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Song and song-story project

This essay is drawn from an updated  2018 project of the same title ..

Both the essay and the originating project are intended to assist our all becoming better able to appreciate the place and appropriateness of Indigenous cultural wisdom generally - and here in Australian particularly .. we do have access to oldest earth-life wisdom still available on our planet !

Coincidently - as interest in a re-release of 'Waak waak ga Min min' music continues to grow - we are being asked to provide more background to the songs, their origin, 'meaning' and 'relevance' 

Introduction - song story, oral history
Culture and language
Walkabimirri recordings
Songs and song stories
Aboriginal Kinship
Opportunity - both ways, arts-culture, human arts
Public accessing
Links and references


white cockatoo

Gondwana-australia indigenous cultural practice is active, it is experienced and lived dynamically (‘in the moment’) and is traditionally 'oral' (told in story-telling and song)
Understanding traditional culture can be difficult when approached literally .. feelings and intuitions generally do not translate all that well into written language and theories .. they are best (?)  experienced directly ..

We ‘point to’ (how we might all benefit by) re-connecting our individual words within inclusive story ..
‘story’ ~ the broad expressing of our living life in the myriad arts - dance, song, painting, story itself, music, ceremony, languages, mediation .. as all integral parts of day-to-day living


Culture and language
The qualitative meaning of (Indigenous) song story is imbued by, and exists within, its languages - and there are at least as many languages as (the originating) unique regions .. and there (were) an estimated 500 of these regions nurtured within this  continent and surrounding islands !

Indigenous language is imbued with 'spirit of place' - and spirit of place is created, in part, by ‘song’ ..  song as aural transformative energy - resonating straight into our ‘gut-feeling’ (basically!)
Probably needs the thousands of years of living in and with (being totally dependent upon) one's own living environment to develop such intimate (local) languages with - and thru’ which - to express, maintain and live life so fully
There is a richness of culture (the relationships of people with people and people with earth and cosmos) expressed through Indigenous languages that seems beyond the ability of (such as) English (language) to comprehend; perhaps much translation really does 'lose the essence' and 'lacks the splendour of the experience'


wamit and dad

The social and life aspects of our indigenous culture here are based on ‘spiritual’ views (of the world, people and cosmos) all totally interwoven .. a philosophy quite different to ‘western subjects and objects’ constructs

Aspects of social, ceremony and life are discussed in these audio recordings - they might help illustrate this ..

Social philosophies inherent to Yolngu peoples here include mediation practice, ‘sharing’ as ceremony, moiety, kinship, totems, song-stories, death and funeral, birthing practice, communing  with earth in ‘song’ ..

Little (if any) is written .. most is experiential - using 'languages' of dance, song, 'time-place' immediacy, situation, ceremony - all ‘updating’ - as all life is .. there is no fixed view in trad culture, all ‘is’ here, now


Walkabimirri  ..

May we offer a series of short recordings made at homelands (mid 'arnhemland') aug-sept 2019
The talk is in English - with a little explaining here and there .. read the 'walka recording notes' whilst listening

Tracks 03, 09, 10 & 11 come from previous ABC program

PM - Peter Mummé; BB - Bobby Bununggurr;  JD - Jimmy Djamunba

01 intro walka
00:00 / 03:49
02 kin songs totems
00:00 / 05:58
03 clans totems
00:00 / 01:56
04 yirritcha dhuwa
00:00 / 04:11
05 song lines
00:00 / 04:16
06 both ways
00:00 / 01:23
07 big story
00:00 / 01:30
08 indigenous wrap
00:00 / 03:46
09 JD manikay
00:00 / 03:13
10 JD stringy-bark
00:00 / 04:36
11 str-bark names
00:00 / 00:50

Songs and song stories

of Australian Aboriginal culture are very old and carry very different intent to today’s ‘pop. hop, serious, background’ (marketed) music

Song is pretty easy to remember .. I used learn our ‘times tables’ via repetitive song - and seem to remember them .. the same basis is utilised by advertising ‘jingles, ‘hooks’ in pop music, nursery rhyme and school rounds, a great deal of euro ‘classical’ music, and all folk musics basically

Yolngu ‘history’ and living stories were (and are) all transmitted orally - and often in ‘song’; traditional songs of instruction, knowledge, story and ceremony, living, of finding food and water, finding one’s way thru’ country, songs about stars, geography and seasons, about birth, death, funeral .. all utilising song as mnemonic aid
Yolngu ‘song-lines’ are, in part, ‘history’ stories; current Yolngu ‘song-lines’ exist now that include the european settler story, in context - along with the many other influences and ideas

Songs may be quite complex, often onomatoepaic .. waak waak ~ black crow,
gumung ~ magpie goose, garraborok ~ magpie

Much song is based on - and often includes - the sounds (vocalised or experienced - here recorded) of the subject matter (the birds, air, water, trees, enviro) as part of the ‘everyday familiar experiences’ that we constantly hear and relate to .. we do respond to this process, whether ‘noticed’ or not ..
- look to our constant expressing ‘our like and love for place - but cannot express it in words’
- look to music, our responses to particular musics and sounds, chants, drones, percussion, voices, harmonies, environmental combinations, quiet, meditative, rousing - and nature ..

Sound - energy - song  connects us with our world, connecting directly - we ‘resound’ within our ‘resonant’ physical body

 - the (spinal energies) being transformed into brain re-actions
we experience bliss, ‘tingle’, gut-wrenching, revelation, feelings of all (non-literal) persuasions, connection, love, the ‘word’ 

Indigenous traditional song is right at home here .. these energy (non-physical ‘dream’) perceptions are ‘real’ !

Example (from walka recordings)
‘the songs (are) the sounds of the (trees) you can hear’ (JD)
- and the sounds of people, country, earth, cosmos (ancestor stars), trees, rivers, birds, animals, special places ..
‘our names’ are the sounds of our home places .. the ‘sounds of the place’ that make the place (and us) ‘individual within’
.. ‘they are not different’ (JD)

Song (as birds and enviro and trad song) can be heard as the ever updating oral and aural commentaries - the 'immediacy’ - of life being lived on earth by peoples, birds, animals, trees, water, air/wind and earth herself .. they are our life encapsulated in natural song

Seems our birds ‘predate’ our human songs; birds naturally sing - carry song, learn song by listening and imitating what they hear .. they are ‘the keepers of language’ (songs) in indigenous totemic terms; they 'reflect' all that they hear - and mix-up everything they hear into their unique (to place) day-tp-day song-lives, these passing (heard by) their children
I have heard that some 45% of aboriginal trad song is about birds ..

Bird song presents us with a wonderful and ever available illustration of the relationship aspects  inherent to -  and always incorporated into community languages

bird song

Listen to the magpie singing .. she is singing her 'identifiably individual' magpie song - and may be reasonably easily  heard (indentified) in amongst a group of the birds .. further, her ‘own’ identifying song (here) consists of a series of (always slightly different) repeated motifs - in terms of pitch and placement ..

dawn magpie 64
00:00 / 01:04
mother magpie

Then go back to 'Walka' tr 11 to hear some of the stringy-bark names, then track 10 ~03:05; JD is singing these names along with the names of the (visiting) clans and families who know the tree (and the stringy-bark tree ceremony) by these names

In regions round the australian east coast, the lyrebird is regarded as being a totemic 'keeper/holder of language’

The lyrebird hears everything in its home environment .. maybe other birds, intruders, machines, cameras, people .. and imitates these sounds - if they recur,

combining all in 'oral history' song story .. pretty neat !

lyrebd 60
00:00 / 01:01

The story goes further .. as a bird is both identifiable and is identifying within its own species 'song-story', so its species calls are also both ‘identifiable and identifying within a (sometime) cacophonous sound environment ~ the whole deal is ‘cogently orchestrated’ !
nature orchestrates .. orchestration ~ cogent nature organisation ‘at work’
- and we all abide within (earth-life) nature !
listen to this rain-forest    busy nature sounds environment

further examples link .. enviro sounds, places and trad song

rain forest 76
00:00 / 01:18

Aboriginal Kinship
is all about relationship .. the relationships - the interdependencies - of all peoples, country and cosmos - viewed and lived within (big view) life
It is big - and complex and sophisticated; it does not divide life into ‘bits’ separated away from life .. all life is ‘of one taste’  - all inherent (spirit) life-energy
Everything in (kinship based) life is paired in two creation principles - moieties (here, in Yolngu country, Dhuwa and Yirritja
Every thing (trees, stars, you, me, mountains, fish, totems .. all are either one or the other .. the ‘coming together’ of the two moieties enables the universe to be-come, to 'balance'; we marry a person of opposite moiety; ceremony is 'conducted' (enabled) by one whilst performed by the 'opposite'

We all have totems .. totems are (also) birds, stars, trees, animals, spirits .. we don’t ‘own’ totems .. we are responsible for them ... a first totem depicts the nation-state (country) we come from (there are some 500 of these in the continent); the second depicts the clan group we are part of in the nation, the third the particular family and four an individual totem that is given (by elders) as our personality emerges as we grow
Obtaining and maintaining a ‘balance’ here is key; for example, the totems (birds, animals, country) with which we share moiety need be cared for and protected - whilst the totemic (birds, animals ..) that are of opposite moiety, we may eat and use .. a balance is thus created - as we acknowledge that we have to eat !
We all carry ’skin’ names as well .. these are similar to ’surnames’ but more to do with practical ‘blood-lines’ (‘poetic genetics’?)
We are all aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters .. here, we ‘honour kinship’ thru’ respect and social obligation in a system of recursive ‘levels’ .. for ex., our parents brothers and sisters (our aunts and uncles) are all ‘equal’ level; we, the children also are all equal at a different level; likewise, our children .. this re-cycling thru' 3 (and more) levels
As within our family, so ‘without’ in the clan group - and so into the nation-state - and so into the whole continent
we know thru’ kinship, thru totem, thru moiety .. how we are related to everyone, to everything, to universe

trees ramingining

Good Story
Nathaniel lived with us, outside melbourne in semi rural country, mid 1990s; he came with his bapa (father) first time away from home
he went to the local small school, played with the other children, went on many different adventures over the 8-9 months or so .. (see story)

I was visiting his Indigenous family home near Ramingining in arnhemland NT last year, and was enthralled by a young fella - aged about 8-10 - who wanted to relate to me the story of how ‘he’ spent his younger years living with me and going to the local school in victoria some 20 years earlier
My immediate reaction was surprise .. he wasn’t telling some-one else’s story, he was talking in first person - and knew the details .. he was ‘Nathaniel’ at this age recounting his experiences

This story can turn our minds around .. Nathaniel’s experience-story (this so-called) song-line ‘history story’ is held in collective memory - and is oral, immediate and ‘local’

The relationship construct (of trad indigenous) culture is developed sufficiently to transcend (what we pass off as) ’time’ and sequential event ‘linear-time' presumptions
The old fellas all say that they have ‘lived here for ever’ - they are not talking about clocks and egos .. they are referencing life as a flowing interwoven energy totality, with spirit, form, event, all manifesting, emerging and dissolving in a joyful and resilient whole !

We are seeing and experiencing new ‘both ways’ (combining cultural wisdom and appropriate ‘technology’) constructs .. our ‘coming to share a best of both world views’ ..
this might offer a ‘better way’ to go  - our consciously combining ‘body and mind’  - as viable foundation for living ‘day-to-day’ life ..
re-connecting body (intellect) head within mind (spirit) heart
re-connecting words within story
re-connecting ‘living’ within earth-life
re-connecting ‘individual’ within (earth-life) nature


Public accessing
Bringing our ‘old’ stories and songs into public access programs is a big part of this project ..
to model introductions that do start benefitting all living here - and proceeding by engaging our universal languages of song, nature and story

Links and refs

PM experience, recordings and notes

MAGNT exhibs: Tjungunuttja - from coming to share

ARDS RESOURCES: big resource - sitting in shelves in winnellie

Melb university: interactive map, ‘useful guide’ listings of ‘partner’ orgs.

Margo Neale: An introduction to songlines

Tyson Yunkaporta: sand talk .. Indigenous thinking

Caring for country: fire-sticks

ABC radio: ’speaking out

RN: Victoria Grieve Williams: Thinking the country (caring for country

SBS: Victoria G W: Makarrata

Batchelor Institute: ’both ways

Guardian: australian birds story

Bandcamp 'waak waak djungi' article
(coincident project: ‘Bandcamp’ US; text based on Walka talks presented in this project)


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