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Making My Island Home

  • 18 October 2022
  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware this article contains names of deceased people.   ‘My Island Home’ was first recorded 35 years ago, a song that emerged from a journey between non-indigenous and Indigenous voices. It’s helped Australians better understand our home and place in it, and points to the value of enshrining Indigenous voices in our constitution so they can continue to speak to us all. 

Many don’t realise ‘My Island Home’, made famous by Christine Anu in 1994, then even more famous by her at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, wasn’t written by an indigenous person.

The song is Neil Murray’s, a founding – and only non-indigenous member – of The Warumpi Band, which formed in 1980 in the tiny indigenous settlement of Papunya, NT. Then 24-year-old Murray had left Lake Bolac, Victoria to discover the Aboriginal culture that seemed absent from his home district.

‘I hadn’t been there a week when I met Sammy Butcher,’ Murray says when we chat at a St Kilda café before a recent Melbourne gig. Butcher, another founding Warumpi Band member, came to Murray’s flat and asked if he had a guitar. ‘I showed him, he had a look and said, ‘We’ll have a jam, hey?’ And, boy, could he a play!’

Sammy’s brother Gordon soon joined the band along with singer George Rrurrambu (Burarrwanga) who’d come to Papunya from Galiwinku (Elcho Island) to marry Sammy’s sister.

‘He was a revelation,’ Murray remembers. ‘A Top End bloke who was confident, outgoing and bold – and he just wanted to sing and be up front.’

After the band’s 1985 ‘Big Name, No Blanket’ tour Murray spent a few days with George and his family on Galiwinku.

'It’s about Elcho Island, but it could be about anyone’s home; it could be about Australia, it could be about the planet. Songs extrapolate their meaning and resonate outwards, that’s the magic of them.'

‘We took off to a remote part of the island and we lived off the land and sea. It was just paradise; we were getting turtles, lobsters at night, and fish were just about jumping in the boat. It occurred to me it was like this everywhere once.’

Sleepless at 3am on an interstate bus trip not long after, Murray says he was ‘suffering a longing to be somewhere he really belonged’ when the words – and melody – ‘my island home is waiting for me’ rose up in him. ‘It really