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Educational Resources

Lior, Nigel Westlake & Dr Lou Bennett, AM:

Ngapa William Cooper

MotherTongue, MotherLand by Sunny Kim (lead artist, vocals, percussion), with Mindy Meng Wang (guzheng, vocals), Gelareh Pour (kamancheh, qeychak, vocals), Aviva Endean (clarinets, vocals).

Lior, Nigel Westlake & Lou Bennett

Image: supplied by artists

Written by
Rosie Pentreath
Published on
13th April 2023

Before we hear some music, it’s important to know about the story that the music tells. Here’s composer Nigel Westlake explaining the story of Ngapa William Cooper in his own words:

Now let’s listen to that story being told in music.
Here are three excerpts from the whole piece:

Let’s get creative!

In the following three creative activities, you’re going to write another part of William Cooper’s story, or research an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander figure of your own choosing, and write a short story about a part of their life. You’re then going to set the story to music, just as Nigel Westlake, Lior, and Lou Bennett did in Ngapa William Cooper.

Creative Activity 1 – Get Researchy!

Teacher note:

Creative Activities 1 and 2 contribute to Australian Curriculum literacy general capabilities/elements, which are mapped below.

If you would like to know more about the story, you can begin your research at these links:

·      Australian Dictionary of Biography

·      Victorian Government First Peoples – State Relations

·      National Museum of Australia – William Cooper protests

·      Britannica Kids

·      Adelaide Festival digital program

·      The Guardian review

Alternatively, you can research your own choice of inspirational Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Teacher note:

Links and further information are provided below if you would like to collaborate with your local mob and, with their permission, tell a story of one of their elders.

Creative Activity 2 – Tell a Short Segment of Their Life as a Story

Here are Lou Bennett and Lior again, this time reflecting on turning their research on William Cooper’s life into a story and song lyrics to be set to music:

It’s time to turn your research into a story – perhaps even into lyrics – ready to be added to music in the 3rd creative activity.


You don’t need to write a lot. It doesn’t need to rhyme or have a rhythmic pattern. If you look at the words in Ngapa William Cooper, they’re often just “prose” – normal written or spoken language, and short, and simple. Here are the complete lyrics to Yakapna, which was included in the excerpts above, and which Lou spoke about in the last video:

Yakapna (Family)

For my family
I speak so we can live freely
So we can speak our language
Perform our ceremony

For my family
I work so they can rest upon the land
So they never have to hold guns in hand
To meet another man’s demands

My strength is my gentleness
Love will quell hate
My strength is my resilience
Do not harden your heart

Creative Activity 3 – Set Your Words to Music

Nigel Westlake is an extraordinary composer and orchestrator, and Lior and Lou are incredible songwriters and performers. We don’t expect to be able to write songs like theirs without years of training!

But at the same time, many of the songs in Ngapa William Cooper  have a simple song-essence of a repeated four-chord pattern, over which Nigel’s brilliant orchestration, and Lior and Lou’s beautiful melodies are set. In fact, this was the case with the three song excerpts you listened to above. Let’s hear them again, and identify the chord patterns used:

Take the story you created, and set it to a chord pattern. You can sing it as Lou and Lior do, or you can speak it, as Uncle Wayne Atkinson spoke Cooper’s words in the third excerpt.

You can create your own chord pattern, or you can use/adapt one of the ones we’ve made for you in the style of Ngapa William Cooper:

Chord pattern 1

Access all files:

Chord pattern 2

Access all files:

Chord pattern 3

Access all files:

How to use the chord pattern files:

Share drafts of your work with your teacher as you go.

Presentation of Learning

If you have taken advantage of the opportunity to work with local mob, you may like to reach out again and share the work of students with them. If you drew on the stories of influential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists nationally, you could share the work with their communities, if you feel it is appropriate.

Recordings could be used as “school bells”, played during assembly. The recordings are most likely to be short, and the stories incomplete, so they may not be suitable for formal concert presentation, but given time, students could develop them into longer pieces.

Finally, recordings can also be published privately via the school LMS, or on music sharing sites such as Soundcloud. 

Australian Curriculum Mapped Outcomes

Year 7 and 8 Music


Investigate the diversity of music composed and/or performed by First Nations Australians, considering culturally responsive approaches to Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property rights.

This work is co-composed by Aboriginal artist Lou Bennett with songwriter Lior, and composer Nigel Westlake. The work tells the story of significant Aboriginal leader William Cooper. Students explore the life of William Cooper, the presented artwork, and then research the life of another Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elder, writing a story about this figure and setting it to music.



Reflect on their own and others’ music to inform choices they make as composers and performers about how they will manipulate elements of music and/or compositional devices.

Students add their lyrics to provided chord patterns, or create their own chord pattern and synthesise with their lyrics. Students share drafts of work with their teachers as they go.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

This project aligns with the cross-curriculum priority for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures (Version 8.4) in the Australian Curriculum. Quoting ACARA:

Therefore, the Australian Curriculum is working towards addressing two distinct needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education:

·      that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum of each of the learning areas, can fully participate in the curriculum and can build their self-esteem

·      that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderHistories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.

In this project, the research about and presentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history can be done at “arm’s length” (for example, on the internet), and most simply by extending students’ knowledge of William Cooper. Even better, there is an opportunity for teachers, students, and school communities to work with local mob and to share stories of significant local elders.

Further resources are given below.

Literacy general capabilities and learning area outcomes

Comprehending texts through listening, reading and viewing

In Creative Activity 1, students research the life story of Ngapa William Cooper or another important Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and make notes.


Composing texts through speaking, writing and creating

In Creative Activity 2, students write a short story of one part of a key figure’s life, to be set to music in Creative Activity 3.

“In the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, students use literacy to develop, apply and communicate their knowledge and skills as artists and as audiences. Through making and responding, students enhance and extend their literacy skills as they create, compose, design, analyse, comprehend, discuss, interpret and evaluate their own and others’ artworks.”


Music: View here

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures (Version 8.4): View here

Literacy: View here

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and create, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

Low view of Australian Outback landscape with red dirt texture heavily feature and dry grassy hill in the distant background