Strategies for sustaining Aboriginal song and dance in the modern world: The Mowanjum and Fitzroy River Valley Communities of WA

By the Faculty of Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

Song and dance are very important parts of Indigenous Australian cultures and communities. By looking at ways to sustain those in danger, these traditions can be handed on for future generations.

The technology

Dr Sally Treloyn, an ethnomusicologist at the University in the Victorian College of the Arts and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is researching ways of identifying strategies to sustain endangered song and dance traditions.

Dr Treloyn was the recipient of an ARC Linkage Grant and has been working with the Mowanjum and Fitzroy River Valley communities in WA in partnership with the Mowanjum Art and Cultural Centre and the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre.

The partnership

Research is conducted in partnership with Aboriginal communities to try to identify strategies that sustain endangered song and dance traditions.

This project focuses on the public song and dance traditions of the northern Kimberley and is particularly dedicated to supporting stakeholders to uncover, identify and manage archival records of their cultural heritage.

Discovering and documenting these legacy recordings, as well as developing and testing ways to support community-led repatriation and dissemination in partnership with community repositories and media centres, are key strategies to support the vitality of song and dance traditions in these regions.

Collaborative research and development with local organisations has been the key to the success of the research. Supported by the project, the Mowanjum Art and Cultural Centre established Barnjamedia (the Barnja media centre). Through collaborative initiatives such as the Junba project and the Wurnannangga Storylines digital community repository led by coordinator Katie Breckon, the ARC funded project and Barnjamedia supports community training in digital archiving, digital storytelling, song and dance documentation, and applied research.

The outcome

This research has produced a number of publications and national and international presentations, co-authored with community researchers Rona Googninda Charles, Matthew Dembal Martin and Sherika Nulgit.

These outputs document and critically examine processes of intercultural collaboration, decolonising research practices and the efficacy of recording, repatriation, documentation and dissemination in supporting the vitality of public song and dance traditions.

Collaborative projects like this one are instrumental in supporting Aboriginal song and dance traditions and for ensuring that research of the past and present is relevant to cultural heritage stakeholders now and in the future.