For the sake of a song

Muluk's Repertory

Jimmy Muluk (born circa 1925, died sometime before 1986) was one of the great wangga songmen. In Muluk’s performances we see the art of the wangga songman at its height. His musical virtuosity is matched by no other singer. [68] A Mendheyangal man, his traditional country lay around the Cape Ford area south of the Daly River mouth, but he lived most of his life in and around Belyuen on the Cox Peninsula. For many years he led a dance troupe presenting performances for tourists at Mica Beach and later Mandorah [69] (both on the Cox Peninsula, on the southern shores of Darwin Harbour), where he was recorded by Alice Moyle in 1968.

Wangga Image Figure 5.1 Jimmy Muluk performing for tourists at Mica Beach, early 1970s. Northern Territory Library, Mike Foley collection, photo PH0051/0009, reproduced with the permission of Belyuen community.

By the time Marett first visited Belyuen in 1988, Muluk had already passed away, so we are fortunate to have access to a significant body of archival recordings made by Alice Moyle in the 1960s, which represent the bulk of Jimmy Muluk’s repertory discussed in this chapter. While the main themes of Jimmy Muluk’s songs are ghosts and totemic beings, our understanding of these songs is more limited than for other wangga repertories. Even though Muluk gave Alice Moyle quite detailed prose texts for some songs (reproduced below), these spoken texts do not necessarily enlighten us as to the deeper meanings of songs. The song that the small remaining number of Mendhe speakers contributed most additional detail on was ‘Puliki’, but even here, Muluk’s prose explanation remains relatively opaque. Lysbeth Ford (2007) has previously published linguistic analysis and texts of two Muluk songs.

Wangga Image Figure 5.2 Jimmy Muluk demonstrates the breadth of his musical interests, playing with Johnny Singh’s band at Mica Beach, early 1970s. Northern Territory Library, Mike Foley collection, photo PH0008/0023, reproduced with the permission of Belyuen community.

Although the track-by-track commentary may be somewhat shorter for this repertory, the musical analysis section at the end of the chapter is considerably longer than average, due to Muluk’s love of variation and mastery of his craft. Musically, his repertory is by far the most diverse.

Notes on the recording sample

Table 5.1 summarises the songs from the Muluk repertory discussed in this chapter. We are relying largely on only two of Alice Moyle’s recordings, a burnim-rag ceremony at the Bagot community in Darwin in 1962 (Moy62-26); a 1968 tourist corroboree held at Mandorah, on the Cox Peninsula near Belyuen (performers included Billy Mandji), and a second 1968performance at Delissaville elicited for dance research (Moy68-1; Moy68-2). Moyle also recorded Muluk at the Darwin eisteddfod in 1964 (Moy64-10; Moy64-36) but the recordings are of such poor quality (being recorded inside at a distance from the singers) that we decided not to include them in the present collection. Moyle’s recording of several young boys singing at the 1962 Darwin eisteddfod under Muluk’s direction is, however, of sufficient quality to warrant inclusion (Moy62-27) (track 3). Muluk’s songs have also been widely performed by other singers, some of whom are included here for comparative purposes. These include Muluk’s contemporary Billy Mandji (recorded by Alice Moyle in 1968, track 2), his late grandson, Kenny Burrenjuck (recorded by Marett in 1997 and Furlan in 2002, track 18), and other relatives Colin Worumbu Ferguson (recorded by Marett in 1997 and 2006) (tracks 4 and 6), Thomas Gordon (recorded by Marett and Barwick in 1997) and Robert Gordon (recorded by Marett and Barwick in 1997 and by Marett in 2006) [70] . Worumbu, Thomas Gordon and Robert Gordon are three of the young boys that Jimmy Muluk had trained up to perform at the 1962 and 1964 Darwin eisteddfods.

Track  Song #  Title  Singer  Recording 
Track 01  ‘Puliki’ (Buffalo)  Muluk  Moy68-02-s05 
Track 02  ‘Puliki’ (Buffalo)  Mandji  Moy68-01-s04 
Track 03  ‘Puliki’ (Buffalo)  Boys  Moy62-27-s05 
Track 04  ‘Puliki’ (Buffalo)  Worumbu  Mar97-13A-s05 
Track 05  ‘Tjinbarambara’ (Seagull)  Muluk  Moy68-02-s02 
Track 06  ‘Tjinbarambara’ (Seagull)  Worumbu  Mar97-13A-s04 
Track 07  ‘Wak’ (Crow)  Muluk  Moy68-02-s03 
Track 08  ‘Wörörö’ (Crab)  Muluk  Moy68-02-s04 
Track 09  ‘Pumandjin’ (Place name: a hill)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s21 
Track 10  ‘’ (Shady Tree) Two items  Muluk  Moy62-26-s15_16 
Track 11  ‘’ (Shady Tree)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s17 
Track 12  ‘’ (Shady Tree) Two items  Muluk  Moy62-26-s18_19 
Track 13  ‘Lame Fella’  Muluk  Moy62-26-s06 
Track 14  ‘Lame Fella’  Muluk  Moy62-26-s09 
Track 15  ‘Rtadi-thawara’ (Walking on the Mangroves)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s10 
Track 16  ‘Rtadi-thawara’ (Walking on the Mangroves)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s11_12 
Track 17  ‘Rtadi-thawara’ (Walking on the Mangroves)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s13_14 
Track 18  ‘Rtadi-thawara’ (Walking on the Mangroves)  Burrenjuck  AF2002-03-s03 
Track 19  ‘Lerri’ (Happy Dance)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s22_23 
Track 20  ‘Lerri’ (Happy Dance)  Muluk  Moy62-26-s24 

Table 5.1 Songs from Jimmy Muluk’s repertory discussed in this chapter.

As already pointed out in chapter 2, an important characteristic of Muluk’s performance is the use of highly flexible forms and multiple rhythmic modes, and for this reason we have included multiple versions of a number of his songs. When we have only one recording of a particular version of a song, we have included it even if there are technical problems: track 8, for example, is included even though it suffers from wind noise, and track 20 suffers from fluctuating tape speeds owing to failing batteries.