A reader has written to recommend listening to two recent releases of what he describes as remarkable Australian music.
“I have just heard a most incredible Australian CD, Cannot Buy My Soul – The Songs of Kev Carmody. The musician and songwriter, Paul Kelly, pulled together a stellar cast of the cream of the Australian music scene to host a concert playing the songs of Kev Carmody, an Aboriginal drover turned musician.
“Kev Carmody wrote his songs from the 1960s through to the 1980s. There is so much dignity and eloquence in these songs, expressing the story from the soul of the Australian Indigenous people. Sometimes music can express the inexpressible qualities of a country – such is this music.
“Also highly recommended when contemplating Australian indigenous music is Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s widely acclaimed album, Gurrumul. There are many good reasons to recommend his music, which is mostly sung in various Indigenous languages, with scenes drawn from the Aboriginal “Dreaming”.
“Gurrumul, blind since birth and a former member of the internationally acclaimed band Yothu Yindi, has released an album of quiet beauty. His voice has been described as having being touched by angels. If you are interested in some really great Australian music perhaps take a chance to listen to these.”
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who lived to be 92 and spent much of his life in the aristocratic splendour of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, famously opined that the life of primitive man was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, in direct contradiction to Christian theology, was convinced that man had been born good, and that primitive man was indeed the “noble savage”.
Rolf de Heer, a maker of small, quirky and interesting films (“Bad Boy Bubby”, “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories”, “The Tracker”), probably doesn’t subscribe to either notion. In this exquisitely photographed tale from the mythical past he lets the Aborigines of the Arafura wetlands, Arnhem Land, tell their own story. Apart from David Gulpilil, who provides a gentle, teasing voice-over, and his son Jamie, all the parts are played by non-professional actors from the district. Apart from the voice-over, all the dialogue is in the local Aboriginal language (don’t worry, there are sub-titles).
While on a goose egg hunting trip, Older Brother, who has noticed his younger brother’s interest in one of his wives, tells Younger Brother a story from a much earlier time, of another younger brother who yearned after his older brother’s wife. Without giving the story away, the moral is “be careful about what you wish for, you might get it”, but much happens in between. It becomes evident that these “savages”, as well as possessing a robust sense of humour, have a legal system that minimises the damage done by crimes. It seems that neighbouring tribes, whose language our tribe scarcely understands, will play by the same rules. Once honour is satisfied, the matter is at an end. The story gives us an insight as to how Aboriginal society remained stable for so long prior to contact with Europeans.
It is hard to comment on the acting, other than to say the characters seem completely authentic. The tribe’s sorcerer, for instance, likes to choose a bone to wear in his nose to suit his mood or the occasion, just as your local GP might like to select a bow tie before opening his surgery. But I have to mention Crusoe Kusddal as Ridjimiraril, the older brother in the myth. His language means little to us, but his expression everything.
The scenes on the goose-hunt, which book-end the main story, are in black and white, a tribute to earlier photographers in Arnhem Land, but most of the film is in colour, which does full justice to the landscape. This is no Garden of Eden and the necessity to build tree platforms while camping in the swamp is evidence of that (though we see no actual crocodiles). Yet the Aborigines manage to live within the environment without despoiling it or each other. Theirs is a patriarchal society but women are protected by the rules as well as by their menfolk. The movie is a fascinating glimpse into the culture, told in a disarmingly humorous fashion, by the people themselves. One should not be too misty-eyed about this since the cast probably watch “The Simpsons” via satellite at home, but they have given us both a droll tale and some food for thought.
Author: Philby-3 from Sydney, Australia