… singing up Australia …

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2023. All Rights Reserved.

An increasing number of Australian First Peoples’ communities are publishing funded songbooks. The Austranesia songbooks from Queensland, the Tiwi Murli La songbook, the Madjitil Moorna choir songbooks, the songbooks of Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, the Dhungala Choir Songbooks, and the Magabala Books audio songbooks, are boosting Australia’s overseas reputation as a country that’s proud of its Indigenous musics. The Australian Music Centre has joined the act, by publishing Australian First Peoples compositions, and the ABC has recorded many Indigenous Australian compositions. But the apartheid musical colonialism created by colonial bans on Aboriginal languages, that has obstructed Australian music development for over two centuries, is still common in Australia.

The forced imposition of English on Australia’s First Peoples produced a large repertoire of Indigenous Australian music with English lyrics. These mixed genre resistance songs, combined with immigrant folk genres from Slim Dusty and visiting singers like Buddy Holly and Paul Robeson, quickly became part of Australian Indigenous oral traditions. These mixed genre songs, described in Amanda Harris’s Representation of Aboriginal Music, are now beginning to combine with revived traditional Australian languages. Recent government funding of Australian Indigenous language resources, spurred on by the 2022-2032 UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages, is intended to revive Australia’s music cultures. However, this is uphill work, because Australian media policies don’t support it. Take a look at the ABC’s Saturday Rage playlist. No traditional Aboriginal music there! That’s a whole morning of opportunities to revive and support healthy Australian community music, completely wasted. Australia’s musical grass roots past deserves much more attention, and much more government and commercial promotion.

Populat Australian First Peoples’ songs and performers, often heard on radio in my childhood, were dropped from Australian concert repertoires, radio and app playlistsm and soundtracks in the 1960s, when untariffed overseas music and cinema imports flooded into Australia. The Australian government still doesn’t promote pre-1960s Australian songs, or pay to have them performed. Scores of well loved Australian bush classics like Peppamenarti, the Wattle Day Song and Hop And Go One have been neglected and undervalued by cultural cringe policies and corporate agendas that funnel music consumer profits overseas. Occasionally these songs appear in research papers, and are performed and recorded at restricted conferences, then the scores and audios are archived away from public view. Many of these iconic songs were created by Indigenous Australians, and they have roots in Australian communities. They should be celebrated, regularly performed, and broadcast worldwide, to advertise Australia and bring much needed income to their Indigenous communities of origin.

Australian church music repertoires for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday (July 2 2023) provide many examples of how Australian First Peoples songs are excluded from non-Indigenous Australian venues. Uncle Jimmy Little’s joyful “Royal Telephone” and Uncle Tom Foster’s “My Thoughts” and “I’m Happy Today” are deemed liturgically unsuitable,, and shamefully banned, in these places.

Apartheid music segregation is also firmly in place in many public Australian venues and media outlets. Many Australian liturgical committees have banned Aboriginal music and languages from church repertoires because they believe that Aboriginals are immoral, drunken, criminal pagans. But most Australian First Peoples’ parents, grandparents and earlier ancestors were raised on church missions or reserves and Christianized. So (despite the terrible crimes of corrupt mission supervisors) many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Isalnder people have combined this Christian heritage with tribal music traditions. Australian First Peoples church songs successfully integrate Australian stories about family and Country with Christian teachings.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: