We are no longer out of sight - By Neil Morris
The legacy of the invasion of missions on the contemporary music industry.
Barmah Moira – Pre Colonisation.
A pristine wetland, full of song of insects and birds bellowing seemingly for kilometres. Redgum standing gracefully, seemingly with a power and grace that embodies the spirit, thousands of years cultural practice that has surrounded them.
Emu’s weave through the mottled mellow hues of greens, greys and browns. Kangaroos watch over sacred sandhills with a deep knowing of the very lore of our sacred ceremony of those places, as the sun sets with reds that match the intense trunks of red gum trees flesh after torrential spring rains.
Rains leave the aroma of country to pulse and breathe in deep into the spirt of the people. As the stars begin to peer out, rippling with a sparkle so pure, it seems able to be touched and held. Fire begins to crackle in a gentle dance, alighting the oncoming darkness with a sacred glow, cherished, honoured, watched intently.
The stomp of dance, clapticks clearly resonating , momentum moving gradually as song begins. Song begins. Song sung for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples.
Language birthed and grown within a pure symbiosis to the land echoes into the night in song so pure. It melds into all around as a living breathing part of the ecosystem.
Country know that song. Country heard that song. Country carved that song. And that song carved country. Yorta Yorta country. That song echoed.
Then sound went quiet. All went quiet. Country lost tongue, Country lost breath. Country lost limbs. Dance got taken away, Surveillance and chains replaced natural liberation.
Song got replaced with the clunk of machinery axe, and gun shot. We cannot avoid the fact, it was a horrific predicament.
Dance was replaced with confinement. Our peoples put away in missions. Out of sight out of mind was the new arrangement for my people. Out of sight out of mind was what became of indigenous people.
In ebbed an abyss of convenient amnesia. And in the span of less than a generation, we went from a divine symbiotic utopia to close to being consigned to a death bed.
My people were gathered from our beautiful country and put onto Maloga Mission in the year 1874, Nearby Barmah, on the now known Victorian/New South Wales border or Moiretheban land by Dhungala (Murray River) as we have always known it.
Our country was mined of its resources with Biyala (red gum), bludgeoned in swathes to go towards building the pillars of a metropolis on another mobs land some 200 or so kilometres south. Therein, which had a bludgeoning of its own occurring. A stockpiling of resources, a stockpiling again and again until that place became unrecognisable for its original form. That place severed from its original form.
Song replaced with the clunk of machinery and axe. Dance replaced with confinement. Out of sight out of mind was the case on that land also. Kulin land where many of you may be reading this article from, the now post-colonial comfort and benefit of.
This sounds like a horror story, because, it is one. The attempted complete nullification of first peoples of the lands of over 30 language groups is what this story is.
Here on Kulin land in modern day ‘Melbourne’, this city is celebrated for being one that is both progressive and supportive of diversity. In many instances and ways, this is true. Yet the out of sight of mind strategy that was implemented with the inception of missions and police protectorates sites such a Cummeragunja and Corranderrk has still not been entirely shifted in spite of a lot of goodwill to do something to rectify this.
The goodwill is moving, it is occurring. And this is making change, special change that is something we can feel very positive about leading into the future. However, in the next breath, it is sadly not uncommon to meet someone from Melbourne to say to me ‘I’ve never met an aboriginal person before, but I’ve lived my whole life here’. Out of sight out of mind? It would seem.
This is a clear example of power dynamics ever since the initial bloodening of these lands resting not in any shape balanced with those of a 60,000 plus year connection to this land. Subsequently, the dynamics of platforming access has not rested with those of 60,000 plus years connection to this land.
The people of this land are barely seen. Song of the land of course markedly affected by this. The value of this song and those delivering it, markedly affected by this.
The fact indigenous music platform is still often an afterthought and undervalued/ tokenised is clear evidence of the depth of the out of sight out of mind endeavour, dating back to the rounding up of first peoples. It is an insignia of the invasion still at work, conscious or internalised, maliciously, innocently, or indifferently.
We see this represented on a regular basis. We hear the “it does not fit our aesthetic”, ”It does not fit our sound”.
When I hear this, I hear “I do not value the power of 60,000 plus years connection to this land, I hear, ‘culture and justice’ in song is not important. I hear, theft and amnesia is a plausible thing. I hear, it is too discomforting to truly understand the depth of the meaning of what it means to be connected to this land for 60,000 thousand plus years. I hear a lack of true understanding and grasping from the notion that we are all benefitting from living on land which is rooted in dispossession and genocide. I hear desensitisation, I hear a desensitisation built on the out of sight out of mind psyche still at play.
The use of song in indigenous culture has been foremost since time immemorial. The way our people approach music runs deeper than any genre limitations can ever defy. When Uncle Archie Roach sings, or Alice Skye, Mojo Juju or Kaiit wow crowds. It runs deeper than the genres they are placed in, or even the words in their songs. It runs into the very soil of this land that each of those incredible indigenous peoples are connected to beyond measure. It runs into song that started with ancestors thousands of years ago.
Next time you hear one of my people on stage, if you can close your eyes for a moment, you may hear that, you may perhaps feel that. It is right there. It is right there for you to hear and feel.
Song has formed intricate relationship in our lives. It has marked everything from the gathering of foods, to the celebration of seasonal changes, to transformational stages in an individuals growth and development.
Song sung by indigenous peoples has echoed through this entire land across all expanses, more than once. For a thousand generations approximately. The tones imbued in the land, rocks, trees, sands, waters. Indigenous song has literally kissed this land for millennia.
With the invasion upon this land by the British Empire, the knowledge of the places where this song has been positioned and how essential it was to those places is tragic.
Little do many know the lands we walk upon may well be the equivalent to what are citadels of ‘contemporary music’, the Forum Theatres, Melbourne Recital Centres, Hamer Halls, Corner Hotels, Howlers, Evelyn Hotels, Gasometers.
When you think about the sacredness of song having covered all of country. The reality is that no matter where one is placed, one is upon a land that is an Indigenous equivalent to these western colonial constructed bastions.
Now imagine those venues with a thousand generation history within them, of sacred song being performed within them. Sacred song that is connected to absolutely everything in existence on this land each time anything is performed in those spaces.
We are on sacred Indigenous land. Indigenous song and its importance to these lands and justice on these lands is crucial. As you go into January 26th, take a moment if you may to reflect at some point during your day. Take a moment to close your eyes, and imagine exactly where you are standing is in the middle of a sacred song ceremony 60,000 plus years old. What you will imagine is exactly what you are in the middle of.
The invasion on January 26th 1788 has not changed that. The tide of history has merely changed the perception of that. You can change your perception. You can know the importance of standing on sacred indigenous land, no matter where you stand on. And it can all start now, on the day of mourning/invasion/survival, tomorrow, January 26th.
Indigenous peoples carrying song needs to be put back across all parts of this country eventually, regardless of what is perceived fitting or not fitting in aesthetic or contemporary tastes. The question isn’t does indigenous music fit. The question is, does anything else fit if there is not recognition and support of this need to a respectful extent? An extent to be determined by the voices of this land, indigenous voice.
Neil Morris is a Yorta Yorta man, born and raised on Yorta Yorta country around the towns of Shepparton and Mooroopna. He has a very powerful connection to the landscape and his culture. It is central to his being and how he functions in this world and led him to return to Shepparton in 2010 after a number of years away, and to start working on projects, on country and with fellow Yorta Yorta peoples. A musician, who performs as DRMGNOW, Neil regularly performs across a range of venues and festivals. Neil also hosts an incredible program on Triple R called Still Here which showcases some of the best indigenous music on the airwaves. It is a strong passion of Neil’s to provide a platform for non Indigenous people to be exposed to Indigenous culture, and also have an appreciation of this fostered. He has actively pursued this endeavour and has been involved in this through work with organisations like Multicultural Arts Victoria, SheppARTon Festival and more. Neil is also the Music Business Manager, First Peoples for the VMDO.