Recording Adventure: Gunbalanya NT

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On a warm, dry morning, my walk down to the Katherine Hot springs was suddenly interrupted. The juvenile brown snake who had been sunning himself on the path was now assuming a defensive posture. Was I about to be fatally bitten by this deadly serpent? "No" I reminded myself. "God did not bring me all the way to the Northern Territory to be killed by a poisonous reptile. He brought me here to record His word for the Kunwinjku speakers at Gunbalanya."

It was the first day of the annual Katherine Christian Convention and after making my way to the showground I set up the GRN display table in the book shop. As I sat there ready to engage with the crowd, hundreds of Aboriginal people from communities all over the Northern Territory flooded in to visit the op shop stall opposite me to collect bedding and clothes. Every now and then the music pouring out of the little solar powered MP3 players on the table in front of me would catch their attention.


Matt Peason and family with a local friend

On engaging one particular group of kids I asked them "What community are you from?" "Oenpelli [Gunbalanya]" replied one of the kids. I then showed him the label on the side of the MP3 player he was holding which read 'Kunwinjku'. When the singing on the recording began his excitement grew. Recognising their language, they ran to show their parents asking if they could buy one of the $20 players. Such was the response from many of the people who visited the GRN stall.

After 3 days of networking with other missions and sharing GRN's resources, I boarded the crowded coach with around 50 Bininj (what the Kunwinjku people call themselves) headed for Jabiru. Sitting next to me was CMS missionary Matt Pearson. Matt first contacted me several years ago to do some recording in Kunwinjku. Unfortunately, the opportunity never arose. Since then Matt had been making some attempts to do the recording himself. Thankfully, after being approached earlier in the year by a church in Sydney who wanted to fund an Aboriginal recording project, we were finally able to make it a reality. It just so happens that that church also support Matt and his family in Gunbalanya. As we sat together on that 4 hour bus ride the time passed quickly and the anticipation for the week ahead was building.


Matt Peason and family with a local friend

GRN has had a long history working in Gunbalanya with the first recording being made in 1954. Further recordings were made in the 80's and 90's with many of those involved still around today. It was this previous work which helped pave the way for this trip.

Being early May the East Alligator River was still swollen from the wet season. Upon reaching Jabiru the trip continued via a short plane ride over the river. The next day I began to go through some basic audio training with Matt. We got all the equipment set up in the humble Sunday School room of the Gunbalanya Anglican Church and, to our delight, that afternoon, with the help of some of the local Christian women, we recorded the first 3 Psalms in the language of Kunwinjku which had been recently translated. This pattern of training and recording continued for the next few days until we had recorded 11 of the Psalms and several Christian songs. My heart was warmed when the recording was complete and I heard those unforgettable words from one of the women, "When are you coming back? You are welcome here any time. Bring your family next time." It is amazing how recording God's word can form a bond in such a short time, especially in a culture where relationships are so important.

Now that Matt has been given this training and some good quality equipment, he is in a good position to continue this important work with the ongoing support of GRN studio personnel. This trip was a joint project between GRN, CMS, The Australian Reel and Film Society (ARFS) and Pittwater Anglican church. It is a real delight to GRN to be able to serve CMS and the Kunwinjku mob in this way and we are thankful to all our partners in ministry.

Simon Johnston, GRN Recordist

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