From the Northern Territory 1: Music From Western
Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies (AIATSIS): AIAS 1 CD
1963; Released 1997
As defined here, Western Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory
extends beyond the northern and western boundaries of the
area formerly known as the 'Arnhem Land Reserve'. To the north
it includes the Coburg Peninsula, Croker and Goulburn Islands
and the Liverpool River region; to the south, it extends from
the west coast to Katherine and further east.
the recordings transferred to disc 1 were made at Oenpelli,
north of Kakadu National Park. The remainder are from Bagot,
settlements were established at isolated places in Western
Arnhem Land in the early years of the nineteenth century,
increasing rapidly after 1872, the year Darwin became linked
by telegraph with Australian capital cities and Britain.
the resulting dispersal and fragmentation of tribes and language
groups in this region and ultimate disruptions to ceremonial
life, a few song types have persisted, some of which are to
be heard on this disc. Associated with spectacular kinds of
dancing which were often admired and reported in the writings
of early observers, they are accompanied by the didjeridu,
a name which seems to have been used first by non-Aboriginal
people in the Darwin area. They are still sung by a diminishing
number of creative musicians whose presence is sought, over
a large area, whenever a corroboree is held.
of western Arnhem Land is used as a patterned, bassdrone which-at
the time these recordings were made-varied according to song
type and to the singer's place of residence. There are many
Aboriginal names for this instrument, some of them now losing
currency like the languages to which they belong. In the Oenpelli
region the Aboriginal name for didjeridu is magu; among groups
in Darwin and surrounding districts, it is kanbi and
heard here represent the following language groups: Gunwinggu,
Gunbalang and Djawan (tracks 1-6); also Yiwadja, and some
of the smaller groups traditionally located south of the Daly
River which were referred to collectively in the 1960s, as
Wagatj (tracks 7-13).
a dance song is borg or gunborg, in the Daly River languages,
it is wongga, also spelt wangga.
Arnhem Land singers either inherit their songs from their
fathers and older male relatives, or they 'find' them for
themselves in dreams. Dreamed songs are believed to be communicated
in this way by the spirit of a deceased singer. Whatever their
believed origin, these songs are usually similar, stylistically,
to others in the vicinity.
of Western Arnhem Land dance songs is a comparatively wide
vocal range of pitch (approximating sevenths, octaves,
even twelfths) within which there are 'tiled' or overlapping
descending passages many of them resembling scales or modes.
Arnhem Land singer prefers to select the pitch of his didjeridu
accompaniment to match his song. A player, therefore, may
have more than one instrument lying near at hand. Dance songs
in this region almost invariably begin with the droning sound
of the didjeridu to which the singer then adapts the range
of his song's melody.
order of entry of the sound components into a Western Arnhem
Land dance item is therefore: didjeridu first, then the singer's
stick beats and finally the singer's voice. At the end of
the same song item, final stick beats synchronise with calls
and shouts from the dancers.
of this musical region is the behaviour of the onlookers who
clap their hands in time with the singer's stick beats and
shout with approval (oi!) when the item finishes.
Arnhem Land, the melodic lines or contours are divided into
sections. Within each section there may be contour variations,
but each one follows a descending path towards the pitch of
the drone. During the breaks between the sections in the vocal
part, the didjeridu and stick beating continue their binding
web of sounds.
themselves do not always know the meaning of the words they
sing and many of their song utterances appear to be little
more than syllabic patterns with intervening glides. That
there are exceptions, however, is demonstrated by the sample
on this disc of Gunbalang singing (track 6a), song words of
which are to found transcribed and translated below.
From Wild Onion Corroboree
1962. Sung by Djimonggur and Nangmandualawogwog with Malaibuma
(didjeridu). The Wild Onion dance was performed in season
(June). Fruit was ripening and leaves were drying. In
one of a number of short acts the dancers mimed the digging
up of the onion and puffing it in a dilly bag, a task
normally carried out by Aboriginal women. The dancers'
contributions to the recording include shouts and a hissing
sound (ss-w). The singers of Wild Onion (mandane') are
two Djawan men (Nim Djimonggur (b. 1910) and Fred Nangmandualawogwog)
who belonged to a locality further south, near Katherine.
The song was 'found in dream' by Nim who, before its discovery,
had not been a singer of any standing. Nim's dreaming
of Wild Onion enabled him to become arabadba which, at
Oenpelli, means songman, or a man with a song of his own.
Before the last item there is a sustained call. While
performing on the dance or corroboree ground, with his
assistant singer and associated didjeridu player, Nim
wore an object representing the wild onion, or 'cheeky
yam' suspended on a string round his neck. His headdress,
incorporating turkey feathers, signified the leaves of
the yam plant.
From Blue Tongue Corroboree
1962. Sung by Yinmalagara and Nalbared with Djawida (didjeridu).
The sustained call, heralding the conclusion of the performance,
may be heard again here just before the commencement of
the last Blue Tongue item. This final tune, which identifies
the series, was known at Oenpelli as the manbadjan (mother,
or 'big one'). The singers Nalbered (b. 1922) and Yinmalagara,
provide stick-beating accompaniment at two different speeds,
one pair beating in doubles (quavers) and the other in
Only By Djawida
1962. Didjeridu by: Djawida. The Gunwinggu name for the
didjeridu is magu (pronounced magaw). The didieridu-dideru
sound patterning in the demonstration by a young Gunwinggu
player, Djawida (b. 1943), suggests how the instrument
may have acquired its more widely-used name.
1962. Sung by Nambadambal and Nadjalbur with Wandiwandi
(didjeridu). Indjalarrgu items about spirit children or
'mermaids', sung by Nambadambal (b. 1940) and Nadjalbur,
were said to have been dreamed by a Maung (language) man
on South Goulburn Island. Related to conception and birth,
Aboriginal beliefs about pre-existent spirit children
are widespread. The lndjalarrgu items sung by these two
Gunwinggu men, are divided into melodic sections ending
with long passages for didjeridu and song sticks. The
song words or syllabic sounds are often slurred and have
not been transcribed.
Speaks About Songs And Didjeridu Accompaniments in English
1962. Frank Gananggu talks briefly in English about some
of the songs; and in Gunwinggu about their associated
didjeridu accompaniments. A free translation of his Gunwinggu
comments is as follows: In the didjeridu accompaniment
for Blue Tongue Lizard songs, the player says: didjemro,
didjemro, etc. For Wild Onion he does the same. In Yam,
Gunbalang and other songs he says: didjeramo-rebo, didjeramo-rebo,
etc. And there is another slower accompaniment in which
he says ... etc.
Gunbalang sung by Bilinyarra with Lamilami (didjeridu)
(b) Didjeridu accompaniment to Gunbalang played by Lamilami
(c) Bunbalang song words spoken by Bilinyarra
(d) Maralngurra gives place names at Oenpelli
1962. Didjeridu by: Lamilami. (a): The inaugurator of
the song called Gunbalang was said to be Bob Balirbalir,
a Gunbalang speaker and brother of the present singer,
Bilinyarra (b. 1920). These 'Gossip' songs refer to an
affair in an indirect way, without mentioning the names
of the man and woman involved. See song words and translation
below. With its fast, ternary rhythm and whirring didjeridu
accompaniment, Gunbalang conveys a feeling of suppressed
excitement. Short, barely perceptible breaks in the didjeridu
continuum occur in the second, fourth and final sections
where the accompanying instruments are heard without the
voice. Notable is the rhythmic 'trip', or accented rhythmic
alteration, which occurs at the termination. Onlookers
provide a hand-clapping accompaniment and the final Oi!;
(b): The Gunbalang accompaniment played here by the expert
Maung player, Lamilami (b. 1913), is based on the didjeramo-rebo
pattern; (c): The song-words for Gunbalang are here spoken
by the singer, Bilinyarra. There are close similarities
between Bilinyarra's spoken song words and those transcribed
for a 'Sweetheart Song' (No 29) in RM Berndt and CH Berndt,
Sexual Behaviour in Western Arnhem Land (1951, 223); (d)
The voice of Silas Maralngurra, a Gunwinggu man speaking
in English, may be heard pronouncing the original name
of Oenpelli (Gunbalanya). He also gives the names of three
hills in the locality.
1962. Sung by Nabadayal with Malaibuma (didjeridu). The
singer, Lofty Nabadayal (b. 1920), a Gundangbon (Dangbon)
speaker who belongs to a territory south-east of Oenpelli,
learnt this song from Wagatj men at Belyuen. Called Djunggurin
at Oenpelli, it would be known among the Wagatj as Wongga.
The singer's slow descending cry, sometimes incorporated
as part of the dance music, was characteristic of Western
Arnhem Land Wongga singing at the time. These dance songs
were usually heard in camp either as musical entertainment
or with dancing during ceremonies. The didjeridu is played
by David Malaibuma (b. 1938), a Gunwinggu speaker who
accompanies the Wild Onion corroboree (Track 1). In rhythmic
style and tempo his Djunggurin accompaniment is not unlike
that of a drum played in a military march. During the
performance which took place at the time of recording,
dance steps were in time with the one-two-threestop pattern
of the didjeridu rhythm and the singer's sticks. Carrying
large handkerchiefs, said to be 'for balance', the Djunggurin
dancers advanced and retreated in a line. The growl-shout
and other formal responses heard during dancing are familiar
Wongga features. Added to these is the quick-tapping figure
suddenly introduced into the leading singer's stick beats
to announce that the final item in his performance is
1962. Sung by Burralang with Bilinyarra (didjeridu). The
samples called Djambidj (Morning Star) sung by Burralang
(b. 1939) and brought to Oenpelli by Burera singers from
further east in north Arnhem Land, belong to a special
ceremony of this name which would be performed at times
of death or mourning. The slow detached sounds of the
didjeridu, like the tolling of a large bell, and the stickbeating
in quick even beats, are indicative of ceremonial song
items from north-eastern Arnhem Land. Although out of
place in a collection of samples of Western Arnhem Land
singing, this excerpt demonstrates that regional differences
may sometimes be observed in songs performed at the same
From Cape Don
1962. sung by Yambitjbitj with Sam (didjeridu). The items
of Track 9, said to be about 'sea-birds and the sea',
belong to an order of songs known at Bagot as Gurula.
The recorded performance took place at a small family
gathering round a camp fire. The singer Brian Yambitjbitj
(b. 1946), appeared to be practising under the watchful
eye of Ilarri, a senior Yiwadja man from Cape Don, Coburg
Peninsula. A Gurula series is usually accompanied by two
pairs of song sticks, one singer beating in doubles, the
other in single (compare Blue Tongue). Against this complex
of clicking sticks the didjeridu alone is heard in relatively
free, but accented sound patterns which apparently make
use of two closely-adjacent pitches.
Songs From Belyuen
1962. Sung by Bobby Lane with John Scroggi (didjeridu).
In Track 10, words for the two songs from Belyuen are
announced at the conclusion of each item by the Wagatj
singer, Bobby Lane (b. 1940). No translation was offered.
Song from Anson Bay
(b) Didjeridu only
1962. Sung by Bill Manji with Alan Nama (didjeridu). Notable
in the song from Anson Bay (Track 11a) is the penetrating
voice of Billy Manji (b. 1934), a young singer of the
Brinken-Wagatj language group. There is vocalising on
vowel sounds (a, ey, i) and detached sounds such as di-di-di
occur regularly as a refrain. Characteristic pauses in
the didjeridu part are demonstrated (Track 11b) by Alan
Nama (b. 1934), a player well practised in Wongga accompaniments
of this kind.
1962. Sung by Wuniya with Bultja (didjeridu). The Brinken
Wongga in Track 12, sung by Peter Wuniya (b. 1920) is
about a bush fire; the meaning given was 'they see the
fire and run' (to the water).
(a) boys from Belyuen with James (didjeridu player, twelve
(b) Muluk, 'Prince of Wales', Mudbul with Tommy (didjeridu)
1962. Didjeridu by: James (12 years old) and Tommy. The
Wongga about a buffalo hunt, reproduced in Track 13a,
was sung by a group of young boys from Belyuen Settlement
School. The didjeridu player, James, was twelve years
old at the time. The boys had been coached by the Manda-Wagatj
owner of the song, Jimmy Muluk (b. 1925), who leads the
adult performance in Track 13b.