Dr Richard Walley is an artist of many disciplines: a musician, dancer, painter, writer, director, Indigenous activist and educator, to name a few. He has spent over forty years educating Australia and the world on Nyoongar culture and identity through the arts.
Richard was born in Meekatharra in 1953 and grew up in bush camps south of Perth. Art was a big part of his childhood: music, storytelling, craft, carving and dance were all taught to him at a young age. His family were musicians and artists, and a great influence on Richard. Throughout the early years of Richard’s life, the Walley family moved with the seasons, following work “everywhere but a town.”
It was not until the age of 14 that Richard first lived in a town, when his parents moved to Medina, south of Perth. He completed high school in the area and picked up an apprenticeship in boiler making, spending four years completing the course. After only a few years in the field, Richard was encouraged to take a job with the New Era Aboriginal Fellowship Committee.
By 1976, Richard was chairing the Western Australia Aboriginal Advisory Board and was involved in other committees including the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Medical Service and Aboriginal Housing Board. His passion for his culture and desire for social change informed his career, and he found it “natural” to incorporate and promote the arts through his work.
In 1978, Richard and a group of friends formed the Middar Aboriginal Theatre, aiming to combat the concept that Nyoongar culture was dying. The group began to bring traditional Nyoongar music, dance and theatre to the public, performing at events across the country. At its height, Middar Aboriginal Theatre had around 30 performers and performed in 32 different countries. To this day, the original company still exists as Middar.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Richard also worked in television, film and theatre, both as a solo performer and as part of Middar. He directed and co-directed several highly successful theatre productions in Australia, USA and the UK, including critically acclaimed plays Coordah and Munjong. In 1989, Richard performed with the East Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the performance was recorded for an SBS documentary called Didgeridoo in Deutschland.
In 1991, Richard was named the NAIDOC Aboriginal Artist of the Year. Two years later, he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the arts and promotion of Nyoongar culture. He continued to play the didgeridoo in venues across the world, and in 1996 released a six disc didgeridoo album collection inspired by the six Nyoongar seasons. During the 2000s, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Murdoch University for his contribution to culture and arts, and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from The University of Western Australia (UWA).
Richard spent two separate four-year stints as the Chair of the Australia Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, beginning in 1992 and 2000. Throughout that time, he continued to perform within the arts as a musician and dancer, and exhibited paintings in galleries across the world. In 2003 he released an album called Two Tribes, combining traditional music with contemporary rap and hip-hop. A follow up, Two Roads, was released in 2006. On the back of those records, Richard and his two sons spent time touring with the John Butler Trio performing a spoken word piece conveying “culture is still vibrant, and everyone has one.” Richard and his sons were also invited to play didgeridoo on stage with Carlos Santana in 2011.
In 2010, Richard was awarded Citizen of the Year in the Indigenous Leadership category. The following year, he performed a Welcome to Country for the Queen during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. Over the past 10 years, Richard has acted as cultural advisor for numerous projects in Western Australia, including the Aboriginal Health Unit within the Department of Health. He continues to play the didgeridoo and perform across the world, and regularly exhibits new visual artworks.
For the past two decades, Richard and his wife Robyn have run cultural awareness programs for various companies in Western Australia, and conducted lectures in Aboriginal Culture at UWA. They are currently working on a new business idea that they hope will help to educate a new generation.
In 2015, Richard is working on music for a new album, continuing to bring the stories of the Nyoongar people to the public and fitting in performances wherever he can.