Singing the Train is an exhibition that tells the story through an Indigenous song of the first railway that ran between Port Hedland and Marble Bar in Western Australia’s Pilbara region from 1910 to 1951. The song sung in Nyamal language was created by the Aboriginal composer and stockman Larry Brown. Larry passed the song to his daughter Topsy Fazeldean Brown who performed it in 1964 at Port Hedland where the linguist Carl Von Brandenstein recorded it.
The recording was then archived at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Now through this collaborative exhibition the song gives a deeper understanding of Australian history, language and culture from an Indigenous perspective.
Singing The Train is the result of a collaboration between Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre in Port Hedland, Revolutions Transport Museum in Perth and AIATSIS in Canberra. With the help and permission of Nyamal language speakers, Aboriginal storytellers and the composer’s grandson, the song opens a window onto a unique way of telling history through song. It presents us with a rare view of an Aboriginal song composed using traditional song styles to express Larry Brown’s feelings inspired by the impressive new phenomenon of the steam train to his country.