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Published onOct 12, 2020


Yolŋu biyarrmak [funny, clowning around] videos started with the phones. The boys especially love to film themselves.


Yolŋu have been doing funny dancing for a long time. They can dance like this in circumcision ceremonies, like when ladies dance like men and grab the yidaki [didgeridoo] for themselves. Those boys know there is something big coming up and we can take their mind away from this for a while. It is a way of mixing things up, to relax and have fun. Now we know how to use new technologies like phones and websites to gather new things together.


We jump through the phone to find new ideas, styles and moves, and bring them back. Then we use our phones to film ourselves dancing from the music they collect. We can mix together Dhuwa and Yirritja, Yolŋu and balanda, even Tahitian, Indian and African styles. Anything we like!


Kids find new styles by watching videos from far away. That’s why they dress up in different costumes. They pick it up on YouTube or Facebook and then they grab it. The next day we see it on a video. That’s how they get these things from YouTube. They go in through their phones to pick up ideas.

Once they find a cool style they start practising. They take their phones to the oval or near the airport. They like to practise in the bush, in clear and quiet areas, copying clothing and styles from YouTube. They mix the styles they find from far away. But it’s still our culture. They are joining things together. Making them waŋgany [one].


Those dances and videos aren’t made for balanda. These boys are challenging each other. They’re not talking about balanda and Yolŋu culture. They’re talking about themselves. It’s just about the fun; they’re not criticising Yolŋu or balanda, they’re just challenging other biyarrmak, funny dancing groups.

It’s all about the challenging: who does the funniest dancing, who is the best dancer in Arnhem Land. They’re showing off, showing their gakal, their style, to other dancers. It makes them proud, challenging one another so other groups can think about how they beat the others. There’s no meaning, no story. Just fun.


They start doing those dance moves in a comical way, like they’ve seen balanda do on shows like Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. They’re making each other laugh. Like on that show.


They watch each other through YouTube, especially the Djuki Mala [Chooky Dancers], but other mobs too. But then they do their own dance. They’re not copying. They’re finding their own style. Like these boys here who call themselves Wildfree Boys.


Biyarrmak makes you wake up and feel alive.

Wildfree Boys, 2010

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Gomu Boys, 2009

This is from a video by some boys who call themselves Gomu Boys. That means Hermit Crab Boys. Before they start dancing they record a message to other boys from other tribes and places: This is for you from Gapuwiyak. You other boys, wherever you are filming yourselves dancing. You’re nothing. You’re boring. This is my crew. The Gomu Boys plus one yothu [ritual manager].


Miyalk [women] can make funny buŋgul too. That kind of dancing is not only for boys. The women teach themselves different, different kinds of styles.

They dance all kinds of things like emu, heron, fish, seagull, floating log, yam, crocodile, dog, tortoise, yabbie.

They mix Dhuwa and Yirritja to make a funny remix. Just for themselves, or for others laugh with them. There’s no meaning, it’s all made up. Just for fun. Old people, young people love it. Wakal buŋgul, just dancing for fun… anybody can laugh. And no one will get upset.

They might do this buŋgul at the community football grand final, or just practice at home for the family.

Here they look like Tahitians because Jennifer bought that stuff on the Internet. So they could look like other cultures, but make it Yolŋu. It’s not serious. It wakes you up and stops you thinking too much. It takes your mind off things.


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