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Manyardi songs make us remember: Traditional custodians present the Inyjalarrku ‘Mermaid’ song-set from western Arnhem Land

Australian National University, Shape, Wellsprings

Date: 14 November 2018

Date: 6 - 7:15pm, Wednesday 5 December 2018 (refreshments to follow)

Venue: Molonglo Theatre, First Floor, Crawford Building #132, 1 Lennox Crossing, The Australian National University

Speakers: David Manmurulu, Jenny Manmurulu, Rupert Manmurulu, Jamie Milpurr , Isabel O’Keeffe and Ruth Singer



Songs hold emotions and memories of people, places and earlier times. This is true of song traditions in general, but even more so for the Inyjalarrku ‘Mermaid’ song-set from western Arnhem Land, that has been passed down over three generations of the Manmurulu family. In this public lecture, songman David Manmurulu, his wife Jenny and son Rupert  will perform music and dance from the Inyjalarrku song-set. They will discuss with a musicologist and a linguist how music, dance, memory and emotion are tied up in manyardi (song).

We will hear how performance of Inyjalarrku songs brings about emotional interactions between performers and audience. For example, the audience can be moved by the performance and say Ah kangmarrangulin! (‘Oh, they’re breaking my heart!’). Like the first rains of the wet season, also described with this Mawng language verb, music brings about a change in emotions, often reminding people of earlier times, people passed and places long not visited. Examining the way that Mawng conveys these ideas reveals a different perspective on how Inyjalarrku songs bring their performers and audiences together to share emotional experiences and memories. 

David Manmurulu is the senior songman and custodian of the Inyjalarrku ‘Mermaid’ song-set, which he inherited from his father George Winungudj (MBE). David is in high demand as a performer and cultural consultant across Arnhem Land and is on the steering committee of the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia. He teaches Inyjalarrku dancing to male students at Warruwi school and is fluent in English, Mawng, Kunwinjku and Yolngu-matha.

Jenny Manmurulu is the senior Indigenous teacher at Warruwi Community School and is currently furthering her teaching qualifications at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. She has helped to develop an Indigenous cultural program for Warruwi students, which involves teaching Inyjalarrku ‘Mermaid’ dances to female students. Jenny is the lead female dancer for Inyjalarrku songs and is fluent in English, Mawng, Kunwinjku and Kunbarlang.

Isabel O’Keeffe is a linguist and musicologist who has been working with communities in western Arnhem Land to document the manyardi/kunborrk song traditions and languages of the region. She is currently a Research Associate at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music working on a project to document the endangered Kunbarlang language of western Arnhem Land.

Ruth Singer is a linguist based at the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU. She researches multilingual language practices in Arnhem Land and works with speakers of Indigenous languages at Warruwi Community, including speakers of Mawng, Kunbarlang, Yolngu-matha and Kunwinjku.

With thanks also to:

Reuben Brown (not attending) who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne. For his PhD, Reuben collaborated with ceremony leaders in Gunbalanya and Warruwi, Northern Territory, to return archival recordings of song and research the significance of the kun-borrk/manyardi song tradition in contemporary society.



This lecture has been proudly funded by the Garrurru Education and Employment Strategy of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

(Main image: A mamurrng [diplomacy] ceremony at Warruwi in 2012. Roy Mangirryang advances with the mamurrng pole, holding it out toward the recipients as he stamps the ground during the performance of songs named Yanajanak [stone country spirits]. In the background, Harrison Cooper and Charlie Mangulda sing, supported by Solomon Nangamu, Maurice Gawayaku and Rupert Manmurulu, who led the presentation. Photo by Martin Thomas.)

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