'I Know That Face' Murundak: Songs of Freedom and the Black Arm Band

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Sue Gillett
Charon Freebody


‘This black armband view of our history’ was a phrase used by Prime Minister John Howard in a 1996 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture. Howard used the phrase, first coined by historian Geoffrey Blainey, to counter the arguments of opponents who were insisting that the post-contact treatment of the Aboriginal people must be recognised and included in Australian historical discourse and public forms of remembrance. The musical ensemble that is the subject of Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham’s documentary film, Murundak: Songs of Freedom (2011) developed its name and its intention in protest against Howard’s dismissive rhetoric.
This article examines the ways in which the film extends the platform for the Black Arm Band’s performances of cultural-political intervention begun in their highly successful murundak concerts. We argue that the film constructs an alternative Australian history through strategies that authorise the personal memories disclosed by the Aboriginal band members – the film’s protagonists – and enable them to be gathered into a form of collective, social memory. Songs and song-writing provide the focal point for this work of remembrance, and the unifying thread that weaves a regenerative narrative through three major stages of Aboriginal history: the struggle to survive; the process of healing; and reconnection with kin, country and language.

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Locating Memory (Peer Reviewed)