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Video: Nick Evans on the language of poetry in Indigenous Australian song

Nicholas Evans, Shape

Date: 27 September 2018

In February of this year the Centre's Director, Professor Nick Evans, delivered a public lecture on Indigenous* poetry and song entitled 'Waving to the other side':

Lecture: Waving to the other side: language of poetry in indigenous Australian song

Speaker: Professor Nick Evans, Australian National University

When: Thursday 8 February, 6:30pm – 7:30pm

Where: Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre A, The University of Melbourne

Nick Evans"Poetry and song are inextricably interwoven in most indigenous Australian traditions. Yet the poetic masterpieces found across the continent are little-known outside their immediate communities, tied up as they are with the intricacies of the languages they are sung in. As a result, Australia has little awareness of the many hundreds of Shakespeares, Keatses, and Bob Dylans whose poetic masterpieces are composed in First Nations languages. The same goes for the continent’s rich and varied indigenous musical traditions. In this talk I will give a glimpse into the richness of the poetic language found across a number of Australian indigenous traditions, focussing on allusive subtlety, inner feeling, multilingual characterisation, the deployment of vocabulary and grammar for expressive nuance, and the role of song in maintaining language knowledge through the powerful emotional charge it generates. 

The title of my talk is taken from some lines of a Mayali song by the late and great Djorli Laywanga, a Dalabon songman: Kurebe ngadjowkke ngawayudwayudme, marrek berlnayiii, marrek nuk berlnayiii. ‘From the other side of the river I am waving, I couldn’t see your arm waving back, Maybe I missed your arm waving’. I hope that the close readings of several poetic masterpieces to be undertaken during the lecture will help span what we see and hear across the river."


*(The organisers of this public lecture have made every effort to consult with and obtain consent from all relevant Indigenous communities before publishing this video.)

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University