Celebrating First Nations languages and Closing the Gap

    15 October 2020


    Image caption: Hecate actors performing at Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth Festival 2020. Image credit: Dana Weeks.

    Australia is home to the world’s longest continuing living culture – a unique strength, unsurpassed globally, of which all Australians can be proud.

    First Nations arts are central to understanding who we are as Australians and more Australians now agree that First Nations arts are an important part of Australia’s culture. (1) Investment in First Nations arts, culture and languages also contributes to Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage – ‘Cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing’ is a priority outcome of the new Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap. (2)

    Hecate, commissioned by Perth Festival and produced by Yirra Yaakin Theatre company in association with Bell Shakespeare, is a unique re-telling of Macbeth entirely in Noongar language. Australia’s first large-scale Shakespearean production in Noongar, Hecate brings together two cultures and theatre histories as well as celebrated theatre companies sharing their cultural and theatrical expertise. Seven years in the making, Hecate made its world premiere at the Perth Festival in February 2020 to standing ovations. This exciting project highlights the powerful potential for the reclamation and celebration of First Nations languages through arts.

    Before and after seeing Hecate the audience were invited to a unique gathering space to celebrate Noongar people and the maintenance and care of the Noongar language. Language revival is vital to the healing and strengthening of First Nations communities and sustained increase in the number and strength of First Nations languages spoken is a target in the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap. (4)

    Spoken for thousands of years by the First Peoples of southwest Western Australia prior to colonisation, Noongar is now an endangered language spoken fluently by less than 400 people. However, thanks partly to Yirra Yaakin and director/translator Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn], the number of people speaking Noongar is growing every year, including the nine member cast of this production, all of whom spent years reclaiming their language as part of the rehearsal process. The star ensemble use this audacious adaptation as a springboard to showcase the language’s poetic and expressive qualities. This play ensures that a language beginning to disappear not only survives, but thrives, and that the strength of Noongar culture and identity is celebrated, valued and shared.

    ‘It is the first of its kind, this hasn’t been done before. We’re embarking on a celebratory journey, yes, but we’re also embarking on a really important journey of sharing our language, Noongar language, with our community, and the wider nation and the world…’    –Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn], Director Hecate (3)

    The Council invests in Yirra Yaakin through its Four Year Funding program and Bell Shakespeare is a National Partnership Organisation.


    1. Australia Council 2020, Creating Our Future: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey.
    2. Target 16, National Agreement on Closing the Gap, August 2020.
    3. By 2031. Target 16, National Agreement on Closing the Gap, August 2020.
    4. Hecate promo video. See: https://yirrayaakin.com.au/production/hecate/#videos-2

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