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Book: Restoring the Chain of Memory

Chapter: Songs of Central Australia

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27447


Although he wrote numerous articles, delivered many public lectures and participated in discussions about the changing condition of Australian Aboriginal peoples, Strehlow’s most significant academic contribution to interpreting Arrernte culture and society is found in the publication Songs of Central Australia (1971), described by A.P. Elkin as Strehlow’s ‘magnum opus’. In addition to containing insight into the religion and society of the peoples of Central Australia, Songs of Central Australia recounts in Arrernte and in English sacred songs and chants performed during secret ceremonies. By presenting details of the songs chanted during major rituals, Strehlow enabled his readers to see Arrernte religion in practice. As such, for the outsider, unfamiliar with the Indigenous language, it offers a living picture of the content and meaning of the principal religious ceremonies of the Arrernte. This chapter primarily analyses selected ‘songs’ recorded and described by Strehlow, with a particular focus on initiation and increase rituals.

Chapter Contributors

  • James Cox ( - jamescox) 'University of Edinburgh'