Honeyeater in song

A Helmeted Honeyeater at Healesville Sanctuary. 149728 Picture: JESSE GRAHAM

By Jed Lanyon

An award winning composer has created a theatrical musical piece about the Helmeted Honeyeater titled, Songs from the Box and Swamp.

Jane Hammond aims to tell the story of the plight of the critically endangered bird, whose habitat is located solely in Yellingbo, while raising awareness of the work of conservation group Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater.

“It’s incredible to see the work Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater have done to regrow that woodland area for the honeyeaters and all the other animals that rely on that sort of environment,” Ms Hammond said.

“It inspires me to write music. It’s so passionate and beautiful, I want to give something back to them. They think I’m special but I just think they’re amazing to go out there with little jars of nectar in rail, hail or shine to provide supplementary feeding.

“I hope I can contribute in my own little way.

“The more people that know these stories and can share what’s happening, the more support the work can have… If it wasn’t for the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater, these animals could be gone.”

She notes that despite seeing their numbers grow from about 50 to 250, the precious bird could be one extreme bushfire away from extinction.

Ms Hammond spent time out at the Yellingbo reserve learning from the conservation group and making sound recordings of the area. She also visited Coranderrk Station, where Uncle Dave Wandin gave her insight into the land and Wurundjeri cultural practices.

“He talked about how important place is for First People and that each animal is important in the place, so if you look after country, you’re looking after the animals that live in country. So for me it’s about the Helmeted Honeyeater but the country they live in as well so to make audio recordings of the place itself.”

Songs from the Box and Swamp is a 40-minute theatrical musical piece, scored for soprano saxophone, piano, percussion, recorded sound and narrator. The focus of the work is the Helmeted and Regent Honeyeaters and aims to encapsulate the history, habitat and sounds of these birds and the struggles to secure their future in the wild.

Songs from the Box and Swamp features pianist Coady Green, one of Australia’s leading internationally-renowned pianists, a twice recipient of a Geoffrey Parsons International Prize. The work features renowned saxophonist Justin Kenealy and writing and narration from Theresa Borg.

“Coady Green is the pianist and he’s very passionate about supporting work that is trying to save endangered wildlife in Victoria,” said Ms Hammond.

“Both he and Justin Kenealy (saxophonist) are fabulous musicians and it’s incredibly special for me to write for such good musicians.”

A 10-12 minute concert version for soprano saxophone and piano is due to be premiered at the Melbourne Recital Centre on May 26 by Mr Green and Mr Kenealy, while a 40 minute version with saxophone, piano, percussion, recorded sound and narrator is scheduled to premiere at fortyfivedownstairs on 15-16 July.