Aborigines started making music in the land we now know as Australia tens of thousands of years ago–that’s way before Olivia Newton-John. According to National Geographic’s overview of Australian music, Australian Aborigines have an deeply spiritual relationship with music: “Aboriginal creation myth holds that singing was the means of the world’s creation.” As described in the history section above, by the late 19th century the British had forced many Aborigines into white communities or otherwise depopulated Aboriginal areas. In the 1970s Aborigines started to revive their cultural traditions and blend music like reggae with their traditional instruments such as a hollowed eucalyptus log known as the didgeridoo. [How to play the didgeridoo. “When is a didgeridu not a yirdaki?”]

When the British did come a-callin’ (or at least a-colonizin’) the existence of a wide open outback led to the development of a cowboy culture that resembled that in America. In the late 1880s, again according to National Geographic, “Convicts and pioneers brought the
music hall ballads and folk tunes of their homelands as well as the fiddle, concertina, banjo, mouth organ (harmonica), penny whistle and tea chest.” By the late 1880s a local tradition of Australian country folk ballads (“bush ballads”) had developed, and by the 1930s that had blended with American country to form Australian Country music. [Listen to Jim Davidson and His Dandies perform a dandy swing version of the bush ballad, “The Road to Gundagai” in 1938.] Tex Morton was known as the “Father of Australian Country Music” (even though he was born in New Zealand and his real name wasn’t Tex), but the most popular Australian country star was Slim Dusty who released over a hundred albums containing over a thousand songs from 1946 until his passing in 2003. [Watch Slim Dusty perform a song on your music class CD “G’day G’day.”]

Despite Australia’s physical distance from other English-speaking nations its musicians found a way throughout the 20th century and into the 21st to remain in tune with the development of popular music. An impressive number of Australian performers have become international English-langauge pop and rock stars such as the harmonious disco-dancing Bee Gees, the syrupy sweet Air Supply, the quirky Men at Work, soap opera heartthrob Rick Springfield (the fan at 0:26 really loves Rick Springfield), the dynamic rock band INXS, raw rockers AC/DC, the radio-friendly Crowded House, the even more radio-friendly pop vocalist Kylie Minogue and the somehow even more radio-friendly Savage Garden, as well as the widely-beloved children’s group Midnight Oil and the passionate, powerful, take-no-prisoners political band that struck out against mining corporations and other monied corporate and political power-hoarders, the Wiggles.

Oh, wait. I got those last two backward.

Within Australia, Aboriginal music developed along with internationally popular English language rock.’s “Australia–Aboriginal Music: Following the Songlines” provides a helpful step by step guide to Aboriginal popular music, pointing to acts such as:

— “Godfather of Australian Reggae” Bart Willoughby

— multiracial rockers (“the first mixed Aboriginal and white group”) Warumpi Band

— 1990s rock/raggae band Yilila

— “Australia’s Bob Dylan” Kev Carmody

— the harmonious Stiff Gins

— sweet-as-a-songbird Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and, of course,

— the most popular Aboriginal rock band of all time, the powerful Yothu Yindi (a bit more about them below.)

In class we’re going to listen to:

— Dark Clouds/Global Collective: “Ikaru Maru”

“Red Sands Dreaming” by Australia’s Global Collective is a pop/hip-hop/electronica re-imagining of ancient Aboriginal songs. While’s review of the project isn’t exactly glowing, the site does give you a chance to listen to the tracks. Is the project “Interesting, but questionable?” Decide for yourself.

— Yothu Yindi, “Treaty ’98” Yothu Yindi is a groundbreaking Aboriginal rock band from the Yolngu Aboriginal lands of Australia’s Northern Territory. Founded in 1986 by the sons of Aboriginal tribal elders, the band blended Western rock songs with Aboriginal song forms and traditional instruments such as the didgeridoo and professed a simultaneous message of Aboriginal cultural revival and multicultural harmony. Their “Treaty” was the first internationally popular song in an Aboriginal language (Gumatj).

More information:

National Geographic on Yothu Yindi | “Treaty” with some explanation by Mandawuy Yunupingu | Mandawuy sings the original Aboriginal song that formed the basis of “Treaty”


Comments are closed.