Politics and power from the Pilbara thrill thousands


Spinifex Gum

Sidney Myer Music Bowl, April 9

Despite a bone-chillingly cold Melbourne evening, more than 2000 people flocked to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to witness one of Australia’s best choirs and their special guests.

Spinifex Gum put on a magnificent evening at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Spinifex Gum put on a magnificent evening at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Spinifex Gum, the collaboration between the Marliya Girls Choir and Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill, is a song cycle revealing the stories of the Yindjibarndi community of the Pilbara region.

In light of the Juukan Gorge explosion and the revelations of further Indigenous deaths in custody this year, it feels more urgent than ever that Indigenous artists share their stories in their language. But this is not purely a political protest; the music is magnificent and the teenage performers are captivating.


Riebl joins the choir onstage for Ms Dhu, a heartbreaking ballad dedicated to a young Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu (Julieka Ivanna Dhu) who died due to lack of medical care in police custody. To see 18 young Indigenous women raising their fists in protest and unity is immensely moving. Don’t Shut Them Down is a hip-hop, electro-pop song that names some of the remote communities in the Pilbara and the Kimberley that were on a government list to be forcibly shut down.

And Gumbaynggirr/Dhangatti singer Emma Donovan leaves the audience breathless with her full-bellied blues-gospel-soul rendition of Tom Waits’ Make It Rain and My Island Home. The 18 girls, their young faces smudged with white paint, are consummate performers. Whether it’s hip-hop, synth-pop, reggae-influenced or funk, they deliver each song with pure energy, aided by video montages, expert lighting and audio samples.

Special mention must go to support acts Allara, who managed to sing and play double bass simultaneously, didgeridoo player and dancer Brent Watkins, wonderful new talent Lauren Sheree and the Djirri Djirri Dancers. Kudos to the Auslan interpreter who was equally as emotive as the performers during the support acts.

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