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Songmaking in Post Referendum Australia

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Looking beyond the ever-so-long-coming Australian First Nations Voice Referendum, I hope to see Australia’s wonderful First Nations’ music cultures more diligently promoted. With better, more reliable marketing support, enhanced media presence of groups like the Tiwi Strong Women and the Ntaria Women’s Choir would quickly redeem and sustain Australia’s flagging national reputation. Short term grants are not enough – these amazing musicians are proven Living National Treasures who deserve ongoing, full time incomes. The human and Indigenous rights of Australian First Nations are greatly respected and recognised in UN and global forums. Reliable government support for their work, and relieving them from competing for short term grant income, would enhance Australia’s international standing. The great advantage of uniquely Australian music making is its easy, speedy dissemination; there’s no reason to refuse or delay funded production and marketing of this music.

PM Anthony Albanese’s acknowledgement of Australia’s First Peoples’ right to justice and a better future, echoed the Australian electorate’s endorsement of the full 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Since this was mandated by the outcome of the 2022 Australian election, the Uluru Statement must be implemented in full. Continent-wide, economy-boosting support for First Nations led music reforms is a top priority of the new Australian National Arts Policy. This prioritised agenda should be enacted globally, nationally, regionally, and at grass roots level, in all Australian schools and Universities. Just and equitable Australian government promotion of First Nations’ musics does not – as some have claimed – pose any threat to established immigrant Australian musics, which are all well established, generously funded, and highly competitive by corporate interests.

Introducing cultural reviews and equitable rebalancing of Australian school music curricula and music performance repertoires that have previously prioritised foreign music pedagogies, is not a difficult task. It doesn’t mean erasing immigrant music cultures, as First Nations communities agree that all musics have a right to exist and flourish. Australia’s First Nations’ musicians have demonstrated their willingness to work collaboratively and productively with immigrant Australian musicians for many years.

However, Australia’s immigrant musics alone are, by definition, incapable of providing the Australian state with a unique musico-cultural identity, because their content promotes non-Australian cultures. Immigrant music pedagogies and repertoires are therefore not entitled to exclusive monopoly rights that minimise or exclude Australia’s First Nations musics and languages from Australian schools and Universities. Australian First Nations music cultures, and their expert tribal and contemporary practitioners, should be centrally honoured and promoted in Australian music industry systems, not sidelined or exploited. Australian First Peoples musics are central to Australia’s global identity, and this brilliant, ecology based music, that supports sustainability, should be placed at the very centre of a uniquely Australian ecological music pedagogy.

Centralizing Australian First Nations songmaking in Australian schools and Universities is not yet a reality. Although Australian First Nations songmaking is booming in 2023, foreign music repertoires are still encouraged to predominate in Australian schools and concert halls. The influential Quadrant journal is still publishing indignant letters from conservative Caucasian listeners, who complain about invasive broadcasts of Australian Indigenous music contaminating classical playlists. In Canberra, attacks on the full implementation of the First Nations Voice, via affirmation of the full 2017 Uluru Statement, are confusing, and may impede, the proposal and enactment of just solutions. And on the government registry of new Australian compositions, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compositions are still obstinately misclassified as “Non-Traditional.” This is inexcusable, since Australia’s Native Title law courts have, in hundreds of cases, admitted that the contemporary (as well as the ancient) songs of the oldest First Nations cultures in the world are indisputable evidence of an ancient, continuous, firmly emplaced artistic tradition. However many Australian government officials seem to be obstinately ignorant of this fact.