Joe Birrarri, a Murrinh-patha-speaking Dimirnin clansman and one of the composers of thanpa and church thanpa songs, also composed his own repertory of wangka songs. Wangka is a style of didjeridu-accompanied song normally composed and owned by speakers of Daly languages (e.g. Marri Tjavin, Marri Amu, Mendhe, Emi, Batjamalh), whose traditional country lies to the north of Wadeye (see Marett 2005).

Joe Birrarri received his wangka songs in a dream in which he was visited by a yawa, the spirit of a deceased Marri Amu clansman. Because he was not a Marri Amu speaker, Joe Birrarri could not translate these wangka songs from the Marri Amu spirit language used by the yawa in his dream into either everyday Marri Amu or into his own language Murrinh-patha, so the songs remained unintelligible to both the singer and his audience.

Joe Birrarri playing didjeridu

Joe Birrarri playing marluk (didjeridu) circa 1941. Photographer unknown (photo courtesy of Wadeye Aboriginal Language Centre collection).


Joe Birrarri's wangka songs were recorded by W.E.H. Stanner in 1954, by Lesley Reilly in 1974 and by Michael Walsh in 1972. After Joe Birrarri's death nobody else was able to carry on the repertory, so it is no longer performed at Wadeye.