The National Recording Project for
Indigenous Performance in Australia

The Gupapuyŋu Dancers from Miliŋinbi in NE Arnhem Land perform at WOMADelaide under the direction of Neparrŋa Gumbula. Photo: T. Christensen, 2006.

Partners in the NRP are active in an array of research collaborations in remote and regional Australia to promote cultural survival through the recording, documentation and archiving of Indigenous performance traditions.

2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007


‘Preserving Australia’s Endangered Heritage: Murriny
Patha Song at Wadeye’
, An Australian Research Council Discovery—Project, 2004–2008

Investigators: Allan Marett, Michael Walsh, Lysbeth Ford, Nicholas Reid and Linda Barwick

This project will produce authoritative, thorough and archivally-sound musicological and linguistic
documentation of one of Australia's most vibrant Indigenous song traditions: the public dance songs of
the Murrinhpatha people at Wadeye, NT. Work is being undertaken with traditional owners to document three song genres, Djanba, Wurltjirri and Malgarrin, in the light
of their historical and contemporary inter-relationships with other local genres. More broadly, this project assesses these bodies of songs as endangered cultural heritage of national and international significance, and
will develop and apply appropriate electronic media interfaces to ensure their long term conservation and accessibility for both the Wadeye community and others. Research Partners include the Wadeye Knowledge Centre and The University of New England.

Media Coverage:
(1) The Music Show; (2) UniNews; (3) The Australian; (4) UniNews; (5) Radio Eye; (6) Ö1

‘When the Waters Will Be One: Indigenous Performance Traditions at the New Frontier of Inter-Cultural Discourses in Arnhem Land’, An Australian Research Council Discovery—Project, 2004–2009

Investigators: Aaron Corn, Marcia Langton, Neparrŋa Gumbula and Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja

This project examines the emerging roles of Indigenous performance traditions from Arnhem Land as fulcra for the strategic development of new discourses between peoples of the region and the international community. The adaptation of music and dance traditions to new media and audiences contexts is considered as are the hereditary intellectual paradigms that underpin these processes. The project also investigates historical antecedents to these new developments within the past 50 years, and explores their centrality to current attempts by Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land to achieve cultural and economic sustainability amid continuing radical social change.

Media Coverage: (1) UniNews; (2) Ö1; (3) The Music Show


‘Jaminjungan and Eastern Ngumpin: A Documentation of the Linguistic and Cultural Knowledge of Speakers in a Multilingual Setting in the Victoria River District, Northern Australia’, A Project of the Diwurruwurru-Jaru Aboriginal Corporation, 2005–2007

Investigators: Eva Schultze-Berndt, Patrick McConvell, Felicity Meakins, Kristina Henschke, Candide Simard, Glenn Wightman, Allan Marett and Linda Barwick

Jaminjungan and Ngumpin are language families traditionally associated with neighbouring regions in the Victoria River District in Northern Australia. The three-year project seeks to document the linguistic and cultural knowledge of the remaining few hundred speakers of several varieties: Jaminjung and Ngaliwurru (Jaminjungan); and Gurindji, Ngarinyman, Bilinarra, and Mudburra (Eastern Ngumpin). These varieties, together with English and Kriol, form part of a network of multilingual communicative practice in the region since their speakers have been in close contact for centuries and now share the same settlements throughout the region. One aim of the project therefore is to carefully document dialectal and ideolectal variation and code-switching in actual language use in such a multilingual setting. Topics for text collection include significant sites, plant use, and oral history, which are likely to be of interest to the speakers and their descendants as well as to linguists, anthropologists, biologists, ecologists, and historians. Linguistic Documentation will be complemented by documentation of public song styles in cooperation with members of the National Recording Project.

‘Planning for Sustainability’, An Australian Research Council Linkage—Project, 2005–2006

Investigators: Allan Marett, Linda Barwick, Marcia Langton, Aaron Corn, Mandawuy Yunupiŋu, Alan James and Witiyana Marika

‘Planning for Sustainability’ provided for a series of workshops conducted in partnership with the Yothu Yindi Foundation to negotiate methods and protocols for recording, documenting and archiving Indigenous performance traditions under the NRP in response to Indigenous priorities and international best practice. Workshops were held in Darwin at the North Australia Research Unit in March 2005 and at Charles Darwin University’s Nhulunbuy Campus as part of the 4th Symposium on Indigenous Performance in August 2005. These meetings were critical in identifying areas of common interest and facilitating the sharing of knowledge between the investigators, Indigenous community stakeholders and prospective industry partners. The development of programmes for training Indigenous investigators to record, document and locally manage collections of their own performance traditions in accordance with NRP protocols was also discussed.

‘Warlpiri Songlines: Anthropological, Linguistic and Indigenous Perspectives’, An Australian Research Council Linkage—Project, 2005–2007

Investigators: Georgia Curran, Mary Laughren, Stephen Wild, Anna Meltzer, Thomas Rice Jangala and Jeannie Egan Nungarrayi

In conjunction with the Warlpiri Janganpa Association, and the Central Land Council, the School of English at the University of Queensland and the Schools of Music and Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University have a three year research project into Warlpiri songlines. The project combines anthropologists, linguists, musicologists, Indigenous knowledge holders and Indigenous bicultural linguists to record, transcribe and translate many of the cycles of songs that are no longer frequently performed, and, therefore, not being passed on to the younger generations. Warlpiri songs link ancestral power with the landscape, emotions and aesthetics and are central to Warlpiri religious life. The project is creating a cultural archive at Yuendumu informed by indigenous exegesis that is also integrating appropriate aspects into the world of scholarship and eventually providing materials for Warlpiri school curricula. This project includes a postgraduate research student, Georgia Curran, who is working with Warlpiri collaborations over a fifteen month period at Yuendumu, Dr Mary Laughren, Dr Stephen Wild and Ms Anna Meltzer. Key Warlpiri collaborators are Mr Thomas Rice Jangala and Ms Jeannie Egan Nungarrayi. Georgia Curran has just completed her fieldwork at Yuendumu and has over 75 hours of recordings, most of which have been transcribed and translated. Nic Peterson and Mary Laughren have also made research visits to Yuendumu. Copies of all recordings have been left in the Warlpiri Media Archive and many copies distributed to people in the community as requested.

Realising Performance Traditions on Country, A University of Sydney Research and Development Project, 2005–2006

Investigators: Aaron Corn, Allan Marett, Mandawuy Yunupiŋu, Neparrŋa Gumbula and Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja

‘Realising Performance Traditions on Country’ provided a mechanism for rigorously field testing methods and protocols identified for use in the NRP with Indigenous community stakeholders in Arnhem Land. Field trails were conducted at Nikawu, Ŋayawili, Naŋinyburra, Dhanaya, Luŋgutja, Gurrumuru, Gulkula, Djiliwirri, Kunbarllanjnja and Kabulwarnamyo under the direction of leading Indigenous performers Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja, Mandawuy Yunupiŋu, Neparrŋa Gumbula, Raymattja Marika, Bruce Nabegeyo and Bardayal Nadjamerrek in collaboration with Dr Linda BarwicK, Dr Murray Garde and Ronald Lamilami. They produced new collections of previously-unrecorded Yolŋu manikay series and Bininj kunborrk series, and were instrumental in establishing:

  • consultative processes for prioritising traditions to be recorded;
  • protocols to ensure the collection of high quality recordings in culturally appropriate ways;
  • the need to record repertoires and related data on the homelands from which they come;
  • a template for metadata collection that addresses both Indigenous and archival rights-management needs; and
  • guidelines for intellectual property agreements between performers, producers and research partners.

Issues of sustainable access to collected recordings were explored with research participants. They included methods for identifying all persons with rights to collected recordings, and the inclusion of related rights and access information in all metadata recorded.

‘Yiwarruj, Yinyman, Radbiyi Ida Mali: Iwaidja and Other Endangered Languages of the Cobourg Peninsula, Australia in Their Cultural Context’, A Volkswagen Documentation of Endangered Languages Project, 20052007

Investigators: Hans-Jürgen Saße, Nicholas Evans, Linda Barwick, Bruce Birch, Murray Garde, Joy Malwagag Williams and Janet Fletcher

Led by Professor Nick Evans (Linguistics, University of Melbourne) and Prof. Hans-Juergen Sasse (Universitaet zu Koln), this project documents, in as complete a cultural context as possible, the Iwaidja language of the Cobourg Peninsula, NT. With only 200 speakers, Iwaidja is increasing threatened by English, while other languages of the region, Marrgu, Ilgar/Garig, Amurdak and Manangkari, are spoken by only one or two people each. Songs composed in nearly every language spoken of the Cobourg Peninsula continue to be performed even when the languages themselves are no longer spoken. This project spans the disciplines of linguistics, ethnomusicology, material culture/archaeology and social anthropology, and will culminate in a comprehensive, searchable and browsable sound and video archive with Iwaidja transcriptions and subtitles alongside English translations, a Iwaidja dictionary of some 5000 words, detailed phonetic analyses, and supplementary materials on other languages of the region. Research partners include The University of Melbourne, Universitaet zu Koln, and Mamaruni School. Data collected in this project is deposited in the Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen (DoBeS) Archive as a condition of funding. There are plans for a local repository in Minjilang. In 2005, the project's first album, Jurtbirrk Lovesongs from North–Western Arnhem Land, won the Awards for Best Traditional Album and Best Album Design at the NT Indigenous Music Awards.


‘Classical Song Traditions of Contemporary Western Arnhem Land in Their Multilingual Context’, A Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Documentation Project, 2006–2008

Investigators: Linda Barwick, Allan Marett, Nicholas Evans, Murray Garde, Bruce Birch, Isabel Bickerdike and James McElvenny

The classical song traditions of Western Arnhem Land are amongst the foremost examples of verbal art in the nine endangered languages of the region, but few people are now competent to perform or comment on them. Typically performed in multi-lingual social contexts, song texts demonstrate unusual linguistic features such as mixtures of languages and a high proportion of esoteric and intimate vocabulary. The project team will collect, transcribe, translate and analyse songs by contemporary performers, and where relevant repatriate and document archival recordings, making the research results available to communities via a network of local digital repositories. As a condition of funding, recordings will be deposited in the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. There are also plans for local repositories.


‘Arandic Songs’, A Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Documentation Postdoctoral Fellowship Project, 2007–2010

Investigators: Myfany Turpin and Jenny Green

This two year Project, beginning in February 2007, will record and document ceremonial performances from the Arandic group of languages (Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, Kaytetye, Arrernte) in Central Australia as a resource for maintaining traditions and for appropriate research. It will record Arandic people's public ceremonies, and the singer's interpretations of the songs and their broader meanings. The project will describe the linguistic and musical features of the ceremonies. The project will assist Arandic people in maintaining their traditional verbal art forms by providing an opportunity for younger and older people to participate in the performances and their documentation, and by producing accessible resources of this material for community use.

Birrkili Dalkarra: Knowledge Mapping of Birrkili Performance Tradiitons and the Yiŋapuŋapu Public Ceremonial Complex in the Revitalisation of Birrkili Yolŋu Law, A University of Sydney Research and Development Project, 2007–2008

Investigators: Aaron Corn and Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja

This project will contribute to the documentation, revitalisation and continuing survival of morbidly-endangering Indigenous Australian performance repertories owned by the Birrkili Yolŋu of NE Arnhem Land within the Yiŋapuŋapu complex of public ceremonies. It will fund the only extent traditionally-trained Birrkili Yolŋu Elder, Djangirrawuy Garawirrtja, to work with Corn on transcribing, analysing and translating Birrkili performance repertoires, exploring relationships between these repertoires and the Yiŋapuŋapu ceremonial complex, and the knowledge mapping of homelands connected to this ceremonial complex. Results will be of international scholarly interest and immediate applicability to the training of future Birrkili Yolŋu Elders.

‘Elder Assessments of Early Material Culture Collections from Arnhem Land and Contemporary Access Needs to Them Among Their Source Communities’, An Australian Research Council Discovery—Indigenous Researchers’ Development Project, 2007–2009

Investigators: Neparrŋa Gumbula, Aaron Corn, Julia Mant and Hailey Dunn

There is enormous interest in Arnhem Land about the region’s recorded history. In recent years, the return of digital materials from collections worldwide has become a significant and efficacious strategy for stimulating cultural maintenance there. The sense of history that these materials bring is proving invaluable in maintaining well-being and community in Arnhem Land amid the hardships of local life. Informed by custodians of the region’s endangered languages and traditions, this project will produce findings of world heritage significance that will articulate the collections access needs of local people. It would be the first ARC project to be led by a Yolŋu Elder, Neparrŋa Gumbula. The Elkin Personal Archive, held at the University of Sydney Archives, includes materials recorded by Webb and Warner at Miliŋinbi dating from 1922, and are the oldest known from Arnhem Land. Gumbula will explore this collection with reference to traditional intellectual frameworks that still guide community life in Arnhem Land, and to its links to other collections worldwide. Gumbula will work consultatively with these collections to develop appropriate measures and find new technologies that will assist them in meeting the mounting access needs of source communities to their resources.

Media Coverage: (1) Discovery; (2) Sydney Morning Herald; (3) The Music Show