• “Singing songs in Indigenous languages instils a deep sense of belonging, connection and identity." (Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir)
Bunuba, D’harawal, Yidinji and Gadigal are just some of the Indigenous languages that the choir has learned. The choristers consider it their "greatest responsibilities" to preserve the languages through song.
By
Alana Schetzer

3 Jul 2017 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2017 - 9:25 AM

The Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir isn’t your typical choir, singing hymns in the way that you’ve already heard them performed. As the name suggests, the members of this choir are young Indigenous Australians who sing familiar tunes in Indigenous languages.

Founded by Lyn Williams OAM in 2008, the choir aims to help preserve language, pass on language skills to younger generations and enable young singers to gain confidence and develop musical talents.

“The ensembles perform with purpose and responsibility,” says Williams. “It’s wonderful to see the group develop a sense of family, with children of different ages singing together, and natural leaders emerging. The choristers especially speak about how honored they feel to share stories, language and culture from different Indigenous communities.”

The choir aims to help preserve language, pass on language skills to younger generations and enable young singers to gain confidence and develop musical talents.

The 22 young people involved in the program are selected from across the country to take part in the choir, which perform in both big cities and regional towns.

Williams, who has built a formidable career in the music industry, was also the founder of the Sydney Children’s Choir, in 1989, and founded the treble choir Gondwana Voices, in 1997, which has since evolved into the Gondwana National Choirs.

It was after spending time in the Torres Strait that Williams decided to create a choir to perform in Indigenous languages, and help young people express their culture through music.

“Singing songs in Indigenous languages instills a deep sense of belonging, connection and identity, for young singers in GICC, and builds greater understanding of the incredible diversity of Indigenous Australian cultures for the audiences they perform to.”

Williams says that the choir sings in several Indigenous languages, mainly from those around the Torres Strait Islands, especially Thursday Island. They add new languages from places that the choir travel to for performances. So far, those languages include Bunuba, D’harawal, Yidinji and Gadigal.

“Singing songs in Indigenous languages instills a deep sense of belonging, connection and identity, for young singers in GICC, and builds greater understanding of the incredible diversity of Indigenous Australian cultures for the audiences they perform to.”

The children spend time with the custodians of Indigenous languages, and get to know that region’s history and traditions, Williams says.

“For some of the choristers, singing in GICC renews language for families where it may have been lost, and for others, singing and sharing language is a natural part of their interaction with family and community, and deepens their community.”

Learning and helping preserve those languages is, Williams says, something the choir members view as their “greatest responsibilities”. 

Sharing traditions abroad

There has been an upswing in recent efforts to preserve the hundreds of Indigenous languages spoken across Australia, and educate international observers Australians about our incredibly diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.                            

The GICC has three hubs at the moment - Cairns, Campbelltown and Inner Sydney - and they’re about to add a fourth: Vienna, Austria.

In a partnership with the Vienna Boys Choir, the GICC will travel to Vienna in October to perform two concerts. It’s the second time the choir will travel overseas to perform, having visited Austria and Germany last year.

Williams says the partnership will help both choirs to understand each other’s cultural backgrounds, as well as their shared love of music.

Australian composer Owen Elsley and Yidinji elder Gudju Gudju Fourmile have been commissioned to write new music for the combined choirs, which will be based on a dreaming story of the Yidinji nation, in the Cairns region.

For audiences, Williams says the experience of being witness to such historic languages performed today was often quite an experience for them. For audiences overseas, Williams says the concerts open up people’s awareness of how diverse Indigenous languages are, and that many people are curious to learn more.

“The choir taught some traditional Torres Strait Island songs and dances to children in collaborating choirs in Frankfurt, Maribor, and Vienna, and this was a wonderful way to bring the children together. We have heard that those songs are still heard echoing through the hallways of the school of the Vienna Boys Choir!”

Love the author? You can follow Alana Schetzer on Twitter


NAIDOC Week is held in the first full week of July. It is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements.

The 2017 theme - Our Languages Matter - aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

To learn more, click here. 

Melbourne gym inspiring next generation of Indigenous boxers
Offering free boxing lessons for Indigenous children every week, the program has attracted descendants of Aboriginal boxing legends such as Lionel Rose and Lawrence Austin to the ring.
COMMENT: Aboriginality is more than skin deep
As a fair skin Wiradjuri man, Jake Gablonski knows what it's like to be teased and even called a 'liar' for identifying as Aboriginal, but that hasn't stopped him from proudly representing his true heritage.
Here's how every Australian can weave Indigenous culture into their identity
It really isn't hard to incorporate Indigenous culture into our national identity, in an appropriate way. Myles Russell-Cook suggests a few simple ways that every Australian can weave Indigenous ways into their life.