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Conceptualizing Noongar Song

  • Clint Bracknell

As of 2011, an estimated 669,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 3 per cent of Australia's total population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015). Of that population, over 30,000 people from a uniquely large urban/rural area in the southwest of Western Australia—including the author of this article—identify as Noongar (also spelled Nyungar). This makes Noongar one of the largest Aboriginal cultural groups in Australia (SWALSC 2009; see figure 1); and yet, the Noongar language is critically endangered, with just 369 speakers acknowledged in the 2011 Australian census (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015). Noongar language is not unique in this regard; the most recent National Indigenous Languages Survey indicates that only “around 120” of more than two hundred Aboriginal languages are still spoken and that “about 13 can be considered strong” (Marmion, Obata, and Troy 2014:xii). Music traditions, often strongly tied to language, are disappearing too: approximately 98 per cent of Aboriginal musical traditions have been lost since colonization (Corn 2012:240). As is the case with most of Aboriginal Australia, traditional Noongar music is primarily vocal, featuring lyrics in the Noongar language. This implies an inextricable link between Noongar language and Noongar song traditions, a co-dependency that is critical for the vitality of both.

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Yearbook for Traditional Music
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