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October 2023


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Ken McKenzie — musician and wise man

While organizing my digital images of the past 10 years or so for putting them up into my new Christmas gift photo gallery (, I (re-)discovered a series of scan images from a visit in Australia in late 2003.  We had travelled through the Flinders Ranges, all the way north to Leigh Creek and to the last outpost of the main road and railway station, Copley SA.

At what seemed to be the last decent place before the outback gravel road we stopped for a coffee, at the Bush Bakery & Quandong Cafe (Facebook) in Copley, north of Leigh Creek (a nice description has “Pedal Under Grace” with images in the lower third of the page).

Aboriginal Adnyamathanha Yura Elder and Artist Ken McKenzie (2003)

Aboriginal Adnyamathanha Yura Elder and Artist Ken McKenzie (2003)

A gentlemen with a guitar joined us outside the cafe, and in our conversation he told us about his Christian faith, his music and his life as an Aborigine.  Eventually he sang some of his songs for us — a real joy.

Way back then I did not have much detailed understanding of Aboriginal life, beyond what politically interested people in Germany know about Australia and the plight of its indigenous people.

Today I wish to pay my respect to Kenneth McKenzie as an Aboriginal Elder from the Adnyamathanha, Luritja and Kuyanyi clan groups, whose traditional lands we had been travelling, the Flinders Ranges and Far North of South Australia, and for what he has told me then personally.  Thank you for welcoming us in such a remarkable way.

It is amazing that today I am working for an Aboriginal community, the Kaurna (or in their own language:  Miyurna) people of the Adelaide Plains.  Almost ten years ago I did not have the slightest idea of what was awaiting me here in South Australia.  You can read more here about my research on the encounter between the Kaurna community at the time of invasion in the late 1830s with four (five) Lutheran German missionaries, one of whom happens to be my wife’s great great grandfather …

Ken’s grandson Walha Udi Marvyn McKenzie has been recording some of Ken’s songs and published them on Youtube.  He writes about his grandfather:

My Ngamarna Ken McKenzie is one of the few remaining Songster of our People:
> Adnya-matha-nha Yura of the Northern Flinders Ranges.
> Adnya-matha-nha = Rock Peoples Place or the Place of the People of the Rocks.
> Yura is the name we call ourselves and means ‘of the Earth’.

My Ngamarna Ken is one of the last Songsters of our Yura Peoples, who still sing the ancient songs for parts of our Yarta (Land), and when he does finally leave our Peoples an important chapter of our cultural history will be closed.forever, unless I manage to preserve some of it.

Ngamarna Ken often write unique songs where he combines both English and our ancient Yura Ngawarla language.

When Ngamarna Ken passes away our Yura Peoples will lose a lot of our cultural heritage.  In order to preserve our culture my Ngamanarna and I are filming personally as much as we can for future generations of our Ararru Mathari Yura Ngankini Peoples.

Walha Udi Songs plus a Childhood Song as Sung by Ngai Utyu Ngamarna Ken McKenzie (Youtube):

About the country and the story of his people,and how Ken is giving evidence in the Adnyamathanha Land Rights Claim, see the draft of an article for the Law Society Bulletin by Graham Harbord and Johnston Withers, “Singing the Law” (24.2.2008, or direct download as Word doc).


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