Joe Gumbula, the Ancestral Chorus, and the Value of Indigenous Knowledges

Joe Gumbula, the Ancestral Chorus, and the Value of Indigenous Knowledges Generic

Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture

  • Author(s): Corn, Aaron
  • Published: 2018
  • Volume: 47
  • ISBN: 21952965 21952957 2195-2957

Abstract: Joseph Neparrŋa Gumbula (1954–2015) had an atypical scholarly trajectory. Born into a long line of Yolŋu leaders in the remote town of Milingimbi in the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reverse, he left school in his mid-teens for the neighbouring town of Galiwin’ku in 1971, where he joined the country and gospel band, Soft Sands, as a singer and guitarist. Through his passion for making music and admission to Yolŋu ritual leadership in 1997, Gumbula discovered a new calling in researching the documented legacy of his family history in ethnographic collections around the world. This pursuit set him on an unprecedented path towards leading national research grants supported by fellowships at various universities. His research would return to Arnhem Land rare and precious ethnographic materials dating back as far as the edge of living memory in 1920s, and exemplify how Indigenous heritage collections can be grown, managed and made accessible with broad benefits. Paralleling the emergence of affordable digital media technologies, his research interests progressed accordingly from isolated local databases to clouded mobile delivery platforms. The interdisciplinary networks that Gumbula built were far reaching and have left lasting impacts. In this article, I expand upon my Gumbula Memorial Lecture for the 2017 Information Technologies and Indigenous Communities (ITIC) Symposium in Melbourne to explore how Gumbula challenged his students and colleagues to think and work beyond the conventions of disciplinary and professional methodologies, thereby transforming our understandings of knowledge itself and encouraging us to act as proactive agents in the world.

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Suggested Citation
Corn, Aaron, 2018, Joe Gumbula, the Ancestral Chorus, and the Value of Indigenous Knowledges, Volume:47, Generic, viewed 30 November 2021,

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