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(generated from captions) Welcome to Message Stick. Hello, I'm Miriam Corowa. until their retirement in 1995, For two decades to the world stage. the music of the Torres Strait the Mills sisters helped bring

the late Rita Fell - and their younger sister - Twins Cessa Nakata and Ina Titasey, classic island songs like TI Blues. introduced global audiences to for the twins' 80th birthdays, on Thursday Island Message Stick joined Cesa and Ina they shared throughout their lives. to talk about the adventures in Aboriginal language) (Song is sung

mean the world to me, The sisters, my mum, my aunts, primarily as parents. in some form or another. I grew up with all three of them and stay a week there, I'd stay a week here and they were all mums to me. I suppose they were icons To anybody else, on a pedestal. that people have put up there To me, they were my mothers. They looked after me. with a great passion. and I loved them back They loved me, has taught... I think my sister and mum

things in way of culture, as well - Well, taught me a great deal of and how we are all connected, who our family are what our culture is to us to pass that on to our children. and how we should continue the Mills Sisters will be remembered I think the music of because it was just natural music. It was not just the music. themselves It was also the Mills Sisters as kind of the hula grannies - had a good time, three women who got up there, just did what they did onstage

verandas, or at the Grand Hotel exactly as they had done it on the when they performed like that. during those days And I think that that is something to have 50 years down the road, that is absolutely priceless

may not be around, because that kind of music Mills Sisters will still be there. but the memory and images of the and they had fun doing it. They did it, in Aboriginal language) (Song is sung

in Aboriginal language) (Another song is sung

a big celebration on. because there was It was funded at the Grand Hotel, of Captain Cook here. It was like centenary landing that they held at the Island. there was a big do Of what possession I had,

at their party down at the house, This fellow heard us singing down and he said... I think he goes... at the Grand?" and sing for the night up there, "Come up and sing. Can you come up in the street, and everything, Mardi Gras Because there was everything - so, he wanted us at the pub from the centre of the town. straight across and we has a full house, We went that night to sing,

and sing. that he wanted us to go back, so, it was after that, of Thursday Island... It was a 100-year celebration ..1977. singing at the hotel. We were there, prepared for that celebration. At that time, we started going out, (All sing in Aboriginal language)

AUDIENCE MEMBER WHISTLES at the pub, Rita was always singing herself go through to go home from the tab. just entertaining every time they husband has a beer, or something, She said that they were... Her and then, she entertains them,

then, when he asked us, and, so, we joined her at the pub.

we never went down to the pub. In them days, we never need the pub, We never drank. to get out there. We were a little bit reluctant We had parties ourselves. to go to entertain everyone. But she said I'm not coming It's good. singing at the pub, They started off really small, just the pub sing-along girls. so, they were they had quite a few good breaks, From there, I suppose, elsewhere, and furthered their career on themselves. and ended up having CDs of sing-along's. CESSA: We were like a group Yeah. Party, party. We weren't up there doing... we would just sing along... You were so used to party, to sing along. Everybody liked everybody Rita plays the guitar, and she - the tambourine. me - the ukulele, Yeah. From what I can remember, about six years old... I was probably first started singing in the pubs. Six or seven years old when they when they travelled away There were times we missed them, for extended periods, When they came back home, but it was always exciting to get... bring us presents, and, they would, I suppose,

as they do. in Canada, I performed six nights a week musician for about 20 years. My own background came as a working

and the United States, etc. and Central America, to do some more study on music. I came over to Australia about the Mills Sisters And I first heard Torres Strait music, when I started researching from their recordings, and I was aware of their music from the Torres Strait, about these three lovely singers as well as people talking storm during the World Music boom. that were going to take the world by (Song sung in Aboriginal language) at Cognet Island - Well, we were born

up in the Torres Strait. one of the isles

That's where we were born. and beside the mills. And our father is Frank, BOTH: Our mother from Mabiek. before we came to start at school, We were about six or seven years no school, we had no education - because we were out there -

just running around wildly. to open our church out there. But, then, Father Doyle came out islanders, It was built by the locals, and then they said to my father, in and give them some education", "I thought we would take the girls

from that time, so, we stayed at the convent What..1940... Sorry. till the war broke out in... from the island. Then everybody evacuated That was back home - Tonagi. all the fighting going on from... We were back at Tonagi watching This is during the war. During the war. from one island The fighters were going

To meet the Japs halfway there, to what is it called? and they were shooting one another down there. We sit down watching live television there,

watching the planes go down. We were at that age, and going out to meet others. Our family was all grown up anyway, when we ventured out. When we were dancing, there were all grown ups.

They were all grown kids now going out. Only, we had little ones that were going to high school. We had nothing else to do at all. We were all housewives, staying home, looking after the children

and doing housework. Then, when we were 30... We sounded bad, and then, in 1988, we came home and went back another year, because there wanted us for Brunswick Festivals.

I tell you what, we first went out to Port Pirie. Brunswick first, Port Pirie followed. We had Port Pirie, about three or four times...

Three times to Port Pirie, then we were on our way, we were going out. We had Brunswick Festival, and all these other festivals in the street,

and, all kinds of festivals we went to. Then, other festivals, then Brisbane, like Maleny. For three years - Maleny. And then we went to that... ..What's that one new one up there? Woodford Festival. Woodford. They started new, but, of course, they had to have that festival, but it wasn't quite finished. We were walking back between little...

You'd step over cicadas and mud, and everything. But, it was a good night. We enjoyed it. But that was our last one too... First and the last.

We went to England, London, did that Corroboree over there along London, with that Aboriginal mob between us. We represented Torres Strait over there. Then we went to France... to Paris. Well, I think the Mills Sisters and Seaman Dan kind of epitomised the music of a generation, because they performed very eclectic music,

so, they would perform songs in eastern language, western language, Creole, English - popular hits of the day. So, they really encapsulated the music of the pre World War Two era, as well as the post World War Two era. So, they did everything. That, to me, was the beauty of the music. They did secular music, they did sacred music, so, those artists kind of summed up what was circulating in the community for many years. We have got our people singing, and we just sing along. We sing out, "Come on, sing along, everybody",

and they would ask us what songs they want. They would ask us to sing it for them, so we would all sing along.

When we went out, it's like you are performing on the stage - big audience... Oh, sorry, We cheated that one. SINGS: # I've been to Queensland, # I've been to New South Wales. #

They started recording before I did, and I'm thinking inside, when I'm singing - good on them. That's good... great to see Torres Strait Island people come out like that. SINGS: # I've been to Adelaide # I've been to Darwin, too. # # Canberra does it to me, even Perth. # I met Uncle Seaman Dan in about 1999, here on Thursday Island when I was researching music. His hit song at that time was, of course, was a song called TI Blues, which the Mills Sisters had popularised. So, I started hearing about the Mills Sisters from Uncle Seaman,

but also from other people who kept on telling me, "You've got to hear these people sing,

"and you've got to see them perform live, "because they're doing something very special about Torres Strait music". Because you would usually just put a CD on, taped through, you know? We didn't know nothing about how they went about doing it. And we kept going, "Oh is somebody going to come back and do this?" Oh, not again. That song was composed by Rita, while she was on Thursday Island here with us. She composed that song while Ina and I were singing at the Grand Federal Hotel. One night, coming home from after everything, and we were holding hands singing along... We got the whole street. We were just walking along, and all that, and the cars had to give way for us, so, that's... She was very fascinated by that, you know. "Of course, Rita, you can do that".

We didn't move for the cars - the cars wouldn't give way to us.

And she was fascinated by the frangipani and the smell of frangipani. So, she wrote that song. She wrote that song for us to sing. So we called that... Put it on the album and called it 'Frangipani Land'. Well, all the songs are good. It's hard to pick a special song. They are all special.

The one I love is the 'Frangipani Land'.

That is a hit. To me, it is. SINGS 'FRANGIPANI LAND': # And everyone can feel the love # That surrounds this tiny island # The misty isles # And that is why I love this frangipani land

# I've been to Queensland, I've been to New South Wales # I get that old TI blues. # Like a seaman, I would sing that song,

so, we thought we would take it out there and sing,

like with that guy that sings that song. It was this Negro fellow? What's his name? I don't know. This one? Yeah, TI Blues. They are new from TI too. Yeah, well, it's a tune from somewhere, but seaman put his words to it. I don't know - you might know the tune, but, I've forgotten it. But he put his words on that one. ALL SING: # Folks, we'll always greet you with a smile and say hello

# I'm going back to DI

# Back to the place where I belong # Yeehaa. # We have been singing that out there, too. Before he even put it out. We put it in out three months. And, then he made his own CD after us, but, he is singing it in a blues. We roughed it up a little bit. And another one... ALL SING: # I've been to Queensland, I've been to New South Wales # I've been everywhere, man I think the proudest moment is when they won the Red Ochre Award, and that was quite an achievement for them - to come from the sing-along girls in the local pubs to touring stars. Well, I'd like to say touring stars,

because they have come from nothing to where they are, and a lot of people around the world do know about the Mills Sisters, so, they have done us proud. When we got the message, Bret called to let us know we won the Red Ochre.

We reckoned, "Wow, what's that?" Because, we didn't know what... We hear about people who... What do you call them? Aria Award or an Emmy Award? We said... Bret reckoned... He's our manager...

..He reckoned it's a big award. Oh, that's nice. We'll have to go down and get it, and Bret goes, "Alright".

The other sister was with us. She was with us then. It was after, though, when we... What? When we retired, we decided we retire in 1996, but she didn't want to, so, we let her go. She was going to retire because she was sick. APPLAUSE Our last song will be 'TI Blues'. She was good. She was sort of playing it,

and she knew most of the song words. She was... Here it was, you know? Always talking and explaining the songs that we were going to sing. She was great with the guitar.

Because we weren't the lead singers, we were just harmonising all the songs with her. She is our lead singer and guitarist. After three years leaving us...

..Three or four years leaving us, she went solo. But she was already sick. Her health was not too good, then. That's why we didn't want to go out. But her husband still took her out. But, then, he couldn't hack it anymore, so, he stuck her in a home. And then, she wanted to come home. The day she arrived at home,

the helicopter dropped her there, took her out to the Start of the Sea. They were comfortable, but left to go to see the thing up the office, up here. All the money, and everything, came back - she had gone. Like... This was like - "I'm home." "This is where I want to be." So, she was gone. It was very sad because she should have retired that time we retired.

She liked people. She was always wanting to go out and entertain people, so, we thought, better not carry on more with her.

We just bow out, because... We retired because we knew she was a diabetic. She wasn't coming out with us. It was bad for a diabetic person to be on the go all the time,

and not enough rest. Not when you have a... Heart problem. And she was getting tired. We could see that she was getting tired. But Bret didn't see that, so she wanted to go out,

so we just let them go.

It was sad because we lost a brother too, not even a month after that. Rita died in December, and Alfred died in January. We had happy times - good times, sad times. But, we're stuck without them. All sing 'Here I Am Lord' But this was after retirement, just after 1976. And the time that I turned a year older - that's the time I went to do a... What they said was a tumour on my vocal chord. I did that, that next year, when I turned 71. The day of my birthday, I sat there with that radio,

and I'd been going backwards and forwards from my checkups for my illness, now,

but, I've been... I'm quite alright. I'm alright now - no cancer, but my voice is going to be like this all the time, especially if I catch a cold or anything like that - it happens, like, if I lose my voice for a while, it comes back. I'm not worried. I know there's someone up there looking after me, so. Doesn't bother me. Now that she can't go to church, and she can't climb those stairs. I go myself with my kids, you know? And, when... After church is over, we enjoy, we love now singing our island songs in the church, which is not like when we had the voice to sing, but, we sing. And, it's like, after church, she comes down... I bring communion... And be with me to receive the Eucharist here, and then, in the afternoon, we sit down and have a cup of tea. Spend time together. Spend time together and have coffee and tea. (Song is sung in Aboriginal language) What young people can learn from the Mills Sisters in my family,

is that, we're never scared to do anything. We don't just sit back and say, "That's all we're going to achieve in life".

We're out there trying new things. We're taking up opportunities that exist out there for all

Torres Strait Islander people. And, to embrace the whole concept of being a part of a broader community rather than just Torres Strait Islanders in the Torres Strait. (Song is sung in Aboriginal language) I think the great thing about the Mills Sisters having a celebration when they turned 80, is because, as you know, the health stats are not good in Indigenous communities, so, there are not a lot of people around of that generation, and, they are still very much with it. So, they are still able to tell you stories, to sing the songs, and they are still able to enjoy that eight decades of music and eight decades of Torres Strait culture. Andrew came up with the idea of having a big event for the twins,

and him and I both did the coordination.

We actually coordinated this whole gathering, and how we would do it, and, then, we had a lot of help from all the willing grandchildren and great grandchildren, and it was more or less Andrew's idea in getting this together. And him and I did the coordination, so, we thought, we haven't done it. It always has been all the older siblings in our family, and we thought we might do our family proud this time, and make it the two youngest ones. It was lovely looking around at. We got to 80. And looking around with the other ones that we're sorry, when we associated together in our younger days. And everyone has got grey hair like us. And I thought, wow, are you here? The ones that would come up to them. I thought, how lovely these kids put on a birthday for us, and to think we have got all our friends from south here to see it happen -

I was so overjoyed, I tell you. It was so lovely to see everybody here. We've never seen those people for - I don't know how many years.

SINGS: # I'll be there forever

# The sun is singing farewell # Why are you looking so sad, my dear? # I feel sad... really sad. It's like a... ..special... ..group of entertainers, who are no longer on the scene, and they are always there.

They were already in me. They were always there. They were always there when they retired, and left a big hole... A big gap there. The Mill Sisters are not there anymore. It was sad. In public, I don't sing their song. I want it to be their song - the way they sing it.

I don't want to disrupt their image, because they are very good,

and they were entertaining. We will always hope that our mothers can live forever, because they are the ones we rely on the most, I suppose. But I did tell them

that when it comes for the next birthday party in 10 years time, and if they are still well and alive by then, then they need to start saving now for the next party because it will be a big one again, I suppose. To the mums, I wish them all the best,

and love, on behalf of all the children, we love them to death, and we hope that what they have done in the past

will definitely surpass those in the future for the younger generations, and a lot of us learn from all of that.

Love to the mums. SINGS: # The sun is singing farewell. # I'm the eldest. You're the eldest? Yes. Yes.

She saw the light first. I popped out first. I saw the back of her.

Shut up. Sorry. Hope you enjoyed the program. Thanks for joining us. If you would like any further information, check out the Message Stick website at abc.net.au/message