Amanda Harris. Representing Australian Aboriginal Music and Dance 1930–1970

Book review by Georgia Curran

Context 47 (2021): 85–87.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2022


In Representing Australian Aboriginal Music and Dance 1930–1970, Amanda Harris sets out a history of Aboriginal music and dance performances in south-east Australia during the four-decade-long period defined as the Australian assimilation era. During this era, and pushing its boundaries, harsh government policies under the guise of ‘protection’ and ‘welfare’ were designed forcibly to assimilate Aboriginal people into the mainstream population. It is striking while reading this book how few of these stories are widely known, particularly given the heavy influence that Harris uncovers it having on the Australian art music scene of today. As such, the book makes an important contribution to the ‘truth telling’ of Australian history while also showing that—despite the severe policies during this era, including the banning of speaking in Indigenous languages and restricting the performance of ceremony—Aboriginal people have remained active agents in driving their own engagements and asserting their own culturally distinct modes of music and dance performance. This resilience against significant odds has been aptly described by one of the book’s contributors, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warrung cultural leader, visual and performance artist, curator and opera singer Tiriki Onus, as ‘hiding in plain sight,’ referring to the ways in which Aboriginal people ensured the continued practice and performance of their culture by doing so in public, the only place they were allowed to…

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