Review Blog

Aug 15 2019

Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines by Gay'wu Group of Women

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760633219.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Non-fiction. Laklak Burarrwanga and her family produced the beautiful book for younger readers Welcome to my country, an introduction to the rich and complex culture of Yolngu Country, north-east Arnhem Land. This latest book is for adult readers, and the group of authors is now known as the Gay'wu Group of Women. They are 4 Yolgnu sisters and a daughter, along with 3 non-Indigenous women accepted into their family, collaborating together to share the songspirals and stories of the women of their Country. We are invited to learn about milkarri, the ancient songs, expressions of Yolngu Law, linking them to their land and providing guidance in their lives. Songspirals are this and also much more than this - the first chapter attempts to explain their significance in English words:
'Every songspiral is a song, a ceremony, a picture, a story, a person, a place, a mapping, some things that we did, that we do and that we will always do, and it is all of those things together because those things are really the same. And it is more, much more. It is knowledge and language and Law.'
The word songspiral has been chosen, rather than songline, to convey the idea that they spiral in and out with many layers of meaning. Reading these songspirals is a chance to gain some insight into Yolngu culture; many layers of meaning are revealed to us, but there are always more deeper understandings that are only appropriate for the right people with the right knowledge.
The sisters share five songspirals. They are poems or songs - they tell stories and lessons but they each also reveal something more about the relationships within the group of women who are sharing them. For me, I loved to read about how Laklak, leader of the collective, was honoured in very special ceremonies, in the fourth women's songspiral of the Rainbow Serpent, the men's ceremony of Wapitja, the sacred digging stick, and also with an honorary doctorate from Macquarie University.
The fifth and last songspiral is that of the keepers of the flame, keepers of tomorrow's knowledge. We learn about some of the next generation, the children and grandchildren who are ambassadors for their culture; Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs, as a 12 year old student, was author of Our birds written in both English and Yolngu and illustrated with her own photographs. Maminydjama, the model known as Magnolia, is another ambassador and advocate for her family, community and people.
Thank you to the wonderful women who have created this book, along with the beautiful coloured photographs. Readers of Songspirals will gain some insight into a wise and richly layered culture through the milkarri of the women.
Helen Eddy

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