‘Writing in the Sand’ tells the epic story of legendary band Yothu Yindi and ‘Treaty’, the song that gave voice to a movement

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‘Writing in the Sand’ tells the epic story of legendary band Yothu Yindi and ‘Treaty’, the song that gave voice to a movement

Sometimes a musical revolution can erupt from the most unlikely of places.

Long before they were ARIA Hall of Fame inductees, Yothu Yindi were a bunch of Yolŋu (Aboriginal people of East Arnhem Land) and balanda (non-Indigenous) mates rocking out in the remote Top End.

Soon they were creating some of the coolest new music in the country, splicing traditional sounds with electric, and spreading a message of unity. Then, after singer Mandawuy Yunupiŋu penned the hit song ‘Treaty’ with Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett, and a remix dropped in 1991, Yothu Yindi shot out of Arnhem Land and into the hearts of music lovers across Australia and the world.

The key takeaways 

  • Writing in the Sand is the story of Yothu Yindi, written by authorised biographer Matt Garrick
  • It features extensive interviews with the band, their family, and collaborators like Peter Garrett and Paul Kelly
  • It’s published today, October 27, and is available through ABC Books

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Writing in the Sand, by Yothu Yindi’s authorised biographer Matt Garrick, is the epic story of one of Australia’s most original bands and how ‘Treaty’ – released exactly 30 years ago – gave voice to Indigenous Australia’s hard-fought struggle for recognition.

Featuring photos from the band’s archives never previously published, the book is based on extensive interviews with current and former band members, including mainstays Witiyana Marika, Stu Kellaway and Jodie Cockatoo, as well as family members such as Yalmay Yunupiŋu, Mandawuy’s widow, and collaborators and fellow artists like Peter Garrett, Paul Kelly, Neil Finn, Joy McKean, Bart Willoughby and Andrew Farriss, and features original Yolŋu art.

“It’s thirty years since we made ‘Treaty’, and there’s still bäyŋu [no] treaty,” Witiyana Marika says.

“I have enjoyed it, I have cried; it is something that I can tell the world, of my life, and of my mother’s life, [and] my yothu’s life [Mandawuy]. He was the fire, the flame, and I was the spark. This book shows how we’ve been travelling the world for more than thirty years – and we’re still here. We were the remarkable, powerful performers that brought our power onto the stage.

“Thirty years since that powerful work, there’s nothing, even though there’s treaties in Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere. But for the world’s oldest living culture – nothing yet. This government’s first agenda should be Indigenous people and what they need, and putting them in the Constitution. Our own Constitution should be recognised by our government. We want to see a treaty and we want to see Makarraṯa (peace-making) for every traditional owner across Australia.”

Funny, poetic, heartfelt and steeped in the sights, smells and unique rhythms of East Arnhem Land, Writing in the Sand is a must-read for anyone who cares about Australian music and Aboriginal culture and recognition, all of which were brilliantly woven together by one of the most exciting bands of our time.

The author, Matt Garrick is an award-winning writer and ABC News journalist based in Darwin. Formerly features editor at the NT News, he has lived in East Arnhem Land, where he worked for the ABC, as a freelancer and as the editor of the local paper, the Arafura Times.

Garrick has been following Yothu Yindi’s story since his dad took him as a kid to see them play in Sydney’s Centennial Park. He has written about the band extensively, formed close relationships with members and their families, and has worked as the band’s media coordinator and authorised biographer. Writing in the Sand is his first book. He lives in Darwin.

Check out the book here.