Yil Lull - song by Paul Kelly & The Messengers | Spotify

Paul Kelly – Yil Lull

Including ‘Yil Lull’ as a non-English song for this draft is somewhat dubious. Only the chorus – ‘Yil Lull’ is the aboriginal word for “sing” – is not in English. But as a song with a message it makes sense that it’s in English, to reach as many people as possible.

Australian Paul Kelly is an acclaimed and prolific songwriter, but ‘Yil Lull’ is a cover, written by Joe Geia. Paul Kelly participated in a 1988 version of the song, recorded for the Australian bicentennial. It was released by the Singers For The Red Black & Gold, a reference to the colours on the aboriginal flag. Other participants included Archie Roach, Christine Anu, Judith Durham, Kutcha Edwards, Renee Geyer and Tidda.

The version I’m featuring is a live take from Paul Kelly and the Messengers’ Hidden Things, a compilation that also included gems like ‘When I First Met Your Ma’ and ‘Bradman’. Kelly’s constantly showed empathy toward aboriginal issues, co-writing ‘Treaty’ with Yothu Yindi, as well as ‘Special Treatment’ and ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.

Songwriter Joe Geia on ‘Yil Lull’.

I asked my Uncle Don one day, I said Dad Brady ‘what’s a word for sing in our language’? That’s when Uncle Don told me, “we say, Yil-lull, son it’s like a mourning song”. He added, you know when you long way from home and you miss all your countryman and family, even them old fathers and grand fathers.. and he started to cry himself. As he had another nip from his glass of wine, and wiped his tears. He finished with “That’s what it means”. And Uncle Don would continue and say, “I wish your Dad was here, he’d scatter these bastards.”

It was something our families knew, and would not skite too much about. But Uncle Don did some growing up on Palm Island too, and as young as he was, he did his growing up alongside Dad.

It was an experience and a moment in time, that would make you think and say.. yeah I’m gonna write a song about this.

And that’s when it all went down onto pen and paper, a two chord song, with a bridge and a backing story like that. In the middle of an era of true political fight and struggle, all for the cause, Yil-lull was born.

Joe Geia, Facebook


  1. Fantastic moving piece Aph. You know how much I like Paul . I had never heard this before. Beautiful. Reminds me of another similar song he did. ‘Special Treatment’. Paul sings many of favorite tunes. Solid choice in my book.

    • Kelly is way underrated IMO. Similar to Richard Thompson, who’s also in the draft – fantastic and prolific songwriter who is largely obscure. Even more for Kelly who’s big in Australasia but never really broke through anywhere else.

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