The songlines that traverse the Australian landscape hold the unique knowledges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They tell of the law, history and culture of diverse groups across the country and have been created, maintained and practiced for thousands of years. This practice, however, has been dramatically disrupted by colonial pressures since European arrival. Additionally, many of the song men and women are aging, and there are concerns across the country that these people will pass without the opportunity to share their knowledge.
The SONGLINES project is an AIATSIS Foundation initiative to revive, record and strengthen the songs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a critical part of our nation’s unique cultural heritage.
The project aims to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in maintaining and renewing their songs so that they may be secured for future generations. By connecting communities with archived song recordings and documents, the project supports the revitalisation of songs no longer sung and by recording ‘at-risk’ songs the project ensures that songs are preserved and can be accessed into the future.
Yillal is the Guugu Yimidhirr word for a songline, and the name adopted for the first iteration of the SONGLINES project. The project began in Cape York, working with the Cape York Land Council and Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs). Working first with Guugu Yimidhirr people in Hope Vale, AIATSIS staff have returned song material from the AIATSIS archive, and discussed priorities for song recording and revitalisation.
Guugu Yimidhirr Elder, Frankie Deemal expressed the community's needs;
“Sadly a lot of that kind of knowledge has been lost, but these old fellas here on the recording, they’ve got it, there’s no doubt. What we’ve got to do with those songs, we’ve got to teach the kids. You’ve just got to revive it… you’ve just got to write it out and teach people. Somebody’s got to learn it and that’s what we want young people to do.”
The project team have worked with Mr Deemal to transcribe and translate older songs so that they can be learned and sung again. They also recorded a number of important songs in Guugu Yimidhirr to be archived at AIATSIS for preservation and community access into the future. The project team will continue to work with communities in Cape York to support and celebrate song traditions.