News

Songs, dreamings, ghosts... and an award


13 December 2006

Professor Marett describes how Aboriginal musicians receive songs both from an eternal realm known as The Dreaming, and from the ghosts of deceased ancestors.
Professor Marett describes how Aboriginal musicians receive songs both from an eternal realm known as The Dreaming, and from the ghosts of deceased ancestors.

A University of Sydney professor's book about a type of Aboriginal musical performance that links the living with the dead has won a major award for Indigenous scholarship.

Professor Allan Marett's book, Songs, Dreamings and Ghosts, is a study of wangga, a musical and ceremonial genre of the Aboriginal people in the Daly region of the Northern Territory. It was announced the winner of the 2006 Stanner Award this week.

Professor Marett describes how Aboriginal musicians receive songs both from an eternal realm known as The Dreaming, and from the ghosts of deceased ancestors. His illustrated book is accompanied by notated music examples and a 28-track music CD.

"The melodies are extraordinarily beautiful and probably the most elaborate you have in any traditional Aboriginal songs," he said.

Wangga is performed at ceremonies marking profound change in a person's life - including the mortuary ceremony, designed to take the recently deceased across to the society of the dead, Professor Marett said.

An expert reader for the award said the book was one of the most exciting he had read about traditional culture. "It is contemporary in its attitudes, forward-looking, respectful, trenchant, cerebral, artistic, poetic and passionate. Marett is awed by what he has seen. He communicates clearly his wonder and admiration for the Indigenous achievement, without losing sight of the technical needs of the analysis," the reader said.

Awarded annually by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Stanner Award is made to the best scholarly published contribution to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Studies. Named after the late anthropologist Emeritus Professor W.E.H. (Bill) Stanner, the Award consists of a certificate and a $1000 cash prize.

AIATSIS Chairperson Professor Mick Dodson said Songs was an engaging book that benefited from Professor Barrett's relationship with the Wadeye and Belyuen communities.

"Music and ceremony are the basis of traditional Aboriginal culture and Professor Marett has portrayed these so well by developing a meaningful and respectful relationship with Aboriginal people from these communities over 20 years," Professor Dodson said.

"The result is an outstanding contribution to our knowledge of traditional Aboriginal culture."


Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100