For the sake of a song

The Walakandha wangga Repertory

For the last thirty years or so, the Walakandha wangga, a repertory composed by Wadeye-based Marri Tjavin singers, has been the most prominent wangga repertory performed there. Initiated at Wadeye in the late 1960s by Stan Mullumbuk (1937-1980), the Walakandha wangga repertory has come to function as one arm of the tripartite ceremonial system organising ceremonial life at Wadeye, in complementary relationship with its sister repertories djanba and the muyil lirrga. As discussed in chapter 1, one striking common feature of these three new repertories is their high proportion of text in normal human language: Marri Tjavin in the case of the Walakandha wangga, Marri Ngarr in the case of the Muyil lirrga and Murriny Patha in the case of djanba.

The dominant themes of the Walakandha wangga repertory are related to the Walakandha—the Marri Tjavin ancestral dead—and their activities as givers of wangga songs and custodians of the living descendants. Several specific ancestors, the deceased kin of living Marri Tjavin involved in creation and performance of the repertory, are named in songs. These include Munggum, Berrida, Wutjelli, Munggumurri and Tjagawala, as well as an oblique reference in ‘Yendili No. 5’ (track 29) to the mother of Frank Dumoo, the current Marri Tjavin ritual leader. Songs refer, often by metaphorical means, to death, which is likened to the going out of the tide or to being hit by a breaker (this oft-used metaphor can also symbolise more general misfortune). In ‘Karra Yeri-ngina’ (track 34), the song-giving Walakandha expresses his sadness at leaving his children behind as he goes back to his totemic home at Pumut. There are also numerous references to ceremony, one of the most explicit of which occurs in ‘Yenmilhi No. 1 (track 20). One song, ‘Nginimb-andja’ (track 4) also refers to the role that Walakandha play in keeping their descendants safe from strangers.

Longing for return to Marri Tjavin ancestral country, which lies to the north of Wadeye, is another common theme. Many songs contain the expression nidin-ngina ‘my dear country’. Many specific places are named. Foremost amongst these is the important hill, Yendili, one of the places where Walakandha ancestors reside. Other songs name the Marri Tjavin outstation Nadirri, located at Kubuwemi, and various coastal places nearby, such as Truwu beach, the headland Rtidim, the mouth of the Moyle River at Dhenggi-diyerri and the Kinyirr Dreaming site at the end of the airstrip. Inland sites near another Marri Tjavin outstation at Perrederr include: Yenmungirini (the Pumut (Headache) Dreaming site); the hill Yenmilhi where Walakandha ancestors dwell; the billabongs at Lhambumen; the ceremonial grounds at Pelhi and Ngumali and so on. There is even mention of one Marri Ammu site, Pumurriyi (song 24), underlining the fact that although the Marri Tjavin compose these songs, the Marri Ammu form company with and dance alongside their Marri Tjavin countrymen in ceremony.

Notes on the recording sample

The tracks included in this chapter contains the texts of all known Walakandha wangga songs and are set out in table 8.1. [101] At least one performance of each song is included on the CD; where songs exist in a number of versions (for example with different rhythmic modes or with different melodies), each version is included. While there must have been other songs that were never recorded, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s, what survives here is a substantial and important corpus of thirty-four song compositions. Most of the songs set out in table 8.1 have been discussed in earlier publications: the early and transitional wangga were discussed in Marett (2007) while many of those from the golden age to the present were discussed in Songs, dreamings and ghosts (Marett, 2005).

We divide our discussion of the Walakandha wangga repertory into five parts:

A: the early period songs, composed by Stan Mullumbuk (1937-circa 1980) in the period from the early 1960s to about 1980;

B: a performance by Thomas Kungiung (1934-1993) which we consider as transitional, containing four Stan Mullumbuk songs and two early compositions of his own;

C: the main body of Walakandha wangga songs, created by a number of different composers during a ‘golden age’ that spanned the years between 1986-1996;

D: a body of songs composed by Philip Mullumbuk and Les Kundjil that came to the fore after Kungiung’s death in 1993; and

E: two miscellaneous songs that have a somewhat tangential relationship to the Walakandha wangga tradition.

Track  Song #  Title  Recording  Composer 
A: Early period (Stan Mullumbuk’s songs)  
Track 01  (i-a)  Walakandha No. 8  Kof86-03-s07  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 02  ii  Walakandha No. 6  Rei74-01-s15  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 03  iii  Wutjelli No. 2  Rei74-01-s16  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 04  iv  Nginimb-andja (2 items)  Rei74-01-s19  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 05  Walakandha No. 7   Mar99-04-s18  S. Mullumbuk 
B: Transition from the early period  
Track 06  i-a  Walakandha No. 8a (RM 5c)  ?Hodd82-s01  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 07  i-b  Walakandha No. 8b (RM 4a)  ?Hodd82-s04  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 08  vi-a  Walakandha No. 9a (RM 1+4a)  ?Hodd82-s02  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 09  vi-b  Walakandha No. 9b (RM1)  ?Hodd82-s03  S. Mullumbuk 
Track 10  vii  Yendili No. 6  ?Hodd82-s06  T. Kungiung 
Track 11  viii  Yenmilhi No. 2  ?Hodd82-s08  T. Kungiung 
C: Golden age (1986-1996)  
Track 12  Kubuwemi  Mar88-23-s02  W. Dumoo 
Track 13  Yendili No. 1  Mar88-23-s03  W. Dumoo 
Track 14  Yendili No. 2  Mar88-23-s08  M. Dumoo 
Track 15  Walakandha No. 1  Mar88-24-s02  Unknown 
Track 16  5a  Truwu [Truwu A melody]  Mar88-39-s02  T. Kungiung 
Track 17  5b  Truwu [Truwu B melody]  Mar99-02-s14  L. Kundjil 
Track 18  5c  Truwu [Truwu A/B melody]  Eni92-s08  T. Kungiung & L.Kundjil 
Track 19  Nadirri  Mar88-30-s15  Unknown 
Track 20  Yenmilhi No. 1  Mar88-54-s03  J. Dumoo 
Track 21  Mirrwana  Mar88-40-s11  T. Kungiung 
Track 22  Wutjelli No. 1  Eni92-s11  T. Kungiung 
Track 23  10  Walakandha No. 2  Eni92-s06  T. Kungiung & T. Dumoo 
Track 24  11  Pumurriyi (2 items)  Kof86-01/2-s15  T. Kungiung 
Track 25  12  Thidha nany (2 items)   Kof86-01/2-s11  T. Kungiung 
Track 26  13  Dhembedi–ndjen   Kof86-01/2-s12  M. Kungiung 
Track 27  14  Tjagawala  Kof86-03/4-10  W. Dumoo 
Track 28  15  Karra  Kof86-03/4-09  Unknown 
Track 29  16  Yendili No. 5  WASA23-s06  W. Dumoo 
D: Later period (Les Kundjil and Philip Mullumbuk’s songs)  
Track 30  17  Yendili No. 3  Mar98-15-s06  L. Kundjil 
Track 31  18  Lhambumen  Mar99-04-s16  L. Kundjil 
Track 32  19  Yendili No. 4  Eni92-s24  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 33  20  Walakandha No. 3  Mar99-04-s07  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 34  21  Karra Yeri-ngina  Mar99-04-s08  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 35  22  Walakandha No. 4  Mar99-04-s10  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 36  23  Walakandha No. 5  Mar98-15-s21  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 37  24  Kinyirr  Mar99-04-s21  P. Mullumbuk 
E: Miscellaneous songs  
Track 38  25  Wedjiwurang   Croc04-01-s01  P. Mullumbuk 
Track 39  26  Tjinmel  Mar98-07-s11  A. Piarlum 

Table 8.1 Songs from the Walakandha wangga repertory discussed in this chapter, showing the five groupings adopted in the discussion.

We should point out that there are some important differences in the corpus discussed in this chapter compared to the songs used as the basis for Marett’s previously published discussions of Walakandha wangga songs (Marett, 2005, 2007). First, Marett’s discussion of the early and transitional wangga included eight versions of the song ‘Yene yene’ (each in a different rhythmic mode) recorded by Michael Walsh in 1972 (Marett, 2007). Unfortunately the quality of these recordings was too poor to warrant their publication and these performances are therefore not included in our analysis below; the interested reader can consult the publication. Secondly, the group of ‘golden age’ songs discussed here includes five more songs than were analysed in Songs, dreamings and ghosts (Marett, 2005, chapter 5). The five additional songs from this period (tracks 24-28) come from a 1986 recording by Frances Kofod that was not available at the time that Songs, dreamings and ghosts was written. [102] Thirdly, for the sake of completeness we have included two miscellaneous songs ‘Wedjiwurang’ (track 38) and ‘Tjinmel’ (track 39), but because of their marginal status within the Walakandha wangga tradition (to be explained further below), neither will be included in the music analysis section at the end of the chapter.

Performance and recording history of the Walakandha wangga

In this chapter, we have organized the track-by-track notes into the five groupings discussed above, with additional notes on each grouping preceding discussion of the relevant tracks.

A: The Early Period. Stan Mullumbuk’s repertory (tracks 1-5)

It was during the mid- to late-1960s that Stan Mullumbuk composed the first Walakandha wangga songs (Marett, 2007, p 65). The earliest recordings of Stan Mullumbuk’s corpus were made in 1972 by Michael Walsh and in 1974 by Lesley Reilly (Marett, 2007, p 66). In addition, Frances Kofod recorded Thomas Kungiung and others singing one of the songs from this period, ‘Walakandha No. 8,’ in 1986. By 1988 none of Stan Mullumbuk’s songs were still being sung ceremonially, though a video made by SBS in 1994 of a Roman Catholic baptismal ceremony recorded on Airforce Hill near Wadeye shows Martin Warrigal Kungiung singing some of the older songs (Wadeye Aboriginal Video Archive WAVA236). In 1999, Allan Marett recorded Ambrose Piarlum singing one of Stan Mullumbuk’s songs (track 5) for the purpose of documentation.

Four additional Stan Mullumbuk songs sung by Thomas Kungiung on tracks 6-9 are discussed together with two of Kungiung’s own early compositions below under section B.