The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

Printer friendly version


Mutawinji (also spelt Mootwingee) is part of the Bynguano Range, 120 km north-east of Broken Hill. Its valleys contain the only natural permanent water-holes for thousands of square miles. It shelters a large and diverse population of creatures and traditionally was the intersection of dreamings for Aborigines from as far away as Mt Isa in Queensland and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. They periodically made their way there for large meetings, knowing they would always find food, water and shelter. The rocky overhangs contain a large number of ancient stencils and engravings which are now under the protection of the Mutawinji Aboriginal Land Council.

The special quality of the place, which made it so important to the Aborigines in the past, is apparent to the visitor in the present day. Its sandstone ridges, humped and ridged like the shells of ancient tortoises, sparsely etched with callitris pine and mulga, retain a sense of a time beyond time. Between the ridges are the valleys, lined with river gums, which narrow at points to the steep-sided gorges that shelter the permanent water holes.

One of these is Homestead Gorge, which was the main location for the recordings of this soundscape. In the six episodes, I’ve tried to capture the sound of the place—open valley, narrow gorge, wind-swept ridge—which is brought alive by the songs of the birds, frogs and insects, not to mention the song of the wind in the wiry growth of the dwarf pines and acacias. Some of the birds—Spiny-cheeked and Striped Honeyeaters, Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrikethrushes, Grey Butcherbirds—sing in all these places, and the difference in the colour of their songs vividly marks the contrasting acoustics of these various locations. If you listen carefully, you may also hear how their melodies bind together, creating a characteristic Mutawinji harmony; perhaps this is the ultimate magic of the place.

1. A kind of prelude; a succession of birds sing in the River Red Gums which line the dry creek in the open valley near the entrance to Homestead Gorge: Red-backed Kingfisher, a party of Apostle Birds, a pair of Ring-necks, a group of Tree Martins, a flock of Corellas, whose noisy advent sets off a number of other birds, and finally a Striated Pardalote, singing alone on a high branch.

2. First light at the entrance to the gorge; Willy Wagtail and Australian Magpie, followed by one of the most characteristic sounds of this place—the piping chorus of the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. Singing with them are a Grey Shrikethrush, White-plumed Honeyeater and a Rufous Whistler.

3. Sunrise, a narrow part of the valley well inside the Gorge. A White-plumed Honeyeater, and distant Grey Butcherbird continue the dawn chorus. A Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater sings its little fanfare song as others continue piping. A Corella flies across the valley. Two Grey Shrikethrushes sing against a background of three Peaceful Doves. The yapping of a Sacred Kingfisher sets the echoes flying; it alights beside its mate on a dead branch where they are building a nest; they continue with a quiet duet.

Waterdrops inside a rock hole. Outside, the pair of Grey Shrikethrushes continue their duet. Just beyond, in a more open part of the valley, a Brown Thornbill sings in a Dead Finish tree.

4. Another sunrise in the creek bed at the centre of the valley. Grey Butcherbirds and a close pair of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters are the soloists with a background of Corellas, Galahs, and, echoing from the tops of the ridges, Rufous Whistler, Magpie, Striped Honeyeater, Peewee.

5. Just after sunrise, moving steeply up the north arm of the gorge onto the ridge. The wind is rising. A pair of Grey Butcherbirds, a party of White-browed Babblers. A Wedge-tailed Eagle flies lazily and silently across the valley, quite unconcerned by the two Butcherbirds which fly up to mob it.

In the mulga on the ridge top: a Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Rufous Whistler. In the distance, a pair of Grey Shrikethrushes and a Crested Bellbird which moves to and fro across the ridge with its ventriloquial piping song. It is interrupted several times by a Striped Honeyeater singing overhead. The curious little song, rather like a distant telephone ringing, belongs to the Red-capped Robin. The pair of Shrikethrushes move to the foreground again, followed by one of the Grey Butcherbirds.

6. Mid morning in one of the rocky gullies off the main valley. The day is warming up. Four Grey Shrikethrushes meet for a colloquy; the rocks fill with the echoes of their songs. From time to time a Grey Butcherbird and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater join in, while a Striated Pardalote sings an ostinato in the background. Galahs and Corellas occasionally cut across. The soundscape ends with the songs of the Shrikethrushes receding into the distance.

Mutawinji was composed November 1995-January 1996.

DL 1996