Research Articles

Song-poetry of Central Australia: sustaining traditions

  • Myfany Turpin


This paper explores the survival and adaptation of a traditional Aboriginal women’s song style called awelye [aˈwʊʎǝ] in Arandic languages and yawulyu [ˈyawʊʎu] in neighbouring Warlpiri, Warumungu and some Western Desert languages. This is a multi-modal public ceremonial genre known over a vast area of Central Australia. This paper focuses on the women’s public song style performed in Arandic, Warlpiri and Warumungu communities, where Linda Barwick, Myfany Turpin and Mary Laughren undertook joint fieldwork in 2009–2010.

In this article I discuss current initiatives that assist in sustaining and reviving awelye. I identify the role of ceremonies such as awelye in Aboriginal cosmology, their relationship to country, land ownership and reasons for their performance. I then describe this multi-modal genre that encompasses visual designs, dance, music and poetic texts. I explain how song ownership and geographic affiliation can be identified from features of these multi-modal elements. I conclude by suggesting that the complexities of combining music and text present a significant challenge for learners.

Keywords: Australia, Aboriginal languages, song style, ceremonial genre, awelye, yawulyu, endangered languages, cultural practices

How to Cite:

Turpin, M., (2014) “Song-poetry of Central Australia: sustaining traditions”, Language Documentation and Description 10, 15-36. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed