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How is Australian sovereignty being acted out at home and abroad in the second century of federation? In this agenda setting book, Suvendrini Perera brings together leading thinkers to map the imaginative and political space claimed as  'Our Patch'. Contributions by Tim Anderson, Ruth Balint, Anthony Burke, Maxine Chi, Maria Giannacopoulos, Suvendrini Perera, Henry Reynolds, Jon Stratton, Dinesh Wadiwel and Irene Watson. To order, please contact Network Books at 08 9266 3717 with your order details. ...
Wednesday, 23rd July 2014
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music

By Clinton Walker, Annandale: Pluto Press, 2000, 350 pages, paperback, $30.00. Reviewed by Karl Neuenfeldt in the September 2001 issue.

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Music has always served as a significant form of artistic expression for Aboriginal Australians. Extant pre-colonial musical (and dance) forms in parts of northern Australia attest to its vibrancy and ability to incorporate new influences yet remain firmly rooted in ancient traditions. Although colonisation, missionisation and christianity impacted negatively on many Aborigines in southern 'settled' Australia, music continued in many forms. Some forms were unique hybrids of the diverse European and North American musical traditions Aborigines encountered inmission settlements, on cattle and sheepstations, and through media. Country music was readily adopted and adapted to suit Aboriginal aesthetics and to make use of available instruments and performance venues.

In a contemporary context, aside from entertainment purposes, music has also been assigned (or assumed) the role of educating and aestheticising non-Aboriginal Australians about Aboriginal music, culture, and politics. Contemporary music, whether country or pop or reggae, reveals not only the breadth of Aboriginal music practice but also the depths of contemporary Aboriginal identity formation through artistic expression. In a general sense, similar to other Indigenous people around the world, music functions as a powerful, sustainable, and affordable means of constructing 'identitynarratives'.1 It helps Aborigines (and mainstream society) locate themselves within the past, space and culture. The story underlying Clinton Walker'sBuried Country is the use of country music in the cultural production of just such an identity narrative. It locates Aboriginal musicians, writers and audiences within particular socio-cultural milieus and details how a particular genre became a vehicle of artistic expression for individuals and communities. One of the strengths of Walker's book is its recognition and detailing of how Aboriginal music has always been deeply embedded both in musical and extra-musical influences and issues. The songs may have been 'simple'in form and instrumentation but what they expressed and how they expressed it was (and still is) complex. The book provides an excellent overview of those complexities and the musicians and communities they entertained and chronicled over several generations. Walker is an experienced music journalist with an excellent grasp of the realities of the music industry and where music fits within popular culture.

Consequently, his analysis of musicians and live and recorded performances is firmly grounded in the realities of making a living by making music and making a culture by making music. Those two strands of the life and work styles of musicians are interwoven in the book and that is one reason it is such a compelling read. Not all of the musicians were 'professional' in the sense they could make a full-time living from music. However, they were very important to their communities, providing entertainment in sometimes dire economic and social situations within a deeply segregated and racialised Australian society. Walker is at pains to provide overviews of those contexts, without resorting to heavy handed criticisms of other times, places, and situations.

An important aim Walker notes in an interview about why he researched and wrote the book goes to the crux of music as just one of many Aboriginal artistic means to political and economic ends:

In Buried Country, I wanted to point out that while Aboriginal art was such a big thing in the Australian art scene after the revival at Papunya in 1971, there were other precedents for Aboriginal people's culture in the white world. Jimmy Little had been singing for 20 years, there were boxers, there were country-and-western singers...2

There are 'country-and-western' heroes and heroines aplenty in Buried Country and Walker includes insightful and generally well-researched chapters on the major musicians. The historical scope is from earlier artists such as Dougie Young and Georgia Lee (Dulcie Rama Pitt) to contemporary ones such as Jimmy Little, Roger Knox and Troy Cassar-Daley. Walker has done a commendable job of gathering up research materials from many sources and interviews. Very little has been written on some of the artists so having it all in one book is a boon to futurere searchers. The sheer scope of the book over diverse, distinct and dispersed Aboriginal communities and musicians means some things get more emphasis than others but overall it succeeds as social and musical history.

Walker's writing style treads a line between the potential superficiality of popular journalism and the potential stodginess of academic discourse. He has identified his readership as people who are intelligent and interested but do not want to get bogged down in grand theorising orpedantic arguments. An important part of keeping Buried Country accessible is the copious use of excellent photos and personalised accounts. The musicians come across as talented and hard working performers driven by personal reasons to make music but always doing it within a particularly Aboriginal view of the world and their place within it. Whatever their personal ambitions as musicians, many have a political agenda although in some case its more covert than overt. Just being on stage performing constituted a political statement in many instances and Walker always provides the political context of the different eras in which the musicians worked.

Interestingly, Buried Country is part of a well-presented multi-media package. Thedocumentary and double CD complement the book and taken together provide the reader/viewer with some fine music, interesting stories, and useful insights into what it was like for Aboriginal musicians to make music to and for their communities. Many now perform country (and otherstyles of) music to the wider Australian society, which indicates some things within Australian society have changed for the better and music has been a catalyst.

Notes
1 Denis-Constant Martin, 'The Choices ofIdentity', Social Identities, 1995, vol 1, no 1, pp 5-20.
2 Chris McAuliffe, 'Going Under-Ground: An Interview with Clinton Walker', Meanjin, no 2, 2000, pp 153-165.

Citation

  • Karl Neuenfeldt. 'Review: Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music by Clinton Walker' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), September 2001. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 23 July 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • This book documents the long and rich tradition of Aboriginal country music. The product of five years of research, it shows how country music provided a cultural outlet for Aboriginal people long before \'dot-paintings'' became fashionable.

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Pluto Press

  • Pluto Press is a wholly Australian-owned, independent publishing house specialising in agenda-setting and thought-provoking books.

NRB September 2001

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