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Song and song-story project

I'm continuing (re)presenting our 'Indigenous song story and oral history' stories here .. this project aims to assist  mainstream audiences to better appreciate our Indigenous nature-culture-wisdom - and its continuing relevance

This project has been part funded by the NT government's Archive Services 'oral history program' - and is on-going

Coincidently - as interest in the re-release of 'Waak waak ga Min min' music continues to grow - we are sometimes 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


References and pointers

Extensions - public access program

Opportunity - both ways, arts-culture, human arts

ramo0810whck01 minmin.jpg


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 .. more here 

Culture and language 

The meaning of (Indigenous) song story is imbued by, and exists within, its languages - and there are many regional ones

Indigenous language is imbued with 'spirit of place' 


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 describe 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 to comprehend; perhaps much translation really does 'lose the essence' and 'lacks the splendour of the experience' 

arnhem 06 wamut & dad.jpg

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’ construct

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, communicating with earth in ‘song’ ..

Little (if any) is written .. most is experiential - using 'languages' of dance, song, time-place, situation, ceremony

May we offer a series of short recordings made at Walkabimirri 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 Bunnunggurr;  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

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


traditional songs here are about place, about situation, about food, about finding it, finding water, finding our way when travelling thru’ country, songs about stars, geography and seasons, about birth, death, funeral

(song is pretty easy to remember .. I used learn our ‘times tables’ via repetitive song - and seem to remember them!)


songs often include - and are based on - the sounds of the subject (the birds, air, water, trees) as part of the ‘everyday familiar experiences’ that we constantly hear and relate to


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 day-tp-day song-lives, passing these on, in turn, to their children


I have heard (from old friend from Elcho) that some 45% of aboriginal trad song is about birds .. 

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


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

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 identifying song (here) consists of a series of (always slightly different) repeated motifs - in terms of pitch and placement

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

dawn magpie 64
00:00 / 01:04
lyrebd 60
00:00 / 01:01

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 !

mother magpie

Aboriginal Kinship is all about relationship .. the relationships - the interdependence - of all peoples, country and cosmos within (big view) life

It is big - and complex and sophisticated; it does not divide life into ‘bits’ separated away from from our human-inherent (spirit) energy


Everything in (kinship based) life is divided into two creation principles - moieties; 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 obligation in a system of cycling ‘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 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


big picture, big happiness !

ramo0910-22 trees.jpg

Good Story

Nathaniel lived with us, outside melbourne in semi rural country, mid 1990s; he came with his bapa (father, JD), 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

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 !


UNSW; Indigenous studies

Chambers: Singing the land, signing the land

Hendriks and Hall:_Indigenous_Mysticism

connecting on this site

Tyson Yunkaporta: sand talk .. Indigenous thinking

Personal experience, recordings and notes

Public access program, resources and refs

Bringing our ‘old’ stories and songs into public accessible programs is a big part of this project .. to model engaging introductions (to the alternative and beneficial ways of living here in ‘old’ country) and start doing so by looking into our universal languages of song, nature and story

May I suggest that our living  life on earth is totally dependent upon her (earth's) capability to provide, nourish and enable all life to flourish .. ie our 'care for country' is a (the?) primary consideration 


With this in mind, we are starting a list of possible beneficial ideas, actions, changes - in the ways we 'view and live' life -  that could assist us all ?

See here


June 2020

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