Song Spirals

By Gay’wu Group of Women Allen & Unwin

‘We want you to come with us on our journey, our journey of songspirals. Songspirals are the essence of people in this land, the essence of every clan. We belong to the land and it belongs to us. We sing to the land, sing about the land. We are that land. It sings to us.’

Aboriginal Australian cultures are the oldest living cultures on earth and at the heart of Aboriginal cultures is song. These ancient narratives of landscape have often been described as a means of navigating across vast distances without a map, but they are much, much more than this. Songspirals are sung by Aboriginal people to awaken Country, to make and remake the life-giving connections between people and place. Songspirals are radically different ways of understanding the relationship people can have with the landscape.

For Yolngu people from North East Arnhem Land, women and men play different roles in bringing songlines to life, yet the vast majority of what has been published is about men’s place in songlines. Songspirals is a rare opportunity for outsiders to experience Aboriginal women’s role in crying the songlines in a very authentic and direct form.

Gay’wu Group of Women

Gay’wu Group of Women is the ‘dilly bag women’s group’, a deep collaboration between five Yolngu women and three non-Aboriginal women over a decade. They are all co-authors of Weaving Lives Together at Bawaka, North East Arnhem Land and a book for young adults, Welcome to My Country.

Judges' report

The promise of this beautiful book is in the title: Songspirals. These spirals unfold as the reader is invited into stories of family, land and culture, and the responsibilities of the Gay’wu group of women. This is storytelling that comes with obligation and by its nature has to be told in spirals, providing a glimpse into a profound way of learning about country, culture and family.

Developing a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture is finally being acknowledged as an important way of saving not only our landscapes but our people. As you read through each spiral you hear the women saying, ‘I will tell you this…now I will tell you this…and now, because you know this important part of the story, you can now know this other story.’

This generous, rich narrative helps readers slow down and open up to deep learning. We believe this is a rare and valuable book that, through the generosity of the writers, will increase the knowledge and importance of Indigenous storytelling.

Further reading


‘Songspirals are Life. These are cultural words from wise women. As an Aboriginal woman this is profound to learn. As a human being Songspirals is an absolute privilege to read.’ – Ali Cobby Eckermann is a Yankunytjatjara poet, as referenced in Readings.

‘To read Songspirals is to change the way you see, think and feel this country.’ Clare Wright, Sydney Morning Herald snippet review.


Watch the ‘Songspirals: Sharing women’s wisdom of Country through songlines’ Book Launch address at the 2019 Garma Festival.

Read this article for further information about Gay’wu Group of Women, the co-authors of Song Spirals.