November - December 2006
This is the third of a series of sonic exhibitions of electro-acoustic works on the theme of Australian perceptions of Asia by Australian women composers. This exhibition features Anne Norman's new work Deep Sea Divers, which reflects her perception of the Asia within Australia
Deep Sea Divers
The world's best pearls and pearl shells are harvested in the deep waters off the shores of Broome in North West Australia. This industry was built on a mixture of slave labour (aboriginal), cheap labour (SE Asian) and Japanese diving prowess (with better pay due to good collective bargaining). The Japanese proved best of all in deep water diving using the heavy copper helmets. They displayed endurance, withstanding hard and cramped conditions. In 1920 there were over 2000 Japanese employed in the pearling fleet. They survived the White Australia Policy, internment during WWII, and post war discrimination. While the pursuit of pearls spelt fortune for the owners of the boats, it often spelt mortal danger for the divers. Today, there are more than 900 Japanese men buried in the Japanese cemetery in Broome, most of them deep sea divers on whom the prosperity of the Australian Pearling industry heavily depended. Their graves date from the late 19th century to the present.
In 2006, at the annual Pearl Festival in Broome entitled Shinju Matsuri, I performed a prayer for the souls of the Japanese divers who had died in Broome. This prayer was in the form of a shakuhachi meditation improvised with the tolling of a Kin, a Japanese prayer bell. Also at this concert, I joined with shamisen player and singer Noriko Tadano and musicians from Wadaiko Rindo to perform a folk song entitled Kaigara-bushi. This is a shell diver's song from Japan. This evening concert overlooking the sea, was a couple of weeks after O-Bon, a Japanese festival praying for the repose of the souls of the dead.
A week after this concert, the Japanese cemetery was ransacked. The media had reported that is was probably a group of kids. Those naturally shaped and beautifully weathered headstones, which I had so admired a week earlier, had been smashed. Very difficult to believe. The report I heard was that there were 108 head stones broken. How uncanny. It is the custom in Japan to ring the large temple bell 108 times on New Year's eve, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires.
After returning to Melbourne, I decided to put together this piece, Deep Sea Divers, using the elements I performed in Broome, to honour these Japanese divers of Broome. A faint echo of Kaigara-bushi, heard through a heavy storm, represents the souls of the divers. The sound of the Kin bell and shakuhachi are a prayer for their peaceful repose.
Music and text copyright © 2006 by Anne Norman
This work was commissioned by the Australia Asia Foundation in 2006
This project was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.