Reconciliation Concert 2023 – Yothu Yindi with Alinta Barlow and Stewart Barton at Canberra Theatre Centre, Sunday May 28 2023.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
‘Coming together’ was the theme in word, song and practice at Yothu Yindi’s Reconciliation Concert on the eve of the Reconciliation Day public holiday in the Australian Capital Territory.
The 1200-seat theatre audience were at one together in insisting on two encores after their standing ovation. The 7pm show, after support performances by local First Nations singers Stewart Barton and Alinta Barlow, and a 20 minute interval, finally ended at 10.30pm – three and a half very worthwhile hours with great significance for the whole country: a powerful Indigenous Voice sent out from Australia’s Federal Parliamentary city.
Yothu Yindi have a lengthy history [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yothu_Yindi ]. Around ten years before the band was formed in 1986 – by merging a “a white rock group called the Swamp Jockeys” with “an unnamed Aboriginal folk group consisting of Mandawuy Yunupingu, Witiyana Marika and Milkayngu Mununggur” – I had the privilege of meeting that old man Wandjuk Marika, at a drama-in-education conference where he, with a younger man, presented a Yolgnu culture demonstration. A completely new experience for us Balanda, or “Watharr Yolngu” – meaning “White Humans”.
Amazingly, in 1979 Marika was gonged with an Order of the British Empire, despite his continued actions to prevent mining corporations destroying Yolngu land, physically and culturally. He was also a radical within his community, as he told me, because he saw the need for his culture to be taken out to the wider world, not kept protected, private and secret.
Before Marika died in 1987, Yothu Yindi – an expression of unity in diversity, a relationship of difference (child-mother) out of which stems good society – came to pass, merging traditional ‘folk’ music with white ‘rock’.
Meanwhile in 1982 I had taken drama students to the first ROM Ceremony outside traditional country, brought from Maningrida to the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies here in Canberra. “In the languages of Yolngu Matha, the foundation of the relationship between country and its people is called Rom. Rom is a complex word that has no direct translation equivalent in English; it has deep roots that start from the time of creation, extending to the present and into the future. Rom is like a tree, standing firm, not like grass that comes and goes with every season.”
Arafura Swamp Rangers Aboriginal Corporation http://asrac.org.au › culture › rom
A book is now available:
ROM An Aboriginal Ritual of Discovery - Stephen A. Wild (editor)
Regular price $13.00 at AIATSIS Shop
Marika’s desire for ‘coming together’ has spread throughout Australia, as the history of Yothu Yindi shows https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yothu_Yindi and for me was brought to a new stage as we saw not only the mother ‘Yindi’ but the child ‘Yothu’ represented last Sunday by the young emerging local First Nations performers. Our host was Wiradjuri teenager Tahalianna Soward-Mahanga with her own strength of singing voice, song-writing and managing the event with warmth and friendship.
Stewart Barton, born in Canberra and making a point of his performing on Ngunnawal land, presented songs from personal experiences in different relationships, focussed on his second single ‘Waiting on You’. Proud Ngunnawal woman, Alinta Barlow, gave us a series of songs documenting her period of life finding new relationships, recognising and appreciating her love for her father after his death; the change when leaving the family home; and in young adult life producing a withering condemnation of some men’s behaviour towards women in ‘Alpha Man’.
And then as the Yothu Yindi show progressed through songs, many of whose titles are on this delightful running sheet gaffed to a tree somewhere:
It was fascinating too, at least for me, and it could be for you if you have seen my recent review of the book by Don Watson, The Passion of Private White (here and at www.frankmckone2.blogspot.com May 18, 2023) which covers 50 years of Dr Neville White’s relationship as “a bit of the ‘Anthropologist as Hero’” with Yolgnu elder “Tom Gunaminy Bidingal, the man who steadfastingly held on to his Yolgnu social principles”. Here was another story of ‘coming together’ across cultural boundaries along quite different lines from the Marika and Yunupingu Yothu Yindi story.
To have now experienced a Yothu Yindi musical – and I must say, theatrical – performance is a recognition of the strength and importance of First Nations and their value in Australian culture. Treaty, perhaps still their most famous song after some 40 years of Yothu Yindi’s life so far, includes the words:
Now two rivers run their course
Separated for so long
I'm dreaming of a brighter day
When the waters will be one
Let us look forward, then, coming together to vote Yes for Voice, Makarrata, Treaty and Truth in this year’s ultimate Reconciliation Referendum. It’s the least we could do in appreciation for Yothu Yindi’s 2023 Reconciliation Concert.