Nominated for 2016 WA Senior Australian of the Year (awards presentation this Sunday 20th Nov) for her use of music to achieve Health and Healing, this 70 year old is known for her energetic and charismatic stage performances of her special blend of Walmatjarri Gospel Blues.
Olive is a Walmatjarri woman born in the desert regions of the Kimberley. As a little girl, she would fall asleep by the campfire to the sounds of Walmatjarri songs, the rhythmic songs of her ancestors.
She remembers the clapping of boomerangs and nulla-nullas,and the thumping of bare feet on the desert sand, as she would gently drift into sleep underneath the stars. Later in her life working on cattle stations, an old blind man made her her first guitar out of a biscuit tin, length of wood and some scrap wire.
Kankawa is a respected Elder, a leader in her community of Wangkatjungka and an accomplished musician – a rare gem of incalculable cultural significance. She has performed on Broadway with Hugh Jackman, is a linguist and was integral in the development of the Walmatjarri Dictionary, and was an important part of the liquor restrictions movement in Fitzroy Crossing. She has been an activist and human rights worker for over 40 years.
Music is an integral part of Kankawa’s vision to see her people heal.
Her music is like nothing else on Earth. Channeling the spirit of her people, she brings the songs of an ancient culture into contemporary Gospel Blues, singing songs in several languages including Walmatjarri, Kriol and English with the soul and styles of the American Deep South.
‘You’d think she was a Mississippi blues shouter if she wasn’t telling Kimberley stories. A total original with a lot of heart and soul’ – Lucky Oceans.
In 2015, she published her inspiring life story The Bauhinia Tree – The Life of Kankawa Nagarra Olive Knight. Available for purchase from UWA Press