Crossing Roper Bar is a series of regular exchanges which have been taking place since 2005 between the Young Wägilak Group from Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and the Australian Art Orchestra (based in Melbourne). It is a collaboration based on an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centred on music. An electrifying marriage of the very old with the very new, Crossing Roper Bar is a celebration of country, of ceremony, and of the power of music to build enduring bridges across cultures, time and space.

The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr, which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.

Ngukurr is an ideal place to learn about Aboriginal music because it is the gathering point for outlying peoples of the Wägilak, Ngalmi, Murrungun, Nunthirrbala, Mungurra, Lalara and Wurramurra nations, who come together under the name Yugul Mangi. The manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu of South East Arnhem Land represent one of the oldest and most affecting musical traditions on the planet and the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the AAO to create a contemporary rendering of these precious cultural artefacts – performing songs that many of their Yolŋu kin further north had thought were lost forever.

Watch excerpts from performances of Crossing Roper Bar

2012 – European tour: Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; Southbank Centre, London Jazz Festival; Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Homerton College, Cambridge
2012 – workshops and performances at Monash School of Music, Victoria
2012 – Signal Point Art Gallery, Goolwa, South Australia
2010 – Australian Performing Arts Market, Adelaide;
Opening of ‘Colour Country: Art From the Roper River’ Exhibition, Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; Darwin Entertainment Centre; Ngukurr, South East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory;
Llewelyn Hall, Australian National University, Canberra
2009 – Apollo Bay Music Festival, Apollo Bay, Victoria; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne;
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
2008 – Top End Tour, Tura New Music: Darwin, Katherine, Timber Creek, Kununurra, Warmun, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Lombadina, One Arm Point, Beagle Bay, Perth
2007 – Birrarung Marr, Melbourne; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
2006 – Garma Music Festival, Gulkula, Northern Territory