Guwak: inspiring Indigenous music

Indigenous readers are advised this post contains the name and image of a deceased person.

I had an epiphany today, when driving home from a coffee outing; I was listening to Bush Telegraph on Radio National (ABC), and caught part of an interview  with Rrawun Maymuru, singer/songwriter of the Indigenous band East Journey, and grandson of the late, great, much lamented Mandawuy Yunupingu.


I won’t attempt to sum up the wonderful life of this man, a leader of his people and leader of the band Yothu Yindi, who achieved world fame.  It would be presumptuous of me to attempt it. But I mourn his passing.

East Journey are also from Arnhem Land. In his interview, Rrawun Maymuru spoke movingly and poetically of many themes that struck a deep chord in me: home, place, language and culture, and the sacredness of these fundamentals of human life.


East Journey comes from the Creation story of the first journey of the two sisters who created the land and the people, the 13 different clans of the homeland in North East Arnhem Land. Guwak (the name of the CD, and the title song) is a messenger bird ( who is also Maymuru himself ) who went from west to east, so the music is sending a message to his people and to the world. “For me, language is my voice from my land, my people …. my power … our language has been here for thousands and thousands of years… The ancestor gave us this language so we can understand each other…  and the song talks about Two Sisters creating the land, the people, the nature, giving songs and  boundaries for two moieties ….”

I don’t have the deep thousands-of-years heritage that Maymuru and his people have, and yet I deeply resonate with their journey, and the sacredness that they celebrate, of their home, their place, their language, their culture. And although my own home, the place of my childhood, is lost and I can’t return, and my family’s traces are all but erased from there, I still feel deep ties to it, and honour the nurturing and lessons I learned there. And Maymuru’s words and the music of East Journey take me back to my spirit home, as well as connecting me with their homeland, in spirit.

Maymuru, as a Yolngu person, wants to share his 40,000 year-old culture with white Australia and the world through their music. Long may they live, create music, and spread the message of unity in difference.



Filed under Indigenous music

8 responses to “Guwak: inspiring Indigenous music

  1. Thank you. I know little about this music but understand its values and am eager to learn.

  2. Hello. I admire your openness to culture from other parts of the world! If you click on the link for East Journey, it will take you to their website, and you can listen to the whole CD — their first one, I believe.

  3. I feel a like connection to the Ancients of the Southwest United States—they too revered place as the center of culture. Beautiful words and thoughts, Christina.

    • Hello, Winsomebella. I note you speak of them in the past tense. Is their culture still living?

      • i am not Winsomebella, but I know something about the Southwest. There certainly still are Hispanics and Native Americans in the region. They have no clear links, however, to much more ancient people who built cliff dwellings and pueblos and had highly developed cultures hundreds of years ago and then disappeared. The land here has always been quite dry and a minor rise in temperature could make it uninhabitable–or create vicious wars over scarce resources.

      • thank you. I lived in Colorado for a while, and we visited some of those sites. I remember being awed and moved by their intricate life carved out of such rugged terrain. It is sad that their culture died. Strangely, many of our our indigenous people lived in very dry and, to white men, unforgiving landscapes, yet they survived; they didn’t build settled dwellings, though; they moved around their country (used in a regional sense, according to language groups) according to the seasons, and in the desert areas, the birth rate was very low. It is the coming of white men that has devastated their cultures, but the musical lineage my post is about have survived even that and keep their culture alive, partly through their music and story telling. So culture can be very materially based, or it can be more spiritually nourished. I wonder if a highly developed material culture can also stay spiritually alive, or if the material, and the protection and development of it, tends to take over?

      • Excellent question, especially as we see our own cultures moving so strongly to the material over the spiritual. What I find haunting is that the Anasazi of our desert southwest ended their cultures so long before European outsiders arrived on this continent. And the possibility that they were caught up in violence over climate change and loss of water.
        I suspect that all people who live on the margins–such as deserts–which most people think are useless,are the least likely to be affected by outsiders

      • That makes sense. The last surviving desert people (who hadn’t moved into fringe camps in the towns) came out of the centre of Australia in the 60s, I believe. They were a small family group, very frightened of white culture; I haven’t read their story for a while, and I’m not sure why they gave in, but I think it was ill health.

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