Australian Research Council Discovery Project


At defining moments in Australia’s developing nationhood, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island performers brought music and dance to national and local stages. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, a performance by the Wallaga Lakes Gumleaf Band from southern NSW heralded the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge; in the 1940s Bill Onus recruited interstate performers for tourist shows in Melbourne; Jimmy Little Senior led a vaudeville troupe along the Murray River during the 1950s; and Aboriginal music and dance featured at the opening of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and at diplomacy events coinciding with the various Royal Visits of the era. Who were the individuals involved in these public performances, and why were they taking part?  Underlying these events is a rich but largely hidden and dispersed history of ongoing Aboriginal cultural engagement, political mobilisation, and reclamation through performance.

In this project, our multidisciplinary team—musicologists, linguists, dance historians, digital humanists, curators, artists and cultural historians—are remapping the ‘long’ Assimilation era (1935-75) by excavating, curating, and mobilising a corpus of public cultural records of the period. We are augmenting this corpus with present-day interpretations and responses from personal archives, oral histories, exhibitions and creative works. Focusing on urban and regional networks in south-eastern Australia, we are re-evaluating the artistic legacy of public performances by Aboriginal people (music, dance and associated cultural practices) to reclaim these rich and hybrid histories for broad cultural benefit. The dates 1935-1975 encompass key political events leading up to the official adoption of Assimilation as government policy in 1937 through to the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.

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Linda Barwick, University of Sydney

Jakelin Troy, University of Syndey

Lyndon Ormond-Parker, University of Melbourne

Matt Poll, University of Sydney

Tiriki Onus, University of Melbourne

Amanda Harris, University of Sydney

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, University of California (Riverside)


Visualisations of Reclaiming Performance research


Indigenous Music and Dance Conference