Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows: I have seen it all

Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows: I have seen it all
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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A teenage band put together by Sammy Butcher performs for an audience. Sammy talks about the kind of songs he and the children write together, and one song ‘Ngayulu Nyangu’ which means I have seen it all, is about the difficulties some of the children face growing up in the community. We are taken out of the recording studio and into the bush where the Elders teach the children how to get bush tucker. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

A very tender moment in the documentary, though it isn’t filmed that way. For those of us who do not speak the language in which the young singer is singing, we do not know that he is singing about having seen it all – ‘Ngayulu Nyangu’. The Little Orphan Band, which played for Russell Crowe and met Peter Garrett, offers a healing perspective on music, and we get the sense that the children involved in this project are doing it for reasons of survival. Sammy Butcher states quite simply while ‘Ngayulu Nyangu’ is being performed, it’s a true message, and for a moment we are allowed to glimpse the reality of the young musicians and at the same time the importance of the work Sammy Butcher is doing.


Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows synopsis

A documentary about musician Sammy Butcher who once played with the Warumpi Band and now invests his energy in young musicians in his community, Papunya, 250 kilometres west of Alice Springs.

Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows is part of the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series produced by Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) Productions. Nganampa Anwernekenhe means 'ours’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte lanuages, and the series aims to contribute to the preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures.


Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows curator's notes

A documentary that shows what life after the Warumpi Band is like for Sammy Butcher. Like so many other Indigenous artists, Sammy Butcher’s role within his community becomes one of responsibility as well as his individual professional aspirations. The moment in the documentary that has great resonance is when The Orphan Band sing the song ‘Ngayulu Nyangu’ which means I have seen it all. This expresses the heart of Sammy Butcher’s work, which is to create a better way for future generations through music.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education Notes

This clip shows the efforts of Luritja man and well-known musician, Sammy Butcher, to keep culture strong. The opening sequence features young boys, members of the Little Orphan Band, singing of a family whose lives are dominated by alcohol, drugs and gambling as Butcher explains that perhaps the lyrics will change people’s lives. In the second sequence his family members are seen in their country with the women teaching children how to find honey ants and witchetty grubs. Luritja language with English subtitles is used throughout the clip.

Educational value points

  • The clip provides contrasting perspectives on the complex nature of contemporary Indigenous life. One family is described in song as spoiling their lives with alcohol, drugs and gambling. Another family is shown in their country teaching their children how to collect bush tucker so they will know where they come from and what is their dreaming. Knowledge of country is traditionally passed on by word of mouth, demonstration and ceremony.
  • The clip features Sammy Butcher, a musician and member of the Warumpi Band (formed in 1981) which wrote, recorded and released the first rock song in an Aboriginal language, ‘Jailanguru pakarnu’ (‘Out from jail’), in 1983. In 1985 the band toured Australia and overseas before performing with Midnight Oil on a tour of Indigenous communities in 1986. Butcher now lives at Papunya, 250 km west of Alice Springs, where he has established a recording studio.
  • The determination of the producers, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), to highlight the voices of the film’s subjects and to allow them to shape the film is clearly revealed. First the voices of the young boys from the Little Orphan Band are featured. Butcher then speaks, first to camera and then in voice-over, followed by an older woman. There is no narrator and all those featured speak in Luritja, the language of people from Papunya.
  • Butcher purposefully uses the recording studio, the song lyrics and the young performers in a culturally appropriate way to promote a positive message. He explains that it would be culturally offensive for him to tell someone 'You should …’. He hopes that the people who are spoiling their lives will find the meaning in themselves and be inspired to change.
  • The clip shows how to find and extract witjuti or witchetty grubs from the roots of the witchetty bush (‘Acacia kempeana’). The grub is the larvae of a cossid moth and is up to 12 cm long and 3 cm thick. Rich in protein, witchetty grubs can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a slightly sweet flavour and are a preferred form of bush tucker for the Luritja people.
  • Sammy Butcher, Out of the Shadows (2004) is one of the more than 100 documentaries produced in the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series by CAAMA. Owned and run by Indigenous Australians and dedicated to ‘the social, cultural and economic advancement of Aboriginal peoples’, CAAMA has played a significant role in the development of Australian filmmaking.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Rachel Clements
Executive Producer:
Citt Williams
Lisa Watts, Allan Collins
Lisa Watts

This clip starts approximately 6 minutes into the documentary.

There are young boys singing, playing guitar and drumming on a stage in front of a small ground. Subtitles read.

Sammy Butcher We wrote songs to get people to listen to the meaning.

Sammy is interviewed sitting in the control room of studio while a band is recording on the other side. A young boy sings into the microphone. We see close ups of the digital recording program being used.

Sammy ‘Ngaylulu Nyangu’, it means I have seen it all. Like the mother would get her cheque, and goes to the shop to change it, cashes it, and gambles it all on cards. Really she ought to be buying good food, instead she wastes it on cards. With the father, he goes around following the grog, the families wait for him but he never returns. The sister smokes marijuana, and the brother goes sniffing petrol. Its up to each individual person to understand themselves. ‘I can’t say to them, Oh you should stop drinking.’ Maybe the song will change them, because the song says it all.

We see a woman walking through long grass bending to pick something off the ground, there is trees and shrubs around. Then a man sitting under a tree. We then see a group of women sitting under the shade of a tree. Interview with woman.

Sammy We Aboriginal people are spoiling ourselves. With grog, marijuana and anything. Our family is trying to keep our culture strong by asking ourselves questions about where we come from, so that we know our dreaming. We are going to dig for honey ants and witchetty grubs today. To pass the knowledge onto the children.

A 4WD is travelling through the long grass and passes by along a sandy track. We see into the back of the vehicle where women and children are crowded in together. They exit the vehicle and start digging into the sand under a shrub with long sticks. The women pull sticks out of the ground, out of which they get witchetty grubs. The young girls and boys look on and one boy is handed a witchetty grub. We see a blue bowl on the ground with eight witchetty grubs in it.

Woman Now, we’re going for honey ants and witchetty grubs. My grandmother showed me how to find honey ants and witchetty grubs. I learned from my grandmother at Haasts Bluff. Now I am teaching the little ones, how to find honey ants, hunt for goannas, and where to get bush bananas. Tracking, digging and cooking. We also teach traditional dancing. The people from Papunya teach their young ones about bush tucker.