Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project & Yirrmal

We roll down to the Tivoli on a crispy spring Sunday evening.

Yirrmal is the ‘support’ act, and I use that term in the loosest possible way, because truly we are in the presence of a great artist. This young man is as dynamic a performer as I have ever seen, singing brutal and joyous truths of family, love, loss and pride. I don’t know that I could praise him highly enough. His voice booms across the crowd, the sonic quality reminds me of the healing tones of crystal singing bowls. It’s an awesome experience, and the the full room is a testamount to the fact that people are not rolling in late for the ‘main event’.

Which is energetic, and lively, and deadly af. The Yothu Yindi Treaty Project sees a smattering of original members, new players, and up-and-coming family, as well as Yirrmal, who makes his way back on stage for a dynamic performance.

The full line-up is Yothu Yindi founding members – Witiyana Marika, Stu Kellaway and Kevin Malngay Yunupingu – joined by former band mates Shellie Morris and Ben Hakalitz and popular Indigenous singer/songwriters Yirrmal (son of Witiyana), Dhapanbal (daughter of late frontman Dr M. Yunupingu) and Kamahi Djordon King.
Rounding out the line-up is emerging Yolngu singers Yirrnga Yunupingu and Yimila Gurruwiwi, along with Roy Kellaway (son of Stu Kellaway), Ania Reynolds (Circus Oz) and DJ Gavin Campbell (Filthy Lucre).

Yothu Yindi first formed in 1985 – this is the official 25th birthday celebrations. The name is formed from the Yolngu words for mother and child. The band toured to near on every country on the planet; I know this because my dad was their stage manager (true story) and I still have a collection of postcards at home that I received from Iceland, Japan, Canada, Italy… They have been making people jump up and down the country for over two decades, in the rough wild places of the outback, the smallest towns, the big ol’ country hoedowns, the finest theatres of the cities, the juggernauts of pop music festivals. I am so happy to see this massive crowd of musicians on the stage – I think there were 10 of them at one stage! I love how they bring their whole mob with them. There are kids on the balcony upstairs watching their family rock the stage. There are nanas in the crowd tonight. It’s definitely not the usual crowd. And isn’t that a shame.

The classic songs are the crowd-pleasers, although they have a smattering of new songs that dip their toes into reggae, country rock and even a house song that sounds straight out of a playlist from a 1980’s Rage countdown.

Djapana is the penultimate song, and it would be a sin not to dance, even for the famously stock-still audiences of Brisbane. Treaty brings the set to its close, a bittersweet reminder that not much has changed since it was first written. I am at once devastated and incensed by the lack of progress in this country. And simultaneously uplifted by the gorgeous crowd cheering; change is slow but this day will pass.

Bob Hawke visited the Territory. He went to this gathering in Barunga. And this is where he made a statement that there shall be a treaty between black and white Australia. Sitting around the camp fire, trying to work out a chord to the guitar, and around that camp fire, I said, “Well, I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television.” That should be a catchphrase. And that’s where ‘Treaty’ was born.

— Mandawuy Yunupingu, 8 July 2004, Wikipedia

I’m left with a feeling of urgency. Next year, I need to get myself to Arnhem Land, go see it for myself. Need to put some Turrbal words on my fridge, learn whatever handful of language I can, learn the words that belong to Maiwar, the country I have made my home on. Need to make sure we push just as hard as we can for all that this music longs to make manifest. This is truly political music. Music that heals. Music that challenges. Music to dance to. Music to rise up with.

Nadia Jade


Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project played The Tivoli on 16th September 2018.

Witiyana Marika – Vocals and clapsticks
Malngay Yunupingu – Vocals and yidaki (didge)
Stuart Kellaway – Bass and backing vocals
Dhapanbal Yunupingu – Vocals
Yirrmal Marika – Vocals
Yirrnga Yunupingu – Vocals
Yimila Gurruwiwi – Vocals
Shellie Harris – Vocals
Kamahi Djordon King – vocals
Ania Reynolds – Keyboards
Roy Kellaway – Guitar and vocals
Ben Hakowitz – Drums
Gavin Campbell – Samples and percussion

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