The Old Songs are Always New (paperback)

Singing Traditions of the Tiwi Islands

Genevieve Campbell with Tiwi Elders and knowledge holders

Regular price $60.00 Sale

Format: paperback
Other formats: Hardback $120.00
362 pages
ISBN: 9781743328750

Publication: 01 Jul 2023
Series: Indigenous Music, Language and Performing Arts
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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It’s really great. It’s like they’re all here. I hear all of these voices and I sing with them, you know? — Yikliya Eustace Tipiloura, senior songman and Elder

Perhaps the most defining feature of Tiwi song is the importance placed on the creative innovation of the individual singer/composer. Tiwi songs are fundamentally new, unique and occasion specific, and yet sit within a continuum of an oral artistic tradition. Performed in ceremony, at public events, for art and for fun, songs form the core of the Tiwi knowledge system and historical archive. Held by song custodians and taught through sung and danced ritual, generations of embodied practice are still being created and accumulated as people continue to sing.

In 2009 Genevieve Campbell and eleven Tiwi colleagues travelled to Canberra to reclaim over 1300 recordings of Tiwi songs, made between 1912 and 1981, that are held in the archives at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). The Old Songs are Always New explores the return home of these recordings to the Tiwi Islands and describes the musical and vocal characteristics, performance context and cultural function of the twelve Tiwi song types, giving an overview of the linguistic and poetic devices used by Tiwi composers.

For the past 16 years Campbell has been working closely with Tiwi song custodians, studying contemporary Tiwi song culture in the context of the maintenance of traditions and the development of new music forms. Their musical collaboration has resulted in public performances, community projects and recordings featuring current senior singers and the voices of the repatriated recordings. For this publication, Elders have enabled the transcription of many song texts and melodies for the first time, shedding light on how generations of Tiwi singers have connected the past with the present in a continuum of knowledge transmission and arts practice.

There are 27 Tiwi recordings available to be listened to here:

Genevieve Campbell has worked for 30 years as a professional French Horn player and since 2007 has been involved with senior Tiwi singers in musical collaboration which has resulted in numerous performances, recordings and study centred around the repatriation to the Tiwi community of ethnographic field recordings of Tiwi ceremony and song. Her recent Sydney University Fellowship at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Sydney Environment Institute focused on the role of Tiwi song and embodied knowledge in cultural maintenance, artistic creativity and community health. She is currently a Research Affiliate at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.



List of figures

List of music transcriptions and notes

List of song texts

List of audio examples

List of other recorded material in the AIATSIS archive

List of plates



Notes on orthography

List of Tiwi Elders, singers, culture and knowledge holders, and research consultants

Glossary of terms


Chapter 1: An introduction to the Islands

Chapter 2: The archived recordings

Chapter 3: Singing identity

Chapter 4: Kulama

Chapter 5: The Tiwi Language(s)


Chapter 6: The classical Tiwi music

Chapter 7: Emerging musical genres




“For everything that has happened on the country of Indigenous people, there is always the version told or sung that is told by Indigenous people themselves – full of humour and pathos, sadness and grief – that never makes it into the ‘objective’ accounts of Western history. ... Enables non-Indigenous readers to come to know how any one event can have another story, another way of it being interpreted.”

John J. Bradley  

Format: paperback
Size: 254 × 178 × 12 mm
362 pages
1 bibliography, 1 map, and 34 colour plates
Copyright: © 2023
ISBN: 9781743328750
Publication: 01 Jul 2023
Series: Indigenous Music, Language and Performing Arts