Parents and guardians write lullabies to help Indigenous children connect to the country


“It gives you chills. It’s not my biological child, but it’s my baby, and being able to write it in words just helps her with her culture.”

Daeya Stier, on the far right, sings a lullaby from the group created with the support of musicians.

Source: Lullaby Project Australia

Tuntun Polar – which means “sleeping child” in the Ngarrindjeri language – is a pilot program of Lullaby Project Australia in collaboration with the Willow Children’s Center in which professional musicians help caregivers write, record and perform their own lullaby.

“Even being aboriginal myself, it was still great writing a song about culture to connect with baby,” says Ms. Stier.

The Lullaby Project is an international initiative that has been helping pregnant women and caregivers connect with their children through song for over a decade.

Emily Gann, an Adelaide-based music teacher, is the founding director of Lullaby Project Australia. She discovered the program at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2014.

“Ultimately our dream is for every child in the country to be born with a lullaby written for them,” she says.

The team behind the Tuntun Polar Lullaby Australia project.  From left to right: Lorelle Hunter, Emily Gann and Sophie Millsteed.

The project is a partnership with Carnegie Hall and Ms. Gann’s organization, Connecting the Dots in Music. He has been helping underprivileged families create special family songs in Adelaide since 2019.

This year, Lullaby Project Australia worked with mothers struggling with postnatal mental health issues at Helen Mayo House, a residence in Adelaide.

Tuntun Polar Lullaby Project

Ms Gann said the Tuntun Polar pilot program – which was sponsored by the state government – held caregivers accountable.

“A lot of people may never have written a song, or may not believe it is musical,” she said.

“As soon as you take them on this journey and a professional artist supports them through the process, it’s suddenly this realization that I actually have this innate creativity and I have this incredible power to tell my child a story. ‘”

“Connect to your roots”

The lullaby Samantha Jackson sings to her baby, a child of the Wiradjuri clan of Mudgee in west-central New South Wales, connects it to the life of her Aboriginal grandmother:

“Don’t be afraid to connect to your roots, you are strong and you know your truth” It’s okay.

“Your big nan had to hide so as not to be discovered. You are safe now to finally find out.

“We included his nan, because that’s the line he took, and I included the totems, which are the animal that every clan is meant to protect and be protected,” Ms. Jackson said.

“I want him to feel connected to his culture and not be ashamed of it.”

Singer-songwriter Nathan May, Arabana, Yawuru and Marridjabin, working on an aria for Megan Johns' Lullaby.

Source: Peta Doherty / SBS News

Indigenous cultural consultant Lorelle Hunter saw how the songwriting and singing process strengthened foster families’ bond with their special charges.

“Let the little ones grow up knowing that they are indigenous and that they are all mortal,” says Ms. Hunter. “Even though they may not know who their ancestors are, the ancestors do know who they are.”

Ms. Hunter says it’s also a good way for non-Indigenous parents to learn about their child’s culture.

Singer-songwriter Nathan May, Arabana, Yawuru and Marridjabin, helped Megan Johns tap into her son’s dream story.

The song they wrote is about her son’s curiosity for learning, the family’s connection to the coast, and the creation of the Murray River:

Never stop learning who you are
Be proud of your story, that’s who you are,
Let yourself be guided by the rivers,
Where you belong
Created by Ponde *, just for you,
Our curious boy, you bring such joy,
I’ll take you home.

(*Ponde is a giant Murray Cod credited with the creation of the Murray River in the dream of the Ngarrindjeri people).

“It’s basically about where he came from and continuing to learn forever, so he can be proud of who he is,” Ms. John says.

Her baby’s father didn’t learn he was Indigenous until he was an adult and Ms Johns wants their son to grow up knowing he is Ngarrindjeri.

“I just hope he knows we’ve built something special just for him and we’re trying to learn so that we can teach him to be connected to his culture and to know who he is from the start.”

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