The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), Sounds of Australia have added ten new sounds to the collection, including the iconic Spencer and Gillen cylinder recordings of Aboriginal communities in Central Australia from 1901-1902 and the first commercially available record by an Aboriginal artist, Olive and Eva (1955).

The Sounds of Australia archive, established in 2007, aims to create a registry that reflects the history and culture of Australia.

NFSA Sound Curator, Thorsten Kaeding said the team are incredibly proud of the new additions to the collection.

“These sounds are hugely significant. We are very proud to have recordings of Olive and Eva in the collection. These recordings tell us a lot about Indigenous culture in the 1950s and how difficult it was for Indigenous artists to be recognised.”

“The Spencer and Gillen recordings are incredibly significant to our history, they’re among the earliest recordings made in Australia,” Mr Kaeding said.

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Track Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute of Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, Dr Jason Gibson has worked closely with the Spencer and Gillen recordings during his research.

“These are the earliest recordings of Indigenous people on the mainland of Australia and they capture Arrernte language. The recordings feature three different types of songs which were used across central Australia at the time,” Dr Gibson said.

“The songs include trading songs, some are songs about specific areas of the Arrernte Country, the ancestors that lived there and some are restricted around ceremony.”

Dr Gibson believes these recordings are hugely significant to Australian history and identity.

“The recordings were gathered for anthropological research but today we can celebrate the recordings for their diversity and their cultural complexity. They tell us about what life was like prior to and during the early phases of colonisation for Arrernte people,” Dr Gibson said.

“Sound has a way of reaching our emotions and a way of connecting with us. Listening to those voices and songs today, you can almost be transported back to that scene. It really conjures up interesting visions, whereas written word, it is harder to touch what was really happening.”

Mr Kaeding agrees, noting the power these recordings have in bringing First Nations voices to the forefront of Australian history.

“One of the functions we provide is the ability to tell the whole story, or providing the opportunity for people to hear parts of First Nations history that they may not be aware of. We have been going since 2007, the Indigenous part of our collection has always been very central to the story. These stories are there, they are important, they are significant for us as a nation and they’re there for us to learn from,” Mr Kaeding said.

“The collection has the power to reflect the culture of Australia and in doing so inform people about their history and our shared history – where we’ve been and where we are heading. It’s about telling the whole story of the history of Australia.”

Mr Kaeding encourages people to access NFSA Sounds of Australia online and nominate the sounds they believe should hold residency in this sensory mosaic of Australian history.

Sounds can be nominated here: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/about/our-mission/sounds-australia.

By Rachael Knowles