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Up, up and away as Carroll reconnects with his songlines

Guiding two crazy white men as they fly 4000kms across Australia in second-hand microlight gliders was the last place musician Carroll Karpany expected to discover his ancestral song.

Karpany, a Ngarrindjeri man and founding member of the ground-breaking Indigenous group Us Mob, thought the ancient songs and dance had died 150 years ago with his great grandfather in South Australia.

But he says he was surprised and excited to learn from Bunuba elder Dillon Andrews that they were in keeping at Windjana Gorge in Western Australia — and that one day he would be able to learn them.

Karpany’s discovery provides a poignant moment in the documentary Motorkite Dreaming — a sort of airborne, Leyland Brother’s-style adventure in which two Adelaide men, their partners, Karpany, his sound mixer Bart Sansbury and Karpany’s dog Milo set off across Australia.

The highly-entertaining film is being released nationally on August 11.

In it, remote area nurse Aiden Glasby and web designer Daryl Clarke set out from Beagle Bay in Adelaide to fly to Broome in WA’s north in tiny microlight gliders, a sort of hang-glider crossed with a tricycle and a lawnmower engine.

The pair take to the air just days after getting their flying licences, while on the ground Karpany and Sansbury guide them in a four-wheel drive vehicle and introduce them to Aboriginal communities as they make pit stops along the way.

Glasby and Clarke’s partners Elsie Keneally and Lexie Clarke, both nurses, carry extra fuel and supplies in another four-wheel drive.

Karpany’s life-changing moment comes when they reach the stunning Windjana Gorge, just outside of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley, and Andrews takes him aside to tell him the good news.

He says he’s not sure how his people’s song managed to survive so far away from the Murray River-Southern Ocean region where his ancestors had lived, but the discovery was “an incredible feeling”.

He says he thought the precious knowledge had been wiped out by the British when his ancestors died more than a century ago.

“In the southern seaboards of Australia there was a guerrilla warfare going on if you like,” he says. “Sort of learning that the extreme possibility that our song and dance is in keeping was an incredible feeling — and who’s to say it’s in keeping in the physical or spiritual world.”

Karpany became an Indigenous music legend in the 80s when the group Us Mob appeared in the low-budget feature film Wrong Side of the Track, which was made in South Australia.

The recording of the soundtrack made Us Mob and another band, No Fixed Address, the first contemporary Aboriginal bands to be recorded.

Karpany, who is currently living in Melbourne, says his friend Charlie-Hill Smith directed Motorkite Dreaming and got him involved in the film, in which he is a stake-holder.

He also recorded the film’s soundtrack, which was inspired by the journey which took them through 20 Aboriginal language nations. Karpany says they did a ground run of the trip a year before filming to meet with Aboriginal communities and get their permission.

Among those they visit are Papunya, home of the Warumpi Band studio, and Kintor, made famous in the Midnight Oil song Beds are Burning.

Karpany says the resulting film demonstrates love, peace, harmony and understanding.

“It’s such a wonderful garden out there,” Karpany says. “It’s an up close and personal with Aboriginal permaculture over centuries and it’s so moving I recommend it for a lot of Australians to see.”

For information on screening dates and venues visit:

The cast and crew of Motorkite Dreaming, including Carroll Karpany, and his sidekick, Milo, (seated second from right)
The cast and crew of Motorkite Dreaming, including Carroll Karpany, and his sidekick, Milo, (seated second from right)

Wendy Caccetta

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