‘You’re going to see… it’s so good!’ Singing up Malandarri Festival…

— by Kate Rendell

Borroloola songwomen, including Marjorie Keighran, Jemima Miller and Isa McDinny perform at Malandarri Festival 2018, photo by Benjamin Walngundu Bayliss.

As Communications Manager, the vast majority of my role is office based, whether on email, phone or social media it is an increasingly digital workspace. To journey to Borroloola for Malandarri Festival, therefore, was a delightful opportunity to experience a project on the ground and to bear witness to the incredible community involvement at the core of this festival.

Malandarri Festival is a celebration of traditional and contemporary arts and cultural practices of the Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Gurdanji and Mara clans. As a first-time visitor it was a privilege to experience!

On the Friday morning, as the final preparations were happening onsite, I sat down with the senior song women who were practicing ahead of the evening performances. These strong women generously welcome visitors to their country for the Festival to share their songs and dance…

Here, Marjorie, Jemima and Isa share their reflections on the Festival and introduce the songs they were practicing as we spoke:

Marjorie Keighran –

“My name is Marjorie, I am a Garrwa woman, I sing this song, Garrwa way, about taking all the kids fishing, camping out at Robinson River.

The Festival? Yeah I’ll be out there with all the Yanyuwa girls. With Jemima and Dinah and Hazel, we’re all singers. We’ll be at the Festival this afternoon time.

The Festival is important to learn to them young girls and young boys. That’s why we put this song and dancing. For all the young boys and girls. So they can know themselves too”.

Jemima Miller –

“This song is for the sea grass for the dugong – for when people go and kill the dugong in the reef. That’s what the song means. They hear the sea grass, the sea turtle and dugong know where to feed in that reef. But we call it in the Yanyuwa – Narnu-Rawu – that means reef.

I’m going to sing for that song tonight, for the people when they dance. Also the Mermaid song and all that.

That one is dugong killer song – for when they go hunting, when the men go hunting. The song here from the dugong when they used to go and kill him – for eating – good to eat! That’s how we bin grow up – we been grow up with that as our meat. We eat that Dugong and sea turtle and fresh water turtle, long neck and short neck turtle. That’s how we bin grow up eating all the bush tucker.

The old people been making these songs long time ago, when we were nothing and they bin teach us before they were gone, they were singing for us. My mum bin teach me all that songs.

This one is for the sea turtle – that’s the song, all the old people bin make the song long time ago. Sing it when we catch him, eat it – when it crawls up the beach, up the sand to lay eggs.”

Isa McDinny –

“Yeah well today, the song is going to be for the Devil song, came from long way away all the way travelling – I’m the singer with Nancy, Gadrian and Scott, my sister there Linda dancing with all the young people.

The Festival? Oh yeah! It’s going to be really good, with all the people coming in from different country, different places. It’ll be really great to see them, you know, to see other dancers from other places. You’re going to see… it’s so good”.

Isa was right! The Festival was indeed so good! Learn more about the history of this Festival and the incredible performers, dance groups and bands that took part in Malandarri Festival 2018. More info about Yanyuwa, Garrwa, Gundanji and Mara song traditions can be found in the Gulf Country Song Book.

Many thanks to Marjorie, Jemima and Isa for generously sharing their time with me!