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First Nations Sounds of Australia

First Nations Sounds of Australia – by Christine Anu, Archie Roach, Yothu Yindi and more

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recordings

This collection features sound recordings with cultural, historical and aesthetic significance that are by or about First Nations Australians.

They include the best-selling Aboriginal music album in history, the first mainstream chart hit for an Aboriginal artist, a poetry reading by Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Tasmanian Aboriginal songs and languages recorded in the 1890s.

Also represented are popular artists like Christine Anu, Archie Roach, Kev Carmody, No Fixed Address, Yothu Yindi and the Warumpi Band.

These sounds are all part of Sounds of Australia. Established in 2007, the Sounds of Australia is the NFSA’s selection of sound recordings which inform or reflect life in Australia. See the complete Sounds of Australia list.

WARNING: this collection may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Treaty by Yothu Yindi
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
26648
Year:
Year

‘Treaty’ was one of the singles lifted from Yothu Yindi’s ‘Tribal Voice’ album, released in 1991. This is an excerpt from the first verse and chorus.

Notes by Sophia Sambono

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Fanny Cochrane Smith’s Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
500445
Year:
Year

In this recording, Fanny Cochrane Smith talks about being the last of the Tasmanians. She then sings in both English and her own language. It is part of a series of recordings made between 1899 and 1903.

Summary by Sophia Sambono

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
From Little Things (Big Things Grow) by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
250884
Year:
Year

Kevin Carmody and Paul Kelly discuss the song 'From Little Things Big Things Grow’. They also discuss the Wave Hill walkout, when the Gurindji people – led by Vincent Lingiari – went on strike to get their land back from British Lord Vestey. Black-and-white footage of the actual strike is juxtaposed with the interview with Carmody and Kelly.

Summary by Romaine Moreton

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Cylinder Recordings from Central Australia by Spencer and Gillen and Aboriginal communities
Year:
Year

In 1901-02, Baldwin Spencer and Frances James (FJ) Gillen undertook an anthropological research expedition to Central Australia. They traversed the continent from Oodnadatta to Powell Creek and then eastwards to Borroloola on the Gulf of Carpentaria, publishing their experiences as The Northern Tribes of Central Australia in 1904. On the way they recorded many wax cylinders, working with the Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Kaytetye, Warumungu, Luritja and Arabana peoples.

Their recordings are now part of the British Library, Royal Geographical Society of South Australia and Museum Victoria. The pioneering use of wax cylinders in their expedition captured the distribution of song and dance traditions across the Australian inland. Their work was subsequently expanded on by successive researchers, including anthropologist Ted Strehlow, and Aboriginal community members. Selected recordings are available online via the Spencer and Gillen project website.

The ‘Song of Tjitjingalla Corroboree’ (heard here) was recorded at Stevenson Creek in South Australia on 22 March 1901. Spencer’s introduction notes that this corroboree had first been described in north-central Queensland and was subsequently performed by Arrernte people at Alice Springs.

Cover image: Arrernte men performing dances from the Tjitjingalla corroboree, Alice Springs, 27-30 April 1901. Photographers: Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen. Source: Museums Victoria

Find more significant Indigenous recordings in our Indigenous Sounds of Australia curated collection. And you can also hear more recordings on wax cylinder at our Wax Cylinder Recordings curated collection. 

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Island Home by Christine Anu
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
263311
Year:
Year

Christine Anu’s, Island Home was released in 1995, as the second single from her debut studio album, Stylin' Up. It is a cover of a track written by Neil Murray, and originally released by the Warumpi Band as a single from their album Go Bush in 1987.

Anu’s version made some changes to the lyrics; rather than moving to the desert, she compares island life to the city life, and tells the story from a female perspective.

The work won Song of the Year at the 1995 Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Awards, and was listed in APRA’s Top 30 Australian songs of all time in 2001.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Royal Telephone by Jimmy Little
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
319442
Courtesy:
Warner Music
Year:
Year

While Jimmy Little had been recording since the mid 1950s, it wasn’t until the release of Royal Telephone in 1963 that he became better known outside the country music genre. This was the first recording by an Indigenous Australian to achieve mainstream chart success, reaching no.1 on the Sydney charts and no.10 nationally. The song established him as a star in Australian popular music and his career continued for over 40 years.

Festival FK453

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Took the Children Away by Archie Roach
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
376653
Year:
Year

Although not the first song about the enforced separation of Indigenous children from their families, Archie Roach’s song, based on his own life and experience, was released at a time when there was increasing public focus on the Stolen Generations.

The significance of the song also resonated outside the Indigenous community with Roach winning ARIA Awards for Best Indigenous Release and Best New Talent in 1991. Took the Children Away received an international Human Rights Achievement Award, the first time that the award had been bestowed on a songwriter.

Archie Roach (1956–2022) was a Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder. To learn more about his life and work, explore the curated collections Archie Roach and Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter.

Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under by Georgia Lee
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
511557
Year:
Year

Yarra River Blues is one of two Australian tracks to feature on Georgia Lee’s 1962 album ‘Georgia Lee Sings The Blues’.

Summary by Brenda Gifford

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Gurrumul by Gurrumul
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
758793
Year:
Year

Gurrumul was the debut solo album for singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (1971–2017), referred to as Dr G Yunupingu since his death. It is the best-selling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music album in Australian history, having been awarded triple platinum status.

The University of Sydney granted Dr G Yunupingu an Honorary Doctorate of Music in 2012. Blind from birth, his musical education was largely self-taught and through cultural immersion; he learned drums, keyboards, guitar, didjeridu, foot stomping and calling, whooping, vocalisation of traditional songs, and more. Gurrumul is performed in a mixture of both Yolngu languages and English, with lyrics that often refer to traditional lore, and relationships with family and nature.

The album peaked at No. 3 on the ARIA chart but reached No. 1 on the independent chart and was an international success on world music charts. At the 2008 ARIA Awards the album won Best World Music Album and Best Independent Release, and also won three Deadly Awards for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Single of the Year for the track ‘Gurrumul History (I Was Born Blind)’.

The autobiographical single, extracted here, represents many of the themes that connected Dr G Yunupingu’s music to his audience: his bilingual vocals, his personal story of blindness, and living across cultures.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Prestophone Mastertape by Olive and Eva
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
249178
Year:
Year

Cousins Olive McGuiness and Eva Bell were a harmony duo known as Olive and Eva, active in the 1950s. Over the span of their career they had two releases on Australia’s Prestophone label, becoming the first Indigenous recording artists to release a commercially available disc.

As cousins, they spent their childhood in Cowra then Sydney amongst the Wiradjuri people of NSW. It was here they met the composer of their music, Grace O’Clerkin. Their first release in 1955 featured four songs written by O’Clerkin.

Two of them – 'Old Rugged Hills' and 'Rhythm of Corroboree' (heard here) – drew inspiration from Australia’s bushland and its First Peoples. These songs paint a romantic picture of an idyllic land of ancient river gums and mystic legends.

This Prestophone mastertape is a rare survivor from the early vinyl era in Australia and includes the master recordings for all four songs recorded by the duo – the additional tracks were ‘Maranoa Moon’ and ‘Homeland Calling’.

Image: Olive McGuiness (aged 18) and Eva Bell (aged 16). Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 December 1955, p.15 retrieved from Trove.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Maranoa Lullaby by Harold Blair
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
245797
Year:
Year

Harold Blair sings 'Maranoa Lullaby’ on an unreleased recording from 1950.

Summary by Brenda Gifford

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
We Have Survived by No Fixed Address
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
210397
Year:
Year

In this clip we hear the landmark Aboriginal protest song 'We Have Survived’, as performed by No Fixed Address on the soundtrack of 'Wrong Side of the Road' (1981).

Summary by Brenda Gifford

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
The Recordings of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits by Alfred Cort Haddon and others
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
8879
Courtesy:
British Library
Year:
Year

A man, identified by British Library records as ‘Maino of Yam’, sings a traditional song entitled Yamaz Sibarud. He sings the song a capella. The recording fades out as the man continues to sing.

Summary by Rhianna Patrick

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Jailanguru Pakarnu by The Warumpi Band
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
244115
Year:
Year

This is the first verse of ‘Jailanguru Pakarnu’, a 12-bar rock and blues song performed in this clip by the Warumpi Band. It is the first rock song in an Aboriginal language to achieve widespread airplay and recognition.

Summary by Brenda Gifford

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
The Loner by Vic Simms
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
757646
Year:
Year

This is a 30-second excerpt from the beginning of 'Stranger in My Country’, written and performed by Vic Simms. Simms recorded this song from his LP 'The Loner’ during a single one-hour recording session in a mobile studio in Bathurst Gaol in 1973.

Summary by Brenda Gifford

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Lionel Rose Wins the World Title by Ron Casey
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
283495
Year:
Year

Radio announcer Ron Casey calls the closing minutes of the bantamweight world title fight between Lionel Rose of Australia and 'Fighting’ Harada of Japan on 26 February 1968.

Summary by Graham McDonald

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
We Are Going by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
699094
Year:
Year

In this clip, Oodgeroo Noonuccal reads her poem ‘We Are Going’ in full to an appreciative audience at the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney in 1986.

Summary by Michael Weir

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Brand New Day (Milliya Rumarra) by Kuckles
Year:
Year

‘Bran Nue Dae’ was the title track from Kuckles’ first album Brand New Day (Milliya Rumarra), released on cassette only in 1981.

Kuckles (Broome kriol for cockles) was formed by students from Broome studying at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music in Adelaide, including Jimmy Chi, Mick Manolis, Stephen Pigram, Patrick Bin Amat and Garry Gower. Drawing on acoustic calypso and electric reggae-rock styles they recorded one album, and disbanded in 1982.

Kuckles’ songs later appeared in Jimmy Chi’s stage musical Bran Nue Dae in 1990, the subject of a documentary in 1991 and adapted into a hit film in 2009.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
The Luise Hercus Collection, AIATSIS Audiovisual Archive — Dr Luise A Hercus (creator)
Courtesy:
AIATSIS
Year:
Year

Linguist Luise Hercus has spent over 50 years recording and studying Australian Aboriginal languages. She produced over 1,000 hours of unpublished recordings documenting Aboriginal languages from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. This invaluable collection includes recordings of more than 40 Aboriginal languages which are endangered or no longer spoken, including Arabana, Birladapa, Diyari, Kuyani, Madhi Madhi, Malyangapa, Ngarigu, Wangkangurru, Wergaia, Wirangu, Yardliyawarra, Yarluyandi and many others. It contains the only known recordings of some of these languages.

This clip features a verse from a wind arresting song belonging to Pirlakaya native well ‘Beelaka’ and sung by Mick McLean in Port Augusta on 31 January 1974. Mick McLean’s birthplace is in the central Simpson Desert and the language he’s singing in is Wangkangurru.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Tribal Music of Australia – AP Elkin
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
242999
Year:
Year

Djedbang-ari is a three-part Indigenous manikay (song) and dance from the Yirrkala district in the far north-east of Arnhem Land.

Summary by Sophie Sambono

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Aboriginal Recordings – John Hutchinson
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1275952
Year:
Year

These rare examples of Aboriginal songs were recorded by John Hutchinson, one of Australia's foremost field recordists, in 1959 along the north-west coastline of Australia. The recordings are an amazing snapshot of Aboriginal life in that period and range from traditional songs to newer compositions that reflect the changing dynamics of Aboriginal society through contact periods. Their significance not only lies in forging greater understanding of Indigenous Australia and its place within Australia’s history but contributes to cultural maintenance and resurgence for many Aboriginal communities in ensuring that their language songs and stories can continue to be passed on. Hutchinson died this year and the NFSA will build on his legacy by continuing to facilitate the return of these recordings to the Aboriginal communities from where the songs originated and celebrating the significance of the recordings to all.

This track is: Tracks at Mulga Downs; NFSA title: 1275952

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards by Dougie Young
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
244102
Year:
Year

This six-track EP was the first recording of an Indigenous Australian singing his own compositions in a country music style. Dougie Young was born of mixed parentage in Cunnamulla in the early 1930s, and worked as a stockman in Southern Queensland while learning guitar and developing his songwriting. The recording was made in Wilcannia in 1964, where Young was living in the Aboriginal community on the edge of town, by anthropologist Dr Jeremy Beckett and released by Wattle Records in 1965.

Wattle B5

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Deadly Sounds by Vibe Australia
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
696283
Courtesy:
Image: Rhoda Roberts
Year:
Year

Deadly Sounds was a weekly one-hour Indigenous radio program featuring interviews with special guests and music by Indigenous artists. Hosted by journalist, actor and author Rhoda Roberts, it ran for 21 years from 1993. In the first episode, Roberts discussed racism in sport with Nicky Winmar, St Kilda player in the AFL league, and spoke to two Indigenous high school students about their winning entry at the Sydney finals of the Rock Eisteddfod. The Deadly Sounds musical intro, which you can hear in the clip below, emphasises the program’s focus on Indigenous music ('listen to black music, hear the deadly sounds’). To that end, the first episode also introduced the Deadly Sounds National Indigenous Music Chart, which helped give exposure to emerging and established Indigenous musicians. Deadly Sounds was distributed nationally to over 200 stations every week, initially on cassette and later through the Community Radio Network and National Indigenous Radio Service satellites.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Arnhem Land Popular Classics: Aboriginal Dance Songs with Didjeridu Accompaniment
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
210787
Year:
Year

Arnhem Land Popular Classics was the first record to bring widespread attention to the didjeridu (didgeridoo or dijeridoo), also known as the yidaki in Yolgnu. 

The recording features several senior Aboriginal men playing didjeridu and singing. It was recorded by USA linguist La Mont West Jr at Beswick Creek Welfare Branch Settlement, near Katherine, Northern Territory in 1961–62.

Pioneering folk music label Wattle Records released the recording, which includes musical genres from Arnhem Land, Wonga from the west, Gunborg from the north-central region and Bunggul from the north-east. The tracks were recorded in an improvised studio, with the didjeridu featuring prominently.

This excerpt comes from track 1, 'A Bungalin-Bungalin Gunborg', which features didjeridu by David Bylanadii (Blanasi) and songman Jolly Lajwonga (Djoli Laiwanga). 

Blanasi (c.1930–c.2001), an Aboriginal man of the Mialili language group of west Arnhem Land, subsequently went on to promote the didjeridu internationally, performing on The Rolf Harris Show in England in 1967 and touring with a traditional dance troupe including songmaster Djoi Laiwanga and dancer-actor David Gulpilil. Blanasi later co-founded the White Cockatoo Performing Group. 

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons