The best in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Music

Shane Howard: Still Standing on …

When Shane Howard recorded “Solid Rock” in 1982 with Goanna, little did he know it would be the start of a journey that would last MORE THAN 30 years. A visit to Uluru in 1981 inspired the original song and now he has re-recorded it as ‘Solid Rock – Puli Kunpungka’, which includes the voices of some major Indigenous performers, as well as children from the APY Lands. Shane returns to Uluru to perform the song on October 6 in a concert at MutiTjulu Community called ‘Other Side of The Rock’.

Shane says part of the motivation for re-recording the song was to mark how far the country has come in 30 years, and he is positive that things have come a long way since then.

“Thirty years ago, things were much harder for Aboriginal people. Even when we were touring in the Goanna days, we would have to have someone on the door because the racism was so blatant that they used dress codes to stop Aboriginal people from coming into the shows. They could be dressed in three-piece suits, but they still wouldn’t let them in. It was such a racist country then,” Shane says.

“We have come a long way since. It is school holidays and my kids were watching Move it Mob Style on TV this morning. Then the Street Warriors did ‘Solid Rock’. The kids thought that was hilarious. That made me reflect on how far we have come – to see Aboriginal humour and faces on TV and Aboriginal people in control of their own destiny. Same with Deadly Vibe magazine –there was no Indigenous-controlled media presence like that back then.”

Shane says he is really positive about the future.

“I can see a great future for this country, having worked out with kids in the APY lands you see the optimism and the hope and the opportunity. We have to make sure that we give that next generation every encouragement to be whatever they think they can be,” he says.

Shane says he has always felt close to Indigenous people and that growing up, Aboriginal people were a part of his life.

“I grew up in south-west Victoria. Aboriginal people were a part of my life because there were two old missions: Lake Condah and Framlingham. There was a substantial Aboriginal population. As I grew older I realised that the colonisation process had been very brutal on this part of the coast,” he says.

“Aboriginal people lost an enormous amount – their language and their culture. I wanted to see if it was still alive so I travelled to Uluru.  I went there in May 1981 and I had a beautiful time. I asked permission from the local mob to walk that country. They were warm and welcoming. I witnessed an Inmar (traditional song and dance) out there.

“I had a very powerful experience in that country at the time and I camped with that mob (Amata mob from the Musgrave Ranges) under the stars and I really did get a feeling for traditional culture. I started writing ‘Solid Rock’ on the guitar there at the campground at Mutitjulu – where the community is based now.

“I went to Alice Springs after that and I saw the opposite. I saw the wreckage of colonisation – the racism, the neglect, the grog, the chaos and it became an angry song then. Once you see such gross historical injustice you can’t ever unknow it. You can’t turn your back and walk away. I was young and well-intentioned, but I wrote that song and I thought it might get a bit of airplay.”

Shane says the legacy of the song is still overwhelming and that it helped open up communication between black and white people.

“It changed my life. It provided a catalyst for many white people and it created a lot of encouragement for Aboriginal people I have met in my travels – the fact it was coming from a whitefella. For whitefellas, it also gave encouragement that they could enter into this discussion.

“For me it was a touchstone into blackfellas and whitefellas being able to come together. Archie Roach and I talk about the fact that our generation had to build bridges to one another as black and white, but because we have, our kids can now cross those bridges freely. We live in a very different time.”

Children from the APY lands sing in Pitjantjatjara in the last verse.

“It was recorded out there – Ernabella and other places – and the kids had fun recording it. It is so beautiful to take that song back into that country and to take it back into the language of that country. Trevor Adamson is a songwriter in his own right and he helped translate it into a singable form for the recording. It is a poetic language and a beautiful language to sing.”

Amy Saunders is one of the guest artists on the recording. She has worked with Shane on various projects over the years.

“There have been a few gigs we have done with Shane and he has had his daughter Myra singing with us. It took me back to the first time I met Shane, when I was about 12 and he came to my mother’s house,” Amy says.

“At the age of 12, I was blown away just thinking I would sing with Shane Howard one day, but I am even more blown away now – that I am singing with his daughter. I love that.

“Shane dragged me in one day for a sing. Emma Donovan had already done her vocal and it was beautiful. Hearing the kids from the APY lands was pretty cool. It has been recorded all over the shop and put together. That is the wonder of technology.

“I never grew up speaking my language from my country here, so I was a bit toey about singing the other fellas’ language –

I didn’t know if I was pronouncing properly. It will be great to see those kids’ singing.

“There are so many great musicians there, who opened up the ears of mainstream Australia. It has been going on for a long time. We had Uncle Bobby Randall and Uncle Jimmy Little. We are so proud of our musical heritage. We are so lucky. We have had the hidden soundtrack. Mainstream Australia is still coming to a deeper listening.

To pay homage to this journey and the relationships built over this time, Shane is returning to Uluru to perform an intimate concert at Mutitjulu Community called ‘Other Side of The Rock’ on October 6.

“With the permission of the Mutitjulu people, Shane was joined by friends and well-known artists, including Neil Murray, Archie Roach, Bart Willoughby, Stephen Pigram, Warren H Williams, William Barton, Amy Saunders, Emma Donovan, John Butler, Dan Sultan and Blue King Brown’s Natalie Pa’apa’a.

The ‘Other Side of The Rock’ concert is part of the Mutitjulu Community Carnival (5–7 October), a family celebration of culture, sports, music and dance for people from the APY Lands in the Central Desert. The song will also be performed at the Forum in Melbourne on December 8.

“The single has gone out. The album goes out next week. There are three versions. It took us two years to do it and I can’t believe we are going to do it. It is such a beautiful honour and it is about the future. The future doesn’t exist – we make it.

“Let’s make the future and let’s make it great. My message is that 30 years later, let’s make this a great, just and honourable country that can hold its head up in the world. There have been some disappointments, including how the Federal Government has retreated from the referendum to acknowledge Aboriginal people in the Constitution. Their polling must be showing that the support is there for a referendum, so that is a bit heart-breaking. I’d like to think that there would be overwhelming support for that.

“I was in Canada touring a few months ago. They still have their problems, but their First Nation people are recognised in the Constitution and they’ve had treaties in place for over 100 years. We have to find the pathway now to be one mob and for non-Indigenous Australians to really start absorbing the depth of the richness of Aboriginal culture and tradition.

I know as a whitefella how much that has enriched my life and my family’s life. All of those treasures are there for the whole country. That is the way forward.”

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