me Nooky but some call me Corey – it’s all good,” Nooky says.
Nooky said growing up in Nowra was not easy but made him the man and artist he is.
“Nowra is the place of my family and People, it’s Yuin Country and I’m proud that’s who I am. But Nowra and I had some tricky times together as well. In the end that’s what got me into music – because of all the anger I felt.”
“Being part of Yuin Nation is everything that I am. We’re Saltwater people. We grew up diving and fishing and surfing, we lived off the water. The ocean is calm and it’s collected and it’s a beautiful thing but when it turns, it gets turbulent. I feel like that’s my personality. I’m calm most of the time, I know what I’m doing, I take it easy, I go with the flow but when there’s something I don’t like, something that frustrates me, I feel like that’s my music. I put that energy into the words and that’s like my tsunami, my defiance,” Nooky said.
The ‘tricky times’ started in Kindergarten with a teacher’s words he can never forget.
“My earliest memory at school was this teacher talking about Aboriginals, saying they were savages and dirty people who run round the bush naked. That afternoon in the car I said to my mum, ‘we’re Aboriginal, aren’t we?’ Mum said ‘yes’. I started crying and told her what I’d heard at school. She just lost it. She said ‘Son, our people were warriors.’ Well, that was it. From that moment I was a warrior. I went back to school with a different mindset,” he said.
But a different mindset did not stop the sting of racist jibes or the rising tide of rage he felt as he learned more about injustice against his People.
His parents shared stories with him about the Aboriginal resistance fighters Pemulwuy and Yagan, lighting a spark in him that would be fanned into furious flames of admiration for the many heroes of his childhood – Charlie Perkins, Eddie Mabo, Guboo Thomas, Chika Dixon, Bobbie McLeod and more.
“I was blown away. From when I was just a cheeky kid, I wanted to be a freedom fighter. Years after, when I recorded my first song, I realised hip hop is how I’ll do that. Music is my spear, my freedom ride, my tent embassy, my people’s battle cry,” Nooky said.
In Year 4, at the suggestion of his mother, Sharon, who worked at a local high school, Nooky’s school brought in two Yuin men, Cecil McLeod and Richard Scott-Moore, who taught him about Indigenous dance and culture.
“Soon they were teaching all the Koori boys at my school how to dance and we were learning about our traditions. It instilled pride in us and gave us confidence. I felt like a warrior because of the anger, but those mentors gave me a sense of leadership that helped me look after some of the younger kids. Plus I loved dancing and we weren’t allowed to dance if we got into a fight,” Nooky said.
He said his mother’s idea to bring mentors into schools to teach Aboriginal kids about dance and culture is now part of all schools in the Nowra area, and many further afield.
When his high school years brought more trouble and anger, more ‘You People’ moments; more clashes with teachers who considered him ‘a waste of time’, Nooky said the unwavering support of his family kept him going.
“I got through that time because of my mum and dad, my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins – my family means everything to me.”
When he left school he went to work at the local youth centre and said it became clear how important music would be in his life.
“I needed something to keep me outta trouble, an escape from the traps of small town life. I do a lot of mentoring with AIME all over the state. I share with kids that my teachers told me to my face I wouldn’t amount to anything but I got past that and I’ve done a lot of things,” he said.
Nooky has done a lot in 25 years, including dancing with a group of Indigenous singers and dancers from Australia during the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He supported Indigenous hip hop group The Last Kinection for his first national tour. He was a 2011 Deadly finalist in the category of Most Promising New Talent in Music. He has composed and produced music for short films, television and theatre, including productions at the Sydney Opera House, Malthouse Theatre and Carriageworks. He completed a brief paid internship at Harvard University during which he worked on the play ‘Finding Neverland’, now playing on Broadway, in its pre-production and off-Broadway phase. He has also recorded a track in Los Angeles with the Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo.
“Working with Taboo came about when I was doing a music program at Redfern Community Centre in 2009. I had a lot of fire. Nomad Two Worlds were working with Taboo and introduced us and I ended up going to LA to record with him in 2010. I’d never experienced anything like that before, I didn’t think I could. I was in the recording booth at his home thinking, ‘Maybe I could do something with this’. It got lots of media attention and lots of the kids in Nowra saw the stories and were blown away. I’m grateful for the experience, for sure,” Nooky said.
Nooky credits his older cousin, Ryan Selway, with getting him interested in rapping in his early teens, teaching him some techniques and providing a harsh home truth that is still the best advice he has ever received.
“I sent Ryan my first rap I’d written, just around the time Fifty Cent came out. I waited and waited and finally he came back and said, ‘Cuz, I gotta be honest. That was sh**house’. I said, ‘What do you mean? That took me hours and hours.’ He said, ‘That’s where you went wrong. Ya thought about it. When you write music, talk with ya heart.’ I live my whole life by that now. If I can’t talk with my heart, I’m not gonna talk.”
Nooky listens with his heart too and acknowledges the important role that mentors apart from family have also played in his life and work.
“Mentoring has been mad important in my career. I’m lucky to have had some of the best in the game help me out along the way - Wire MC, Jimblah, Weno, Briggs and my manager”.
Nooky said he is ‘pumped’ to receive The Dreaming Award from the Australia Council and believes it shows how important hip hop is in contemporary Indigenous Australia.
“I feel empowered, I feel my community is empowered. To be selected by a group of senior people from my community means the world to me as Indigenous self-determination is one of my core values. I see it as an amazing vote of confidence for me as a young artist and validation that I’m heading in the right direction. To be honest, the cash is gonna make such a difference to my first release and give me opportunities for my music to have more reach.”
“I can do so much with this and it’s not just for me. My music’s never been just for me, it’s about my people, my community, and it’s about Nowra. Paying respects to them, giving back to them. I wouldn’t have this voice if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to tell these stories. It’s always been about them, it’s always ever gonna be about them.”
He says he hopes with his Dreaming project he can break into the industry by making the best album possible with his chosen team of mentors; make something his community will be proud of; take his artistry to new levels and break new ground for Indigenous hip hop.
As for long-term goals, Nooky said: “Ultimately a sustainable career is a major goal. I’d like to be a financially viable artist, a full-time musician with community workshops as part of my strategy to give back as opposed to an income stream. My end goal is always to give back to community. I hope to start up a centre in Nowra where local kids can come and be creative and have a studio to use, kids who can’t otherwise afford it. I’d like to start my own initiative to offer support for kids to get through school and reach their dreams whether they be music, football, acting or whatever.”
“Arts is so important for Aboriginal Culture, it’s a way of keeping our traditions alive. Wire MC said it best - ‘hip hop is a modern-day corroboree’. We are a resilient and defiant people. Our language and ceremonies were taken from us but not lost in their entirety. I want my words and music to shine a light on the part of Australia’s history that’s often kept in the shadows. I want to take all the negativity and injustice given to me and mine and use that to fuel my success and bring my people with me every step of the way.”
“It’s bigger than just hip hop for me. I want to be a Pemulwuy, that’s what I’m shooting for.”