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Notation of 'Curlew'

The notation comes from a group of clan songs, or emeba, from Groote Eylandt and were recorded in 1962 by Alice Moyle. The Curlew song (duwalya) comes from the Warnungwamadada, or ‘West Wind’ clan. It is owned by the Anindilyakwa elder, Gula Lalara, who shared much of his cultural knowledge with Alice and dictated the texts of many clan songs.

The song, performed in a mortuary context, guides the departed spirit to Burralkwa, the Land of the Dead by mentioning place names. Two songs are used in this context. If the journey began within Groote Eylandt, Curlew would be one of the guiding songs but if the journey began on the opposite mainland and crossed the sea to Groote Eylandt, Stingray and/ or other songs about sea creatures would have been sung.

The Curlew melody had originally been used for a song in the Nunggubuyu language, which is spoken at Rose River in eastern Arnhem Land. Gula Lalara sang this song for Alice Moyle in 1962 with Nanigila playing the didjeridu. The text of the song, ngarningka numerrumungkwada waruma, which means “the tops of their wings are twisted again” refers to the Curlew. Both Curlew and Stingray songs display the virtuosity of the didjeridu players who use both upper and lower tones in an intricate pattern, as can be seen in the notation.

Field Recordings (including 'Curlew') and notes by Alice Moyle are available on CD entitled:

'Songs From the Northern Territory'

Aboriginal Music from North-eastern Arnhem Land including Groote Eylandt (Clan Songs with Didjeridu; Spoken Song Words).

This CD is available for purchase from the AIATSIS Bookshop.

Companion Booklets

Many of Alice Moyle's field recordings were published as LP discs with accompanying booklets. Notations, texts and analyses of songs appeared in these original works. When the recordings were issued as cassettes, and later as CDs, abbreviated versions of the information were included as liner notes for the cassettes or smaller booklets for the CDs. The images below show the covers of four of the original booklets which can be found in the AIATSIS Library. The recordings can be ordered from Aboriginal Studies Press.

Songs From the Kimberleys
Songs From North Queensland
Aboriginal Sound Instruments
Last updated: 30 June 2023