The Indigenous voice of our country is over 65,000 years- old, they were the first words spoken on this continent, languages that were passed down in lore, culture and knowledge for over millennia, and are precious to our nation, it’s the Indigenous voice that connects us to country, an understanding of country and of a people who are the oldest continuing culture on the planet.

The indigenous music of Australia comprises the clan songs and songlines of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, intersecting with their cultural and ceremonial observances, through the millennia of their individual and collective histories to the present day. Traditional forms of musical instrumentation include the didgeridoo (a member of the aerophone family of instruments), clapsticks (percussion), gum leaf (reed) and bullroarer (aerophone). Contemporary indigenous music continues not only the early clan/tribal traditions but also constitutes a fusion with contemporary mainstream styles such as rock and country music, which has permeated the mainstream of popular music, particularly since the 1990’s.

jimmy little 3

Country music has remained particularly popular among our indigenous peoples, Jimmy Little (above) and Dougie Young were pioneers, and Troy Cassar-Daley is among Australia’s most successful contemporary indigenous performers of this genre. Kevin Carmody (below far right) and Archie Roach (below centre with Ruby Hunter) are also well-known indigenous performers who use a combination of folk-rock and country music to document their personal lives and protest about such Aboriginal rights issues as native title, the stolen generation of children, dispossession, marginalisation, and black deaths in custody.

A number of indigenous Australians have achieved mainstream prominence such as Harold Blair (above far left) and Deborah Cheetham (opera), Jessica Mauboy and Jimmy Little (country/pop), Dan Sultan and Yothu Yindi (rock), the Warumpi Band and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (below far left,world/alternative music), NoKTuRNL (rap metal), Thelma Plum (folk), while successful Torres Strait Islander musicians include Christine Anu ( below centre, pop) and Seaman Dan (folk). The movie Wrong Side of the Road and its soundtrack (1981) gave broad exposure to the bands Us Mob and No Fixed Address, and the hip hop and rap genres now feature such Aboriginal exponents as Baker Boy, Mojo Juju, and Dobby.

In the new millennium such indigenous performers as Isaiah Firebrace and Jessica Mauboy (above far right) have enjoyed pop music success, particularly Mauboy who has embraced US hip hop, urban grooves, and pop genres and enjoyed success in both music and in movies, in recent years, and represented Australia in the final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, preceded by Isaiah Firebrace who took Australia to the 2017 Eurovision Grand Final.

Isaiah Firebrace represented Australia in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest Final in Kiev.

A cause which is fundamental to much Aboriginal music following European settlement of Australia, is the fact that there were no treaties, no formal settlements, and no compacts, between Europeans and indigenous peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not cede sovereignty to the land, it was taken from them, and this historical anomaly remains a continuing source of rancour and dispute for indigenous people, and is a prominent theme running through much of their music.


Australia is one of the few liberal democracies in the world which still does not have a treaty or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its indigenous minorities, in regard to native title.

4TR will explore some of the musical highlights of our indigenous peoples in the coming weeks – Yothu Yindi, Gurrumul, Archie Roach, Kev Carmody, Christine Anu, Jessica Mauboy, and Jimmy Little, your feedback is always appreciated.

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