top of page

Ramingining - new life, old culture 

A good story of sharing and combining music and culture business centered in and around Ramingining, Yolngu country,

central arnhemland, NT, Australia

Ramingining, northern australia, road into town

Ramingining street .. click on image to see aerial photo

'hover' over images to see descriptions

My first visits to Ramingining, in 1993, were a something of a puzzle for me; I recognised the environmental sounds, the birds, the colours, the light .. but felt as though I was visiting a different planet, one operating within an ‘alien’ (to me) world view 

There were a couple of subsequent experiences that pointed to reasons for this feeling 
One was the spontaneous community joy generated by impromptu social interaction ..  an event, a ‘celebration’, a talk


A second was of seeing arnhemland from the air - winding rivers, age old escarpment, horizons, creation spirits - images invoking feelings quite unlike the usual rationales .. here were the visual manifestations of the songs we were still singing .. big picture stuff, timeless, hints of all kinds of (usually hidden) connections being revealed


As now realised (25 years later!), this (over)view is ’true’; it is ‘closer’ to experiencing our earth in valid deeper ‘spiritual’ (interconnecting) ways .. and the first ‘community joy’ represents a ‘generosity of spirit’ that does (still) imbue much indigenous (relationship) life - a quality that we seem to have obscured (or lost) in most settler life

Anchor 2

The general aim of these pages is to offer a broader take on this ‘puzzle’, perhaps best by re-presenting our 'old' culture in 'new' light, thru' explaining  - in music, landscape image and stories - the thoughts and feelings that emerge when we do 'share' our ideas without (hopefully!) quite so much bias and presumption


And also to offer a little more background story and pictures about Ramingining to support the release of  'Waak waak ga Min min' (Black crow, White cockatoo, a new cd and LP record based on an (unnoticed) 1997 cd - now with a fine B. Bunnungurr painting replicated on the covers 


Explore here

WW ga MM

Ramingining ..backstory

25k north Ramingining, arafura swamp country meets the sea

arafura wetland swamp meets sea

Ramingining is a small ‘consolidated’ town of some 800-900 people situated about 580k (by road) east of Darwin - right at the ‘top end’ of the australian continent


Ramingining - which means red kangaroo - grew from a community established in the early 1970s after various colonialist adventures had begun dominating the area; the town was recognised as 'aboriginal' in 1976 .. see more here

The Indigenous peoples of arnhemland refer to themselves as Yolngu (yoll-ngu); much cultural-life-business of the communities still being maintained traditionally  


Country is viewed very differently to we white-fellas; the 'relationship' - of people, country, 'ancestor stars' - is all important and lies at the heart (is the heart) of all existence ..

we ‘are’ as everything ‘is’ - and this especially true in our total interdependence with ‘mother’ earth

Anchor 1

All aspects of Yolngu life are divided into two fundamental principles - moieties - called Yirritja and Dhuwa

Everything is categorised as being one or the other - peoples, trees, birds, animals, country, stars .. the importance of finding and maintaining ‘balance’ between the two halves being the prime aim of the moiety system

(We find a similar idea in the (Chinese) 'yin-yang' concept)


Two clan groups around Ramingining are the Malibirr - Yirrittja, and the Marangu - Dhuwa

Malabirr speak Ganalbingu ‘father’ language, a ‘mother’ language - plus those of neighbouring and inter-marriage clans 

Marangu speak Djinang as ‘main’ father language - and, similarly, those of mother plus neighbouring and marriage clans

Jimmy Djamunba, my uncle, is a Dhuwa man, cousin Bobby Bunnungurr, Yirritja

Jimmy is married to a Yirritja woman, his children are Dhuwa; Bobby married to Dhuwa woman, his children Yirritja (patrilineal system)

arnhem road

Ramo road to the east

Yolngu traditional songs are about place, people, country, relationship, spirit ..


There are songs for all occasions and needs, songs of instruction, knowledge, story and ceremony .. there are songs for children, fun, gossip, finding food and water, finding one’s way thru’ country (using song as mnemonic aid)


Songs can be quite complex, often onomatopoeic .. waak waak ~ black crow; gumung~magpie goose;


Traditional songs are called ‘manukai’ or ‘manikay’ .. Djamunba is a songman; his manikay are sung at initiation and funeral ceremonies to ‘call’ or ‘announce’ the names of all visiting clan/families to welcome them


Each clan/family group has its own unique name, a name that both identifies it and also the country they belong to - same name; the relationship of people with specific country is primary


The tribal names are sung is specific (geographic) sequence and, in ceremony, are combined with a shared totemic name to include everyone into the ‘big-name' ceremony song


Totems may be stars, special trees, creation spirits, birds .. these also have several names - both ‘small’ or local ones plus ‘big’ or universally known names; totems all have a moiety component


The songman has to know all the tribal and totemic names and the ‘right’ order in which to sing them so to place visitors  correctly at the ceremony

Once everyone is sung and 'in place' - in the right relationship to everyone ‘else’, the song is then ‘in balance’ and the ceremony may begin; Uncle then sings ‘bunggul’ (ceremony) and/or ‘malay’ (begin)


Complex .. and wonderful; ceremony like no other !

bottom of page