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Country Down Under

Country music is commonly associated with downtrodden, lovelorn, white inhabitants of America's rural south - but it has also long been a significant form of expression for Australia's Aboriginal peoples.

Country music became popular Down Under during the first half of the 20th Century. Thanks to gramophone recordings, wind-up radios and touring bands, it even reached the bush where most Aboriginals lived, often more or less imprisoned on missions and government-controlled reserves. At a time when their own cultural heritage was being systematically erased, country music became a medium through which they could maintain their practice of sharing stories via the oral tradition.

Its resonance was enhanced by melodies which tended towards the melancholic. As one musician put it "country music was all about loss, and we'd lost everything".

Through country music, Aboriginal people were able to give voice to their personal experiences and ongoing struggles for justice. For example, songs describe the stealing of babies and land, incidents of racism, poor living conditions and high levels of incarceration.

And so country music, far from its origins, has become a deeply moving and powerfully activist Aboriginal art form.

Produced by Rachel Hopkin
Mixed by Robin Wise
Consultant: Clinton Walker
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

30 minutes

Last on

Sat 31 Dec 2016 14:00

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