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Image of Aborignal art

Image by esther1721, Pixabay, CC0 1.0 Universal

By Eisha Farrukh

In 2014 Ken Wyatt, Australia’s first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, urged the public to not ‘lose momentum’ in the push for constitutional recognition as the referendum date was and is constantly delayed, an acknowledgement long overdue for the original inhabitants of Australia. But there is a greater issue, even beyond the question of legal recognition, that the Indigenous communities face in preserving their culture. The Indigenous cultures of Australia, rich with 65,000 years of tradition, are faced with the threat of being lost and forgotten due to our increasingly globalised environment, promoting the process of assimilation and cultural integration. Luckily, 21st-century media platforms have enabled the preservation of practices that were previously passed down intergenerationally through the oral tradition from elders.

For the sake of a song: Wangga songmen and their repertories documents a genre of public dance songs of the Daly region in northwest Australia, through a compilation of translations, recordings and explanations of over 150 songs. Formerly in the Wangga tradition new songs were dreamt as the others were forgotten. In the past decade, lost songs and repertories have not been replaced at quite the same rate, prompting the need to record their hauntingly beautiful melodies to prevent the further loss of Aboriginal traditions. Publicly accessible through a website, the project represents 50 years’ worth of rich archival records of photographs and audio recordings from the Belyuen and Wadeye community open for all to teach and learn for future generations.

Even though these resources are available in open access, Indigenous communities often have limited access to the internet due to their geographical locality. Hence Sydney University Press plans to release the music on CDs. The issue of access is also of concern for the Bawurra Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation with the mission of bridging the illiteracy gap of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children. The foundation aims to publish community-written books, short stories and illustrations in a digital format, which are loaded onto eReaders and gifted to schools so that they can be used communally without internet.

The contribution of mass media such as print, digital records, music and photography has assisted heavily in the process of cultural conservation. Regardless of when the referendum for conditional recognition takes place, there is some comfort in knowing that the stories, rituals and traditions of the traditional custodians of our land are being protected.

Eisha Farrukh is a Media and Law Student interning at Sydney University Press and a Director of Bawurra Foundation. She loves a good discussion, fine coffee, and snapchat dog filters.

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