Australia

The 118-year-old Aboriginal recordings that helped define Australia

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Aboriginal recordings that are more than 100 years old have been added to a national sound registry, signifying cultural and historical importance to Australia.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following content may contain images and of deceased persons.

One-hundred-and-eighteen-year-old Aboriginal recordings are among the 10 new titles that have been inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia, a registry of sounds that helped shape the country’s culture.

The recordings come from Baldwin Spencer and Frances James Gillen, who undertook an anthropological research expedition to Central Australia in 1901-02.

The pair traversed the continent from Oodnadatta to Powell Creek and then eastwards to Borroloola on the Gulf of Carpentaria, publishing their experiences as The Northern Tribes of Central Australia in 1904.

Harmony duo Olive and Eva's 1955 song Rhythm of Corroboree also made the list.
Harmony duo Olive and Eva's 1955 song Rhythm of Corroboree also made the list.
Supplied

On the way they recorded many wax cylinders, working with the Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Kaytetye, Warumungu, Luritja and Arabana peoples.

"They cover not only Arrernte language - some of the earliest recordings of Arrernte language but they are the earliest recordings of Aboriginal people ever on mainland Australia," Research Fellow Dr Jason Gibson from Deakin University told SBS News.

"It's a historic moment as its the first Aboriginal recordings in mainland Australia. They record that moment in time, the birth of Federation and these recordings were made to document a living and breathing, exciting Aboriginal culture that was, you could say, in full flight at that time."

The pioneering use of wax cylinders in the pair’s expedition captured the distribution of song and dance traditions across the Australian inland.

Arrernte man Joel Liddle says the recordings are an invaluable part of his identity.

"It holds really important information about place names, species, and environmental knowledge really valuable to Arrernte people today,” he said.

"It doesn't matter what kind of music you like, this is the stuff that people are passionate about. So song for us in Aboriginal society is no different."

The ‘Song of Tjitjingalla Corroboree’ was recorded at Stevenson Creek in South Australia on 22 March in 1901.

Mr Spencer’s introduction notes that this corroboree had first been described in north-central Queensland and was subsequently performed by Arrernte people at Alice Springs.

You’re The One That I Want, Olivia Newton John and John Travolta (John Farrer, composer) - 1978
You’re The One That I Want, Olivia Newton John and John Travolta (John Farrer, composer) - 1978
Supplied

Harmony duo Olive and Eva's 1955 song Rhythm of Corroboree also made the list. 

Cousins Olive McGuiness and Eva Bell were the first Indigenous recording artists to release a commercially available disc. 

The Grease smash hit You’re The One That I Want, performed by Australia’s darling Olivia Newton-John with John Travolta and written by Australian musician John Farrar, has also been inducted in the 2019 Sounds of Australia.

Australia’s unofficial 80s anthem, You’re The Voice by John Farnham, also made the list, as did the 90’s romantic pop song by Truly Madly Deeply by Savage Garden.

Country singer Chad Morgan, soprano Florence Austral, Leonard Teale’s rendition of The Man From Snowy River, and a 2004 ballet score have also been honoured in the registry.

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