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September 16, 2010
MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE: ABMUSN Simon Bartlett with Ngarukuruwala ('We Sing Songs') female
group from Bathurst Island, before performing at the Darwin Festival in Civic Square.
Photo: ABIS James Whittle
A cultural awakening
LITTLE did ABMUSN Simon
Bartlett know that a seemingly
simple request for musical help
would result in him being given
his 'dreaming' and the dance that went
with being a member of the Water
A chance encounter saw him travel to
Bathurst Island, meet the Strong Women
and their choir and feature in the Darwin
"I had studied with a woman named
Genevieve Campbell, who is studying for
a PhD in Tiwi music," ABMUSN Bartlett
"Genevieve asked me if I could help
with arranging some of the music and
play in the band that accompanies the
choir, in preparation for a series of per-
formances at the Darwin Festival.
"She had been working with the choir
for a number of years in a project called
"I made a request through my division
to assist Ngarukuruwara as a representa-
tive of the Navy
Band, and it was
Puruntatameri is a
of the Nguiu com-
As the chair-
person of the
Group she had
been involved in
all aspects of the
organisation of the
felt that young
strong role models
and a reconnection
with their culture
and language to
give them an alter-
native to the negative influences in their
"The group wanted to share their
knowledge so it survives into the future,"
Workshop sessions were held in the
communities of Nguiu, Milikapiti and
Pirlangimpi (Tiwi Islands) for children,
parents and grandparents.
"We had recently repatriated ethno-
graphic recordings of traditional songs
and stories and people discussed mutual
obligations among individuals, family
and community and arrived at meaningful
statements for use as lyrics.
"We wanted these positive mes-
sages of pride, purpose, self-respect and
empowerment to be worked into a new
song, to be learnt and performed by all
"Old Tiwi melodies were incorporated
into contemporary music styles to create
a song that spoke across generations," Ms
ABMUSN Bartlett said he was given
a CD ahead of time and then spent two
days on Bathurst Island rehearsing with
"We then spent a day at Charles
Darwin University as artists in residence,
doing further rehearsal," he said.
"Basically my main role was to play,
with some input into the arrangements.
The group rehearsed cooperatively, so we
all made contributions over the three days
Ms Puruntatameri said the Strong
Women performed at ceremonial and
social gatherings and had a strong tradi-
tion of reflecting in their songs the impor-
tant events of their community, as well as
telling traditional stories about their land
and their heritage.
"Identifying themselves with this
group gives the women a sense of pride,
identity and belonging," she said.
"Lyrics in modern and old Tiwi were
young people to the
old language as well
as engaging them
in the process of
concepts of ancestry
and connection to
country from their
"The process of
to create, perform
and record this song
and produce a CD
engaged people in a
group project, con-
necting families and
helping to preserve
culture, language and
Bartlett said it was an
"To spend two days in the commu-
nity on Bathurst Island gave me a great
insight into the challenges of life in an
indigenous community, and how the com-
munity deals with them," he said.
"To be a part of a major festival and to
get to know the ladies was just brilliant.
"As time went by and we got to
know each other better, they gave me my
dreaming (Water Buffalo) and taught me
"They then made me perform it in
front of the capacity crowd at the festival.
"They truly are the keepers of the
"We performed at both days of the
Festival and the crowd wouldn't let us off
the stage -- both performances ran well
"I hope that we can lend support in
the future, depending on our operational
demands," ABMUSN Bartlett said.
Karri ngawa ngumpuriyi kapi
Ngini wutawa walima api
ngawa kuwayi ngumpurumi
kapi ngawa ampi
When we enter our country we
can feel their spirit calling us;
nginaki pupuni ngirramini
Ngini yinukuni ngarimuwu
Make proper law to live well for a
Nakawarra ngawayati ponki
Ngawa anuka nginti matang-
iliparra ngawiyati, ngawurrani
To share, to keep our peace and
Traditional Tiwi song
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