Collaborative Ethnomusicology: New Approaches to Music Research between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians

By Koch, Grace | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Collaborative Ethnomusicology: New Approaches to Music Research between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians


Koch, Grace, Australian Aboriginal Studies


Collaborative ethnomusicology: new approaches to music research between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians Katelyn Barney (ed.) 2014 Lyrebird Press, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Faculty of VCA and MCM, The University of Melbourne, 202pp., ill., portraits, ISSN 1325 5266, ISBN 9780734037770 (pbk)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In his book The politics of suffering, Peter Sutton (2010:200-01) speaks of the relationships and collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, especially Biraban and Threkeld, Billy Mammus and Ursula McConnel, Mahkarolla and Lloyd Warner, and others:

It is inconceivable that the Aboriginal people in these relationships
played parts that were merely passive. Their relationships were
collaborative. Collaborations of this order happen all over Australia
every day. That is reconciliation in action, and evidence that it has
been achieved, but achieved atomically, not en masse.

The volume Collaborative ethnomusicology: new approaches to music research between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians gives compelling examples of 'atomic' collaborative projects, where, as Barney states, spaces for sharing have been created between Indigenous researchers and others from a Western academic tradition (p.7). Most of the chapters are authored jointly; those with one author refer to projects with a strong cross-cultural focus, such as Neuenfeldt's description of the importance of identifying and working with 'cultural brokers' (p.27), and Somerville's moving essay, based upon her own experiences, of how she perceived the 'contact zone' (p.16) between herself and various Indigenous knowledge holders.

Barney illustrates the themes of the book by describing her understanding of the meaning of the artwork on the cover, designed by Aboriginal artist Denise Proud. The two circles, black and white, show the 'meeting space between the Indigenous researchers and community members and the non-Indigenous researchers and universities' (p.7). Other themes included within the iconography are the importance of dialogue, the distinctiveness of the two types of knowledges, the responsibilities of one researcher to another and to their respective communities and institutions, reciprocity of knowledge exchange from one to the other, and the power of music to overcome barriers to communication and culture. The non-Indigenous researcher is challenged to 'decolonise' their thinking so that Western knowledge is de-centred (Langton 1993:35).

Several chapters deal with the problems inherent in varying perceptions of what research actually is. For example, the chapters by Ryan and Patten and by Treloyn and Charles describe in detail some of the difficulties of arriving at an acceptable mode of working together between researchers.

The volume is outstanding in several areas. First, the chapters come from many geographical areas of Australia. Also, the contributors approach the issues from their own experiences, showing their different viewpoints through a wide variety of approaches, such as that of co-performers (Neuenfeldt and Campbell), academic supervisor and an Indigenous knowledge expert who is also a student (Ford, Barwick and Marett, also Barney and Proud), and co-lecturers on music and culture (Corn and Patrick). Their descriptions of their own joint research offer the reader a chance to see many commonalities and differences in issues of collaboration.

In Chapter 5, MacKinlay proposes seven aspects of successful collaborations--relationships, respect, responsibilities, roles, reciprocity, representation and rights--which enumerate most major themes of the book. Each author refers to most of the seven principles in their chapters, but I will give examples from selected chapters.

MacKinlay explores her interwoven relationships to her partner's maternal grandmother, Karrakyn, who is also MacKinlay's special teacher and guide for her research with the Yanyuwa and other women of the Burrulula region of the Gulf of Carpentaria. …

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