Since Port Keats was established as a Catholic mission in the 1930s, there has been a strong current of songs in both traditional and modern styles with Christian themes. Our project only deals with songs in traditional genres, so does not document hymns or other songs in Western styles.
The malgarrin series, composed by
Mulindjin in the 1930s, was associated with his
prophetic dream in which he was visited by the Virgin
Mary (see Stockton 1985). Some but not all of the songs
in the series have overtly Christian themes.
In the early 1970s, the Catholic church encouraged
Aboriginal parishioners in various communities throughout
Australia to compose songs with Christian themes in
indigenous styles. At Wadeye (Port Keats) songs were
composed in all three main ceremonial song genres (Murriny
Patha djanba, Marri Tjevin wangga
and Marri Ngarr lirrga), giving rise to
repertories known locally as 'church djanba',
'church lirrga' and 'church wangga'
(see Barwick 2003 for an account of the Marri Ngarr
'church lirrga' repertory).
On 24 February 1973 a group of people from Port Keats
(Wadeye) performed church djanba and
lirrga at the Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, on the
occasion the First National Aboriginal Mass celebrated as
part of the 40th International Eucharistic Congress,
witnessed by over 30,000 people, including the visiting
Polish Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul
II). The event was broadcast nationally on ABC TV (see
Australian Broadcasting Commission film 1973, in References). The service was attended
by Cardinal Karol Josef Wojtla Church djanba
and church lirrga songs are still performed
occasionally today during church services in Wadeye,
but church wangga seems to have fallen out of
use some years ago.
There are also a number of hymns that have been translated
into Murriny Patha, some by the SIL linguist Chester
Street, who with his wife Lyn Street worked at the school
in Wadeye and also helped to produce a number of cassettes
of Christian songs.There are also a number of
locally-composed religious songs in Murriny Patha. The
Wadeye Aboriginal Sound Archive includes many locally-made
recordings of church songs and hymns sung by the Wadeye