Open main menu

"Treaty" is a song by Australian indigenous music band Yothu Yindi, which is made up of Aboriginal and balanda (non-Aboriginal) members.[1][2][3] Released in June 1991, "Treaty" peaked at No. 11 on the ARIA Singles Chart in September.[4][5] "Treaty" was the first song by a predominately-Aboriginal band to chart in Australia[6] and was the first song in any Aboriginal Australian language (Yolngu-Matha) to gain extensive international recognition, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play singles charts.[6][7]

Treaty by Yothu Yindi.jpg
Single by Yothu Yindi
from the album Tribal Voice
B-side"Yolngu Boy"
ReleasedJune 1991
Format7" Single
GenrePop, new wave, indigenous
Songwriter(s)Paul Kelly, Mandawuy Yunupingu, Stuart Kellaway, Cal Williams, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Milkayngu Mununggurr, Banula Marika, Peter Garrett
Producer(s)Mark Moffatt
Yothu Yindi singles chronology
"Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)"

In May 2001 "Treaty" was selected by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.[8]

In 2009 "Treaty" was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry.

In 2018, "Treaty" placed 10th in Triple M's "100 Best Australian Song's" countdown by popular vote.


In 1988, as part of Bicentennial celebrations, Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, visited the Northern Territory for the Barunga festival where he was presented with a statement of Aboriginal political objectives by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja.[9] Hawke responded to the Barunga Statement with a promise that a treaty would be concluded with Indigenous Australians by 1990.[9] In 1991, Yothu Yindi were Hughie Benjamin on drums, Sophie Garrkali and Julie Gungunbuy as dancers, Stuart Kellaway on bass guitar, Witiyana Marika on manikay (traditional vocals), bilma (ironwood clapsticks) and dance, Milkayngu Mununggurr on yidaki (didgeridoo), Gurrumul Yunupingu on keyboards, guitar and percussion, Makuma Yunupingu on yidaki, vocals, bilma, Mandawuy Yunupingu on vocals and guitar, Mangatjay Yunupingu as a dancer.[1] Mandawuy Yunupingu, with his older brother Galarrwuy, wanted a song to highlight the lack of progress on the treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government. Mandawuy Yunupingu recalls:

Bob Hawke visited the Territory. He went to this gathering in Barunga. And this is where he made a statement that there shall be a treaty between black and white Australia. Sitting around the camp fire, trying to work out a chord to the guitar, and around that camp fire, I said, "Well, I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television." That should be a catchphrase. And that's where 'Treaty' was born.

— Mandawuy Yunupingu[10], 8 July 2004

"Treaty" was written by Australian musician Paul Kelly and Yothu Yindi members Mandawuy Yunupingu, Kellaway, Williams, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Mununggurr and Marika and Peter Garrett.[11][12][13][14] The initial release received limited radio and television exposure (mainly on ABC radio and SBS television)[15] and failed to chart.[3] Melbourne-based DJ Gavin Campbell (Razor Records) having heard Treaty, approached Mushroom Records to create a dance-orientated remix.[1][3][6] The Filthy Lucre (Paul Main,Gavin Campbell and Robert Goodge) ] remix was produced without the band's involvement but with the understanding that the 'Yolngu' side of the music would be preserved.[15] The remix not only modified the musical backing but dispensed with the majority of the English language lyrics, with the song sung almost entirely in the Aboriginal language, Gumatj.[1][3][6] The Filthy Lucre remix was released in June, entering the charts in July and peaking at No. 11 on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) singles charts by September, spending a total of 22 weeks in the national charts.[1][4]

Success for the single was transferred to the related album Tribal Voice which peaked at No. 4 on the ARIA Albums Chart.[4] The album produced by Mark Moffatt for Mushroom Records was released in September 1991.[2] Mandawuy Yunupingu took leave of absence from his duties as principal to tour and promote the single and album.[1][3] Other singles from the album were a re-released "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)" which peaked at #13 in 1992 and "Tribal Voice" which didn't reach the Top 50.[4] At the 1992 ARIA Awards Yothu Yindi won awards for 'Engineer of the Year' for "Maralitja" (maralitja is Yolngu matha for crocodile man - one of Mandawuy Yunupingu's tribal names), "Dharpa" (dharpa is tree), "Treaty", "Treaty (Filthy Lucre remix)" and "Tribal Voice" by David Price, Ted Howard, Greg Henderson and Simon Polinski; 'Song of the Year' for "Treaty"; and 'Single of the Year' for "Treaty".[16][17] Both "Treaty" in 1992 and "Djäpana (Sunset Dreaming)" in 1993 charted on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play singles charts, with "Treaty" peaking at #6.[7]

At the APRA Music Awards of 1991, "Treaty" won song of the Year.[18]

In May 2001 "Treaty" was selected by Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.[8]

Musical styleEdit

Musically the song is a mixture of Yolgnu and Balanda ways. The timbres of the song include the Balanda rock ensemble of electric guitars, keyboard and drumkit, and on occasion Balanda voices. The Yolgnu sounds include the lead singer's vocal quality, and the traditional instruments, bilma (ironwood clapsticks) and yidaki (didgeridoo). The song's text is partly in English and partly in Yolgnu Matha, and the form of the song, while conforming to the Balanda rock structure of verses and choruses with an 'instrumental' break, and the process of intensity through repetition of short motives, is nevertherless that of a djatpangarri, a form of Yolgnu popular music.[19]

Mandawuy Yunupingu recalled hearing the djantpangarri / djedbangari song ‘Storm’ which originates from Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. He incorporated the beat into the musical composition.[20][21].


There were two video clips for "Treaty". The first features footage of the 1988 Barunga Festival where the Barunga Statement is shown in its final stages of preparation, and Prime Minister Hawke is shown participating didjeridu-playing and spear-throwing competitions.[15] As the Barunga Statement is presented to the Prime Minister, he is accompanied by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Gerry Hand. Also included in this first clip are images of the band in concert, and footage from the Gove Peninsula of industrial bauxite mining, ceremonial dancing led by Witiyana in the bush and children dancing on the beach.[15] According to the director, Stephen Johnson, it was never his intention to make a consciously 'political' video.

A second clip for "Treaty" was made to accompany the Filthy Lucre remix. It was also directed by Stephen Johnson[15] and dispenses with the overtly political shots of the previous video. The video features images of the band in concert as well as footage from the Gove Peninsula of ceremonial dancing led by Witiyana in the bush, Witiyana and Milkayngu dancing with their instruments on the beach, Mandawuy Yunupingu singing over a blazing fire and children dancing on the beach with portable stereo given to them by Mandawuy Yunupingu.[1][3]

We wanted to portray Yolngu people having a good time... we had the political stuff in the first clip... it is political enough in the sense that it is showing a positive, healthy and strong side of Aboriginal culture - that's the best message of all... I wanted people to dance, pick up on the movements and Yolgnu style of dancing.

— Stephen Johnson[15]

Track listingEdit

Yothu Yindi original versionEdit

  1. "Treaty" (Paul Kelly, Mandawuy Yunupingu, Stuart Kellaway, Cal Williams, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Milkayngu Mununggurr and Witiyana Marika) – 3:35
  2. "Yolngu Boy" (Mandawuy Yunupingu) – 4:14

Yothu Yindi (Filthy Lucre remix version)Edit

  1. "Treaty" (Filthy Lucre Remix) – 6:52
  2. "Treaty" (Radio Mix) – 3:50
  3. "Treaty" (Dub) – 7:30
  4. "Treaty" (Fat-boi)-2:30


Production details

  • Engineer – David Price, Ted Howard, Greg Henderson, Simon Polinski
  • Producer – Mark Moffatt
  • Remixers – Robert Goodge, Gavin Campbell, Paul Main (Filthy Lucre version)


Chart (1991–92) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[22] 11
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[23] 9
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[24] 29
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[25] 33
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[26] 72
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[27] 6


  1. ^ a b c d e f g McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'Yothu Yindi'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-86448-768-8. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  2. ^ a b Holmgren, Magnus; Warnqvist, Stefan. "Yothu Yindi". Australian Rock Database. (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Nimmervoll, Ed. "Yothu Yindi". HowlSpace – The Living History of Our Music (Ed Nimmervoll). Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d "Yothu Yindi discography". Australian Charts Portal. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  5. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book Ltd. ISBN 978-0-646-11917-5. NOTE: Used for Australian Singles and Albums charting from 1974 until ARIA created their own charts in mid-1988. In 1992, Kent back calculated chart positions for 1970–1974.
  6. ^ a b c d "Charting the genius of Yothu Yindi". University of Sydney. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Yothu Yindi - Charts & Awards - Billboard Singles". allmusic. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
  8. ^ a b Kruger, Debbie (2 May 2010). "The songs that resonate through the years" (PDF). Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  9. ^ a b Howie-Willis, Ian (2001). "Barunga Statement". The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  10. ^ "George Negus Tonight Profiles - Transcripts - Mandawuy Yunupingu". Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). 8 July 2004. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  11. ^ "APRA 2001 Top 30 Songs". 2 May 2001. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  12. ^ "The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)". ASCAP. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  13. ^ "YOTHU YINDI ANNOUNCED AS 2012 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE". Australian Recording Industry Association. 26 October 2013. Archived from the original on 30 December 2012.
  14. ^ "The Music Lesson". ABC Australian Story. 8 July 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Hayward, Philip, ed. (1998). "12: Yothu Yindi: Context and Significance". Sound Alliances: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Politics, and Popular Music in the Pacific. London: Cassell. ISBN 978-0-30470-050-9. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  16. ^ "1992: 6th Annual ARIA Awards". ARIA Music Awards. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  17. ^ "ARIA Awards 2008: History: Winners by Artist: Yothu Yindi search results". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 6 November 2008.
  18. ^ "1991 APRA MUSIC AWARD WINNERS". APRA AMCOs. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  19. ^ Stubington, Jill; Dunbar-Hall, Peter (1994). "13". Yothu Yindi's 'Treaty': Ganma in Music. Popular Music. 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 243–259. doi:10.1017/S0261143000007182. JSTOR 852915.
  20. ^ "Treaty - Yothu Yindi". Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 20 June 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  21. ^ Marett, Allan; Yunupingu, Mandawuy; Langton, Marcia; Gumbula, Neparrŋa; Barwick, Linda; Corn, Aaron (2006), The National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia: year one in review. In Backing Our Creativity: the National Education and the Arts Symposium, 12-14 September 2005 (PDF), Australia Council for the Arts, pp. 84–90, retrieved 31 July 2019
  22. ^ " – Yothu Yindi – Treaty". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  23. ^ " – Yothu Yindi – Treaty" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  24. ^ " – Yothu Yindi – Treaty" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  25. ^ " – Yothu Yindi – Treaty". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  26. ^ "Yothu Yindi: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  27. ^ "Yothu Yindi Chart History (Dance Club Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 30 August 2016.

External linksEdit

  • 'Treaty' was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2009
  • Listen to an excerpt of 'Treaty' and read more about the song on australianscreen online
  • Aaron Corn (2009) Reflections & voices: exploring the music of Yothu Yindi with Mandawuy Yunupingu Sydney: Sydney University Press (ISBN 9781920899349)
  • Castles, J. (1992) Tjungaringanyi: 'Aboriginal Rock Hayward, Philip (ed) From Pop to Punk to Postmodernism Sydney: Allen and Unwin