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Published onOct 12, 2020

From multiple sources; see Zorc (1995) and Lowe (2014).

Sacred patterns and our identity: Yolŋu have a complex, patterned system of land and sea ownership that this book does not explicitly delve into, but which profoundly underpins the patterned sociality and relational ways of seeing that we describe. See Morphy and Morphy for an excellent account of these patterns as they manifest in clanbased kinship structures and everyday life practices that entail ‘following ancestral patterns in the landscape’ (2006:69).

World-making devices: Beginning with the publication of Horst and Miller’s (2006) study of cell phones in Jamaica, the anthropological literature has offered numerous ethnographic case studies that show how these technologies can be enthusiastically taken up and embedded in local social contexts, often being used in ways that are ‘non-standard’ ways or ‘purposely (re)configured’ to serve local interests. As Vokes (2016) notes, until recently most anthropological studies have tended to demonstrate how the phone could support pre-existing social practices and values, enabling social reproduction, rather than serving as an agent of change. For other approaches to the social significance of mobile phones, see Doron and Jeffery (2013); Telban and Vávrová (2014); Grace (2014); Goggin and Hjorth (2014); Vokes and Pype (2016); Archambault (2017); Bell and Kuipers (2018). In the Australian Aboriginal context see Kral (2012, 2014); Vaarzon-Morel (2014); and Blakeman (2015). Vaarzon-Morel argues that mobile phones are only the most recent devices in a history of new technologies producing what she identifies as both ‘integrative and disjunctive effects’ in remote Aboriginal communities that includes the two-way radio and landline phones (2014:240).

Yuta is exciting: Innovation in Yolŋu art, performance and media is nothing new. As Marcia Langton has argued, innovations in Aboriginal art production point to ‘a process of incorporating the non-Aboriginal world into the Aboriginal worldview or cosmology, to lessen the pressure for Aboriginal people to become incorporated or assimilated into the global worldview’ (1994:90). In recent years there have many been remarkable figures in the music sphere who have demonstrated the Yolŋu genius for joining things together while refusing pressures to assimilate. In the sphere of music these include the late Gurrumul Yunupingu’s sweet-voiced gospel, Baker Boy’s bilingual hip-hop, and the Djuki Mala’s exuberant remix dance. The list of visual artists is too long to list here, but see Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts (; Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala; and the Mukla Project’s work with media in Yirrkala (

Yolŋu collaborations: The anthropological legacy in Arnhem Land is long. Anthropologists have worked in close, often collaborative, relationships with Yolŋu since the 1920s. See Warner (1969 [1937]); Williams (1986); Morphy (1991); McIntosh (2015); Keen (1994); Deger (2006); Tamisari (2005, 2016); De Largy Healy (2013), to name only a few. Yolŋu also have a long and important history of filmic collaborations in ethnographic, documentary and feature films. See Murray and Collins (2004) and de Heer and Djigirr (2006); see also Deveson’s (2011) discussion of the Yirrkala Film Project. Given their openness to collaboration and emergent, contextually specific forms of knowledge production, Yolŋu have been at the forefront of an array of decolonising methodologies (Smith 2012) in a number of disciplines. See, for example, Verran and Christie’s STS approach (2014) and also the recent radical experiment in human geography of co-authoring with a Yolŋu Homeland that they credit as ‘Country, Bawaka’ in the list of authors including Country, Bawaka et al. (2016). In museum and material culture studies, the late Joe Gumbula from Elcho Island worked as a curator and advisor to collecting institutions, contributing in the process to the reshaping of anthropological practices and theories; Allen and Hamby (2011); while Don Gurruwiwi and his family co-curated with anthropologist John Carty a marvellous exhibition called Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia with the Museum of South Australia in 2017 (

Rom: This is difficult to translate into English. It is usually glossed as ‘law’, meaning broadly the values, structures and ways of life laid down by the ancestors. It can be used to refer to a code by which individuals live (people will say ‘this is my rom’ to talk about the specific values or ways of doing things that they claim as distinguishing aspects of their own life), but more generally the term refers to the foundational values embodied in, and materialised by, the madayin and the old people, or ancestors, who once held them in their care. There is a distinct and positively valued moral charge and authority to rom. Yolŋu characterise negative social changes in terms of people disregarding or abandoning rom. Clans and families within clans have their own particular rom. There is a mimetic aesthetic dimension of rom that is concerned with producing an ontologically generative field of sameness, though something of a different order to rote copying or repetition (see Deger 2006).

Affect that moves between bodies, human and otherwise: For other theorisations of the role of affect in contemporary Aboriginal society, see Jennifer Biddle’s seminal work on Aboriginal art and intercultural relations in the central desert (2007, 2016); Fiona Magowan (2007) on Yolŋu women’s song and crying; Bree Blakeman’s (2015) account of Yolŋu economies of affect; and Deger (2016) on Yolŋu photography circulating as a distributed archive of affect that produces a spectral form of social ‘thickening’. See also Elizabeth Edwards (2015) for an overaching discussion of photography and affect from anthropological perspectives.

Two-way knowledges: The two-way education curriculum development in Yirrkala based on forms of participatory research was just one notable example of the ways that Yolŋu metaphors are put into play to foreground the potentially dynamic interplay between Yolŋu and balanda epistemologies as productive and valuable. The late Raymatja Marika and Mandawuy Yunupingu were both extraordinary figures in this regard (not to mention Yunupingu’s extraordinary contribution to Aboriginal rock music). See, for example, Marika, Ngurruwutthun and White (1992).

Sensuous anthropology: David Howes’s recent article ‘Multisensory Anthropology’ (2019) offers a useful overview of the varying stakes in terms such as sensuous, multisensory and multimodal anthropology. Howes’s abiding interest in the possibilities of ‘sensory alterity’ has made a major contribution to anthropology and the study of the senses. By stressing the need to attend to the formation of cultural and, by extention, gendered and class-based sensoria, Howes powerfully argues that the senses are ‘made, not given’ (2019:20). Interestingly, Howes turns to the anthropological literature on Arnhem Land in order to highlight the dynamics of what he calls ‘“audio-olfactory” and “visuo-olfactory” communication… at once chemical and aural-vibrational or visual”’ (ibid. 23). Though not overtly theorised as such here (apart from Deger’s use of the shorthand term ‘synaesthetic’ to gesture to the generative mutuality of the senses), there is a Yolŋu-honed intersensoriality vibrating through the pages of this book, a publication that might be described as an intercultural instruction manual for the senses.

Evocative ethnography: See Kathleen Stewart (2007) on writing affect; Haidy Geismar’s work with photography, affect, presence and digital museum display in collaboration with a Māori artist and an interaction designer (2015b); Skoggard and Waterston (2015) more generally on the anthropology of affect and evocative ethnography; and Miyarrka Media’s (2014, 2014a) earlier attempts at ‘sharing feelings’ through moving images and video screens. See also Tamisari (2005) on writing close to dance.

Embedded aesthetics and relational accountability: See Ginsburg (1994, 2018).

Warpliri media: Michaels (1993).

Images, mutuality, regard: See Deger (2006).

Between art and anthropology: This book does not overtly engage the ongoing disciplinary discussions regarding the relationship between art and anthropology, though see Marcus and Myers (1995); Schneider and Wright (2013); Grimshaw and Ravetz (2015); Geismar (2015a and 2015b); Cox, Irving and Wright (23016); and Bakke and Peterson (2017). It does, however, offer an explicit challenge to Tim Ingold’s blunt assertion that the ethnographic obligation to context, particularity and ‘rearwards’ thinking makes it unsuitable for experiments between art and anthropology. Ingold writes, ‘most attempts to combine art and anthropology, deliberately and selfconsciously, have focused on ethnography as the glue that holds them together. These attempts have not, in my view, been wholly successful: they tend to lead both to bad art and bad ethnography’(2018:3). Beyond discussions focused around ideas of art, Deger’s thinking in this book is energised by Kirin Narayan’s (2016) depiction of ‘everyday creativity’ and Jean Burgess’s (2009) discussions of ‘vernacular creativity’ in digital photography.

Revelation and concealment: As Fred Myers describes in a different context of Aboriginal art display, ‘Concealment and control lie at the heart of an Indigenous performance that seeks to impress us with its value without accepting the dominance of those who view’ (2014:281). In this respect, it is our considered acts of not showing and not telling that affirm rom and its enduring authority, the book providing balanda a glimpse of what Taussig describes as ‘the skilled revelation of skilled concealment’ (2016:455), gesturing to the twist of tension carried in each image, as the ever-present possibility of showing too much, or something that one does not have the rights to show at all, adding to the aesthetic force of each tender assemblage.

Newness of new media: See Gershon and Bell’s (2013) recent edited collection of essays questioning the ‘newness’ of new media, including Deger (2013).

Remix and remediation: Bolter and Grusin (2000). See also Navas, Gallagher and Burrough (2015) for an introduction to the growing field of remix studies.

The moving mind meets the moving body: Taussig (2015:41).

Tribes or clans?: After some debate over terminology amongst an earlier generation of balanda anthropologists, the term clan is now generally used as a descriptor for the patrilineal descent groups through which Yolŋu society is structured and patterned. In this book, however, the terms tribes and clans have been used interchangeably, reflecting the fact that Yolŋu are more confortable with the term tribe because of their familiarity with English-language versions of the Bible.

An increasingly digital world: Miyarrka Media (2014b:3). The 3G network had been preceded by the CDMA network, which had been connected several years earlier and had enabled more basic talk and text functions.

Balanda technologies: Over the past two decades many scholars researching digital media in remote Indigenous communities in Australia have focused on the design and implementation of databases and other forms of digital archiving and delivery that operate in accordance with local epistemological and social imperatives (Christen 2005; Christie 2008; Gumbula, Corn and Mant 2013; Verran, Christie, Anbins-King, van Weeren and Yunupingu 2007; Corn and Gumbula 2003; Thorner and Dallwitz 2015). Kral (2010) identifies the ways that social media use amongst Indigenous youth cultures in Central Australia gives rise to new forms of literacy. See the edited collection of essays in Cultural Studies Review by Biddle and Stefanoff for a discussion of ‘Indigenous aesthetics and intercultural cosmopolitanisms’ (2015:100) that sit far closer to the ethos of this book. More recently, anthropological discussions of Indigenous media in Australia and elsewhere have turned to imaginaries of the future (Lempert 2018; Hennessy, Smith and Hogue 2018; Ginsburg 2018a).

Each time the phone rings: Miyarrka Media (2014).

Rather than difference: Audra Simpson’s critique of anthropology as the presumptive voice of indigeneity underscores ‘culture’ as a category of colonisation: ‘“Culture” described the difference that was found in these places and marked the ontological end-game of each exchange: a difference that had been contained into neat, ethnically defined territorial spaces that now needed to be made sense of, to be ordered, ranked, to be governed, to be possessed’ (2007:67).

Bark paintings: See Morphy (1989, 1991, 2007) for a comprehensive overview of the emergence and significance of bark painting as a distinctive art form. Morphy’s research and writing has been instrumental in facilitating the international recognition of the diversity, skill and sheer brilliance of Yolŋu artists and Yolŋu art forms. See also ‘The art of Yirrkala crayon drawings – innovation, creativity and tradition,’ in which Morphy describes another formal experiment in Yolŋu art arising from ‘a synergistic relationship between the motivations of the anthropologist and the motivated engagement of the Yolngu’ (2013:29). Many museums and galleries, incluing the National Museum of Australia, display images of significant works online along with narrative explanations provided by the artist for those interested in seeking out these often astonishingly beautiful and richly meaningful forms of gamunuŋgu. See Pinchbeck (2018), Noŋgirrŋa Marrawili: From my Heart and Mind, the catalogue from an extradinary recent exhibition of bark painting, sculptures and work on paper that chimes deeply with the themes of this book.

Waŋgany: Frances Morphy (2008:128) underscores the goal of inclusive harmony in Yolŋu governance. As she writes, ‘Ultimately a “good” leader is a person to whom other people will listen, and who can create and maintain consensus—a sense of ŋayaŋu wanggany “one feeling” or mulkurr wanggany “one mind”’. See Blakeman (2015:411) for a nuanced description of ‘the normative ideal and primary value of ŋayaŋu-wanggany’.

A politics of affirmation: This term is borrowed from Rosi Braidotti (2010).

Thinking through assemblages: Tsing (2015:22–23).

Shared anthropology: The term ‘shared anthropology’ is most closely associated with the French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch, who made films that asserted the generative, performative and downright exuberant possibilities of a collaborative anthropology. See, for example, Rouch and Feld (2004).

Colour materialises relationships: See Diana Young’s seminal work on the materiality of colour (2006, 2011, 2018). As she writes, ‘Colours constitute badges of identity and connect otherwise disparate categories of things… colours can transform things… Colours are also linked to emotional expression. Lastly in the phenomenon known as synaesthesia coloured mental imagery is linked with other senses, not just the visual – commonly sound, odour, and tactility’ (2006:ibid).

Structural violence: Sociologist Johan Galtung (1969) coined this term to refer to the oppressive power of social institutions whereby they produce harm on people as they impose and perpetuate inequality such as poverty and racism. Structural violence enables an analytic position that approaches social suffering within a broader history of marginalisation and, in the case of Indigenous people, the ongoing imposition of colonial structures of governance, education and administration as informed by the normative social expectations of the settler society.

Anticolonial struggle: cf. Jennifer Biddle’s (2016) situating of new and experimental Aboriginal artforms in Central Australia. It is worth emphasing also that the ways of seeing that drive this project are not constituted in response to the colonial archive and its enduring, though by now much-criticised, visual tropes. See, for example, Langton’s subtle analysis of Brook Andrew’s ‘enchantment of ethnographic photographs’ (2014). See also Lydon (2005, 2014) on Aboriginal people’s relationships with archival photographs beyond the art sphere.

Affordances: Media scholars use the term ‘affordances’ as a way to identify technologies for what they do or enable, rather than what they are. It is a relational approach to thinking about technological effects; a way of moving past technologically determinist assumptions that technologies impact societies and individuals—or, conversely, the idea that technologies are simply what humans create them to be. See, for example, Bucher and Helmond (2018).

Two worlds: See Frances Morphy’s (2007) discussion of Yolŋu conceptualising themselves as living in ‘two worlds’ and the intercultural zone created by organisations such as the Laynha Homelands Association.

Co-creativity: See, for instance, the rhetoric of empowerment on the Blingee photo app site: ‘Traditional photos are boring, and we thought you deserved much better than the same graphics and content with no personality used over and over again across the net… so we decided to put the power back in your hands, and give you simple to use tools to create your own masterpieces that express your own ideas, feelings, and emotions!’ (

The disappearance of place: Taylor (2014:2).

Co-creativity: See Haviland (2017) for discussions of co-creativity and collaboration in a variety of contexts, including Aboriginal Australia.

Lightning snake ringtone recording: Canadian anthropologist and ethnomusicologist Peter Toner worked closely with B.ŋgana for several years during his own PhD research, producing a valuable archive and an analysis of clan manikay that highights song poetry as a fundamental dimension of Yolŋu poetics and imagistic worldmaking (2001, 2003). The translation of the song on the following page is from Toner (2001:358–359), with the orthography and spelling amended for this publication by G.wura Wanambi.

Galka: Though technology itself can be a vector of malicious magic by humans (galka), it does not provide access for the spirit world to communicate directly as described by Telban and V.vrov. (2014) in New Guinea.

Hiding: Turkle (2011:1).

Completely freaked her out: See Miyarrka Media’s film Ringtone (2014) for more stories of galka, SIM card swapping and balanda phone scams.

Without accepting the dominance of those who view: Myers (2014:281).

The skilled revelation of skilled concealment: Taussig (2016:455). Morphy elaborates these revelatory dynamics in Yolŋu in more ‘traditional’ art forms such as painting and sculpture (1991, 2003).

Wangarr can be seen as a manifestation of the one true God: Morphy (2003).

2_Brothaz_Arguing: A google search identified the original video as an episode of Bewitched (S3, E26: Aunt Clara’s Victoria Victory.

Yolŋu metaphors for learning: Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie (1995:60). The article discusses key Yolŋu concepts identified in consultation with community elders at Yirrkala Community School as part of a program of Yolŋu curriculum development. ‘[W]e learn to recognise what we see in the environment and how it can help us.’ Next, they introduce the expression ḻundu-nhäma. Nhäma translates pretty straightforwardly as ‘to see’. Lundu, they explain, is more complex. It can refer to the creative journeys made by ancestors; it can also refer to the footsteps or gait of these people. If we understand Lundu as manifestation of shared characteristics or similarity across distance, then the final definition they offer also makes sense: ‘a word for friend, or companion, someone who thinks and feels so close to your, they are almost like your reflection’. Marika-Mununggiritj states: ‘First we must recognise what has gone before and know exactly how it fits within the whole web of meaning which makes Yolŋu life.’ It is this act of reproduction, albeit in a modern guise, that has effects that far exceed what we might understand if we turned only to the Yolŋu dictionary for explanation, where dhudakthun translates as act, pretend, imitate, learn, or copy.’ Dhudakthun, as Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie describe, ‘has the effect of bringing our [Yolŋu] spiritual past to life again through our modern behaviour’ (my italics). Marika-Mununggiritj and Christie (1995:60–61).

Technological redemption: Hinkson (2013:303).

Let us love this distance: Solnit (2005:31).

More family photographs: Deger (2015); Miyarrka Media (2011).

A manifestation of ancestral power: See, for example, Morphy (1989, 1991).

Oh yes! Expression of discovery: Charles Darwin University, Yolŋu Matha Dictionary (http://Yolŋ

Artist unidentified: Occasionally, we have been unable to identify the artist/photographer. This did not particularly bother other members of Miyarrka Media who were less interested in who made the image than who and what it showed.

Structural violence, intergenerational trauma, and social transformation: See, for example, Lea, Kowal and Cowlishaw (2006); Altman and Hinkson (2010); Austin-Broos (2011); Sutton (2011); Povinelli (2016); Eickelkamp (2017); and a recent collection of essays in the special issue of Oceania: Shifting Indigenous Australian Realities: Dispersal, Damage, and Resurgence, edited by Hinkson and Vincent (2018).

Recognition: See Hinkson (2017b:90) on the failure of recognition: ‘Recognition forecloses rather than opens possibilities for transformative interactions across cultural forms.’

Wherever precarity is apparent: Hinkson defines precarity as ‘the ontological disembedding of people from distinctively place-based associations’ (2017a:58).


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