Singing Bones

Ancestral Creativity and Collaboration

Samuel Curkpatrick

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Format: paperback
220 pages
ISBN: 9781743326770
Publication: 01 Jun 2020
Series: Indigenous Music, Language and Performing Arts
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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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 living continuation of the manikay tradition.

“Through song, the ancestral past animates the present, moving yolŋu (people) to dance. In song, community is established. By song, the past enfolds the present. Today, the unique voices of Wägilak resound over the ancestral ground and water, carried by the songs of old.”

Audio examples are available at:

Dr Samuel Curkpatrick is a researcher and musician with a particular interest in intercultural collaboration and Indigenous Australian music. He is an Adjunct Research Fellow at Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University, and teaches at Stirling Theological College, University of Divinity.


  1. Impelled: songs from the ground
  2. Connected in song
  3. Abundant articulation: the living text of Manikay
  4. Narrative constellations
  5. Living bones: “Those clapping sticks have a song”
  6. Grooving together: the Crossing Roper Bar collaboration
  7. Interwoven voices: a brilliant aesthetic
  8. Playing together: collaboration and creativity

Epilogue: new friendships
Appendix 1: song texts
Appendix 2: Young Wägilak group tour and performance history

Format: paperback
Size: 254 × 178 × 12 mm
220 pages
Copyright: © 2020
ISBN: 9781743326770
Publication: 01 Jun 2020
Series: Indigenous Music, Language and Performing Arts