MUSIC MAN: Singer/songwriter Neil Murray at a workshop at Studio One29 at Southern Cross University.
MUSIC MAN: Singer/songwriter Neil Murray at a workshop at Studio One29 at Southern Cross University. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Aboriginal culture inspires music

"JOY from sorrow, love from pain" is a moving lyric from Myall Creek, Neil Murray's ode to the redemptive powers of forgiveness between white and Aboriginal Australia despite past atrocities.

For much of his songwriting journey spanning almost four decades, the veteran artist has been compelled by a passion for Aboriginal culture, history and reconciliation, and the Australian landscape.

On Thursday at Southern Cross University's Studio One29, aspiring songwriters had a chance to witness first-hand how this conscientious and humble man was inspired to create his music.

Neil Murray was the founding member of the Warumpi Band in the early 1980s, which played a key role in developing contemporary Aboriginal music and pushing related social issues into the mainstream alongside contemporaries such as Midnight Oil and Goanna.

A 'whitefella' from the dusty plains of western Victoria, Murray moved to central Australia in 1980 to connect with an Aboriginal culture he had felt intrinsically drawn to since boyhood. "I felt I had to go out and be with (Aboriginal) people and learn from them," Murray said.

His most famous song - My Island Home, used to moving effect in the 2000 Sydney Olympics closing ceremony - was written for the Warumpi Band's lead singer, "GR" - known publicly as George Burarrwanga.

During a tour of the NT to promote their first album, the band spent five days "living off the land" at GR's remote island home Elcho Island.

"It was one of my boyhood dreams to be able to do that with Aboriginal people," Murray said.

It was only later at 3am on a frosty morning, while on a bus travelling from Melbourne to Sydney, when the words and melody popped into his head.

"I just hung on to it... it was really strong and really insistent," he said.

His inspiration was confirmed when GR heard the song Murray had penned for him.

"He said 'that's it, that's number one - that's talking about my life."



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