Esplanade Presents


Wungubal: Sacred Songs

Ngulmiya and Nayurryurr Nundhirribala (Australia)

30 Apr 2023, Sun, 10.30pm


(Intermission: None)

Esplanade Concourse

This event is over.


In the barren land at dusk, accompanied by the sound of lively chanting and clapsticks clapping, the men dance, holding flag posts with numerous triangular red flags and kicking up the sand. They wear red loincloths, their bodies are streaked white with ochre, marking the positions they hold in their tribe, totemic duties and ancestors. As nightfall approaches, the womenfolk dance in a group, their actions telling the stories of their history. The ceremony goes on for days, after which, the body painting is smeared, just as designs on the ground are obliterated by the stamping of feet during the dances. These are the Red Flag dancers of the Nundhirribala Clan.


Watch a video of the Red Flag Dancers


At A Tapestry of Sacred Music, songman and dancer Ngulmiya Nundhirribala, a revered leader in his community and keeper of the tradition, accompanied by his son Nayurryurr on didgeridoo, perform Dhumbala (Red Flag) songs among other traditional songs that are derived from hundreds of years of cultural exchange with Makassan sailors from East Indonesia. They also present their family’s totems and songs about the first contact with the outside world.


The songs are sung in Wubuy, a severely endangered Australian aboriginal language, mixed with words that have merged from old Indonesian and Southeast Asian languages over centuries of trade and cultural exchange.


About the Nundhirribala Clan

Hailing from the remote Arnhem Land, Northern Territory in Australia, the Nundhirribala Clan is one of many Australian indigenous tribes, who make up the original inhabitants of the land hundreds of years before colonisation in the 19th century.


As early as the 1700s, Makassan fishermen sailed from the island of Sulawesi to Arnhem Land to trade, in search of trepang (sea cucumbers) in exchange for coins, clay pipes and alcohol. A record of these friendships turned into a culture and spirituality: red flags symbolise the sails of the old perahu sailing boats and they share commonalities in language—jaga (to take care), mabuk (drunk), and dhumbala/dumala (sail). This culture is passed down generations through aural and oral tradition.


With Arnhem Land’s proximity to water, water is a key element in the clan’s dances and songs, which mark major events such as celebrations or deaths. When these occur, the entire community mourns or celebrates with the family. One such ritual is Ayanjanarri, the Water Ceremony, which carries the sorrow and pain of many generations, and a totem is sung to cleanse the mourning family after a death.


Listen to the improvisation of Ayanjanarri, the Water Ceremony


No tickets will be issued. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Language: Wubuy mixed with words that have merged from old Indonesian and Southeast Asian languages over centuries of trade and cultural exchange with the people of Makassar and Southeast Asia.
Things to Note:
Accessibility Advisory: We provide a range of access services and relaxed performances for patrons with access needs. For wheelchair-accessible seats, please call Esplanade Customer Experience at 6828 8377 for assistance. Concessions for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and up to one accompanying companion are available. | View our accessibility guide
Artist Information

Ngulmiya Nundhirribala

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Ngulmiya Nundhirribala is an iconic ceremony leader and songman from Arnhem Land with a powerful voice and presence. He shares improvisations on previously private ceremony songs and Dhumbala (Red Flag) songs and stories, that developed over centuries, through his family's long relationship and history with the Makassan traders and sailors from Southeast Asia.

Date & Time

30 Apr 2023, Sun


Esplanade Concourse

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