Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is about 440 years old. In West Australia, however, it has an ancient forebear that is literally as old as the hills.

Among the Dreamtime stories passed down for thousands of years among the Noongar peoples of Western Australia is that of two young lovers – Wundig, a young man of the Hills people, and Wilura, a woman of the Grass people.

Like their Shakespearian counterparts, they fall in love at first sight. They also draw the ire of their respective peoples for doing so. In this instance, Wundig and Wilura’s relationship is ‘wrong skin’ according to law. After the couple elopes, war breaks out between their respective clans.

In order to stop it escalating, Wilura’s clan turn to a healer and law man, Muburum, who turns warriors into bulga trees and the lovers into two prominent landmarks now known as Mount Brown and Mount Bakewell – in Noongar language, Wongborel (‘the sleeping woman’) and Walwalling (‘the place of tears’). Frozen in place and time, the lovers are separated until the mountains themselves crumble.

Wundig and Wilura’s story is about to be explored in operatic form, in Wundig wer Wilura, composed by Noongar artists...