Writing the Birds: Barrawarn

Reading silently is to be avoided

oh ah-ah oh ah er or oh ar-ah-ah ah

or ahh ahh

ah orrrr

ah ah ee ah ahh

ah EE ah-ah ee

ah ah-ah eee or

eeee ah-ah ahh

ah-ah oh

ee ah-ee ahhh

ah ee ah ah or-or

ah ee ah ah ahh

(Thursday early mild dry)

or ah ee

or ah ee

or ah ee

(Later overcast a grey-yellow light)

or ah ee

or ah ee

or ah ee

(Saturday morning bright)

ah  ee-ya

ah  ee-ya

ah  ee-ya

ah  ee-ya

ah  ee-ya

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

ah  ee-ya

or ah ee

or ah ee

(Tuesday morning windy)

In the English language, Barrawarn are known as Australian Magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) but the only connection they have to the European Magpie (Pica pica) is their black and white feathers. The word magpie was no doubt used by early white settlers who were homesick for familiar animals and sounds. Barrawarn are larger birds than European Magpies, the size of a crow or small raven. Although both birds are songbirds, it is the song of Barrawarn that is extraordinary and their low-pitched, fluting, choric voices fill the urban and suburban streets of most Australian cities.

orr eee ahh

aa eee aa orrr ree aww eee-ah

eeeeah eeeeah

rrorr rror rror 

ee-ya ee-ya ee-ha

rrorrr rorrr rorrr ree ree

(Wednesday mid-afternoon warm overcast)

Barrawarn live all around my house in close proximity, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, on the rise of the valley of the Merri Creek. They are common birds, easily visible and audible across the city. They carol on every street. Overhead power lines, cables, utility poles, fences, grass verges, trees and branches provide perches for call and song.  They fly adeptly and walk awkwardly, although their legs seem more fit for purpose than the swaggering Little Ravens. They land low on fences and call and sing. Groups of more than ten birds live on corners where one street crosses another. 

ee-ya ee-ya ee-ya

aa oe oh yo yoh rrrr yaaa

ahh oe oe oh oh ee ya

orr eh ee ee rru yaa

aa aa ee yah

aaa EE aa aa ah ah ah

ee yah EE rra yah

uu-yah                         uu-yah

oe oe ooh or eh or ooh

(Sunday very early dark)

Barrawarn is the Woi wurrung word for these birds. Woi wurrung is the language of the Wurundjeri Tribe, the traditional owners of this part of Melbourne, north of the river, and this translation is by Wurundjeri Elder Auntie Gail Smith. There is a huge movement amongst Indigenous Australians to reclaim and rebuild their languages because all Indigenous Australian languages (around 300) are either in a vulnerable status, close to extinction, or extinct due to the extensive eradication practices of colonisation. 

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

(Tuesday)

I listen. As a language, Woi wurrung is spoken faster than English. When I listen to Wurundjeri language specialist Mandy Nicholson speaking Woi wurrung I hear short sounds with the distinction of the rolling of the r, which is a keenly audible characteristic. The double rr in wurrung is a long roll, rrrrrr. Sounds seem rounded and when I attempt them seem to emerge more readily from the throat. There are many b and g sounds, both soft bee and harder buh, soft jee and harder gguh. She translates her words to English as:

I thanked the river and water because I believe the river and water are the veins through country that keep country alive and I believe that underpinning all of that is language […] Revival of language is a very tricky thing to master because there aren’t any fluent speakers of any Victorian languages unfortunately, but we’re doing a lot of projects and […] making it accessible to the younger generation.[1]

aa aa ee-ya

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeahhhhh

oe or ahh ee-ya

ah or ahh ahh ha-ah

ee-aw

ah-ee rror

ah ee rror EE orr orr

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeeooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeeoooooo

(Saturday early pinkening sky)

The innate connection between landscape and language that Indigenous Australians understand offers a way to consider the voices of Barrawarn: how a slope, a dip, a rise, a plain, a flat expanse, a valley, a hill might affect how language, as sound, is transmitted and received; how sound is carried, thwarted or reflected by wind, rain, mist, fog, heat, cold, day, night, trees (paperbark, stringybark, lemon-scented gum, lemon myrtle, bottle brush, blackwood, sheoak, plane tree, elm), grasses (wallaby grass, spear grass, swamp daisy, bindweed, wiry buttons, murnong, billy buttons, swampweed), wood, glass, brick, cement, aluminium, steel, iron, walls, buildings, bridges, vehicles. Bluestone, the dark volcanic rock that constitutes this ancient landscape, is easily visible in parts of the suburb. I consider its sonic properties and how this dense hard rock absorbs sound, envelops it and does not transmit or reflect. These traditional Wurundjeri lands are part of the basalt plains that stretched from western Victoria east and south to where the Merri Merri (‘very rocky’, the Woi wurrung name for the Merri Creek) meets the city’s main river, the River Yarra (Birrarung in Woi wurrung) dating from 4.5 million years ago. 

aaa oh ahh ahh oh orr orr

aaa ahh orr

aaa eeee aa-aa ahhh orrrr

rrro aaaa EEEE ahh aaa aah ahh ohh orrr

arrr rrra ahhh eeee rrrahhh ahhh EEE ohh

rra ahh rra eeh ohh                 rra ohh

prro-oh-prro-prro                   ahh eee oh

ah ee ah ro oh ee ah-oh ee-oh

ah-eh aa-ee-ah aah-oh-ee rra-oh

oh-oh ooh rro orr ooh

(Sunday early)

As an urban industrial landscape for much of the twentieth century, the suburb included the post-war modernist Kodak factory (1957-2000) on the street where I now live, which provided employment for large numbers of the local population. 

The Kodak factory complex is architecturally significant as probably the most intact example in Victoria of a large post-war industrial complex. It is a fine and particularly intact example of an architect-designed mid twentieth century factory complex in a landscaped setting, a type that proliferated in Melbourne’s outer suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s but has since become increasingly rare. It is architecturally significant as a fine, intact and varied example of the work of Harry A and Frank L Norris & Associates, a noted and prolific Melbourne firm of commercial architects, whose post-war work demonstrates a highly personal strain of International Modernism, distinguished by elegant detailing, ornamentation and the use of high-quality materials and finishes.[2]

The area also includes the site of Pentridge Prison, built in 1851 from bluestone by the prisoners themselves. This is where bushranger Ned Kelly was executed in 1880. It is also where two of Melbourne’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Indigenous actor Jack Charles and Indigenous musician Archie Roach, both members of the Stolen Generations, spent time. 

Thanks to Australia’s shameful Assimilation Policy I was snatched like a little lamb from the breast of my young mother, Blanche Charles, at the tender age of four months. Placed into City Mission Home for babies in Melbourne’s inner-north suburb of Brunswick, I became a ward of the state. I was kept there until the age of two, then moved on to the next institution – Box Hill Boys’ Home. There I was, a lone blak child among two hundred white faces, not another registered Aboriginal child to be seen.[3]

The year 1988 was a pivotal moment for a lot of us blackfellas. We had some sense of what had happened to ourselves, as a people, before that year. But what did I know up to that point? My lifestyle, my drinking, having been thrown into jail. I’d been taken from my parents, who, like me, had been denied access to culture, who’d been beaten by police and thrown into jail for no good reason. We might have lived through those traumas alone, but a collective sense of injustice began to bring us together that year.[4]

The prison closed in 1997 and during development into an apartment complex was ignominiously tagged by locals as ‘Pentridge Piazza’. Many of the extraordinarily thick bluestone walls of the prison have been retained for heritage value, complete with razor wire.

ah ee ya

ah ee ya

ah ree ahh

ah ee ya

(Sunday morning)

ah EE ah ee ree ah ah ee re yah ee ya ee ree ya rorr rorr ah ah ee ee                      yah ra ee ra ye ah re ye ah aa aa ah ror or or eh ah ee ye ro ah             ee ye ya ra roh ah ah ye ah

ah        ye ah

ah        ye ah

oe ah re ye ee ah ahh ra ee ro roh ah ya re orr ah ye ah

(Sunday afternoon)

Indigenous Australian languages are relational. Kin is core to Indigenous Australian culture and language, where who is speaking and who is listening dictates what is said and how it is said. There is never a tight package of form and meaning in language, rather, as Dja Dja wurrung linguist Harley Dunolly-Lee notes, ‘meanings […] hover like hungry flies’.[5] Kin is understood far more inclusively than in the West and includes all species: it is a multi-species kin. Humans are part of the continuum, one part of life, equal among other species. Humans are not the central pivot of life, as discourses around human exceptionalism claim. Linguist John Bradley, who spent many years with the Yanyuwa people of present-day Queensland, observes that family is far more than blood and other people.[6] Donna Haraway describes a congruous concept of kin for non-Indigenous people in which

kin is an assembling sort of word. All critters share a common ‘flesh,’ laterally, semiotically, and genealogically. Ancestors turn out to be very interesting strangers; kin are unfamiliar (outside what we thought was family), uncanny, haunting, active.[7]

ah ee ya

ah ee ya

(Thurday afternoon)

During 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages, there are many public talks and lectures in Melbourne about the process of Indigenous language reclamation. In one of these talks, Dunolly-Lee explains that there is much debate and disagreement about how language reclamation can be carried out.[8] Some say that what is left of a language should be preserved and carefully archived in a pure form. Others want to revitalise the languages into living, speaking forms. Methods for rebuilding include borrowing from neighbouring languages, improvisation and guesswork. Language mixes also offer some useful hints and suggestions. The only words Dunolly-Lee knew of his language as a child were snatches of mission talk, a mix of Dja Dja wurrung and English, consisting, from his recollection, of insults and rude words (a ripple of laughter and snickering from both Dunolly-Lee and the Indigenous members of the audience course through the auditorium). Language relates directly to land, to country, and in the process of reclamation a word can be called out to see how it fits, how it feels, within the landscape.

ahh      or-or

or ee ah-ah ahh ee or

or ah ee-ah ee-ah or

ah EE ahh-ahh ah ee-ah ee ah-ahh

ah or

ah-ah or

ee-ah-ahh        or

(Wednesday early blueing)

The Wurundjeri community’s understanding of the mingling of the natural world with the cultural world is conterminous with the collapse of binaries in Haraway’s term naturecultures, where nature and culture are a blending rather than a dualism. This mingling hints at how I might consider the voices of Barrawarn calling and singing along the streets as I walk through this suburb. The traditional Wurundjeri lands on which I live are now a paved suburb of houses and gardens and pavements and roads, occupied by Wurundjeri people and Indigenous Australians from other tribes, but far greater in numbers these days are new migrants (like myself), second or third or fourth generation migrants, asylum seekers, descendants of convicts/early settlers.

eh        ee-ya

ee-ya

ee-ya

ah        ee        or

ah        ee        or

(Saturday late afternoon)

A tributary of the ancient Birrarang that swirls its light brown waters through the centre of Melbourne, the Merri Merri is a small but significant watercourse that meanders through the northern part of what is now city sprawl. It was a major thoroughfare in traditional Wurundjeri life, a source of food and water during the thousands and thousands of years that constitute the pre-colonial era. In heavy rains the creek quickly grows in size and floods easily, even when the rains are relatively brief. Like many waterways in Australia, flooding is sudden and the current fast and dangerous. Barrawarn live in large numbers along the Merri Merri, like many other local birds, both native and introduced species. 

Traditionally, each of the four Woi wurrung-speaking clans identified with specific areas (an estate). These estates were contiguous and, collectively, took in all of the drainage basin of the Yarra River and its tributaries. The Woi wurrung clans’ domain was bordered in the south by the Yarra River, upstream to Gardiners Creek, and in the southeast by Dandenong Creek; and in the north by the Dividing Range from Mount Baw Baw to Mount Blackwood. The Werribee River was their westernmost extension, and in the east Woi wurrung territory stretched into the Dandenong Ranges past Warburton. Because of their obvious connection with land along the river, the Woi wurrung clans are often referred to in the historical literature as the Yarra Yarra tribe.[9]

oh oh ee oh aa

or ee ehh

ee EE  ee ah ee or er

eee eh er or

eee or eh

or eey

or-or-or-oh-er-or-or-oo-ah-or-oo-oh-oh

ha ha ee

(Tuesday early greening)

Despite many decades of industry and urbanisation, ancient archaeological evidence of the Wurundjeri people’s long connection to this place is tangibly present along the course of the Merri Merri. Stone artefact scatters are visible and tools made from silcrete and quartz and used to grind seeds, cut meat and skins, and carve wood have been found up and down the banks along the water. 

ah        ee-yahh

eehhh

oh or

eeahh

eeahh

ahh-ee

ahh-ee

EEE      EEE

ahh-eh             ee        ahh-eh             ahh-eh

ah ee oh ah or

ah ee oh ahh or or

ah ee oh ah ah or or

ah ee oh ah ah or or

ah ee ah ah oh ah or eh or

ah ee ah ah oh ah or eh or

oh or ah ee oh oh ahh

ahhh

ah        ee-ya

ah        ee-ya

(Wednesday)

Songlines – yarang gudhi-dhuray means song having line and birrang-dhuray-gudhi means journey having song. These lines are our early map making. They measure our places, our impossible distances and they are passed down through story songs and dances. The lines are there, but sometimes the gudhi is lost.[10]

Although there is a mystical quality associated with Aboriginal Songlines, there is also an intensely practical aspect to the routes taken. Songlines invariably followed ridge lines, valley lines and easy contours. For Aboriginal people it was like following a system of flashing neon lights, regardless of the coded song instructions. To European settlers these flashing neon lights only operated at subliminal level and they simply followed what seemed to be a ‘natural’ route.[11]

When I walk from my house east towards the market I encounter the same group of Barrawarn at the top of the rise of the Merri Merri valley. This group congregates mostly on the corner of Hope Street. As I listen I think of the relationality of Woi wurrung and of kin-as-all-species. As I walk I use a sonic meditation from Pauline Oliveros’ concept of ‘Deep Listening’: ‘walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.’[12] I hear one of the female Barrawarn sing, here at the top of the valley, a few roads along from the cemetery, on the way to the market. The bird looks in my direction and is aware of my presence as I pass. I cross the street, look up at the wires or down to the grass verge or along the fence line where the bird is perching. I speculate that her song (choice of sounds, delivery, prosody, repetition, pauses) relates to how the grass verge is growing over the curb made from the ancient lava of this landscape, spilling onto the tarmac of the road; how the eucalypts remain in leaf all year while the bark peels in season; how the hard rubbish (child’s pink plastic scooter, components of a wardrobe’s drawers and doors, office chairs) is piled waiting for collection; how the cop sirens call across the six-lane highway of Bell Street from the south, muffled only slightly by the cemetery, becoming more audible heading north along Elizabeth Street; how the train horn from the Upfield railway line (a chord of three notes, like the chorded calls of the Barrawarn themselves) carries easily across the valley when the wind blows from the west; how the sounds of the church bells are also carried across the valley in the same way, but the call to prayer from Omar Bin El-Khatab, the West Preston mosque on this side of the valley and a key focus for the local Muslim community, is never publicly audible; how the very low frequency grind of plane engines landing at the airport further north thrums and threads through the soundscape of this northern suburb. 

The Islamic call to prayer will ring out from two mosques in Melbourne, Australia, throughout Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. The municipalities of Hume and Dandenong, both home to large Turkish communities, have allowed the call to prayer, or adhan, to be broadcast for the evening and Friday prayers. The move is a gesture of support for Muslims who are observing Ramadan during the coronavirus pandemic. Official figures place the number of Muslims in Australia at about 604,000 and over 200 mosques are believed to have been closed down temporarily due to measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.[13]

or oh ohh or ee

or ah ee ah-ah oh ah or

ahh

oh or or ree arrrr

ah ee ah-ah

ra-ra ah ah a-a

(Wednesday later)

Another sonic meditation from Oliveros reminds me to ‘Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening’.[14] If I listen carefully enough to the sounds of Barrawarn I may be able to learn to recognise or comprehend the subtle nuances in pitch, tone, intensity to realise that I am being noticed or addressed, on the corner of the street, at ten in the morning of a warm thinly overcast day. Given that our ranges of hearing differ I may be missing much of what Barrawarn is singing. 

ee-ya

ee-ya

ee-ya

(Later still)

The Australian Magpie has one of the world’s most complex bird songs. A loud musical flute-like song, often performed as a duet or by groups. An uncommon alternative name for the Australian Magpie is Flute Bird. The Australian Magpie is black and white, but the plumage pattern varies across its range. Its nape, upper tail and shoulder are white in males, grey in females. Across most of Australia, the remainder of the body is black. In the south-east, centre, extreme south-west and Tasmania, the back and rump are entirely white. The eye of adult birds is chestnut brown. Australian Magpies are common and conspicuous birds. Groups of up to 24 birds live year-round in territories that are actively defended by all group members. The group depends on this territory for its feeding, roosting and nesting requirements.[15]

I listen. Writing the Barrawarn is not straightforward. The birds have voices that consist of a chord, literally, at least three notes per sound (like the horns of the trains on the Upfield railway line). It is not a pure single sound but a chorus from each bird. When the birds call together their voices sound numerous although it may only be two or three birds participating. As songbirds, they have a syrinx, which is like a double version of our human larynx, and this is how songbirds can make multiple sounds at once. As songbirds, Barrawarn learn their songs and calls from their parents, as we do and several groups of other animals (that we know of) such as bats, parrots, whales, and dolphins. This means Barrawarn have the ability to alter and adapt their songs throughout their lives, and many songbirds develop accent and dialect, just like humans. They can adapt their voices to the changing soundscape in which they live. 

ee-ya

ee-ya

aarrhhh

(Thursday early)

Their calls and songs are complex and varied. As I attempt to write them I have to listen carefully, to follow the curve of each song, each call and response, to note where the repetition occurs and where it does not. Their full song is complex and full of variety. Using phonetic words to describe Barrawarn voices is fraught as words can rarely approximate the complexity of the three dimensions of sound. This is the challenge of transcribing their voices.

Image courtesy of Catherine Clover

I use pencil and paper, which strains the recording process further but adds a certain sense of being there, in the field, with the birds, in the physical world in which they live, a materiality which is also retained in the scribbles, erasures, re-writes, rubbings-out and torn scraps of paper. I can’t keep up with the birds as my handwriting is far too slow and I am only able to scrawl excerpts, fragments, portions and snatches of song. I take too long to choose the best word to suit the sound heard, by which time the bird has been singing for some minutes more and I have been left far behind. Reading aloud is the best way to capture these layers embedded in the transcription. Reading silently is to be avoided.

ah ee ah ah oh ah orr or or ah eh eh or ah ah

ah eh aa ah oh ah orr or or ah eh eh or ah ah

ah ee eh ah oh ah orr or oh ah eh eh or ah ah

aa eh ah ah oh ah or or or oh eh eh or ah ah

(Monday mid-morning)

From what I can hear, in musical terms, Barrawarn sing in a minor key, a melancholic pitch perhaps, and the best approximate in English language sounds are ahhhh, orrrrr, ehhhh ohhh interspersed with eeee and louder EEEE. The best approach I have found is a variety of the five vowels that are used in English aeiou. The Barrawarn do not appear to use consonants, no tttt or tsss or prrp or kkkkk, no duh duh duh, buh buh buh, nnn, mmmm, sssss, vvvv, zzzzzzz. A common call is the triple sound of ah ee-ya, with the middle sound ee higher in pitch than the ah and ya.

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

(Thursday)

ee and ya are close together and a hyphen serves this double-noted sound well, ee-ya. The ah precedes this double call with a small pause between. Another common sound is the long whistle eeeeeeeooooooo, a single sound, moving from higher pitch to lower pitch, eeeeeeeoooooooo. Usually sung by a single bird, sometimes at dusk, and sometimes with no other sounds to accompany it.

The renderings of the birds’ voices are distilled from these struggles. The texts are an approximation and are constructed from a kind of overhearing, even an eavesdropping perhaps. Layout suggests the poetic over the prosaic, and a prosody that intimates that the snatches of song could fall into the form of a verse or a stanza or a stave. The texts are proposed as poetic scores that encourage a voicing by the human reader. Hearing listening recording noting transcribing approximating writing reading voicing.

eeeeeeeoooooooo

eeeeeeeoooooooo

 (Tuesday dusk)

rrra or

eee ah eh ah

ah ra ee or ah

a ee rra

ah or

oh or ah ah EEE ah or or

aa ah ree or or ah

eeeaaaahhh

ah ee ah ah or ah ahh or

ra ee ee ah ra ah

aa or rrorr ah

aa EEE or

rror ah ee

ree ah ree ahhh

ah ee ah aaa

oh-ra oh-ah ee-aaah

eh ah ee

eh ah ee

ah-ah ee ah

rra rra

or ah ee

(Friday early)

I listen. Where possible, when I can, I write female Barrawarn. Female Barrawarn have grey feathers on their backs, between their necks and wings, rather than the white of males. Immature Barrawarn also have these grey feathers and when the immature birds are the same size as adults, it’s not an easy distinction to make. All Barrawarn sing and their songs and calls are similar, but the females have a greater repertoire of song than the males. Duets are common and, from what I have observed, seem to be led or initiated by female birds. The duets are so finely tuned that they can sound like a single bird.

oh ah ah oh or ah eh oh

or ah eh oh

oh or

oh ah oh or ah ah ah ee eh oh or

ah or oh

ah oh

ah ee-ya

or or ah oh

ah ee-ya

(Friday morning)

Female birdsong is not the rarity it was once thought to be. It is very common in Australian native birds and birds of the subtropics/tropics in general. Western naturalists, ornithologists and scientists have paid little attention to the voices of female birds and have paid little attention in general to birds that live outside North America or Europe. Yet female birdsong is common in the southern hemisphere and in particular in Australia. The research that has been carried out is very recent and, noticeably, most of it is by female scientists.

Female song is common in the following families and subfamilies: Fairywrens and Grasswrens (Maluridae), Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae), Butcherbirds and allies (Artamidae; subfamily Cracticinae), Bush-shrikes, Boubous, and Gonoleks (Malaconotidae), Whistlers (Pachycephalidae),Apalises and Cisticolas (Cisticolidae), Euphonias (Fringillidae, subfamily Euphoniinae), New World             Orioles, Blackbirds and Caciques (Icteridae).[16]

rra oh ee ah ee or ah rror rror

or ah ee

or ah ee

or or or ah ee  or ah ee          ah ee

rra ee ah oh ah

rra ah-ah eee rrah

rra ah rra ee rror

rra ah rra ahh

eeeeeeeeoooooo

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

eeeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeeooooooo

or ah ee

(Saturday morning)

Darwin’s theory of sexual selection (1874) is based on his proposition that female birds have choice and select males from their plumage. At the time of publication this caused an outcry because Darwin’s ‘contemporaries deemed the notion that women had choice as preposterous’, according to Kathi Borgmann. If women had no choice, then neither did female birds. 

Over the last several decades, more female scientists are asking more questions from the female perspective. One great example is bird song—a breeding behavior that for much of the past 100 years has been almost exclusively stud­ied in male birds […] what they found was startling, and their results, published in Nature Communications in 2014, chal­lenge the way scientists had thought about sexual selection for the last 150 years. Odom and her team found that the females of those Australian ances­tors likely sang. In fact, they found that in the distant past female song was the norm among birds. And they found that female bird song is still present in 64% of songbird species that exist in the world today.[17]

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

orr ahhhh

ah ee ah oh ah or or

ah ee ah oh ah or or

(Tuesday early)

Cultural bias has infused Western knowledge about birdsong, claiming certainty and authority yet based on research that is full of gaps and absences and tells only half the story, or, as Haraway notes, gives us a partial perspective. The Indigenous Australian relationship to land/country is ancient, subtle and complex and provides a knowledge system that is inclusive and fluid. It does not make claims that are static or certain but enables the possibilities or potential of things that might be unfolding; in sonic theorist Salomé Voegelin’s words, a ‘fragile gesture of what it could be rather than representing what it appears to be’, where

doing (is) understood as the process of being, not exclusively human being, but being in general, as the condition and process of existence in time, leaving room for manifold possible subjectivities and objectivities to emerge as contingent propositions.[18]

Thickening, condensing. A deposit, a growth, an accretion, an addition. Writing the female Barrawarn is not about translation or conventional meaning-making. It is a consideration of what the birds may be singing and how this is likely to be about so much more than territory or reproduction. I consider the materiality of the sounds that I hear, the concrete nature of sound, the sound of human language, the sound of the birds’ exchanges: how the sounds are reaching my ears as they spread and thread through this layered landscape. What I hear. Tangible, palpable, I pay attention as I meander. I listen to the voices as I walk these streets every day.

ah ah or ah oh-oh or ah eh-eh

or oe oe

oh ee oe oe ah or rro aa ee ah aa oe

oe oh oe ah ee aa oe oh ah ah oe eh oe

(Friday first light a greening sky)

eeeeeeoooooo

eeeeeeoooooo

ee-ya

ee-ya

eeeeeoooooo

ah ee ahhhhhh

ah or-or ah ee aaaaahhhhh

oh or oh  oh-oh

(Saturday dark, wet)

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

ah ee-ya

(Sunday morning mild)

ah ee-oh ah ee-oh  ah oh oh

ah ee-oh ah ee-oh  ah oh oh

oh-oh

ee-ya

ah ee oh ah

eeeeeeeooooooo

then some mins

ah ee oh ah

eeee oh ah

ah ee oh

ah ah eh oh ee oh-oh

(Wednesday watery green-primrose light)

or ah ee

or ah ee

or ah ee

or or

or ah ee

or ah ee

or or ee-or-ah

or or ee-or-ah

(Thursday morning murky light)

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

eeeeeeooooooo

(Thursday dusk pinkening sky Venus low in the west)

Glossary of Names/Terms

Woi wurrung words

            Barrawarn       Australian Magpie

            Birrarang         River Yarra

            Merri Merri     Very rocky, and the name for the Merri Creek

Stolen Generations (circa 1869-1969) 

The term used for the policy of Australian Governments where Indigenous Australian children were taken from their families, their culture and their language and placed in homes and orphanages as a form of racist assimilation.


[1] Mandy Nicholson, ‘Word Up! Woi wurrung’, Awaye, Radio National, 16 September 2017 <https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/features/word-up/word-up-mandy-nicholson/8946524.html> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[2] ‘Former Kodak (Australasia) Pty Ltd Factory Complex’, Heritage Council Victoria <https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/71669> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[3] Jack Charles, Born-Again Blakfella (North Sydney: Penguin, 2019), pp. 7-8.

[4] Archie Roach, Tell Me Why (Cammeray: Simon and Schuster Australia, 2019), p. 200.

[5] Harley Dunolly-Lee and Tonya Stebbins, ‘Restoring Language to Community and Country: What’s happening in Victoria’, talk at Whose Language Are You On, Melbourne Free University, 9 May 2019.  

[6] John Bradley, ‘Learning Language, Learning Country”talk at Whose Language Are You On, Melbourne Free University, 2 May 2019.

[7] Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016), p. 103.

[8] Harley Dunolly-Lee, Jay Kennedy, and Julie Saylor-Briggs, Kinship Ties Symposium at Yirramboi Festival with the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) and State Library of Victoria, 6 May 2019.

[9] ‘Woi wurrung’, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages <https://www.vaclang.org.au/languages/woiwurrung.html> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[10] Tara June Winch, The Yield (Melbourne: Hamish Hamilton Australia, 2019), p. 103.

[11] Jim Poulter and Bill Nicholson, ‘Towards the Municipal Mapping of Traditional Aboriginal Land Use’ (2018) <http://reconciliation-manningham.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Aboriginal_Land_Use.pdf> [accessed  15 June 2020].

[12] Bradford Bailey, ‘Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations (1974) the complete text and scores’ (2016) <https://blogthehum.com/2016/09/13/pauline-oliveros-sonic-meditations-1974-the-complete-text-and-scores> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[13] Recep Sakar, ‘Australian city allows Muslim call to prayer in mosques’, Anadolu Agency <https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/australian-city-allows-muslim-call-to-prayer-in-mosques/1825744> [accessed 15 June 2020].

[14] Bailey, ‘Sonic Meditations’.

[15] ‘Australian Magpie Birds in Backyards’, <https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Cracticus-tibicen> [accessed 10 June 2020].

[16] Karen Odom and Katharina Riebel, ‘Female songbirds sing!’ <http://femalebirdsong.org> [accessed 10 June 2020].

[17] Kathi Borgmann, ‘The Forgotten Female: How a Generation of Women Scientists Changed Our View of Evolution’, (17 June 2019),<https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/the-forgotten-female-how-a-generation-of-women-scientists-changed-our-view-of-evolution> [accessed 10 June 2020].

[18] Salomé Voegelin, ‘Ethics of Listening’, in Journal of Sonic Studies, 2.1 (2012)<https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/5825/1/Voegelin_Ethics_of_Listening.htm> [accessed 10 June 2020].

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