Celebrating NAIDOC Week 2021: Heal Country

By Cherie Baird

This NAIDOC Week, Sydney University Press is celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their history and cultural heritage. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we work, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and we pay our respect to the knowledge embedded forever within the Aboriginal custodianship of Country.

Official NAIDOC Week 2021 logo featuring the slogan "Heal Country!" and the dates 4-11 July 2021

This year the theme of NAIDOC Week is “Heal Country!” This means embracing the cultural knowledge and understanding of Country held by First Nations peoples, and seeking greater protections for First Nations lands, waters, sacred sites and cultural heritage. Find out more about NAIDOC Week, including events and resources near you, at https://www.naidoc.org.au/.

NAIDOC week is an opportunity to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of First Nations peoples. Importantly, it is also a time to acknowledge the work still to be done. Sydney University Press is committed to embedding culturally competent practices in our work. This is an ongoing project, informed by consultation and collaboration with authors, communities, industry and University colleagues, and other stakeholders. As part of the University of Sydney Library, we are also guided by the Library’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Protocols, which were adopted in 2021.

We are proud to feature the voices and stories of First Nations authors and communities in the books we publish. In celebration of NAIDOC Week, here are some suggestions for further reading from the SUP list.   

Cover of Community-Led Research: Walking New Pathways Together

Community-Led Research: Walking New Pathways Together explores how research practices can be reimagined to better include and represent the experiences of First Nations peoples and other communities. It explains that building meaningful rather than transactional relationships with communities involved in research can not only improve research design and conduct, but also empower marginalised communities.

Associate Professor Lynette Riley, co-editor of the book and a Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi woman, explains that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are custodians of Country, sharing a depth of knowledge passed down through generations. She questions the validity of the portraits of Australia captured by traditional research practices that overlook this:

Indigenous histories, culture, stories and perspectives intersect to create a depth of knowledge about the Australian landscape for different places, spaces and times; if these are not included, there is no real understanding of Australia.

Together, the contributors to Community-Led Research argue that to elevate the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it is not enough to consult communities. Researchers must consider the potential negative impact of Western methodologies when they design, carry out and interpret their research. Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes, a Kamilaroi woman and scholar in the Department of Education and Social Work, writes:

Researchers ... need to engage in research that seeks to counter the colonising impact of research. This approach requires a shift in thinking and power that recognises that Aboriginal peoples should not be considered as being known, but rather recognised and respected as knowers.

Community-Led Research is available in paperback and open access now. 

Cover of Djalkiri: Yolngu art, collaborations and collections

Djalkiri are “footprints” – ancestral imprints on the landscape that provide the Yolŋu people of eastern Arnhem Land with their philosophical foundations. Djalkiri: Yolŋu Art, Collaborations and Collections describes how Yolŋu artists and communities keep these foundations strong, and how they have worked with museums to develop a collaborative, community-led approach to the collection and display of their artwork. It includes contributions from Yolŋu elders and artists as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous historians and curators. Together they explore how the relationship between communities and museums has changed over time, based on a deeper respect for Yolŋu intellectual frameworks and a commitment to their central role in curation. 

Djalkiri was prepared in conjunction with a new exhibition of Yolŋu art at the University's Chau Chak Wing Museum, co-curated with Yolŋu artists and communities. You can read more about the exhibition here. Together, the book and exhibition won the 2021 Museums and Galleries National Award for best Indigenous project. 

Cover of Singing Bones

Manikay are the ancestral songs of Arnhem Land, passed down over generations and shaping relationships between people and the country. Singing Bones foregrounds the voices of manikay singers from Ngukurr in southeastern Arnhem Land and charts their critically acclaimed collaboration with jazz musicians from the Australian Art Orchestra, Crossing Roper Bar. It offers an overview of Wägilak manikay narratives and style, including their social, ceremonial and linguistic aspects, and explores the Crossing Roper Bar project as an example of creative intercultural collaboration and a continuation of the manikay tradition.

Cover of Songs from the Stations

Songs from the Stations describes the eclectic ceremonial life that flourished among the Gurindji people on Wave Hill Station in the 20th century, amid harsh conditions and decades of mistreatment. Constant travel between cattle stations by Aboriginal workers across north-western and central Australia meant that Wave Hill Station became a crossroad of desert and Top End musical styles. As a result, the Gurindji people learnt songs from the Mudburra who came further east, the Bilinarra from the north, Western Desert speakers from the west, and the Warlpiri from the south.

This book is the first detailed documentation of wajarra, public songs performed by the Gurindji people. Featuring five song sets known as Laka, Mintiwarra, Kamul, Juntara, and Freedom Day, it is an exploration of the cultural exchange between Aboriginal communities that was fostered by their involvement in the pastoral industry.

Songs from the Stations and Singing Bones are part of our Indigenous Music of Australia series, which aims to stimulate discussion and understanding of Australian Indigenous music. You can listen to and watch performances of manikay and wajarra in our Sydney Open Library

Cover of Crafting Country

Based on ten years of surveys and excavations in Nyiyaparli country in the eastern Chichester Ranges, north-west Australia, Crafting Country provides a unique synthesis of Holocene archaeology in the Pilbara region. The analysis of about 1000 sites and thousands of isolated artefacts takes a broad view of the landscape, examining the distribution of archaeological remains in time and space. Heritage compliance archaeology commonly focuses on individual sites, but this study reconsiders the evidence at different scales – at the level of artefact, site, locality, and region – to show how Aboriginal people have interacted with the land and made their mark on it. It shows that the Nyiyaparli ‘crafted’ their country, building structures and supplying key sites with grindstones, raw material and flaked stone cores. In so doing, they created a taskscape of interwoven activities linked by paths of movement.

For more NAIDOC Week activities at the University of Sydney, including podcasts, a reading list, and Indigenous language resources, click here.  


Cherie Baird is a graduate of the Master of Publishing at the University of Sydney. She has published various poems including ‘Passerby’, which was a winner of the 2021 Ultimo Prize.