Kankawa Nagarra (Olive Knight) is a Walmatjarri Elder, international blues and gospel singer-songwriter, teacher and mentor, human rights advocate, and political activist. She helped develop the Walmatjarri dictionary in the 1960s, has supported research on understanding, preventing and treating FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) in the Indigenous community, and continues to raise awareness about alcohol abuse.
With deep roots in Australia’s Kimberley region, Olive Knight shares her story of growing up with the Gooniyandi and Walmatjarri peoples of northwestern Australia. As the daughter of a half-caste father, she was nearly killed on the day of her birth, as was customary for halfblood children in her community. Thankfully, she was spared by an elder and would follow her own path, full of hardship as she moved from mission to mission. Olive eventually found love and fulfillment, following her husband Jim’s passion for Indigenous rights, becoming a respected translator and community leader.
After Jim’s death, Olive’s singing and songwriting opened unexpected worlds of opportunity. From the early days in mission gospel choirs to finding her true voice in country western music, the blues, and rock ‘n’ roll of the day, Olive’s talent as a singer eventually led to collaborations with other artists and performers, many of whom sought her unique voice and ability to translate songs into her traditional language.
In 2011, Olive Knight was invited to sing as part of Hugh Jackman’s Back on Broadway production. Olive’s spirit and compassion continue to inspire as she speaks openly about the challenges of adopting young children in her mature years, and how she hopes to bring greater awareness of and prevention efforts to substance abuse, particularly fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, within Indigenous communities in Australia. In 2023 Kankawa recorded a stripped back album with just herself and a guitar on country, the album is expected to be released in late 2023.