I’ve talked a lot about Dhalinybuy since this blog started last April, mostly in the series of posts about the short film Two Brothers at Galarra. The families of the late Mathuḻu Munyarryun embraced the creative potential of the Mulka Project’s new media facilities before other local Yolŋu. They pitched the first film idea outside of a workshop and recorded the first CD within a month of Mulka’s official launch.
On 31 August 2007, I drove out to Dhalinybuy with Mulka’s first two employees, Ḏiṉḏirrk Munŋgurr and Ṉuwaniny Burarrwaŋa, some basic recording and filming equipment, and a bunch of food. We began with the senior singers, Malalakpuy and Wakaŋ, supervised and sometimes joined by Mathuḻu, along with the late Mirrwatŋa on yidaki.
Listen to what happened from there on the CD, which is available from all the usual digital music retailers and from several yidaki sellers around the world. Here’s one sample.
After the recording, I asked Mathuḻu, “what will this CD be called? What will the album cover be?”
He only had to think for a few seconds. The title would be Baltha. Baltha, the Wangurri clan thundercloud which they sang at the beginning and end of the cycle we just recorded. He described the shape of it for me. He explained that they sang the journey of water from where we sat near the river Gularri to the sea, where it is sucked up by Baltha and rained down on the land to begin the journey again. They sing this cycle at funeral ceremony, the story of water paralleling the story of the human soul. The cover image would be a photograph of the cloud called Baltha.
While I loved the idea, I didn’t like my chances of pulling it off. I thought, “How am I supposed to get a picture of that? Call the Bureau of Meteorology and describe it to them, hoping they’ve got an archive of cloud photos?”
But I didn’t have to. Not long after the recording session, funeral ceremony was underway at Dhalinybuy. These ceremonies can last for weeks or even months. On 6 November, all of us at Yirrkala knew the funeral was wrapping up. My wife and I were out for a walk at sunset, looked in the direction of Dhalinybuy, and there it was. Baltha. Rising over the sea in Arnhem Bay. Possibly just as they were singing the end of this song cycle to conclude the ceremony.
I snapped a bunch of pictures and showed them to Mathuḻu at my next opportunity. He said, “yes, that’s it. That’s the cover.”
the old man tells the story
As I said in my prior blog post about the CD series, the late founding Mulka Project Director, Dr. Raymattja Marika, and I had big plans for the liner notes. We wanted to show up every outsider academic who published recordings of Aboriginal music. Dr. Marika sadly passed away suddenly before we finished the process on any of the three CDs we had recorded, then I suddenly had to leave Yirrkala due to my own family medical crisis. Those three CDs and several more in the end were released with simplified titles and no information other than track and artist names. I do have the recording and text of the late Mathuḻu telling the story as he wanted it in the liner notes, so will share those with you all now. The late Margaret Yunupiŋu and I did the basic transcription and translation, which was then polished with help from Dr. Marika and the late (wow, I have to say that a lot) Gulumbu Yunupiŋu.
Tracks 1-7 on the final version are archival recordings, some of which are discussed thoroughly here.
Tracks 8-12 Baltha
Ŋunha nhän ga dhäya mayali’ dharyundawu. Murrun nhän Ŋarru ga dharyun nhän ŋarru. Ŋunhan nhän ga mayali’ miyaman dhaŋuyam Baltha.
That cloud standing there shows that rain is coming. There will be thunder and rain. These songs are about the cloud called Baltha.
The cloud Baltha is forming, rising up. It begins to rain on the cycad palm leaves and the ground of the valleys. The valleys and rivers begin to flood from the rain. Murruyil the pigeon flies through the rain to get away from the storm. It fled from the rain, soaking wet, like Yolŋu People would. That’s the story.
Tracks 22-30 Murruyil (Pigeon)/Meṉḏuŋ (Snail)
Yow, ŋunha dharyuwan nhän ga manymak buṯthuwan murruyil’ dharyunda, dharyunda buṯthuwan murruyil’ djukdjukthuwan ga manymak after bayiwaḻiya murruyil’ŋuru nhän ŋätjin rirrakay’yuwan maypaḻ meṉḏuŋ yäku gunaminy.
It was raining, the pigeon flies through the rain, soaking wet, and after that, the snail gunaminy cries out.
Tracks 31-34 Ŋerrk (White Cockatoo)
Ga bayiwaḻiyam ga nhän buṯthuwan ŋerrk’nha ga ŋerrk’nha ḏurruwan ḏinguŋuru bäŋŋuru ŋayakandi dhopaṉŋuru. Nhän ḏurruwan ŋerrk, ŋarru wäyinma banha nhän wanhurr nininyŋu bawarraṉ ga dhaŋuya waŋganyma dhäwu.
From there, the white cockatoo flies away from the cycad palms, where it lives. That’s one part of the story.
Tracks 35-39 Warrkarr (Grass)
Note: Mathuḻu originally named this section Bulmirri. another name for the grass that he used in his story.
In this next part of the story, it rains, then the new shoots of grasses come out. The razor grass – the special name for that is wokara or bulmirri. Those two come out, the razor grass and the stringybark trees. New growth from the rain, the grasses come out. And the cycad palms. The old plants were burned, but when the rain comes, the new growth comes up. The new grasses and trees grow up. That’s the story.
Tracks 40-51 Gapu (Water)
Note: Mathuḻu originally called this section Guḻarri after the specific water course, rather than Gapu, which is the general word for all water.
Now we are turning our minds to another part of the story. Our minds and our tongues. The water is calming, becoming more still as it flows down river. This water (Guḻarri) has become calm. It is all the same thing, the same old song, but as it returns to our country where the fresh and salt waters meet, the melody changes.
This song is about the barramundi, we call Balin or Ratjuk. This is the very sacred song for barramundi. The faster clapsticks signify that we have reached where all the leaves and plant material washed downstream by the storm have gathered up in the still water. The barramundi is biting at the leaves and drinking the water of the bottom of the river. The mouth of the barramundi in the water called Djakurrŋa Guyuwuruyu. Ŋayawuḻuḻ, Biruyuwanan are important names for the barramundi’s mouth. Everyone eats the barramundi, just like the kingfish.
This is the song of the freshwater mullet waṯpirriya. The song of where waṯpirriya lie, splashing in the water. Where the leaves and branches are bunched up. Lying at the roots of the Yirritja pandanus. That is this song.
Tracks 70-76 Gomuḻu (Heron)
Note: Mathuḻu used another name for the heron, Gany’tjurr. Which incidentally, is one of my given Yolŋu names.
This is the song of gany’tjurr the heron. It is looking back at Baltha, towards the places Raripa, Guṉuyulumi, Marrtjinya, Baḻkpaḻk. That is what I sing. Then the bird looks down to the water, hunting for fish. We also sing to the places Muthamul, Warritja, Ŋamundjiyu, Banygarranhami. That’s this song.
This is Baltha, after singing about the bird hunting. We return to Baltha, then we are finished. The cloud is building up to Dhaliny, Gunygunya, Marrtjinya, Ŋuḻpurray, Guṉuyulumi and Baḻkpaḻk. That Baltha is building up and returning to Dha-Yurpu, Ŋamundji, Muthamul. Baltha is rising. From the heron to Dhä-Yurpu and Dhä-Wupa, the top and the bottom of the river. Singing the heron at Warritja and Muthamul.
There you go
There was meant to be more written to flesh out the context, but this has been what the senior man of the family wanted to tell all of you out in the world about what was happening in the songs. I hope that if you have the album, this brings you some new appreciation of it. If you haven’t bought it, I hope you do.
It seems odd, but yes, 1977 saw the release of a 7″ record featuring the late great Rirratjiŋu clan leader Wandjuk Marika playing solo yidaki.
From the original liner notes by Jennifer Isaacs, with modern spellings added for the titles:
(a) Dangultji (Ḏaŋgultji) – the Brolga. A secular camp dance in which the performers, particularly children, imitate the behaviour of the brolga.
(b) Malwiyi (Maḻwiya) – the Emu. A camp dance about the emu, Australia’s largest bird. It is flightless and may grow to 1.8 m in height. The Aborigines hunt them for food and relish their large green eggs.
(c) The Wawilak (Wäwilak) Story – The Wawilak myth gives rise to a most important cycle of ceremonies in North East Arnhem Land. In the Dreamtime the two Wawilak sisters, one of them pregnant, travelled over the land and finally came to rest by a lagoon where they built a shade for the birth. One of the sisters was gathering paperbark when she accidentally polluted the pool wherein dwelt the Lightning Serpent, a huge snake which could reach from the heavens to the earth. In a fury he sent a black cloud overhead, and torrential rain. The sisters cried out and danced to appease him but it was to no avail, and he swallowed them. The Wawilak sisters are the Creation Sisters – they gave rise to the present Aboriginal population.
(I) The first solo accompanies the Wawilak song which tells of the girls’ travels before they reached the pool. (II) The second solo accompanies the Wawilak song which tells of the torrential rain sent by the Lightning Serpent.
(a) The Wawilak Story (from side one).
(III) Djuwan – This accompaniment tells of the time after the Dreamtime, when the children of the Creation Sisters return to the sacred waters where the Serpent Lives and re-enact, in ceremony, the original events. The song and didjeridu accompaniment are used in mortuary and age-grading ceremonies.
(b) Kadabana (Gatapaŋa) – the Buffalo. Buffalos brought by early European settlers have run wild in the swamps and plains of Arnhem Land. This is a camp dance which describes the heavy animal crashing through the undergrowth being hunted by Aboriginal men for food.
(c) The Wawilak Story
(IV) The clouds – this segment accompanies the song which tells of the rain, and dark cloud which the Lightning Serpent sent overhead.
(d) Katjambal (Garrtjambal) – the Kangaroo. The story of the kangaroo as he bounds along the grassy plains through the scrub.
The Rest of the Liner Notes:
Wandjuk Marika is a ceremonial leader of the Riratjingu (Rirratjiŋu) clan of North East Arnhem Land and Chairman of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. He was born about 1930 om what was then the small mission settlement of Yirrkala. This has since become the focal point of one of the most important struggles for ownership of land by traditional Aborigines, and the site of the huge bauxite mine, Nabalco. Wandjuk Marika and his people have been catapulted into confrontation with an industrialised society and in the process they have emerged with a great degree of strength and political and social cohesion. Traditional culture remains a vital part of life in Eastern Arnhem Land, the stories of the exploits of the ancestral beings of the Dreamtime such as the Djanggawul (Djaŋ’kawu) and the Wawilak Sisters providing the basis for lengthy ceremonial cycles involving ritual and social obligations covering every aspect of life from birth to death.
Wandjuk Marika learnt to play the didjeridu as a small boy from his father, Mawalan, who was a great and respected ceremonial leader, and who passed on to Wandjuk his knowledge of the sacred lore, the ceremonies and the sacred designs, just as Wandjuk is training his own sons today.
As well as his role in the traditional life of the Riratjingu, Wandjuk is also striving to explain the stories and create an awareness of the depth of his own culture in all Australians, through his work on the Australian Aboriginal Arts Board.
He says: “We realise the old way will never return, but we believe that much of our music, songs, dance and art can and must be preserved as a vital part of the culture of mankind.”
THE DIDJERIDU (or YIDAKI)
The didjeridu, or drone pipe, is the traditional wind instrument of the Aborigines of Northern Australia. It is in fact a branch or trunk of a young eucalyptus, or string bark tree which has been hollowed out by termites. The musician taps the tree to see if the resonance indicates it is sufficiently hollow, and then after he cuts it down, he selects a suitable length for the instrument. This is smoothed and painted, and bees wax or gum is applied to the end to be placed in the mouth. This narrows the diameter of the interior hole, and provides a comfortable mouthpiece. The length and diameter of the instrument determine its pitch and the tone produced when it is blown with loosely vibrating lips. Variations in the sound produced occur when the lips are tightened, or when the tongue is moved towards and away from the opening. The vocal chords are also used when producing a croak.
The sustained rhythm is achieved by a unique form of breathing. Air is drawn in through the nose in quick breaths. This is retained in the cheeks and continuously expelled through the mouth to maintain the sound.
The instrument is generally played as a rhythmic accompaniment to the songman and clapsticks, however, it is also played solo for camp dances and general fun and amusement.
SEMINAR ON ART IN THE THIRD WORLD
Wandjuk Marika was invited to be a guest lecturer at the Seminar on Art in the Third World at the University of Papua New Guinea in 1976, organised by the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. Wandjuk Marika gave a lecture on Aboriginal art and music, together with a performance on the didjeridu. In addition he demonstrated the art of bark painting and opened an exhibition of Aboriginal art at the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.
Recorded at the National Broadcasting Commission 25th February, 1976
Recorded by Frederic DUVELLE Text by Jennifer ISAACS Cover photo by Jennifer STEELE First published by LARRIKIN Records 1977
Thanks to John of manikay.com for first making me aware of this recording many years ago. Images borrowed from discogs.com. No, I do not have rights to this recording or text. But it’s long out of print, most likely never will be reprinted, and I know many of Wanjduk’s living family and bet they’d be happy to let this recording be heard as long as nobody’s selling it for a profit without them.