When the waters will be one

Music is such a powerful conveyer of emotion. It is the "international language" that draws a response ⁠— uniting, uplifting, challenging us. Comforting us. So many of us turn to music to help us express our feelings and frustrations, and, declaring complete bias as I default to my background as a music teacher, I believe it’s the perfect vehicle when considering the themes of reconciliation and activism.

Consider the song Treaty by Australian musical group Yothu Yindi. Released in 1991, its message is arguably just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. What I really love about this work is the layers of duality, so successfully juxtaposed to create a harmonious whole⁠—which is the whole point of reconciliation. It starts with the artists. The group was formed in 1985 with the merger of rock group The Swamp Jockeys and an unnamed Aboriginal folk group, hailing from the Yolngu homelands in Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land.

It continues with the instrumentation and timbre. The relatively contemporary and Western-influenced drums, synthesizer, lead and bass guitars blend seamlessly with the agelessness of clapsticks, didgeridoo and traditional vocals representative of our Indigenous Australian culture. The result is something both empowering and new, yet timeless. It feels like the song is being pulled from the very depths of the earth and given a modern voice.

And then there’s the lyrics. In 1988, Prime Minister Bob Hawke responded to the Barunga Statement⁠ — a call for Aboriginal political objectives ⁠— with a promise that a treaty would be reached with Indigenous Australians by 1990. It didn’t happen. Protesting, Treaty is perhaps the first time we’d heard a call to action in Aboriginal voice and language, alongside that of "white" Australia. Another powerful juxtaposition.

Perhaps the end of the second verse quoted below best sums up the aspiration of the song. Let’s live in appreciation for the activism that has always strived for reconciliation, hope, respect and understanding as our nation moves forward.

Now two rivers run their course

Separated for so long

I’m dreaming of a brighter day

When the waters will be one.

Ms Ellena Papas
Executive Director (Operations)