Publication Details

This article was originally published as Angel, S, Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Audio Repatriation to Arnhem Land, Scan: Journal of Media Arts Culture, 6(3), December 2009.


Return to Arnhem Land broadcast on ABC Radio National's Radio Eye in 2007 is a significant and culturally important radio documentary. It charts the return of ancient song cycles, recorded in 1948 by ABC broadcaster and sound recordist Colin Simpson and technician Ray Giles, to the Oenpelli community in West Arnhem Land in 2006. It tells, through the eyes and voice of historian, broadcaster and narrator Martin Thomas, how these recordings came to be as he returns them to the community; and what the community makes of them as cultural records: artefacts of cultural heritage. The documentary is stirring and evocative, a hybrid of historical account and personal narrative with shifts in time and place effectively woven together to create a seamless non-linear radio feature. No heavy handed historicism in sight, nor is there any modernist simplification of "truth" or "fidelity"( Sterne 2003). As audience we become witness to an audio event where the past and present seem to collide: ancient songs recorded on wire tape in 1948 are played back to the original descendants and we're privy to this mediated exchange. The return of the sacred/secret songs is declared an act of "cultural repatriation" and is described by the narrator/author as a step towards the Australian "post colonial project" (Thomas 2006).

Link to publisher version (URL)

Scan Journal