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Arnhem Land Music
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Database was last updated on:
May 11, 2006

Stop the Jabiluka Uranium Mine

Didjeridu & Traditional Music of the Top End
The content of this page was originally created by Peter Lister

Eastern and Northeastern Arnhem Land

Eastern and northeastern Arnhem Land is a huge wild area stretching east of the Blyth River to the Gulf of Carpentaria and south as far as Rose River - an area in excess of 40 000 square kilometres (not including the islands). Some place Ramingining and Milingimbi within Central Arnhem Land rather than Eastern Arnhem Land. My boundary as indicated on the map is based upon my understanding of the cultural and linguistic (and musical, Map 3) boundaries of the region, rather than a purely geographic definition.

Six main communities (which originally commenced as Methodist Missions) lie within the region; Yirrkala, Gapuwiyak (Lake Evella), Galiwin'ku (Elcho Island), Ramingining, Milingimbi and Numbulwar. This region is private Aboriginal Land and as such, permits are required by the Northern Land Council to enter the region. The exception is the mining township of Gove. Access to the town is not restricted, but access to neighbouring Aboriginal Land is and as such requires a permit.

As many as 40 outstations lie within the northeastern portion (the Yolngu cultural bloc) - the residents living a largely traditional lifestyle with basic housing and vehicles. More than 45 'clan' groups exist and as many dialects are spoken. The region is steeped in culture and wildlife.

The far northeastern corner (Melville Bay to Cape Arnhem and Port Bradshaw) is home to Yothu Yindi.

Run your cursor over the map - wherever the cursor appears as;

- clicking this symbol will allow you to hear a sample of the style of music from that region

- clicking this symbol will allow you to hear a solo didjeridu sample from that region

BR - Blyth River Ga - Galiwin'ku*
AS - Arafura Swamp LE - Gapuwiyak (Lake Evella)*
GoR - Goyder River Nh - Nhulunbuy (~Gove)
WoR - Woolen River Y - Yirrkala*
KR - Koolatong River Nu - Numbulwar*
WR - Walker River Gy - Gunyangara* (outstation)
RR - Rose River Dh - Dhalinbuy* (outstation)
R - Ramingining* Br - Biranybirany* (outstation)
Mi - Milingimbi* Dj - Djarrakpi* (outstation)
  Do - Dhonydji* (outstation)

* Aboriginal community

The sound files are Real Audio files (*.ram format) - if you have trouble playing them,
you can download the free Real One Player here.

View current rainfall for the region (updated every 10 minutes)

This region has the richest, most complex traditional music of the Top End.

Moyle notes the following distinguishing features of eastern Arnhem Land clan songs;

  • didjeridu accompaniment is 'B-type'
  • a narrow vocal range is employed
  • clearly audible and translatable song words which are meaningful and relate to clan estate and myth
  • an Unaccompanied Vocal Termination (UVT)
The voice is employed in a variety of ways to create bird calls that are a conspicuous part of the didjeridu playing in some songs such as Brolga - see Moyle, Songs of the Northern Territory, Vol. 2 track 12.

Discography & Notes

Title of  Recording Track/Band Recording Location/Date Notes
Contemporary Masters Series, Volumes 1-5 all Yirrnga Music Studio,
Yirrkala, northeastern Arnhem Land, 2000
Dhalwangu [Y], Galpu [D], Rirratjingu [D](all from NEAL) and Nhundirribala clan songs (from Numbulwar, SEAL) and music represented.
Songs from the Northern Territory, Vol. 2, Moyle tracks 1- 6 Numbulwar 1963, Groote Eylandt 1962 Nunggubuyu songs of both Ngalmi and Murrungun [D] clans.
  track 8 Numbulwar, 1963 Virtuoso yidaki track (Nunggubuyu)
  track 9 (b,c) Numbulwar, 1963  
  track 10 (b,c,d) Numbulwar, 1963 Murrungun clan [D]
  track 12 (b) Numbulwar, 1963 Djapu (Yolngu D) clan from Caledon Bay region, living at Numbulwar. Brolga song; didjeridu and mouth sounds - excellent example.
Songs from the Northern Territory, Vol. 3, Moyle tracks 1 & 2 Yirrkala, 1962 Djapu clan fire cleansing rite [D]
  track 6 Yirrkala, 1962 Rirratjingu clan song [D]
  tracks 7 & 8 Yirrkala, 1962 Virtuoso didjeridu solos; Track 7 by Djalalingba [Y]; track 8 by Mawalan [D]
  tracks 9 & 10 Yirrkala, 1962 track 9 good example of UVT; Songmen are Mun'gurrawuy, Rrikin & Djalalingba [all Y]
  track 11 Milingimbi, 1962 Clan songs sung in Djambarrpuyngu [D] - good examples of UVT
  track 12 Milingimbi, 1962 Djatpangarri style - 'Comic' - based on Donald Duck cartoon seen during WWII. Track 13 has the songwords for this piece. The Aboriginal rock band Yothu Yindi recorded a version of this on their 1992 album 'Tribal Voice' - track 14 'Beyarrmak'. In addition, their song 'Treaty' contains a chorus that is based upon djatpangarri style lyrics (tracks 2 & 15 of the same album)
Songs from the Northern Territory, Vol. 4, Moyle track 1 Milingimbi, 1963 Galpu didjeriduist [D]; the songman, Djawa [Y]
  tracks 2 & 3 Milingimbi, 1962 [D]
  track 5 Yirrkala, 1962 Rirratjingu songman [D]
  track 5(b) Yirrkala, 1962 Didjeridu only
6 (a) & (b)
Yirrkala, 1963 Two djatpangarri songs - singer is Galarrwuy [Gumatj Y]. First song is Butterfly (bonba), second is Cora. Track 6 (d) has a spoken explanation of the origins of the song 'Cora' composed by a now deceased Gumatj clansman, Dambidjawa, concerned about its delay in reaching Yirrkala. Yothu Yindi's 1996 album 'Birrkuta - Wild Honey' track 14 is also 'Cora'.
Arnhem Land Popular Classics, West tracks 2, 8, 9 Wugularr, 1961/62 Clan songs from northeastern Arnhem Land performed by Wulaki/Rembarrnga singer - learnt from Ritharngu [Y] speaker visiting Wugularr - didjeriduist is Paddy Forham (Rembarrnga)
Tribal music of Australia, Elkin. Side I, Bands 1,2,3,4,5. Bands 1,2,3; 1949 & 52 
Bands 4 7 5, 1952
Bands 1,2,3 are djatpangarri style.
  Side I, Band 7 1952 5 Virtuoso didjeridu samples
  Side II, Bands 1,2 1952 & 1949  
Land of the Morning Star, Le Brun Holmes. Side 1, Bands 1,2 Milingimbi, 1962  
  Side 1, Bands 3,4,5,6. Yirrkala, 1962  
  Side 2, Band 6 Milingimbi, 1962 Imitates bird while playing didj - virtuoso playing
  Side 2, Bands 7,8 Milingimbi, 1962 Didj only - virtuoso playing
Aboriginal Sound Instruments, Moyle. Side 2, Band 2 (a,b,c) Numbulwar, 1964 Nunggubuyu. Didj sample with "mouth sounds"
  Side 2 Band 3(d) Yirrkala, 1963 Gumatj clan, Djapu [D] style Brolga song - didjeridu only. Tapping is the didjeriduist' finger against the didj.
Andhanaggi: Walker River Clan Songs entire recording Walker River oustation, Blue Mud Bay, 1993 Clan songs of the region - Evan Wilfred on yidaki.
Arnhem Land , Elkin (1993) track 10 *** 1949 "Mulara" performed by Rembarrnga/Ngalkbun speakers
  track 11 *** 1949 "Ngorunapa" performed by Rembarrnga/Ngalkbun speakers
Arnhem Land , Vol. 2, Elkin Side 2, Band 1 1952 "Mulara" of northeastern Arnhem Land
  Side 2, Band 2 1952 "Waramiri" of northeastern Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land , Vol. 3, Elkin Side 1, Band 1 1949/52 Didjeridu solo performance
  Side 1, Band 2 1949/52 northeastern Arnhem Land performance
  Side 1, Bands 3,4,5 1949/52 Djatpangarri performances; the second example is 'Comic' [written by Elkin as "Conu'c" and "Gomi" - relates to Disney character seen in WWII cartoon.
Wandjuk Marika in Port Moresby entire recording Port Moresby, 1976 Virtuoso yidaki solo [D]
Please Note: The names of performers are not included wherever it is known or suspected they may be recently deceased.

*** The tracks thus marked are comon to both the re-release of Elkin's recordings (1993) and Elkin's Vol. 2. (1957?)

[D] & [Y] denote Dhuwa and Yirritja moieties respectively

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Copyright 2002-2006 J.H. Burrows and Peter Lister