During Australia’s dry December, traditional and popular forms of caroling shape the sight and sound of the key Christian festival of Christmas. Creative connections between belief, place, and music are characteristically manifest in focused open-air environments of beach, bushland or park. Reasoning from gospel belief that the very first “Christmas carol” emanated from a heavenly host of angels singing to an audience of shepherds in a field, caroling alfresco is an appropriate activity. How, then, do Australian caroling venues become conducive to environmental spheres of sound and influence? While the annual mass Carols by Candlelight concerts televised from Melbourne and Sydney elaborate quasi-hysterically on familiar themes, local churches produce diversified candlelit events in ecumenical public space. Based on research into the ecological connections between the caroling public and multi-sited land- and sound-scapes, the article considers the influence of these environments on national performance practices. With respect to a body of Australian carols referencing iconic landscape imagery, I scope the aurality of concerts vis-a-vis their capacity for promoting respect for creation. Ideally, singing from "inside the soundscape” (after Westerkamp 2001) engages the resonances between participatory caroling and the poetics of southern hemisphere nonhuman sound. It is proposed, moreover, that the inclusion of previously silenced Indigenous voices at caroling events might enhance public understanding of the nation’s past and present. Potential remains for images of the nativity event so richly reflected in Aboriginal Christian art to be expressed, complementarily, in Indigenous carols.


Westerkamp, Hildegard. “Speaking from Inside the Soundscape.” In The Book of Music and Nature, edited by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, 143–52. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

Author Biography

Dr Robin Ryan researches eco-, ethno-, and theo- musicological themes within the broad continuum of Australian music history. She worked as Research Assistant to Professor Margaret Kartomi at Monash University; was an Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University; and is currently Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University. Robin’s collaborative work with Indigenous Australians led to employment as an adviser/contributor to Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (2003). Her writings appear in Collaborative Ethnomusicology (Lyrebird Press); Current Directions in Ecomusicology (Routledge); Forest Family: Australian Culture, Art and Trees (Brill); and many journals including Environmental Humanities, The Journal of Music Research Online, and Song and Spirituality. Robin currently supports her husband, Pastor Oswald Cruse, at the Aboriginal Evangelical Church in Eden, New South Wales.

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