Children’s Songs is a new Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation program that was scheduled to begin in 2020, but delayed due to Covid restrictions. The program has been introduced in 2021 in a modified form, to ensure everybody involved can participate safely, and observe health and safety guidelines established by the relevant authorities.

This initiative directly aligns with the aspirations of the artist Gurrumul Yunupingu, and his Foundation. It provides a creative, positive and culturally appropriate opportunity for young people from remote communities to actively participate in the Arts.

Pre-colonisation, in Australia’s First Nations communities, there was a strong history of storytelling through song. This was the way in which cultural information was shared with children, in the many languages that were then spoken by First Nations people.

Post-colonisation, some of the languages have disappeared, and with them the children’s songs, and the cultural knowledge embedded in the words and music.

The Children’s Songs program aims to address this sorry loss by collaborating with translators, teachers and musicians from six remote communities across the Northern Territory to collect, translate, record and perform some of those lost songs.

The program will provide a culturally safe space for children in remote communities to re-engage in a learning process with guidance from appropriate First Nations adults. This process will provide opportunities for children to understand more about their traditions through learning the songs in First Nations languages, promote the use of those languages through the Arts, and highlight the extraordinary language diversity of Northern Australia.


Two highly experienced facilitators will be employed to travel and temporarily stay in six remote communities: Galiwin’ku, Tiwi, Barunga, Ngukurr, Manmoyi and Numbulwarr. They will work with local musicians, teachers and translators to collect the songs, initially by recording them on basic recording equipment.

The facilitators will be:
Justine Clarke, who is a well-known and much- loved Australian actress, singer and television host. Her work on Play School began in 1999 and she is still currently a presenter on this show. Prior to Covid, Justine developed music workshops with the younger members of the Barunga school community. Together they combined First Nations languages and English to create positive songs that were performed on the main stage during the Barunga Festival.

And Michael Hohnen, who was the 2013 Northern Territorian Australian of the Year (with Mark Grose). He is an ARIA winning musician and producer of ARIA award winning albums. He was Gurrumul’s long-time collaborator and producer.

First Nations Community Consultants

Local musicians, teachers and translators will work with the facilitators to identify source material by collaborating with other significant community members and family groups most likely to hold cultural information relating to children’s songs. Each of the six communities will have their own group of consultants. It is crucial that each community is involved in the selection of these consultants.

Action Plan and Methodology

Initially, the facilitators will organise timelines and a plan for each community.
Following the development of the plans, the facilitators will work with local musicians and teachers to identify and record the songs, organise their translation into English and form a children’s choir. In each community there will be a musician or senior community person who will be the main connection point for the facilitators. It is expected that 12 songs will be collected and translated, two from each community.


This initiative is designed to deliver benefits for the whole community. Employing and consulting a range of First Nations community members should increase the sense of ownership of the product and a commitment to involvement in the process. Loss of language is a devasting thing, so any opportunity to retrieve and document stories and songs is a small step in addressing the mistakes of the past. This is an important education initiative that has the potential to contribute to acts of reconciliation.

Children are the major beneficiaries of Children’s Songs. They share in the benefits already mentioned, but on a personal level they have an opportunity to participate in a creative educational process, that covers a range of different cultural activities. They will be exposed to research and discussions about the songs, their origins, and the process of translation.

The children who are involved in this initiative will be required to learn the words of the songs in English and a First Nations language. They will need to work with musicians, translators and teachers and as members of a choir. They will need to learn to sing and work together.

Music is a powerful tool for acquiring skills and knowledge, and is widely used in the education system. On this journey the children will have the opportunity to learn about active listening, order and priority, and singing clearly and eloquently.  Music is an excellent bridge between what happens in the school and what happens in the community.

Because the songs will be new to the participants, and sung in more than one language, memorising words and music, understanding non-verbal communication and being able to express ideas and feelings will be important skills to master.

Finally, the facilitators will work with the children’s choirs to develop a festive event for their community. The highlight of the event will be the children’s choir performing the children’s songs – six performances in total.


The budget for this program is $225,000. The Foundation has already received $110,000 towards the cost of this initiative. This includes grants from the Northern Territory Community Benefit Fund, Australia Post and the Sony Music Publishing’s Social Justice Fund.