• Joel Davison wrote and performed poetry for the track Gadigal Land (Robert Hambling)Source: Robert Hambling
Gadigal poet Joel Davison talks about being approached by Midnight Oil to write for their latest single, and what language revitalisation means to him.
Rachael Hocking

7 Aug 2020 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 7 Aug 2020 - 9:49 AM

Mudjaru ngaya wunyang.

Written and spoken by Gadigal poet Joel Davison, these words form part of a verse in the latest Midnight Oil track released on Friday called Gadigal Land and translate roughly to, "take pity on my bad pronunciation".

Mr Davison has been working on the revitalisation of his ancestor's tongue for years now, often referred to as The Sydney Language, and told NITV News he constructed the lyrics as an honest dialogue with his forebears. 

Ngandu bayabawai….ngara

(they told us they were sorry…listen)

Ngarawa darayawai, darimi

(but I think they’ve made a mistake, because for a long time)

Garamawaimi baya mudjin, wa?

(they stole my speech and family, see?)

"It's kind of like me saying to my ancestors, 'Look, this probably sounds kind of gammon to how I'm speaking this right now, but this is the best that I can do,'" he said. 

"This is the best that I can do with where I'm at in my revitalisation journey. This is the best that I can do when there's a city on our ancestral land where the light pollution blocks out our stars, and takes them further away from us."

Mr Davison said he wants his poetry to send a message about resilience in the face of colonisation - a strong theme throughout Gadigal Land - Midnight Oil's first release since 2002, which premiered on Koori Radio in Sydney on Thursday.

Birrongaingun ngarawan

(our stars are now further away).

Always will be Gadigal land

The song introduces a play on the traditional Welcome to Country, offering the repetitive line 'Welcome to Gadigal land' before demanding, 'Don’t you bring your poison, Don’t you bring your grog, Don’t you bring your smallpox'.

"It's sort of cheeky in my opinion, having family that do welcome to country a lot. So it's sort of ironically posing the welcome to the colonists, like, "Welcome to Gadigal Land, come on in, we're just perfectly happy to have you here,'" Mr Davison said.

"But I think it's very important to first remember and recognize the resistance to the colonists that led to a lot of bloodshed and fighting on country, and also to recognize the lasting impact that that arrival and that our welcoming nature and our reaction to the colonists has had 200 years on."

The track also features the voices of artists Kaleena Briggs (Stiff Gins), Bunna Lawrie (Coloured Stone) and Dan Sultan, and forms part of a mini album called THE MAKARRATA PROJECT slated for release in October. 

In a statement the band said the project drew inspiration from the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, which calls for the establishment of a ‘First Nations Voice’ enshrined in the Australian Constitution and a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to supervise agreement-making.

“We’ve always been happy to lend our voice to those who call for racial justice, but it really feels like we’ve reached a tipping point," the statement reads.

"We urge the federal government to heed the messages in the Uluru Statement From The Heart and act accordingly.  Hopefully this song and THE MAKARRATA PROJECT mini-album we’ve created alongside our First Nations friends can help shine a bit more light on the urgent need for genuine reconciliation in this country and in many other places too.”

'I thought it was a scam'

When he was first asked to be part of the project Mr Davison said he didn't believe it was really Midnight Oil.

"It was kind of wild being contacted by their manager, and at first I thought it was a scam or something. I didn't know what to think," he said.

He said the experience has been 'validating' as a poet and language revivalist.

"It's really nice that I am far enough on my language revitalization journey for myself to be able to share the knowledge that I have to so many people," he said.

"I wish that I was further along. I wish there was someone better than me that they could have contacted, or I wish there was a whole lot of us that were ready to take up the challenge, but I'm glad that I was able to be there to make sure that the language of my Gadigal ancestors was heard on this track.

Midnight Oil will perform the song as part National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs) via the NITV Facebook page on Saturday night from 7pm.