Q&A with Emma Donovan

Emma Donovan. Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder.

Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow is a film that celebrates the love, lives and creative collaboration of artists Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter as they prepare and perform at the premiere of Kura Tungar—Songs from the River, the result of a two-year collaboration with Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra.

Create NSW sits down with the Executive Producer of the documentary film – First Nations singer-songwriter Emma Donovan.

Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow is a feature documentary that tells the story about the landmark 2004 concert Kura Tungar. Can you tell us about it?

This documentary is about love and country; a music journey.

Uncle Archie uses the word ‘replenished’ in the film which means filling up again. Archie is essentially replenishing his soul throughout this film in the depths of music, spirit and connection. The river represents his knowledge of his and Aunty Ruby’s healing and life course.

Healing has always been medicine for Aunty Ruby and Uncle Archie. You can go as deep as you want in this film, following their strong messages about connection to home, country and love.

You are an acclaimed singer songwriter known for your work with soul bands, including The Putbacks and The Black Arm Band project. What motivated you to take on the role of executive producer of Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow?

It was a big moment for me to be asked to be a part of this documentary. I know that Aunty Ruby and Uncle Archie’s family and the directors trusted me to help make some important decisions with the integrity of this film.

I always call them ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ out of respect, even though I’m not related to their family. Uncle and Aunty are like the big nan and pop of the music industry to me. Back in the day when I first started working in music they were known as ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’. Their legacy has paved the way for artists like me to spread messages and share music.

Over the years, the public have known you as an acclaimed singer-songwriter, as a solo artist, and with the deadly bands The Putbacks and with The Black Arm Band. Could you share with us how your role of Executive Producer for the film came about?

I am proud and honoured to be asked to be the Executive Producer of Wash My Soul and to be a part of telling this incredible story is an honour and a privilege.

What other creative skills did you flex and learn while Executive Producing Wash My Soul in The River’s Flow?

Throughout the making of this documentary I rediscovered how much Aunty Ruby is still teaching in her songs. I learned more about her massive connection to the river and the way that she teaches blackfella way with her song introductions. Some of the songs are classics and her cheekiness and cleverness in bringing the story and song together – no matter who is in the audience, connects us all as one.

I trust Uncle and Aunty’s knowledge and their story, which I have had a good dosage of – and I really threw myself deeper into the real story and the heart of where they come from within country. It is through this trust in myself and my knowledge and family connection that I was able to work wisely with the director to bring all the pieces together.

A lot of the decisions came back to me connecting it to my own family and how I would want my loved ones to be portrayed.

Are there any future endeavours in working further in film productions?

If the opportunity comes up again, absolutely! I’d love to tell my own family’s story. It opens up a beautiful conversation to look at your own family and our own stories. I’m fascinated by the documentary style that really takes people behind the scenes and on their own personal journey.

The NAIDOC 2021 theme is Heal Country! This calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. What does this mean to you?

My contribution to healing country and putting the word out is telling the stories about our country and the significance and importance to have a healing journey. Not just for ourselves or for our own mob but for the wider community.

In this documentary there are a few quotes from Archie about the river being like a medicine. These are the stories that we must continue to tell. These stories are still relevant today – actually more important than ever.

Image: Emma Donovan. Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder.