Indigenous Children’s Songs

The Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation has received funding from the Northern Territory Government, the Sony Foundation, Australia Post Community Grants Program, the Milton Foundation and public donations to begin this exciting new  program.

The program will collaborate with teachers, musicians and translators of remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to collect, translate and perform their children’s songs. The first community to participate will be Galiwin’ku, which is the home of Gurrumul Yunupingu.

Reflecting the wishes of Gurrumul, the program provides a creative and positive opportunity for Indigenous young people from remote communities to actively participate in the arts.  It will create a safe space for the young people to further investigate their cultural traditions by learning their songs and acquiring the skills to perform to Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.

This program also has the potential to promote the use of Indigenous languages in creative cultural activity, and highlight the first language diversity across Northern Australia.

Project leader Michael Hohnen and Justine Clarke will travel to the communities and work with local musicians, teachers and translators to collect and record the Indigenous songs, facilitate their translation into English and develop a children’s choir in each community. It is expected that each choir will give a public performance in their own community. The program will culminate in a major, joint performance at the Barunga Festival.

Michael Hohnen was the 2013 NT Australian of the Year (with Chair of the Gurrumul Foundation, Mark Grose) and is an ARIA-winning musician and producer of ARIA award winning albums. He was Gurrumul’s long-time friend, collaborator and producer.

Justine Clarke is a well-known and much-loved Australian actress, singer and television host. Her work on Play School began in 1999 and she is currently, still a presenter on this iconic ABC television show.

Initially, the plan was to undertake the Children Song’s program within a two-year span. However, mainly due to the circumstances created by the COVID-19 virus, delays have occurred. The program is set recommence later this year and updates on its progress will be regularly posted.

‘Barunga has been my destination every Queen’s birthday weekend for the last 3 years and I hope to continue to visit there for as long as I can. Last year I was able to spend more time at the school in the classrooms with the language teacher Anita Painter preparing the children for their performance at the festival which has now become a regular fixture on the program of events. The kids took great pride in performing their songs and their confidence has grown with each year they get on stage. I believe the opportunity to expand this project and find songs from surrounding communities in NT, work with the kids in a similar way, record those songs and then work with those communities to bring them to Barunga to perform their own songs on stage at the festival in 2021 will be a beneficial process for all involved. What is also thrilling about this process is the possibility of these as yet undiscovered songs having a life beyond the Northern Territory giving the children of Australia earlier access to and a deeper and more visceral understanding of traditional Indigenous culture through the uniting language of music.’

I’m very excited to continue this work!

– Justine Clarke