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Australian Aboriginal Singers

Posted by Joe Bloe , 18 March 2010 · 1,294 views

Down at the end of this blog you will find something a bit unusual. Australian aboriginal country artists singing in their own language.

A friend of mine presented Country Music on ABC radio and also operated his own studio where he recorded many up-and-coming young country stars in the early 1980's. The songs featured in this blog date from that period but I am unsure of anything else about them. My friend casually told me one day (about seven years ago) that he had a tape containing 26 songs by these three artists and when I expressed an interest, he transferred them onto CD for me. Some of the 26 songs were recorded in his Adelaide studio and others at an Alice Springs radio station in 1982, but I don't have any more details than that. It is possible that some were recorded in other places and they somehow found their way onto my friends tape. It's all rather vague and I have no way of gaining any more information about them. At the moment I am pretending that I have some valuable lost "classics" that a collector would dearly love to own, but realistically, I have to admit that they may not be anything special at all.

About half the songs on the tape (now on my CD) are sung in English and the others are sung in aboriginal languages and I have included six of the latter in this blog - plus one sung in English (because I like the sound of it). I'm not saying they are great songs, but they are "good country songs" and quite unusual. Very few Australians will have heard them except on indigenous radio stations - and there aren't many of them in in this country; well not in the cities anyway. Having said that, however, I should point out that these three singers are well-known to all aboriginals and to other Australians who follow this style of music. They are famous in their field but they are not "mainstream".

If you do listen to the songs, you will be surprised at some of the vocal tricks used by the artists when they imitate the sound of a bird or animal that features in their song.

A couple of the songs are quite sad: Isaac Yamma sobs loudly as he tells of the aboriginal mother whose child has been kidnapped by Government Officers and she knows in her heart that he will never be coming back. The song is "My Brown Skin Baby They Take Him Away". It was written and performed originally, by Bob Randall who was kidnapped as a youngster and never saw his mother again. The song by Herbie Laughton also tells the sad tale of the aboriginals who were forced off their land by the European Settlers. But it's not all deadly serious - just wait till you hear Isaac Yamma's version of Three Blind Mice.


So here's a brief introduction to the singers - and you'll find their songs at the bottom of this blog.


Bob Randall
Bob Randall was born in 1934 at Middleton Pond on Tempe Station in the Central Desert region of the Northern Territory. He is a member of the Yankunytjatjara people and one of the listed traditional owners of Uluru. His mother, Tanguawa worked as a housemaid at Angus Downs cattle station for Bob's father, station owner, Bill Liddle.

Bob and his mother lived away from the main house with their extended family and he had little contact with his Scotsman father. At a young age, Bob was taken away from his mother under government policy. He never saw her again.

In 1970, Bob helped establish the Adelaide Community College for Aboriginal people and lectured at the college on Aboriginal cultures. He began to gain recognition for his songwriting in the early 1970s, when his song, 'My Brown Skin Baby [They Took Him Away]' caught the attention of an ABC journalist, David Roberts. This led to the ground-breaking ABC documentary of the same name, which won the Bronze Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and focused national and international attention on the issue of separation.


Isaac Yamma
Isaac Yamma (1940 – January 1990) was a country singer from Central Australia. He was a Pitjantjatjara man who was born by a waterhole near Docker River (Kaltukatjara). He started his musical career as a member of Areyonga Desert Tigers. He later performed with his band the Pitjantjatjara Country Band, a band made up of his sons Hector, Frank, Peter and Paul and his cousin Russell Yamma. His song were mostly sung in Pitjantjatjara. He was also a radio host on CAAMA Radio 8KIN FM.


Herbie Laughton
Herbie Laughton is a country singer from Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He was born in 1927 in a creek bed. He was a member of the stolen generation.

In 2005 he was inducted into the hall of fame at Music NT’s Indigenous Music Awards. He was one of the artists featured in the Buried Country documentary and book. His songs have been covered by Buddy Williams, Auriel Andrew and Trevor Adamson.


Bob Randall


Isaac Yamma


Bob Randall


Herbie Laughton


Isaac Yamma


Isaac Yamma


At the end of the recording session, just before he packed up his instruments, Isaac Yamma launched into this little bit of nonsense - Three Blind Mice in the Pitjantjatjara language.