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We’ve lost 98% of Indigenous music traditions – who cares?

Australian Indigenous performance traditions, among the oldest in the world, are also among the most endangered. According to a Statement on Indigenous Australian Music and Dance endorsed in 2011 by the…

Australian Indigenous performance traditions are a unique expression of what it is to be human. Tali Caspi

Australian Indigenous performance traditions, among the oldest in the world, are also among the most endangered. According to a Statement on Indigenous Australian Music and Dance endorsed in 2011 by the International Council for Traditional Music, around 98% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music traditions have already been lost.

Without urgent action, those remaining are at risk of disappearing within a generation or two. The loss, the Statement suggests, comes from “[m]odern lifestyles and the ongoing devastating impact of colonisation”, which are “affecting the dissemination of cultural knowledge between generations”.

“Many senior composers and performers,” it continues, “have passed away leaving limited or no record of their knowledge.”

Initiatives such as the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance and the recently-launched Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages are, of course, good news, but much still remains to be done – and the situation is becoming increasingly urgent as time passes.

For the individuals and communities affected, there are many reasons why this loss matters. For one thing, songs, dances and ceremonial performances can contribute to a sense of individual and community identity. In the words of senior Tiwi woman Lenie Tipiloura,

If all the old songs are lost, then we don’t remember who we are.

Or as Murray Islander Toby Whaleboat says, this element of culture:

just gives us a sense of who we are.

Torres Strait Murray Islander Toby Whaleboat on the importance of Australian Indigenous music. Video: Philip Matthias, 2013.

There are also spin-off benefits to keeping cultural traditions strong, including positive health and wellbeing outcomes. Benefits such as these are often used to advocate for greater government support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who wish to document, maintain and revitalise their cultural practices. They are important and valid reasons.

But they risk leaving non-Indigenous Australians to wonder why – or even whether – this loss really matters to us. If it’s hard to imagine how it feels to watch our language, songs, stories and other cultural practices vanish, it’s perhaps even harder to think of any dire consequences for us when these traditions are no longer practised. So why should non-Indigenous Australians care about this cultural crisis?

A unique expression

As with cultural traditions the world over, Australian Indigenous performance traditions are a unique expression of what it is to be human. They represent a continuum of intellect and imagination through the generations. They offer a direct glimpse at the creativity of the human mind.

As such, their loss (like that of hundreds of other threatened expressions of culture across the world) is a loss to the common heritage of humanity. For those with a global outlook, that’s one reason we might care about their disappearance.

Lilian Willis Snr., performing at the 2009 Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival with members of the Gulumba Dance Group from Townsville and Palm Island. Sarah Scragg, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative 10183-0001-0001. http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/189250

Then there’s the contribution these traditions make to global cultural diversity – and there are many reasons why diversity matters. One is simply that current performance traditions are almost always nourished by older ones, which form a point of departure for invention and transformation. (Take Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu as a case in point.)

Current traditions will inform future ones, too. That is what UNESCO refers to when it says cultural diversity “widens the range of options open to everyone”. That includes you, me and whoever else might enjoy listening to music, going to a show, or hanging out at a festival now and then.

And then there’s mutual understanding. Protecting, promoting and celebrating our country’s rich diversity of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous performance traditions means we may reap the benefits of their remarkable ability to promote cross-cultural understanding, exchange, reconciliation and peace. In Toby Whaleboat’s words:

Australia’s talking so much about reconciliation. One thing great about music – it can reconcile people, bring people together.

DanceSite Festival, Alice Springs. RustyStewart

Finally, as with many other indigenous traditions across the world, Australian performance traditions are closely interconnected with other kinds of cultural expression, as well as with local ways of understanding and being in the world. The loss of a dance, say, may mean the unique story it carries is forgotten too.

Songs in particular can be important vehicles for transmitting local cultural and historical information, encoding knowledge of genealogies and mythologies, records of ancestors and kinships, knowledge of the universe and the land, medicinal and culinary knowledge, social norms, taboos, histories, and cultural skills and practices, among other things. So when those songs disappear, much more than the songs themselves is lost.

One music researcher has convincingly argued that the disappearance of Australian Aboriginal songs could “potentially compromise our ability to adapt to as yet unforeseen changes”. Songs may contain information (ecological knowledge, for instance) that could help us deal with contemporary issues challenging the future of our country – even the planet.

In short, the effects of losing these traditions extend well beyond Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities themselves. We’ve begun to take notice of the loss and the possible consequences.

Now, the challenge is for us to care enough about what is happening so that we may respectfully and collaboratively take whatever action is appropriate to help recover what we – all of us – are losing.

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173 Comments sorted by

  1. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    It's a bit weird to talk about losing a percentage of a tradition. (Has Europe lost 93.5% of its romantic tradition?)

    The approach suggests indigenous cultures are - and should be - fixed, and are being observed by outsiders. It's like the nineteenth century scientific anthropologists.

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to James Jenkin

      "The approach suggests indigenous cultures are - and should be - fixed" The approach doesn't say that - it says that we should try to keep cultural traditions strong and that we should protect, promote and celebrate indigenous music and promote cross-cultural understanding. That may also mean trying to preserve those parts which would otherwise be irretrievably lost, for example where only a few practitioners are living. That does not imply that this can only be done by outsiders or that it should be fixed. Aborigines should have the central role.
      Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly preserved and recorded Hungarian and other folk music, soon to be profoundly disrupted by war, and it is still alive in their compositions.

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    2. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Gentlemen/gentlewomen,
      All languages change, else they become irrelevant.
      Esperanto is an example.
      A few people continue to use it as an interesting hobby, but is it relevant now?

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    3. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to James Jenkin

      There were a certain number of songs and dances regularly practised, and after European contact the vast majority (i.e. 98%) were lost - and the reasons for that are well documented. I didn't find it that hard to understand ... But then, I don't go out of my way to be disingenuous.

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    4. Jonathan Cooper

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Relevant to whom, and by what criteria? Esperanto is certainly relevant if you want to have contact with people who don't speak English well (assuming you can't speak *their* first language well). It's also very useful as a "springboard" to learning other languages (see http://www.springboard2languages.org/).

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    5. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Jonathan Cooper

      Funny that.

      My Dad wrote Esperanto. We kids couldn't see the point -- we learned living languages.

      My Dad had a few 'correspondents' who wrote in Esperanto, too. as far as i know their communications were just 'keeping up with' -- noting technical nor informative.

      I've yet to see any 'esperanto' publications either for general consumption or of "Learend Journals".

      I have yet to hear that it is the official Language of any Multinational Organistion or used in World Conferences/

      So what is relevant about it?

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    6. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Jonathan Cooper

      > Esperanto is certainly relevant if you want to have contact with people who don't speak English well >

      ONLY if that person also speaks Esperanto.

      Hands up anybody here who speaks Esperanto and has found it any use anwhere except in the "Esperanto Club"

      My B-I-L spoke about 8 Languages -- none of them Esperanto.

      My Husband worked for a foreign Country. None of the people there spoke Esperanto.

      Unkess there is an International agreement to teach Esperanto has the first 'foreign language' in schools across the globe, Esperanto will remain irrelvant and very very limited.

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  2. Chad Swanson

    logged in via Twitter

    As a culture, music is a living, evolving thing between performers and audience. It can't be saved, especially by outsiders. At best, a song can be recorded and so preserve it like a stuffed animal in a museum. Maybe a researcher 100 years later can listen to it in his or her office but the experience of the culture is not there.

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Chad Swanson

      Hi Chad, thanks for your comment. I do agree with the first of your statements - that music, like all expressions of culture, is evolving. That's natural, and no bad thing. What I write about in the article is a situation where external pressures are leading to the loss of these cultural expressions, very often against the will of the communities concerned. I don't suggest anywhere that outsiders should save these traditions.

      There are many approaches that can be taken to keeping culture alive in living form. Michael gives one example in his comment below.

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    2. Chad Swanson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Catherine Grant

      Hi Catherine,

      Personally, I think it is disempowering to say the music is being lost due to reasons outside of the will of the culture. Aborigines are being exposed to outside influences and some are choosing to be influenced by those influences. Rap seems to be an influence as does reggae, perhaps because the culture is more relevant to their world. Ironically, some of the music being produce allows Aborigines to produce the kind of music that speaks and influences the “us”. Think about Yotho…

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    3. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Chad Swanson

      "All those stories about bushrangers, convict maids and unique sounds made from bones and beer caps were in danger of being lost."

      Even that expression of our folk culture was a largely artificial construction. The folklore we now have preserved is due in large part to the efforts of a swag of dedicated and hard working amateur "collectors".

      In the first instance these collectors were not trained ethnographers but instead passionate amateurs - as such they did a phenomenal job but ... their…

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    4. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Chad Swanson

      Hi again Chad, very much appreciate your thoughtful comment. I agree to some extent with much of what you say. There are indeed many contemporary and non-Indigenous styles influencing Australian Indigenous music, and beyond the great music that this cross-fertilisation can produce, the process can also help sustain 'older' performance traditions, making them relevant for today. I'm not against innovation and change.

      As I interpret the Statement's figure of 98% (which admittedly is ballpark only…

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    5. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Catherine Grant

      I wonder how much European music and dance culture has been lost in the time since Australia was colonised? No doubt Western culture in the late 18th Century was quite different from its present form, and I'm sure most people alive today would have little idea about it (or give it any thought, for that matter), although undoubtedly it heavily influenced what followed. I worry about the future of classical music, but if very few young people care about it today, what can one do? I suppose at least it's recorded in various forms . . .

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    6. Chad Swanson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Catherine Grant

      Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for clarifying that you are not opposed to change. For what it is worth, I am not opposed to tradition and I see value in it. In fact, sometimes I even feel nostalgic for the record. In this day and age, you can stick 100s of songs on a thumb drive and go through a play.list. Unfortunately, I think it makes it easier for music to become background music and to perhaps become a bit bored. In the days of the record; however, playing a song WAS the activity and perhaps the one record got played over and over, bad songs and all.

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  3. Michael Hayes

    logged in via email @csr.com.au

    I am surprised that there is no reference to Shellie Morris in here. The album recorded with the Borroloola Songwomen is an effort to capture and preserve traditional music

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Michael Hayes

      Thanks for drawing attention to this, Michael - Shellie's collaboration with the Song Peoples Sessions is a great example of how traditional genres can enrich contemporary Indigenous music, and as you say, it also acted as an effort to sustain living culture.

      There are many examples of efforts to maintain and support traditional music that I didn't mention in the article (for space reasons). The Indigenous Knowledge Centres and the various language and cultural centres around the country do excellent work to this end.

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  4. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Isn't it up to Aborigines to look after their own culture.
    Otherwise we continue down the colonial path of "parental" control.

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen, I'd argue on the contrary we're in this together: that non-Indigenous Australians can - should - play a role in supporting these traditions, respectfully and collaboratively, where that's warranted and wanted by the Indigenous communities concerned.

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    2. Joe Gartner

      Eating Cake

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      except where loss of such tradition or culture is heavily influenced by overt or covert suppression.

      An example of the devastation of such loss can easily be seen in 19th century tasmania where the remnant population of Tasmanian aborigines where concentrated to an area where culture and language were either blended, suppressed or intentionally supplanted by Western christian ethnocentricity.

      Ask the current population of tasmanian aborigines, with fragments of culture and language, how they feel about your statement.

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    3. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It is not up to the adjective Australians to keep up to their music traditions. It is up to immigrant Australians to recognise indigenous music traditions not as indigenous but as Australian music traditions and thus incorporated in immigrant Australian music traditions, rather than attempt to false idea of separating adjective Australian history and culture as being separate from Australian history and culture.
      So lets drop the word indigenous in discussion about what is and is not Australian and…

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    4. In reply to Joe Gartner

      Comment removed by moderator.

    5. Joe Gartner

      Eating Cake

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Nothing to do with guilt. Your comment is ignorant of the effect that letting cultural traditions die can have on succeeding generations. If there is suppression of cultural traditions, or unwillingness to preserve them, it is not just the responsibility of the current generation of aborigines, it is the responsibility of all australians to take action on behalf of all successive indigeneous and non-indigenous generations. My comment on tasmanian aborigenes was not designed to elicit guilt, merely to make obvoius to you the effects of cultural destruction, the effects of cultural suppression and the responsibility we have to preserve common australian culture.

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      I believe it is important to the Aborigines to sustain their heritage and culture. But it is up to them to be the masters and custodians of their heritage.

      We the white folk get accused of parochialism enough as it is without allowing the Aborigines to take responsibility.

      Much of the "old" white Australian culture has been eroded over time......worry about that for a change.

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    7. Joe Gartner

      Eating Cake

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I never said that aborigigenes didn't have responsibiliyt, but in a society where old white men hold the balance of cultural power it is the societies responsibility to contribute to the preservation of culture. The Tasmanian experience proved this point. I take the point about self-efficacy but this does not have 100% currency in an unequal power arrangement. If europeans had taken some responsibility in the preservation of indiginous culture in the 1800s the tasmanian (and some mainland) aborigines…

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    8. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to John Phillip

      They are indigenous Australians, separated and not a part of Australia, hence you are an immigrant Australian. When they are no longer separated and their culture is accepted as Australian culture then you and yours will no longer be immigrants.
      You are an immigrant, immigrant born of immigrants and will or have spawned more immigrants. This is factual reality as long as the adjective people's culture and history is not defined and accepted as Australian history and culture.

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    9. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Find that immigrant word uncomfortable, huh, guilt, hmm. Australia is not designed around you personal preferences, whether I like elements of Australian Nations culture or history is not at issue, that they should be recognised as Australian is. We have opera houses and symphonic orchestras and monuments of all description, yet nothing much is done to 'CELEBRATE' the cultures of the original Nations of Australia.

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      What I'm against is 21st century white people taking it upon themselves to be apologists for 19th & 20th century history.

      White people cannot be held totally responsible for eroding 98% of Aboriginal music traditions.

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    11. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      > You are an immigrant, immigrant born of immigrants and will or have spawned more immigrants.>

      Rubbish!

      only peple who were born elsewhere can be called immigrants.

      Otherwise EVERY single human being living in Australia is an 'immigrant'.

      You Mr Brklje might be an immigrant -- but if you were born here, you are no more thn a child of immigrant parents (or parent/grandparent/s whatever). If YOU feel the need to go back to your country of birth then by all means go. you can even keep…

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    12. Joe Gartner

      Eating Cake

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      If you could get past that massive chip on your shoulder you might see that I haven't mentioned apology or blame. This is simply about the preservation of knowledge and culture that might not be important to black or white or green Australians now but might be very important to all australians later. It is neither patriarchical nor attributing blame to acknowledge cultural power imnbalance (which has led to cultural destruction in the past) and wish to preserve culture, even in the face of indifference in the indigenous community.

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    13. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      That's one of the most ridiculous suggestions I've ever heard. Try applying that model globally and you'll have to come up with some sort of statute of limitations otherwise EVERY nation can be included under it. How does your model apply to indigenous people of mixed heritage? Are they 'immigrants' or 'native' under your definition. Robert, I was born here. I am Australian. End. Of. Story.

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    14. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Read this and apply it too people, http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/biodiversity/invasive-species and they always remain an invasive species, we can write all sorts of biased laws to cover, we stole it, it ours now by right of force but it was never morally correct.
      When new immigrants come to Australia now, http://australia.gov.au/topics/immigration/settling-in-australia they must adapt but we of course exclude ourselves from adapting to the culture of the original Australian nations.
      The…

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  5. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    I think the two comments below reveal a misunderstanding of the importance of songs to the original Australians. Even with my limited understanding I see that those songs were more than entertainment or art, they were preserved place, memory and culture for a people whose culture was oral – and that included songs. This is very sad and alarming. Perhaps Catherine couyld follow up with a piece which focusses on the deeper meaning of song and music to the original Australians

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to John Newton

      John, I didn't misunderstand at all.

      They are not my songs or your songs, they are Aboriginal songs.

      Important? Very....to the culture that spawned them.

      The path to recording these songs is a very easy one, and can be done in a short amount of time.

      This is a problem easily surmountable, and should not be made into a saga.

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    2. Trevor Stockley

      retired

      In reply to John Newton

      The author is sounding an alarm that we should all be listening to (get your cultural hearing aid on). But the songs, language, land, dance and traditions are severely eroded by sending Aboriginal children who speak an Aboriginal language as their first language, off to English only schools. By insisting on English (note NT Indigenous education changes) we are (still) actively breaking down the knowledge and the traditions these languages and songs embody. Yes these kids need English but only after they have got a firm hold of education in their own language. Otherwise it is plain old assimilation with the accompanying loss of language, land and cultural knowledge including song and dance.

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    3. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      We live on the land that spawned the Aboriginal culture. And now we live here. Culture is forever changing. Respect would suggest that if you want it, you must give it. Stephen, you may not be Aboriginal, But you are an indigenous human being. I fully understand that you don"t like religion. Neither do I. But the Aboriginal dream time fits well with Jewish-christian- islamic perspectives and we can't afford to lose the perspective of people who know how to live simply. If these are not your songs, then at least understand they are the songs of people who have proven themselves to know how to live. If you are offended by a focus on Aboriginal culture then don't click on the article. I like you too much to argue with you.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      Thanks Janeen....I hear what you say.

      I know I may be misrepresented by my own comments, but let me say I am not offended by Aboriginal culture, but I am a little peeved at the sanctity in which it is treated.

      There are many ethnic groups in Australia that have wonderful cultural histories, Aborigines included.

      That Aborigines were here "first" is both relevant and irrelevant.
      If it wasn't the British who marched in way back when, it would have been somebody else. The Aborigines were NEVER going to be given the opportunity to live in splendid isolation.

      What's relevant is is in my view the Aborigines continue to be treated in a parochial and colonial way in 2104.
      "They" need to begin an autonomous journey that will offer them and their culture what THEY want, not what politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and academics think they want.

      I would like the Aborigines to be a vital part of Australia, not a separate part.

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    5. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      If there is one thing that demands sanctity, it's being merely human. Asking Aboriginal people to be a vital part of Australia is asking for the impossible. They were conquered. They are damaged, degraded, and if there is one thing that these people know, it is that their beliefs are myth. It is our culture, with it's very dubious mythologies, that decimated them as a people and demanded they must change or become redundant. They have changed, and it is up to people like you and me to make sure they have a say in the future. If they are going to be heard in the future it has to be because intelligent, sane people want to listen. Maybe their voice is more important than the voice of Christianity. After all, they were a sharing people. You only have to look at politics to see that sharing is frowned upon in our culture.

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    6. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      Many conquered peoples across world history have picked themselves up and got on with life.

      World history is a continuum of conquering and being conquered.
      It's even going on today as we speak.

      Let the Aborigines decide on what they want.

      Let them elect a council and give them a budget?
      I know it's been done before, but what else is there to do.
      As I said to Al Harris - what are your answers.

      We can't just keep on and on and on with recriminations and soul-searching. It does nothing for anyone.

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    7. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      As I understand it "Dream Time" was a condescending term used by the European inhabitants of thos country to belittle the Aboriginal beliefs and mythology.

      A term best left to die a natural death!

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    8. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > . . . I would like the Aborigines to be a vital part of Australia, not a separate part.>

      Amen.

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    9. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      > Asking Aboriginal people to be a vital part of Australia is asking for the impossible. They were conquered. They are damaged, degraded, >

      Rubbish! The British Celts were a 'conquered' people, The British Anglo-Saxons were in turn a 'conquered people'.

      The Huns, Goths, Visigoths, did a great job of conquering much of Europe. Then came the Moguls. China seems to have had several waves of beong "conquered", too.

      Eentually the conquerors and the conquered interbreed and become the 'current inhanbitants'.

      Considering that the vast majority of people who now identify as 'aboriginal' in Australia are of mixed race (European and Chinese mostly) why should they NOT be considered "Australians".
      Should their Aboriginal heritage be any less or more significant to them than the other races in ther genetic make up?
      Should an Irish-Aboriginal be going back to Ireland and bemoaning that the traditional Irish Culture (pre St Patrick) is disappearing.

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    10. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "Many conquered peoples across world history have picked themselves up and got on with life."

      I actually think this is a very, very dangerous assumption to make. There are many anecdotes of individual Holocaust survivors who are held up as exemplaries of this idea, but for a huge number of them it was a trauma that many of them were unable to surmount. Likewise with the Indigenous genocide in Australia (ooooooh, I used the "g" word! Watch the hate heading my way!).

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    11. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > I know it's been done before, but what else is there to do. >

      The Aborigines were assimilating, until the Soldier Settle shme was brought in in 1916.

      Aboriginal people who lived on the kand, owned houses and famred the land were moved off, into reserves, and lost their right to own land.

      http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=12098&page=0

      http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/aborigines/indigenous/

      http://www.abc.net.au/federation/fedstory/ep4/ep4_institutions.htm

      Yes, it WAS iniquitous. Because these peple DID want to assimilate and enjoy the benefits of the advanced technology.

      Assimiltion was intialy intentionalyy prevented by "Australian law".

      It was only when these laws were revoked that white Australians started telling the Aborigine that assimilation meant genocide :-(

      Assimilation should never be seen as a 'dirty word' -- It is NOT genocide or even destruction of a culture but the coming together and merging of cultures.

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    12. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen! Think, please think. and think again. Our current government can blame everyone, from labor to you and me, but its what you are saying! Who knows.

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    13. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      So the dominated become the domineering? That is really what we are talking about. The aboriginal people have no reason to speak freely. As I've already said, they've been put in their place, 200 years ago. Their women are wise. but silent. Their men fought, but were killed.

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    14. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      >> but what else is there to do.

      to keep an oral tradition alive you have to teach it.

      so teach it at school to kids.

      >> We can't just keep on and on and on with recriminations and soul-searching.

      Why not?

      Western civilisation is founded on principles of justice, of redressing the balance of injustice.

      Imagine coming home to find your house has been occupied by your neighbour who now is happily watching your new plasma tv in your lounge with your beer. You call the police and…

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    15. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "We can't just keep on and on and on with recriminations and soul-searching. " The problem is that when historians tell the story 'warts and all', they get accused, for political reasons, of 'recriminations and soul searching', by people who prefer silence or euphemism.

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    16. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Don't ask the aboriginal people to make a budget. Money is a first world problem. And a problem it is!

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    17. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Chris Peck

      Ok Chris Peck.

      Here is the plan as I see it.

      ( I might pause first to put my tongue firmly in my cheek

      1. All non-indiginous people to leave at once, with what they can carry.
      2. Arrive unexpectantly in Indonesia.
      3.Buy up all available sea-worthy boats
      4. Return to Australia.
      5. Meet historically original inhabitants
      6. Demand immediate asylum
      7. Insist on having their economic needs met according to their historically carefully developed living standards
      8. Burn all boats, documentation etc, to avoid repatriation to external territories
      9 Finally set up outreach organisations (i.e. lawyers, irresponsible media outlets) to insist that their rights be upheld

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    18. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Chris Peck

      All right, the extrapolation of what you are saying is we should ALL go back to where we came from.

      For me that's Castlemaine.

      Your comments are just ridiculous. You argument is nonsensical.

      WHAT WOULD YOU DO...........come answer me, as should all those who are professing to be wise and tolerant.

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    19. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Ask the Aborigines IF they WANT to be Australians.

      I'm not anti Aboriginal, I am for wanting them to find their own voice and start to take charge of their lives and future.

      I don't want to be a part of it, anymore than I want to be a part of YOUR life Evelyn, or the man down the street.

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    20. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      Now if I say the Aborigines take money from the Australian government I will get lambasted from here to eternity.

      Billions of dollars have been spent on Aboriginal welfare (and I mean WELLfare.)

      I don't have any qualms about it, except I would like to know it's being spent where Aborigines need it most.

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    21. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      The history keeps being retold and retold.

      Let's concentrate on getting the present right for Aborigines.
      Let them stand up and be leaders in their destiny.

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    22. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "The history keeps being retold and retold." What does that mean?
      Does that mean anything you don't like is untruthful?

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    23. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Janeen Harris

      > Irish- aboriginal! You don't know who you are talking to! >

      I don't know WHO you are, but I was talking about my Grandkids!

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    24. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      I mean the endless going over the white settlement history.

      Like so much of history it wasn't "pleasant" or palatable.

      And really David "Does that mean anything you don't like is untruthful? "..............?

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    25. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well, excuse me for being a (student) historian, Stephen. You have a limited understanding of what historians do. How many books and articles, for example, have come out this year and last year on WW1? Not only is this because of the centenary, but there are always new facts and new perspectives as more documents and evidence come to light and younger historians build on the work of others. That is also the case with Aboriginal history. That is why new material gets written. My own thesis deals with material recently made accessible to the public. Rather than counting as 'endless going over', it's called research and it's being professional and honest and doing our job.
      But with you it's the special case of white settlement whose history should remain entirely static, preferably without bad bits.
      As for your statement that "history keeps being retold and retold.", I took that to mean that historians keep inventing stuff. Sorry if you didn't mean that.

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    26. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > All right, the extrapolation of what you are saying is we should ALL go back to where we came from.>

      Fist the good news . Tomorrow you all go home.

      Now the bad news. Today we cut you all in bits.

      Where am I to go? England?

      How far back? Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Rumania, Scotland and India?

      Should any present day Australain Avboriginal be permitted to live in Redfern? How many/much of them is a descendant of the Eora people?

      If we take all this to its illogical conclusion then we'd ALL go back to Africa :-)

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    27. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > I don't want to be a part of it, anymore than I want to be a part of YOUR life Evelyn, or the man down the street. >

      ??? Odd. Since you bother to read AND answer my comments, I AM part of your life. And for better or worse you are are of mine :-(

      Horrible thought :-(

      Have you actually realised that those advocating the Aborigines become NOT becoming "Australians" are actually advocating Apartheid? Like the ridiculous idea that Israel and Palestine can co-exist in the same territory. Where Palestine submits to the will of Israel and Palestinina territory beomes nothng moe than Palestinian Reserves at the mercy of Israeli whim.

      "Australia" being nothing more than the current term for this Continent that we live on. If you don't like it, come up with an alternative.

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    28. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > Let's concentrate on getting the present right for Aborigines.>

      Let's not.

      Let's treat them as mature human beings, see that they are not unfaily discriminated against and let them get on with life like the reast of us.

      IF we want to help people from 'disadvantaged' backgrounds, let us do so, without specifiying their genetic make up or ancestry.

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    29. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn we are gradually becoming of the same mind, believe it or not.

      You are coming around to my way of thinking.

      Spooky thought.

      And when I said you are not a part of MY life, I meant it in the nicest possible way, and nothing personal was intimated.

      Again let me say that I have real touchpoint with Aboriginal culture, and therefore would hope they can organise themselves into whatever society they like.

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    30. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      >>If we take all this to its illogical conclusion then we'd ALL go back to Africa :-)

      Well there's a difference between migration and invasion. I think there is a consensus that Aborigines ended up in Australia via migration and that no culture was overthrown in the process. So certainly the Aborigines, unlike yourself, would have a good argument for staying. :)

      It seems to me that your argument is that we should ignore a particular injustice if and when the ramifications of redressing it are…

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    31. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Chris Peck

      > Well there's a difference between migration and invasion. I think there is a consensus that Aborigines ended up in Australia via migration and that no culture was overthrown in the process >

      That is a nicety which has little to no meaning.

      The British sent settlers here -- they did NOT send a military force.
      We settled the Country every bit as much as the present 'aborigines' did -- whether or not their ancestors killed out the original human inhabitants of interbred with them is a matter not entrely agreed upon.

      In fact as I understand it, there was a pretty constant 'settlement' of Australia from south East Asia. There were to main 'waves' but the malays were constant visitor to the northern coast and left descendants there.

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    32. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      " they did NOT send a military force." As I recall, the First Fleet had about 200 soldiers, 1000 odd convicts and very few free settlers.

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    33. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Chris Peck

      I dunno, Chris Peck. I wonder why you continue to stay here -- being as you declare yourself to be 'an invader'.

      Why do YOU say I have no good argument for staying here?

      By how many generations does one need to be 'Australian' before one can say that you are 'indigenous' (aka born in this country to parents born in this country)?

      Do you count your 'nationality' by the nationality of your mother or your father? HOW many of your ancestors and how far back do we need to go to determine…

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    34. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Chris Peck

      Now Chris, you are being somewhat tendentious.

      What I am saying is I have no interest in Aboriginal songs/music.

      What I'm also saying it is the responsibility of the Aboriginal people to preserve their culture and heritage in THIS day and age.

      They are getting plenty of assistance from various avenues, and it is perfectly reasonable to suggest they take the job on themselves.
      I'm sure they are MORE than capable.

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    35. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to David Roth

      > As I recall, the First Fleet had about 200 soldiers, 1000 odd convicts >

      Well, OK. But as I understand it these soldiers were to control the convicts, not to fight and kill the native people.

      http://foundingdocs.gov.au/resources/transcripts/nsw2_doc_1787.pdf
      Excerpts:
      ". . . there is already a considerable quantity of Corn and other seed Grain put onboard the Ships of the Convoy, most likely probably more than may be immediately necessary for raising supplies for the settlement…

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    36. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      > You are coming around to my way of thinking.>

      Not at all. I have not changed my mind or feelings in any way.

      I just suspect that you have not fully understood what I was saying/meaning.

      It is the absolute arrogance of the atitude "what should we do for these poor dwomtroden people?" that gives me the heeby-jeebes.

      Why not:
      "Why don't we stop treating these people as feeble-minded and treat them as fellow human beings.

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    37. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      >> Now Chris, you are being somewhat tendentious.

      Since when has justice been tendentious? I think what you really mean is that justice is inconvenient.

      >> What I'm also saying it is the responsibility of the Aboriginal people to preserve their culture and heritage in THIS day and age.

      Injustices do not dilute in time Stephen. A theft is no less of a theft one week, one month, one year after the crime. So what difference does it make that we are now in 'THIS day and age'? What Im saying…

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    38. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      That's all true Evelyn. But it's also true that there were a number of conflicts between soldiers and blacks, not only around Sydney but elsewhere, for example the Battle of Pinjarra. It's naive to think that the soldiers did not also have a defensive function against hostile natives. And your claim that NO soldiers were sent is simply not true. As for your long quote, which I read many years ago, this proclamation was not the first well-intentioned government directive to be honoured perhaps more in the breach than the observance.

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    39. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      I will try again.
      You said :
      "The British sent settlers here -- they did NOT send a military force."
      Soldiers were sent here from the first European settlement in Australia. The soldiers fought Aborigines at times.
      Your claim was incorrect.

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    40. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Hi Evelyn

      >> The British sent settlers here -- they did NOT send a military force.

      Soldiers or not, an essentially hunter gatherering social system based on principles of ecological stasis was overrun and supplanted by a social system based on private property, industrial agriculture and ecological exploitation, such that the earlier system could no longer thrive as it had done for millenia. The land was carved up and 'owned' by europeans in a manner that was an anthema for the people who had been using the land. The continent was effectively overrun by entirely spurious 'property rights'.

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    41. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "Billions of dollars have been spent on Aboriginal welfare"

      Oh for goodness sake, now this one is being carted out.

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    42. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Chris Peck

      Chris,
      What exactly do you want? Its insufficient to merely gripe about past injustices. Do you have some positive ideas for us all to move on.
      No abuse please. I'm just expressing my opinion.

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    43. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to mike faulkner

      Hi John

      please please please don't take offense to this because its not at all meant abusively, ok?

      >> Its insufficient to merely gripe about past injustices.

      Im not really griping; its certainly not meant as a gripe at all. Im really sorry if people are taking it as a gripe. Its meant more as a kind of deafening howl of despair that in the 21st century so many people still do not appreciate that injustices must be dealt with. That claims to be civilized are empty when injustices are so…

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    44. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Chris Peck

      > That claims to be civilized are empty when injustices are so willingly left to stand. >

      Who said that 'civilisation' was ever, or ever supposed to be, 'just'?

      Any study of history will show you that 'civilisation' tends to come at the expense of 'justice'.

      did you see the recent ABC telecast of a history of the 'Roman Invasion' of Britain?
      I cannot find any reference to this on Google, but this one talks of the killing and injustices that 'civilisation' brought to Britain.
      .
      http://www.britainexpress.com/History/Roman_invasion.htm

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1192353/Mass-war-grave-50-headless-bodies-Olympics-site.html

      Then consider the civilisation brought to Africa, and the Americas.

      Or even the injustices as the process of civilisation goes on --the Highland clearances, the Enclosure of The Commons. The eviction of the Irish peasantry that lead to the Irish famine.
      Think of the civilisation process in the Balkan Countries.

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    45. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      And a measure of more civilised times in Australia might also be the removal of injustices, such as preventing Aboriginals from voting, restricting their movements, practising petty apartheid in cinemas and swimming pools, jobs etc. And the enactment of legislation against discrimination. Most of this within my living memory. So sometimes civilisation is justice.
      Btw the proximate cause of the Irish famine was the potato blight, not evictions. Exporting corn from Ireland while the Irish were starving was not a civilising process.

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  6. Seán McNally

    Market and Social Researcher at eris strategy

    Unlike other material culture when music is lost it is lost. Knowing that folk music can enrich all people’s lives, not just the originating cultures I would like to see it captured before it is lost. However, even if the music was somehow captured and stored for future generations to understand both their culture and the world around them, I would be surprised if the information was shared. As the author pointed out even within the culture sharing and propagation of the culture was not as priority…

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  7. Christine Haynes
    Christine Haynes is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Vocational counsellor

    The music of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people lives on in documents and can be retaught. Musicology luminaries like Alice Moyle, Donald Peart and Gordon Anderson, to name a few, made scientific studies of the music of Australia. Just as it is possible for modern youngsters to play the music of Purcell and enact the plays of Shakespeare, so it is possible for modern indigenous people to learn and study the music of the past because it is all very, very well documented.

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    1. Trevor Stockley

      retired

      In reply to Christine Haynes

      You miss the point that Aboriginal song and dance is an expression of culture. Without language and knowledge of land and culture the learner is just learning the steps and possibly the song and words but not their intrinsic meaning. This undertsanding comes from living on your country, speaking your language and participating in your cultural practices with others who speak your language and practice your culture. What you get back is not the same as what was lost.

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  8. Andrew McIntosh

    Part-time bludger.

    Ninety eight percent? Even if that number is slightly arbitrary, that's enormous and it is something to worry about.

    People are talking about documentation and recording but just how much is documented and recorded? Not coming from a tradition of notation, I would imagine most Aboriginal music and dance is passed on between generations by demonstration. Anecdotal, I've been told that one tribe, for example, wouldn't want anyone to record their funeral mourning ceremonies as that would be regarded as disrespectful.

    If people can't actually teach, in traditional manners, their songs and dances to their next generation, that is a major and disastrous loss. The very acts of passing on this knowledge would be an important part of Aboriginal society and culture. While some elements may be preserved by modern means, it's the passing on, learning and practice that makes the culture, and if so much of that is now gone, that is a disaster that did not have to happen.

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Andrew McIntosh

      Thanks, Andrew. Both your and Christine's comments raise some important issues about recording and documenting these traditions. Documentation and archiving can be a scholarly activity alone, it's true. But it can (and often does) form the basis for renewed community interest in a cultural expression. This might happen almost straight away, just by the attention that's put on a tradition by the effort to document it, or it could happen many decades down the track. Either way, documentation plays an important role in efforts to maintain these cultural expressions for future generations.

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    2. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Catherine Grant

      I think oral traditions are inherently fragile in comparison to written traditions. Western philosophy survived the dark ages and fires at Alexandria because it was written down, translated into Arabic and then could flow back into the west via the Islamic Abbasidian Empire.

      I think indigenous Australians could learn from this durability.

      But I also think that to preserve a living and breathing tradition more needs to be done than just documenting the culture. It has to be participated in. The languages need to be learnt. The stories need to be taught and the songs need to be sung. Until we teach white kids black stories and songs in the native tongue we will just be recording the death of a culture, we won't really be preserving it.

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    3. Susan Murray-Smith

      Publisher

      In reply to Chris Peck

      The National Indigenous Recording Project referenced in the article attempts to do more than just document the songs. The most recent book from the series, For the sake of a song: Wangga songmen and their repertories (CDs to come), is also available as a free website: http://wangga.library.usyd.edu.au/ allows people in the local communities (and elsewhere) to listen to the music, and get contextual information about the songs' uses.

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    4. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Chris Peck

      CHris, doesn't the fractious nature of the aboriginal tribal 'system' (for want of a better term) present a challenge to this - ie how homogeneous are the cultural identities that could be taught? Would there have to be a different language/set of mythologies etc for each given area of surviving tribe or would there be a single 'package' that would cover aboriginal culture 'generically'. (Sorry about the poor choice of words. I'm not meaning any offence to anyone, just clumsily trying to ask the question.)

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    5. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      I don't think it presents a serious challenge if there is a genuine will to educate. How can it? 250 different languages, 600 different dialects, thrived for thousands of years prior to 1770. local customs, dialects, languages could be taught locally. I mean if english is the third or even fourth language for many aboriginals who do speak an indigenous tongue, if aboriginal people on average used to be able to fluently speak five different regional languages, would it be too much of a challenge to teach white kids just one? And to teach them the odd song or myth?

      And language teaching can be immersive, ie. you don't have to explicitly show how to conjugate a verb, its something that gets picked up when you are amongst the speakers. So dump primary school kids, even preschoolers, in an environment where the only thing spoken is a local language.

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    6. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Chris Peck

      hanks for the reply, Chris. How would you handle the languages out of the 250 that are no longer in use? The analogy would be Latin, which is what's known as a 'dead' language. Would it be more worthwhile to limit the number of languages taught in order to effectively support their incorporation into the school system?

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    7. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      Hi John

      When I read the article I personally felt that whilst it is surely worth documenting old songs, dead languages, there is maybe more value to be had in participating in another culture as it exists now. I think there is a huge benefit for everyone in australia if white australia assimilated to some extent into black australia. I think of how the All Blacks in New Zealand have adopted the Mauri Haka as a prelude to all their matches. So you get people like Sean Fitzpatrick of Irish descent…

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    8. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Chris Peck

      Chris,
      The native culture is where we find ourselves now.
      We've moved on from the original culture of 200 hundred years ago. Otherwise the 'us' and 'them' attitude that you complain about will continue. Ok, its interesting to follow the history of past ages, but that doesn't mean we must slavishly follow those ancient cultures, as if nothing new will ever improve things.

      Please no abuse.
      I am just expressing my opinion

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    9. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to mike faulkner

      Hi Mike

      I hope you wont mistake my comments as abuse, its not meant to be.

      I don't think that encouraging white kids to learn black languages and dialects, to sing black songs and to eat black tukka, condemns them to 'slavishly follow ancient cultures'

      If a bunch of white kids are taken by their school on a camping trip and get taught by a mob of black folk how to steam vegetables in a ground oven and bake damper in the ashes of a fire, thats fun. If they then get to try out a didgeridoo and chuck a boomerang its even more fun. If they get to hear stories and myths about the land all the better. I just don't see a down side to getting kids to learn and adopt black culture.

      Besides, aboriginal culture isn't ancient. Its modern. It exists now.

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    10. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Chris Peck

      > If a bunch of white kids are taken by their school on a camping trip and get taught by a mob of black folk how to steam vegetables in a ground oven and bake damper in the ashes of a fire, thats fun. If they then get to try out a didgeridoo and chuck a boomerang its even more fun. If they get to hear stories and myths about the land all the better. I just don't see a down side to getting kids to learn and adopt black culture.>

      You don't think that that has a little too much similarity to 'open…

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    11. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      >> You don't think that that has a little too much similarity to 'open range' zoos, or the Suth African 'Black Villages' as toutist attractions in the days of Apartheid?

      No, I've described a system where modern aboriginal culture and languages are taught to kids from pre-school onwards. Its no more condescending to aborigines than teaching french is to french people, or teaching english literature is to english people. The idea that teaching one group about another group's customs is disrespectful…

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    12. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Chris Peck

      > What you describe is typical of subjugated groups who attempt to assimilate into a society that has no real respect for them.>

      Exatly!

      Which is why I feel that our society should start respecting them, rather than try to improve thir lot by retunring them to a stone age culture to serve as tourist attractions to the 'civilised' (aka citified, industrial) world.

      Chris, do you have any Aboriginal friends, or Aborigines in your family? Or are you just spouting PC stuff from the media?

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    13. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      PS.
      The Aboriginal people who still live in traditional societies do not have houses, let alone electricity. If you want Aborigines to cater to a mob of city school boys and teach them to "steam vegetables" buried under a fire (of course the question here is 'What vegetables? How acquired?') you don't want people living in houses with electricity supplied.

      Then if you want to have these kids taught how to throw a boomerang, first find your Aboriginal group that did use returning boomerangs. Then it might be hard to find a group that still live where they can hunt kangaroos with fire-hardened spears and returning boomerangs.

      Anything else would be litle more than a Scout Camp with Aboriginal people as tutors/activity organisers, wouldn't it!

      That is, unless they are just the 'Aborigine' version of "Old Sydney Town".

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    14. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      PPS.
      Then consider, that by providing 'schools; at all for the children we have changed ther culture, let alone by running these schools in modern buildings.
      We have interfered with their culture by providing modern medicines and medical treatment.

      In fact ANY contact with peoples from other cultures, will 'change' their culture.
      Witness now mainstream Australian Culture having garlic, Italina sausage, and Yoghurt available in the grocery stores. well, lets say -- even the disappearance…

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    15. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      What is your point, Evelyn? Just because Aboriginal culture has changed due to European influence and over time doesn't mean that none of it should be preserved. Respect doesn't mean that Aborigines should throw their past away. We still preserve and cherish European culture, why is Aboriginal culture a special case?

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    16. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to David Roth

      > What is your point, Evelyn? >

      Seems my point wasn't sharp enough to penetrate your mind.

      What's YOUR point David Theodore Roth?
      All I get from your posts is that the poor Abirogines are not capable of preserving their 'culture' so it is up to us Noble Civilised People to do it for them. (aka We know what is best for them!)

      In my books a very nasty attitude.

      By the way --I don't know what 'history' you are a student of, but much of the problem with recordong Aboriginal Culture is because the Aborigines themselves (egged on by do-gooder toughy-feelies) insist on butial or olf artifacts and no mention of anyone who is now dead.
      Ther is also a current attitude amoung many of the outspoken Aboriginal people, that 'White people should not be involved in Aboriginal business".

      I lot has been saved -- but more had been destroyed.

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    17. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      "All I get from your posts is that the poor Abirogines are not capable of preserving their 'culture' so it is up to us Noble Civilised People to do it for them. (aka We know what is best for them!)"
      I didn't say that Evelyn.
      And I am well aware of cultural beliefs about deceased persons and I am also aware the Aborigines wish to preserve their culture.
      By respecting that, I am not putting myself forward as 'noble or civilised'.

      Since you were not aware of the simple fact that every Australian schoolchild knows that the First Fleet brought soldiers, and the well-known fact that the Irish famine was caused by potato blight, I really don't think you should be dishing out insults about my 'not being sharp enough' or implying that I am not a historian. And I have studied Aboriginal history.

      Prattling on about buying garlic in the 1950s is hardly relevant to a discussion about Aboriginal culture.
      Btw I answer to David or Mr Roth.

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    18. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Evelyn

      >> Which is why I feel that our society should start respecting them,

      And in your opinion thats going to happen by magic is it? The magic fairy pixies are going to fly down from planet gobshite and spike your tea with respect dust are they?

      >> rather than try to improve thir lot by retunring them to a stone age culture to serve as tourist attractions to the 'civilised' (aka citified, industrial) world.

      Since no one has suggested that, I'll ignore it.

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    19. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      >> Then consider, that by providing 'schools; at all for the children we have changed ther culture, let >> alone by running these schools in modern buildings.
      >> We have interfered with their culture by providing modern medicines and medical treatment.

      >> In fact ANY contact with peoples from other cultures, will 'change' their culture.

      Good.

      >> Good Heavens -- even in the 1960s I got 'old fashioned' looks from people for buying one WHOLE garlic!

      Maybe your breath stank?

      Shall we…

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    20. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Chris Peck

      Chris,

      Ooh, Chris.
      Wash your mouth out.
      Your facebook picture appears to portray you as an affable little fellow, but you do seem to get stuck into those with opposing ideas to your own.

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  9. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Philip Impey

      Perhaps percussionists might not agree that music notation for their instruments is not complex. 'Clapping sticks' are still used in the full orchestra. To remember complex rhythmic patterns, dynamics and timing precisely (without notation) is a very complex exercise. It doesn't need complex equipment, just human skill and memory.

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    2. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Philip Impey

      Philip,
      Surely you are not suggesting that aboriginal "music" is inferior to music experienced in other mainstream cultures.
      Its different certainly, but not inferior.

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    3. Al Harris

      Media Officer

      In reply to Philip Impey

      Philip, you may be an architect but you clearly have no concept of the complexity and beauty of the music created by the Aboriginal nations of Australia. It's this sort of ignorance that has led to the devaluing of Aboriginal cultural practices and even languages by white Australia and caused the losses that Catherine describes in her piece. Does your cultural myopia also include designing buildings meant for a northern hemisphere climate?

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    4. Chris Peck

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Philip Impey

      The pomposity of western music must seem very odd to someone steeped in a participatory tradition. The whole hideous rigmarole of dressing up, going to the concert hall, flashing your tush around like a bunch of peacocks and then sitting absolutley still while your emotions are being roused. Its a triumph of self denial and magnificently horrid. Give me a hollow log and a stick any day.

      But its also irrelevent.

      We should preserve indigenous culture because it is not like western culture, not because it is like western culture.

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  10. Zane Trow

    logged in via Twitter

    Australian Indigenous performance is the only Australian Classical music, dance and story we have. They shift with time, as do all classical traditions. However the music, say, we mainly choose to define as "classical" is all imported of course.

    Australian Classical performance then, could be afforded all the resources, time, energy, collection, preservation and research that other classical forms take for granted could it not? Why would we not do this? Why do we continue to marginalise a profound and demanding Classical culture that is entirely our own?

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Zane Trow

      Maybe for you Zane.

      You need to listen to the many "classical/serious" Australian composers.........Percy Grainger, Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards, Peggy Glanville-Hicks etc.

      I'm a bit tired of Aborigine culture/music/art being glorified and sanctified as THE Australian culture only.

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    2. Al Harris

      Media Officer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I'm with old mate Xavier Herbert who wrote many years ago: Until Australians come to a just resolution with Aboriginal people we will remain, not a nation, but a community of thieves. To paraphrase a bit to suit the context: Until Australians come to understand and value the ancient cultural practices of the Aboriginal nations we will remain not a nation but a community of ignorant philistines!

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    3. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Al Harris

      Al,
      Can you please develop the expression "just resolution".
      Just an outline would be splendid.
      Thanks

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Al Harris

      And what IS a just resolution.........I'd be interested in your answer to the complex issues at large.

      No doubt you've had many, many discussions with a broad cross section of the Aboriginal people - both rural and urban.

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    5. mike faulkner

      retiree

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Why not mandate that the ABC FM classics program play only what Zane defines as 'classical music'?
      More public funding may not be required as royalties would not be an issue.
      And perhaps we could have open-air concerts featuring ancient aboriginal songs rendered in the original aboriginal languages. SBS TV would be delighted to accommodate these prime-time events.

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    6. Al Harris

      Media Officer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen and Mike, at a start we might offer to desist in making ignorant, chauvinistic commentary about matters that we have chosen to know nothing about! I actually feel sympathy for white fellas living in this beautiful country who chose to remain ignorant and insensitive about the real history of the place. Their willful ignorance will prevent them from ever being able to understand, or even feel part of, this country and its magnificent landscape and biota. They remain just transplanted Brits…

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    7. Zane Trow

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Why would you assume I haven't listened to those composers? Of course I have, don't be silly.

      And I'd have a chat with a few Indian Classical musicians if I were you, to clarify the fact of "classical" being as much about form as it is content.

      And I'm a bit tired of privileged white people claiming they're the only ones who deserve glorification...they've had plenty, for hundreds of years, nobody is going to take that away by offering the same respect to other classical art forms.

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      How easily you get tired, Stephen, if any mention of Aboriginal music sends you into a tizzy and that you think that wanting to keep it alive is 'glorification'. You ask for a solution. I suggest you start from a standpoint of tolerance and respect.

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      Thank you David for your comment.

      It's not the music that sends me into a tizzy, it's the pollyannas that believe they are on a mission to be Aborigine ambassadors.

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to mike faulkner

      There is already a TV channel devoted to Aborigines.

      I hope there are many many devoted watchers amongst the TC commenters. Know what I mean.

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    11. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Al Harris

      Well AL I'd rather hear from them and not you.

      Get their comments on TC asap.

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    12. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Being in favour of preserving Aboriginal or any other music doesn't make people into 'ambassadors' or 'pollyannas'. I don't feel obliged to watch Living Black either. I just feel that other musical traditions should be treated with respect. I don't need a 'mission' to do that.
      And if I said that Bach's music should be preserved and played would I be 'glorifying' him too or would that make me a pollyanna?

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  11. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    I suppose that we have all lost our cultures of XYZ centuries ago.

    At least the Australian Aboriginal Cultures will be preserved for later access.

    Unlike "my people' -- who knows WHAT music was being played at Stonehenge!

    Good Heavens, even the culture that I grew up in has disappeared. Who now listens to Radio Plays? Who now sings around the piano in the evening? Who now whistles while they work?

    All gone to make way for 'pug-in-drugs'. (aka i-pods, and piped Modern American music in the retail shops :-(

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  12. Donald Richardson

    artist/writer

    The sad romantics should get over it.
    Statements like these: "Australian Indigenous performance traditions are a unique expression of what it is to be human. They represent a continuum of intellect and imagination through the generations. They offer a direct glimpse at the creativity of the human mind.
    As such, their loss (like that of hundreds of other threatened expressions of culture across the world) is a loss to the common heritage of humanity. For those with a global outlook, that’s one…

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  13. John Perry

    Teacher

    I'm struck by the amazing lack of understanding by commenters here. Non-Indigenous Australia is remarkably ignorant when it comes to Aboriginal culture. Ninety eight per cent is a massive amount.

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    1. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to John Perry

      I'd say Indigenous Australia is also remarkably ignorant when it comes to Aboriginal culture. If you accept that there were 250 major language groups here 200 years ago, that implies 250 distinct cultures. How much cross-fertilization went on, and how much trans-cultural awareness? For starters, the desert-dwellers would have known zilch about what went on among coastal or island people, and vice-versa.
      Indigenous people today have plenty of support and access to financial resources and the necessary (not traditional, mind you) technology to record their music and dances -- what's stopping them?

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Paul, there was a network of Aboriginal trading networks across Australia well before white settlement.
      http://www.indigenousaustralia.info/culture/trade-routes.html
      So it is obvious that Aboriginals of different language groups had cultural contact.
      A study of common beliefs shared by different language groups would lead to the same conclusion.
      The fact that you need to ask the question shows you don't know much about the answer.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to John Perry

      John it wasn't non-indigenous Australians who "lost" it.

      "We" do not have to pass any test on Aboriginal culture. If YOU want to learn about it, do it, but stop trying to make the rest of us feel guilty.

      Please stop this charade of blame on the rest of us.

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    4. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to David Roth

      David, while aware of the trading routes, I'm not so sure about your conclusion. There were extensive trading routes across Asia for millennia, for example, but I doubt that consumers of the goods at either end were all too familiar with the languages and cultures of the societies from which those goods originated. Traders were not renowned conversationalists or educators, and lots of middle-men would have been involved. Europeans had to wait for Marco Polo to inform them about what went on in China, from his own supposedly first-hand observations. Without written records, we'll probably never know how much distant Aboriginal tribes new about each other.

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    5. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Paul, you confidently stated that : "For starters, the desert-dwellers would have known zilch about what went on among coastal or island people, and vice-versa." If there was trading, for example in seashells or ideas, then that was not the case.
      I'm aware that Aboriginal art in the Centre drawn before white contact depicts European artifacts, guns, axes etc, showing an awareness of events on the coast. Not exactly zilch.

      You mention Marco Polo, then you confidently state that traders were not educators or conversationalists. Even if Polo didn't actually go to China, he certainly spread a message about Chinese culture.

      As I said before and you ignored, we can get an idea of the degree of cultural contact by the looking at shared beliefs, shared images, musical idioms, etc.

      As for traders not spreading languages or culture, the Swahili language has been adopted by millions in Africa originally as a lingua franca for trade with Arabic speakers.

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    6. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to David Roth

      > Paul, there was a network of Aboriginal trading networks across Australia well before white settlement >

      And I understand that there was also quite a lot of inter-tribal warfare. And that the cultures of different tribal groups varied.

      I understand that the relocation of Aborigines into mixed tribal/cultural grpous was one of the main reasons for the 'loss' of traditional cultures.

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Tribes would raid other tribes and "steal" women for partners.

      It was also said that Aboriginal men sold or exchanged their women (in some cases) to whalers. Apparently the women preferred life with the whalers to life in the tribes - less brutal.

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Said by whom, Stephen? It is documented that many of these relationships were coercive and the women taken by force.

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    9. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Yes, maybe Evelyn. But the bald claim that desert Aborigines knew 'zilch' about the coast Aborigines is just not backed by the evidence. The argument is not about whether cultures of different tribes varied, but about what elements of culture they had in common. That's apparent to even the most casual observer of Aboriginal art.
      There's been conflict in Europe for x thousand years, but there are still common elements of European culture. Ditto for Native Americans. But the Aborigines are not allowed to have common cultural elements because different tribes fought! You also ignore the fact that many conflicts were of a ritual nature, as used to be the case in PNG.

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    10. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      Can't handle the truth David.

      In traditional Aboriginal societies, women's food-gathering and child-bearing abilities were economic resources that were fundamental to the group's survival. Aboriginal raids for women were therefore raids to transfer property from one group to another and should be considered warfare in the same way fighting for land would be considered warfare in agricultural societies. It is true that sometimes women gave prior consent and the raid was ritualised, but in other cases the attacks were unexpected and violent.
      Oxford Companion Aust military history

      Initially, Aboriginal men would barter the services of native women for hunting dogs, seal
      carcasses, flour and potatoes but, as J. E. Calder observed, ‘[t]hese unfortunate women
      became so useful to their masters that when they could not get enough of them by purchase,
      they kidnapped them’...report by Flinder University.

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    11. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, I'm well aware of all this. I welcome your new found, albeit tendentious, interest in history and actual research, but you do need to be wary of cherry picking only the facts and sources that suit you. Hint: reading limited sources on one day doesn't make you an expert on the subject. At no point was I trying to portray Aborigines as moral paragons. Btw I thought we were talking about whalers and sealers and their acquisition of Aboriginal women, which was no less coercive and murderous.
      As for not handling the truth, I think that's pretty offensive.

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    12. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      David, whether I read it over the course of one day, or study it for three years is in one sense irrelevant.

      You seem to think I have had no experience in reading about history, when in fact I have spent 30 years examining the history of the world.

      And "Does that mean anything you don't like is untruthful? " was not called for either.........

      Really David, you can be a tad sensitive at times.

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    13. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, reading things over one day won't give you context or perspective or a wider balance of arguments. And saying that historians go 'over and over' Aboriginal history didn't give me confidence that you had an understanding of the historian's role in researching history or of how history is written.
      I had already apologised for my earlier remark, made late at night when I was tired after a long day of study, then you still chose to insult me. Who's being over-sensitive here?

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    14. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      David you have the makings of an academic snob.

      I am perfectly capable of reading a report or article and understand it's meaning and implications.

      Researchers do it all the time, as do lawyers, authors - and historians.

      Much of history has been written and rewritten over time.
      I can't count the number of accounts of Hitler's life and times there have been, or life under the Pharaohs etc etc etc.

      I won't use the excuse that I was tired when I made my remark.

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    15. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Calling me names is not an argument winner.

      "I am perfectly capable of reading a report or article and understand it's meaning and implications." You need to read more than one or two reports. Your account of the history of whalers and sealers and Aboriginal women didn't mention the fact that many were kidnapped and their men killed if they were in the way.

      "Much of history has been written and rewritten over time." That was the point you were complaining about wrt Aboriginal history, but apparently not wrt Hitler or the Pharoahs.

      I was being perfectly truthful about being tired last night as you can easily check from the time when I made the comment.

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    16. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to David Roth

      I read many reports - if you want more quotes let me know and I'll reprint them for you.

      The last sentence in what I copied from a Flinders University report indicated that Whalers did start to kidnap women.

      But not before they had traded prior to that.

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    17. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Most commendable, Stephen. As you appear to have developed a genuine interest in the history of whalers and sealers wrt Aborigines, may I recommend various histories of Tasmanian settlement. For example 'The Aborigines of Tasmania' by H. Ling Roth (no relation), p 49. A good article available at Flinders is perhaps Kay Merry's 'The Cross-Cultural Relationships between the Sealer and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Women at Bass Strait and Kangaroo Island in the early Nineteenth Century'.
      http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/projects/counterpoints/Proc_2003/A8.pdf
      This documents trade, but also brutal treatment. (A native woman) "...said that the white men tie them up and then they flog them very much, plenty much blood.."
      Thank you for your kind offer of more reports, but I'm quite capable of doing my own research.

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    18. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to David Roth

      Stephen might also want to consider those Indigenous inhabitants who gave escaped convicts refuge and who strongly condemned their being kept in chains.

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  14. Stephen Morey

    Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Linguistics at La Trobe University

    Thank you for this article. You raise important points that are not just applicable here in Australia.

    I have been involved in the documentation of languages spoken in North East India for the last 20 years Some of the traditional song styles, such as the 'rice pounding song' of the Tai people, were falling out of use. Since people now use machines to pound the husk off rice, they don't have to stand for hours doing it manually and the songs fall out of use.

    Some were recorded in the 1970s…

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Stephen Morey

      Hi Stephen. Thanks for widening out the focus of this discussion. Yes, the issues are not only relevant to Australia but internationally. UNESCO noted this a decade or so ago, when it called for the 'urgent safeguarding' of 'intangible cultural heritage', including musical traditions, right around the world. I'm returning to Cambodia in a month or so to work with musicians on cultural revitalisation initiatives there, where many art forms were lost due to the horrific political and socioeconomic circumstances in the 1970s and 1980s.

      The problem of what to do about this at the wide-scale is the topic of my book "Music Endangerment: How Language Maintenance Can Help", due for release in a couple of weeks - I hope you might find it of interest and perhaps even of use for your work in India, which sounds fascinating. All the best.

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  15. George Macdonald

    Director at OM Business Development

    The writer has clearly never been to Cape York for any any length of time, or Yolgnu country.

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  16. Barry McDonald

    Teacher

    Thanks for the article Catherine, it struck a resonant chord in me.
    For my part, the most salient aspects of the piece are your comments that Indigenous musical traditions articulate with what makes us human, and that these traditions are under continuing threat from a pervasive globalist/capitalist/colonialist paradigm pressure.
    For 20 years I worked 'salvaging' traditional rural musical expression (including local Aboriginal musics) in northern NSW. For the last 15 years I've been working with…

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    1. Catherine Grant

      Postdoctoral Researcher in Music at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Barry McDonald

      Thanks very much for that valuable perspective on the issue, Barry - it's one example of how non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians can collaborate meaningfully on these issues.

      With regard to 'fighting on all fronts' - there are indeed important roles for those with expertise, as you say. Those without, though, are able to play their part too, by learning about these issues and reflecting and talking about them in an informed and respectful way. I hope this article and the dialogue it's stimulating here might be a small step towards that end, for those who are open to a reasonable and open-minded discussion. Thanks for being a part of that!

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    2. Barry McDonald

      Teacher

      In reply to Catherine Grant

      Good point Catherine, though I'd argue that just about everyone has some expertise that could be deployed in "the resistance".

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  17. Gary Luke
    Gary Luke is a Friend of The Conversation.

    thoroughly disgusted

    What is that's being retained preserved or packaged as museum items? It's not the tradition. It's a signboard pointing backwards at a tradition that's been lost. Replaced by their own choice with Slim Dusty and imported rap.
    Town born fractional Aborigines who never hunted aren't able to dance like a wary emu being stalked at the dry season waterhole. They stick their hand in the air and think their fingers held together spell "emu head". They've never been freaked out by a debildebil dance in moonlight or rolled in the dust laughing at the halfcan dance.
    Get a grant and put the songs on tape and leave them around for someone to misinterpret out of context in another century.

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  18. Jack Kearney

    Conservation Biologist

    As an Australian I find the erosion of all our diverse cultures a great shame. Speaking simply as an Australian who loves heading off to the remote places with my kids to an Aboriginal festival, or to the folk festivals in Alice or Atherton, it saddens me to think that we're losing it. The same way I don't want to see the end of the Big Day Out culture, for that too has been musically important to young Aussies. While some of the indigenous music is evolving to something just as interesting (i.e. contemporary music and dance), and some of the white fella music is doing the same, the rate of loss seems a lot faster than the rate of positive change. While I can't quantify it, I believe my kids are healthier and more interesting people for more of their time spent enjoying the music and songs of the land and less of it listening to Britney Spears in a shopping mall.

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  19. Thomas Fields

    "progressive" watcher

    So what's stopping them for relearning them? If they forgot them, then relearn them. This seems to be just another article that wants to take swipe at whitey.

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    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Thomas Fields

      Because culture' is a way of life.

      Culture is what we do -- the arts are just a part of culture, an experssion that is current at teh time in question.

      Aboriginal Culture was as much about burying a bay with its dead mother, the initiation cermonies with in some tribes subincision, knocking out of teeth or cutting and scarring the skin, whether the makes or the femals played the didgeridoo. It has also got to do with being a hunter/gatherer society. without these theings th culture must change…

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  20. Comment removed by moderator.

  21. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    Sorry Folks.

    Bowing out.

    I thpught that this was a forum for 'converstions' - I put forward my views without asking that anybody here need share them.

    Then, of course, the discussion had go WAY off topic.

    Which was "Does it matter to non-Aboriginals if their pre-European music is lost?"

    To me, it would be a shame to lose this music -- everybit as much as to lose the music of any other culture.
    On the other hand iI can think of quite a lot of modern popular culturemusic that I would…

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      If you want dish out gratuitous insults, and misrepresent people's opinions, don't expect that you won't get criticised. As for what you said just now about Aboriginal music, I can agree with that. It's a pity you didn't say that in the first place.

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    2. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to David Roth

      > It's a pity you didn't say that in the first place.>

      is IS a pity isn't it!

      Note to self -- re-read the aticle and refrain from responding to off-topic posts.

      Good day to you, young man.

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