Just back from Cambodia, where I presented a screening of Buried Country as part of the ‘Indigenous Voices’ program in the 2016 Kampot Writers & Readers Festival. I was prevailed upon at virtually a moment’s notice to say a few words at the event’s official launch at the British Embassy in Phnom Penh, and I quickly decided that my theme would be ‘rhetoric and reality’, since I could see two instances of it at hand. Firstly, in the instance of Aboriginal Australia, the word ‘reconciliation’ has become a virtual cliché we hear all the time in this country, but which I think has little reality for most Australians, since most white Australians seem not to know any black Australians. Certainly, that was my own personal experience, or at least for the first 25 or so years of my life, growing up stranded in the suburbs. It’s only in the last 35 years, so much of which has gone into BC, that the cliché, the rhetoric, has taken on some real meaning for me, as I’ve gotten to know so many Aboriginal people, and to appreciate the sort of lives they lead. Another – the second – bit of rhetoric we hear a lot about in Australia is that we need to start seeing ourselves as part of the Asia Pacific region, rather than, say, as a subject of the British Empire, or an ally of the US. But again, for me, this didn’t take on much reality until I started actually going to SEA, Cambodia and Vietnam, and meeting not only ratbag expat Aussies there, or even Khmer people themselves, but also other people from all over the world, especially Scots, Swedes and Americans. We can all get caught up in our own individual little world, and I’m just thankful that I’ve been able to find whole other worlds not only outside my own country, like in Cambodia, but even inside it, in Aboriginal Australia.
Presenting the film was a slightly bizarre experience, not least because the venue, as pictured above, the old Le Royale cinema, is said to be haunted. But then so much about Cambodia seems to be at least existent in a sort of long dark shadow. As I’ve described to some of the folks involved in our BC roadshow, who may not be so aware of Cambodia’s history, blackfellas in Australia may have had to suffer almost genocidal oppression at the hands of the whitefella, but in Khmer, Pol Pot murdered nearly three million of what were his own people, not some other race or religion that was deemed inferior, but his own brothers and sisters! Most of the world still finds that even more incomprehensible than racism. Anyway… The film went down well. Still the strongest reaction though came from the handful of expat Australians in attendance, and I suppose I should count it as a success that it can still have that same quality as degree of impact: A couple of lovely ladies from the Australian embassy I think they were, were just gobsmacked to learn of this history about which they previously knew nothing. I’ve encountered that reaction before. As I have this one: “I don’t normally like country and western,” British filmmaker/journalist Tom Fawthrop told me, “but that was great.” I was almost shocked when a woman originally from Melbourne who introduced herself as Liz quickly ducked up to her hotel room and came back with a fresh new copy of Inner City Sound she asked me to sign! “It’s full of pictures of all my dead friends,” she said. She bought and I signed for her a copy of Buried Country. “It’s full of pictures of many of my other dead friends,” I told her. “But also plenty of others who happily are alive and well and, in fact, making our current roadshow the powerhouse it is!”
Buried Country’s reach continues to expand, and further overseas too. Country Down Under is a BBC Radio 4 documentary that was directly inspired by it. Writer/producer Rachel Claire Hopkin, a US-based British musicologist, happened to hear the interview I did with Denise Hylands on her 3RRR radio show Twang (that you can hear here), and got in touch. I gave her every assistance I could and when she came out to Australia in June she conducted interviews with me along with such luminaries as Roger Knox, Kev Carmody, L.J. Hill and Auriel Andrew and also, I was delighted to note, other such fine artists such as Glenn Skuthorpe and Sue Ray, which at least added a new dimension beyond what BC already covers thoroughly. Yet though I am listed in the program description as an interview subject I was cut from the final result, on the BBC’s insistence apparently, in what I can only interpret as an act of reverse discrimination, that wanted the show free of whitefellas. Still, I can’t complain too much because it’s small beer compared to the outright discrimination many of the featured artists have always had to endure, and the show is a good albeit brief glimpse at Aboriginal country music that gets the message out there that bit moreso… Click through the below panel to hear a podcast as long as it stays up there…
Buried Country: Live in Concert has completed a first burst of gigs proper with a show at the Dubbo RSL as part of the Artlands conference/festival there on Friday, October 28. In front of warmly appreciative crowd that included such luminaries as Merv Bishop (the legendary first Aboriginal photojournalist), Ray Peckham (veteran Aboriginal activist of the 1967 Referendum campaign), NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant (please just repeal these ridiculous throwing-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater lockout laws: keep Sydney OPEN!) and Dave Mason (former Reels' singer making a rare appearance back in his hometown and with no less than BC MD Brendan Gallagher comping him), the show was loose and strong, and the full cast and crew celebrated with a slap-up feed as you can see below, before we take a bit of a breather now and start to map out next year. Thanks to everyone!
Buried Country will be screened at the Kampot Writers Festival in Cambodia next week as part of a film program that puts it in extremely flattering company, and I will add a bit of a Q&A-like talk to the event. They know a thing or two about genocide in Khmer, so should be able to relate to a lot about the story BC tells. And so with that plus the proposal coming in for a vinyl LP version of the album for release out of the US, we are hoping that this just marks the start of BC's international incursion..!
The Buried Country roadshow rolled through Melbourne last week and what a week it was, a mad whirl of media, rehearsals and great general bonhomie, capped by two terrific performances in the sumptuous surrounds of the Recital Hall on Wednesday/Thursday October 12/13.
Our first thanks must go to the Melbourne Festival, in particular Danni Colgan, for making the opportunity possible in the first place. We trust that this full-scale production is just the first of many more to follow in 2017 – and if the response is anything to go by, we feel confident that this will be the case.
Once again it was just the great general good-humour and harmony among the cast and crew that made the whole thing so smooth and pleasurable.
With two new singers to work into the set – Warren H. Williams, who’d been at the Tammy Sessions but was unable to make the Newcastle gig; and James Henry, replacing Franny Peters-Little, who together might constitute a sort of south-of-the-Murray/north-of-the-Murray tag-team representing the Little Legacy (there are many divides in Australia and many we will hopefully yet traverse, but the one marked by the Murray River is one that may ever remain inviolate!) – there was a bit to do in the studio.
We all converged on Melbourne on the Monday, and I ran around a bit on the Tuesday doing radio interviews with Roger and Auriel at PBS, KND, RRR and even 3AW – thanks heaps to all those folks. You can hear the RRR interview with my old friend Dave Graney here. Then we went to scope out the Recital Hall, and all of us who’d never been there had our jaws just drop to the floor.
On Wednesday morning we awoke to a lovely little preview article in the Age that you can read here - there was an item too in Beat that you can read here - and then we went to a reception at the Victorian Governor’s residence, and, well, wow… there were two ‘C’ words I keenly felt – colour, and class – but nobody was inhibited by that, and we were made to feel most welcome…
At the Governor's pleasure, with L.J., Auriel, Roger, Warren and Barry Francis. Pic by James Henry
The set list came together as follows and we all feel it seems to be naturally evolving into a pretty elegant shape. The one all-new (to us) song was ‘Royal Telephone’, which had sort of started to seem a bit conspicuous by its absence, and so we thought it’d make a great singalong encore, and it did:
Western Wind (Warren Williams) – Warren Raining on the Rock (John Williamson) – Warren Ticket to Nowhere (Joan Fairbridge) – Luke Run, Dingo, Run (Black Allan Barker) – Buddy Ghost Gums (Auriel Andrew) – Auriel Arnhem Land Lullaby (Ted Egan) – Auriel Brown Skin Baby (Bob Randall) – Leah September Song (Leah Flanagan) – Leah Pretty Bird Tree (L.J. Hill) – L.J. 18th Day of May (L.J. Hill) – L.J. Blacktracker (Jimmy Little) – James Yorta Yorta Man (Jimmy Little) – James Wayward Dreams (Bobby McLeod) – Roger Streets of Tamworth (Harry Williams) – Roger ENCORE: Blue Gums Calling Me Back Home (Harry Williams) – Roger/all Royal Telephone (Trad. Arr.) – James/all
It was a great show on the first night, but if I was mildly disappointed by the audience reaction, which seemed a bit muted, all that was swept away on the second night when the crowd went wild.
Black on red: Buddy with his big Gibson...
... and Luke with Jason's Epiphone
The shows were studded with friends old and new in the audience, black and white alike, though the attendee that might have been the most notable was Joan Fairbridge. Joan is the 90-something writer of ‘Ticket to Nowhere’, and until she saw Luke Peacock sing it that night she’d never before seen it performed live! She was absolutely chuffed and so were we, that she could make it along.
With Luke Peacock and Joan Fairbridge, author of 'Ticket to Nowhere'
I have to make one point on a semi-down note: Exactly how L.J. hasn’t got publishers, let alone record companies, queueing up to sign him to a deal especially after Paul Kelly has just recorded a version of ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ on his new album is just completely beyond me…
Here below are a few nice pix from that redoubtable Melbourne institution Carbie Warbie, with thanks:
Handsome Steve Miller admirably hosted us for a sort of wrap party at his new House of Refreshment on Thursday night, while we waited, in true Broadway style, for any reviews to land. You can read the gratifying response in the Age here (thanks to Michael Dwyer, who’s shown persistent interest in the show and Buried Country generally) and a Festival Diary entry at ArtsHub here and a full review here. "A landmark concert," they said, "a compilation that should have wallpapered Australian households forty years ago.
"A large cast share the stage with generosity and humility and there is a real sense of passing the baton between the old and new generations of artists."
Stoked to be able to announce the launch of the YouTube Buried Country channel, with the trailer for the live show you can see here just the first of series of videos that'll be rolled out over the next few weeks...