Ancient songline reworked for SBS/NITV/Screen Australia
"Songlines On Screen" initiative
Project completed June 2015
First transmission Sunday 3 July 2016 8.30pm
Below is Keith and Paul's original description
of the project to Screen Australia
Songlines On Screen: Development
Project Name: Wurray
Applicant Organisation: Milingimbi Arts and Culture Centre
10 April 2014
By Keith Lapulung Dhamarrandji
as told to Paul Williams
Wurray is a Dreamtime character. He is one of our “makers”. He’s a traveller with an open mind and an open heart to the land. This Yolngu songline reminds me a bit of Greek odysseys. Wurray goes on an odyssey, Yolngu-style. He passes through different terrain and what became different clan’s land.
Wurray’s journey always begins with the sun rise. The song rises from the ashes like coals brought back to life with dry grass. Wurray leaves his little humpy, takes his spears and set off on his journey. He’s walking through low-laying scrub land and is heading towards an outcrop of eucalytus trees in the distance. After this he’s travelling through the beginnings of the rocky escarpment country. He starts to see spinifex bushes. Wurray notices everything. This country is more hostile than what he’s used to.
Next thing Wurray is spotted by Wäk, the crow. After a while Wurray sees Wäk too. Wurray doesn’t know it but Wäk is like his guardian through this unfamiliar country. Wäk flys down and dances for Wurray and Wurray learns the crow’s dance and they dance together. Yolngu still dance crow today and we will sing and dance Wäk as part of this film. Wäk flys away and a new chapter begins.
Wurray continues his journey. He emerges towards more solid and rocky escarpment country that falls off to flat plateaux. Wurray wants to make a dilly bag to carry things in so he forages and finds all he needs to make one. It’s a particularly good dilly bag and Wurray is very pleased with himself so he starts dancing for joy. This song and dance is called Dimbuka (Dilly bag dance) and this will be part of the film.
Wurray continues walking. He’s in open woodlands now. He’s got the taste for something sweet so he goes looking for yarrpany (sugarbag or wild bush honey). He finds a hive, scrapes away the bees and eats his fill of honey and puts some more for later wrapped in stringybark into his new dillybag. We dance and sing Yarrpany at this moment. The kids love dancing like bees.
Wurray makes his way down to a low laying area covered with eucalyptus and palm trees. He notices a particular kind of stringbark tree we call balgurr. He cuts some bark off this tree and scrapes the rough parts of it using two smaller trees he has cut down for this purpose. He then mashes the bark between the trees and this makes it nice and soft. Wurray starts to chew this bark mash and the lovely flavour of the sap comes out.
Next Wurray countinues walking. He’s spotted by a bird we call Wilata. Wilata is a bit like a woodpecker, I’m not sure what this bird is called in English but I’ll find out for later. Wilata dances for Wurray and then they begin dancing Wilata together. This song and dance will be part of the film.
Next thing Wurray sees on his journey is another Balgurr tree. He heads towards it. When he’s almost there he spots another kind of tree we call Djalatjala; and there’s a string vine we call Malka rakirrirr on this tree. That cheeky bird Wilata is waiting for Wurray here. He’s dancing for him on that vine. So Wurray dances Malka rakirrirr together with Wilata. Yolngu dance and sing this still today and this will also be part of the film.
After this, Wäk, the crow protector of Wurray, comes to see him again. They dance Wäk together. They’re like old friends now Wäk and Wurray.
The terrain changes again and Wurray is back in rocky country, but it’s harsher than before. Wurray is getting cuts on his feet and legs from the flintstones and types of spinifex grass we call nganggu nganggu (razor grass) and burrtjulupa (nail grass). Wurray’s getting very thirsty. His lips are very dry and he really wants water. He walks towards a low laying area and collects a type of grass we call läwarr. He mixes läwarr with balgurr from before and a kind of wild grape (wuluymung). This combination has a strong effect on Wurray. He starts speaking in tongues and spitting wildly. His body is over taken and he takes on transformative powers. He’s cursing and chanting to try and bring the rain. And the rain comes with thunder and lightning. He looks for a tree with a hump and taps into it. Water starts to flow and Wurray drinks his fill. He is satisfied. Wurray sees a rainbow stretching over the escarpment country. Now you can probably see how powerful Wurray is and the kinds of influence he can have over the environment.
Next Wurray heads down through the open woodlands past the rocky country and arrives at what’s now known as Goyder River. Here he bathes in a water hole and cleanses himself. There’s lots of vegetation and palm trees all around. It’s a beautiful place.
Finally Wurray walks back up to the escarpment country and reaches his final destination. He stands and watches the setting sun. As the sun sinks below the horizon he dances Warrarra or Ganamba (sunset dance).
This journey takes Wurray from what is now called Buckingham Bay to Raymanggirr to Goyder River. That’s the songline we’re talking about: the great nomadic warrior of the Dreamtime called Wurray.