In a forthcoming Currency House Platform Paper, Indigenous composer, academic and activist Dr Christopher Sainsbury considers how Aboriginal music, rituals and narratives have been used in the pursuit of an Australian musical identity. A Senior Lecturer at the ANU School of Music, Dr Sainsbury looks at how these elements of Indigenous cultural life have been used and, in some cases, misappropriated by Australia’s leading composers.

Dr Christopher Sainsbury, second from left, with Ngarra-Burria’s participants and facilitators and artists from Ensemble Offspring. Photo © Eora College

“I must point out that some non-Indigenous composers have occupied the Indigenous space,” he writes. “Many non-Indigenous composers have referenced Indigenous music, culture, themes or narratives in their compositions. At times, some have done so effectively, disempowering Indigenous composers. This has occurred for many decades.”

The paper further explores how music can more respectfully and meaningfully engage with First Peoples in Dr Sainsbury’s account of an artist development program he initiated. The Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers program saw five Indigenous composers – Rhyan Clapham, Brenda Gifford, Tim Gray, Troy Russell and Elizabeth Sheppard – develop and record new chamber works, many of which drew on their own local...