Ngarukuruwala - we sing songs

Community Arts & Cultural Development

Tiwi Strong Women’s Song Centre for Health and Well-Being

To create a sustainable, long term and locally managed organisation within the Wurrumiyanga Women’s Centre that supports, preserves and promotes traditional and modern forms of Tiwi song.

Days Left

The aims and scope of this project are broadly two-fold:

1. Preservation of song-culture:

• Systematic high quality documentation of endangered song material (transcription of melodic forms, transcription and translation of song language, documentation of song function and ownership).

• Audio and video documentation of ceremonial, kinship, totemic and ancestral song/dance forms and gestures.

• Clearly defined processes for the passing on of oral knowledge (ie enabling ‘sit down’ time between elders and young people and creating a space in which that can happen without interruptions or hassles.

• Creating a DVD and book-form resource at two levels – one aimed at primary school age, one aimed young adults.

• Creating a comprehensive ‘song-book’ with the words in Tiwi and English to the Women’s group “modern’ songs (re-workings of traditional songs into a new simpler form of Tiwi language that is accessible to young people and which are sung by the old ladies at community events, and need to be passed on).

• Setting up a computer library for song recordings (using iTunes or similar) for (Tiwi) public access. Enabling disc copies of pertinent songs to be provided to family on request and with authorisation.

• Completion of transcription and analysis of archive recordings. A large amount of ethnographic Tiwi song material was repatriated from the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra in 2010 and it is this that Dr Genevieve Campbell worked on as focus of Doctoral research. Although Genevieve and her Tiwi colleagues got through a lot of it, the work is slow and there are many hours yet to document, find the names of the singers, family owners, country affiliations etc. This is becoming urgent with only four elders living today who have sufficient knowledge of the old language to understand the song texts.

2. Setting up the basis for mental health and well-being programs.

• Harnessing the Community Development Program (CDP) system to employ working age women to run a ‘song-centre’ in office, general running/cleaning roles as well as being in organisation roles for the Strong Women’s group performance opportunities.

• Following on from the documentation project: creating a series of videos that record the elders’ narratives – about country, lore, traditional customs, historical stories, ancestral/dreaming stories. Song and ceremonial practice, kinship systems, bush food, life lessons etc. The wealth of knowledge is deep and must be recorded before it is too late.

• Pro-active engagement in the singing group. The older women want younger women to become actively involved in learning songs and dances so that they can participate as supporters and to one day take over.

Our aim is to re-establish the women’s centre as a place for the old ladies to congregate, for their own benefit and to re-establish their role as cultural mentors and knowledge holders.

Update 29 August 2016

Thank you for the wonderful support in getting us to our initial target! We have raised our target so we can continue the documentation work for longer and also so we can get a vehicle running to help transport the older Strong Women. Thanks for your support!

Live Projects


Projects Funded


Ngarukuruwala–we sing songs is a collaboration between Tiwi singers and non-Tiwi instrumentalists to create contemporary Australian music of high artistic and intellectual quality that blends the skills and expertise of all involved and engages both performers and audience in meaningful cultural exchange and mutual respect.

We’ve performed to sell-out audiences at the Studio, Sydney Opera House and the Darwin and Sydney Festivals.

Our recent projects specifically include repatriated ethnographic recordings of Tiwi song material in order to create an aural and written resource of linguistic and musical knowledge and to engage artistically and emotionally with the voices of revered Tiwi singers of the past.

The Tiwi strong women’s group and senior songmen form the core of this project as respected Elders and custodians of traditional knowledge and song.

We are working towards establishing song-based learning, identity and esteem-building programs for Tiwi children and young people. All our activities stem from Elders’ determination to maintain Tiwi song and language for the cultural, social and spiritual health and well-being of the Tiwi community and to preserve an endangered piece of Australia’s rich cultural heritage.


Rosa Walden


Rosa Walden


J Perry


Kathy Bannister


Helen & Tom Campbell


Debbie Collie


anna reid


Linda Barwick


Eiko Bron


Fiona Press


Leigh Raymond