We have Björk, tea and a chance meeting to thank for Kardajala Kirridarra.
After being introduced at a Northern Territory music program in 2014, Mudburra woman Eleanor Dixon and Melbourne’s Beatrice Lewis bonded over a mutual love of songwriting, the Icelandic artist and Larlija (tea). Before long, these shared interests spawned an idea: to start a band.
After messing about on a few tracks together, they collected a couple more members — Eleanor’s aunt Janey Dixon, and a young local MC called Kayla Jackson — and together became Kardajala Kirridarra, which means ‘Sandhill Women’ in the Mudburra language.
With Beatrice and Eleanor handling production and vocals, Kayla offering the rhymes and Janey providing key translation and poetry, their music found a place in both traditional Mudburra culture and the contemporary Australian scene. Early song ‘Everything Was At Peace’ took out NT Song Of The Year Award in the folk category, and they followed it up with the ‘Ngajabu (Grandmother’s Song)’, the first single off their debut album, due out this Friday.
To showcase the self-titled release, Kardajala Kirridarra spent most of June on the road in the Northern Territory, showcasing the album in some of the nation’s most remote communities. And when we say remote, we mean remote: Eleanor and Janey’s hometown of Marlinja is a casual 36-hour drive from Sydney, or a 45-hour slog from Perth. The tour’s first stop, in Tennant Creek, is slightly closer — a mere 35 hours from Sydney.
Jackson snapped each part of their journey, collecting the photos in an intimate and unique tour diary, which Lewis then provided captions for. The diary offers a rare glimpse into life in the outback, and the reality of being a touring musician in one of the most empty parts of the planet.
“Janey, Eleanor and I rehearsing in the Tennant Creek hall preparing for the tour. It was a while since we’d jammed — don’t tell anyone, but Elly is using her phone to remember the words.”
“Flying from Melbourne to Alice Springs is a pretty special experience. These are some of the Lake Eyre salt lakes you fly over — if you ever do the flight, insist you get a window seat.”
“Fishing down at the lake at Marlinja community where Elly and Janey are from. It’s about halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin.”
“Lighting a fire and celebrating Eleanor’s birthday under the stars at the clay pans just outside of Alice Springs. We ate pizza with family and watched the stars come out. It’s the most beautiful thing to see, especially as there is no light pollution from the city lights.”
“Evening light at a truck stop in Ti Tree in the Northern Territory. It’s 200km north of Alice Springs and 3000km west of Sydney.”
“When I went to pick up Janey from where she works, I saw this painting and commented how beautiful it was. She told me that her mum painted it — art and culture run really strongly through their family.”
“This is what the majority of tour looked like. Big sky country with straight roads and a signpost to let you know when a turn is coming up.”
“Show in Kayla’s hometown of Elliott. It’s always terrifying to perform in front of your community — often it’s easier in front of strangers. Eleanor was amazing this night, she sung so strongly and those kids were entranced. Seeing her up there and knowing all she and the ladies has achieved is really important for the young girls to see. They are really good role models.”
“Gettin’ my hair did by Adele in Marlinja. Adele is Eleanor’s little sister and she loves my long hair.”
“Adele and Dolly in Marlinja, preparing the fire to boil some bush medicine that Eleanor’s Nanna prepares. This is normally chopped up and put in olive oil or boiled and then, once the leaves are strained, cooled in beeswax. It is used for sore muscles, but mainly for stress relief and relaxation. It’s one of the best things in my life and I put it on my neck and shoulders every night.”
“Nobel, Janey’s grandson cracking the whip at Marlinja.”
“Sunset moment at Marlinja community. Every night the sunset in the desert is spectacular, the colours are every painter and poet’s dream.”
“On the road again — I drive, Kayla and Eleanor DJ. They can get me through hours of driving with their song selections. Kendrick, Erica, Rhi Rhi, James Blake, so much goodness. If I’m being honest they are two of my favourite DJs.”
“Blue sky country, there’s actually nothing else like it. This is mid-winter by the way! The days are so warm and clear, it’s definitely time for the city folk to visit. Come summer they would melt their faces off.”
“Photo shoot with the Alice Springs Centralian Advocate.”
“One of our shows in Alice Springs.”
“Tennant Creek sunset.”
“Rain clouds at Marlinja.”
“Some more rehearsal time at a friends studio. I like nothing better than sitting with these ladies and singing — or, majority of the time, just laughing. Funniest camels in the business, these ones are.”
Kardajala Kirridarra’s debut album is out this Friday, July 7.