A Long Time Coming – Recording Trip to Gove, NT

As the sun slowly ascended above the horizon in the Gulf of Carpenteria, a new day dawned on the dusty landscape of Gove, NT.

Like many a day in the dry season, the weather was perfect. But this particular day was different because it also marked the dawning of a strategically important training course. What was to follow was 6 days of intensive recordist training for missionaries working in North East Arnhem Land and its surrounds, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to the work of providing God’s word in oral form to the many people groups in the area 

In the same location three years ealier, Noel Bachelor (GRN recordist) and I spent 2 weeks recording scripture in a couple of the local Aboriginal languages. It was during this time that some of the local missionaries expressed interest in being trained in audio recording. This seemed like a sensible idea given the challenges we had been facing trying to get recording done in such a limited amount of time, and Noel had already delivered a similar training program to some oral Bible traslators working in Southern Africa only a year ealier. Plans began to be made and dates proposed for the training course, and as word got out, excitement grew and people from several different organisations expressed interest in attending the training. However, 2020 happened… and then 2021. With 2022 looking more promising, dates were once again set and a room at Nuŋalinya College in Darwin was booked for July. But due to many people being unavailable at that time, plans fell through once again. So what was intended to be a recording trip to Gove August 2022, slowly started to morph into a training exercise. Although only small scale, the four attendees would form the nucleus of a new wave of recordists creating Gospel content in Aboriginal languages.  

Prabhu learning about microphone polar patterns

Monday 15th August marked the beginning of the training, but also the end of much anticipation and planning leading up to this point. Since arriving in Gove the afternoon before, David Sinden (GRN recordist) and I were now set up and ready to deliver the training. Josh McKenzie (CMS), Prabhu Pothula (Pioneers), Catherine Carpenter (MAF) and Tim Richards were finally sitting in the living room of the MAF house in Yirrkala where the training would be held. The following 6 days of training covered audio fundamentals, recording locations, content, performance, editing, adding music, adjusting and balancing sound levels, and exporting, documenting and submitting recordings to GRN. At the end of the week, the attendees left the course eager to take what they had learned and make use of it in the communities to which they were returning. There are now GRN-trained audio recordists in Elcho Island, Nhulanbuy, Yirrkala and Numbulwar.  

From left: Trainees Tim Richards, Prabhu Pothula, Josh Mackenzie and Catherine Carpenter with GRN trainers Simon Johnston and David Sinden

However, with the training complete it was then time to focus on the other reason we were there – recording. Using foam mattresses and thick blankets, the granny flat of a MAF house in Nhulanbuy was transformed into a make-shift studio. Each morning we would pray, then set up our gear and wait to see what the day would bring. Corrina Loenen (Pioneers) was responsible for rounding up all those who had previously expressed interest in working with us. Each day God would bring those whom he had chosen to speak a message, sing a song, read a Bible passage or share a testimony. The work was slow and unpredictable, but by faith we patiently endured and were blessed by the many stories that were shared.  

Tim and Catherine making their first test recording

Saturday 27th August was to be our last full day in the community and we had been expecting a busy day of recording. Sadly, one of the older ladies who had recorded with us in 2019 had passed away a couple of months earlier and the funeral ceremony (which can last weeks) had begun, rendering many people unavailable. Some did come, however, including Marrpalawuy, one of the church leaders. Her clan language, Dhay’yi, has no translated scripture or audio materials. She would normally read from the Gumatj Bible and preach in Gumatj or English. When she was a girl her father was a pastor. She fondly remembers seeing videos of her father preaching in Dhay’yi: “That’s what I’m trying to do” she said. “When I was reading this morning, I was praying first of all, ‘Garray (Jesus), you know every language, and even when I am speaking today, [the] first time for me to speak Dhay’yi, my own language, but above all this is nhuŋu (yours), thank you for the language you have given me.’” Marrpalawuy laughed as she recounted how she had made a small practice recording of herself that morning. On hearing it back she said to herself “Yuwalk eh (honsest/truely)! We are right in whatever language we have, we can speak”. Marrpalawuy recorded a real time oral translation of Ephesians 4:1-6 from the Gumatj Bible into Dhay’yi. Then, still speaking in Dhay’yi, she read out an exhaltation which she had written down in English. 

Yirrkala Uniting Church Kids Club

By 9pm it was apparent that there were no others coming for the day. We packed up, cleaned the house and went to bed, thanking God for all he had done during our two weeks in NT but eagerly looking forward to arriving home.  

GRN would like to acknowledge all of our partner orgnisations who were involved in the training and recording: The Bible Society, Coordinate East Arnhem, MAF, Pioneers and CMS. The way we have been able to work together to acheive common goals is a testament to God’s goodness.  

Simon Johnston

Simon Johnston is a Recordist and the Studio Manager at GRN. 

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