Crossing Roper Bar


Image Credit: Jeff Wassmann

Musical Director: Paul Grabowsky
Leader, Young Wägilak Group: Benjamin Wilfred
Asst. Musical Director (2006/7): Julien Wilson
Asst. Musical Director (2009-): Tony Hicks
Project start date: 2005
Premiere performance: Garma Music Festival, Gulkula NT, August 2006

Crossing Roper Bar CD: BUY NOW


Performances and News:

In November 2012 the AAO and the Young Wägilak Group performed Crossing Roper Bar in Paris, London and Cambridge during a European tour.

“The western instruments often use hypnotic modal figures while the indigenous singing is awash with throaty overtones and fluttering harmonics that are like electronica freed from the rigidity of fixed keys and pre-set loops. Furthermore the bilma – clapstick – has a percussive sharpness that progressive dance music producers would die for.”
Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise Magazine

See the full review from Jazzwise magazine here and from the Australian Times here. You can also listen to Paul Grabowsky and Daniel Wilfred being interviewed on BBC Radio, including excerpts from Crossing Roper Bar, in our Listening Room.

Program Notes

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

Tour History

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


Image Credit: Tobias Titz

Performance Artists

Benjamin Wilfred Yidaki (didjeridu), Bilma (clapsticks), vocals
Daniel Wilfred Yidaki (didjeridu), vocals
David Wilfred Yidaki (didjeridu)
Paul Grabowsky Keys
Tony Hicks Reeds
Stephen Magnusson Guitar
Errki Veltheim Violin
Philip Rex Bass
Niko Schauble Drums


Samuel Curkpatrick PhD candidate in Aboriginal culture at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, ANU, Canberra
Ren Walters Visual Artist
Kevin Rogers Wägilak elder
Dr Aaron Corn Research Fellow in Ethnomusicolgy and Australian Indigenous Studies, University of Sydney
Tura New Music

Press for Crossing Roper Bar

Earth, Wind and Song Cycles Performing in Concert

The Age  (Jessica Nicholas)  22 March 2007

Bridging the Gap Between Contemporary Music and Ancient Indigenous Music.

ABC Darwin     18 August 2008

A Work Of Rare Integrity

  (Dr Aaron Corn) 

Earth, Wind and Song Cycles Performing in Concert   (Kelly Curran)  25 September 2008

Crossing Musical Boundaries

Rhythms Magazine  (Tony Hillier)  Thursday, February 26, 2009

Renaissance on the Roper

The Australian  (Nicolas Rothwell)  30 April 2009

Crossing Roper Bar - An Introduction


A Fusion of Black and White

The Australian  (Ashleigh Wilson)  19th July 2010

Crossing the Divide

The Age A2  (Liza Power)  31st July 2010

Jazz breaking news: Australian Art Orchestra’s outback beats heat up

Jazzwise magazine  (Kevin Le Gendre)  20 November 2012

Australian Art Orchestra showcased at London Jazz Festival

The Australian Times    9 November 2012