Spirit of Place
Australian band Goanna released their debut album Spirit of Place at a time when audiences were not yet familiar with political statements coming through their radios. Tracks such as ‘Solid Rock’ and ‘Let the Franklin Flow’ became iconic symbols for change for Indigenous rights and environmental protection. 40 years on, the band is back together once more to tour their ever-relevant messages.
By Hannah Muir
“I went back and listened to that album again and I was blown away with the love, the light, the joy, the youthful idealism, the optimism,” says lead singer and songwriter, Shane Howard.
Let’s set the scene: it’s 1980, Australia is governed by a Liberal government led by Malcolm Fraser. Indigenous Australians have had rights, including being able to vote for 13 years, following a referendum, and the right to lodge a claim for recognition of traditional land for just four years. We are still three years away from legislation preferencing Aboriginal families as carers for Indigenous kids, when fostering or adoption is necessary, and there is developing political noise calling for these changes to come about.
All of this is swirling around the awareness of Shane Howard who felt this country was a deeply racist one. After being prescribed some time off by a doctor for being run down, he felt compelled to use his ten days leave camping at Uluru.
“It just happened to coincide with some people from [SA Aboriginal community] Amata, who had come back to Uluru to set up a little tent to sell artifacts, and that was the beginning of Maruku Arts which is still going today,” he says.
After chatting with some of the women at the tent, Howard was subsequently invited to watch ceremony that evening, which he eagerly attended.
“I realised that I was in someone else’s Country, I realised there was a powerful intelligence at work that no one had ever revered to us before. Once you know, you can’t unknow. I knew then that I had to make the journey into the heart of my country and that’s been my journey ever since.”
'Solid Rock' came out of that experience and was representative of a period of hope and public hunger for change.
“Little did I know that song would be so commercially successful for a couple of years.”
And while there have been small glimmers of hope over the years, with Keating’s Redfern Speech and later Rudd’s apology, movement in terms of Indigenous rights have been sluggish.
“I think the 1996 election was an Australian historical tragedy and I make no apologies in saying that,” Howard says.
“John Howard’s parting gift to Aboriginal Australians was the intervention.”
Howard views the last 26 years as a period of limbo but is hopeful, albeit cautiously, once more for change and justice following the recent change in government.
“All of a sudden now, half the parliament are women, that’s transformative. A number of those people, men and women are First Nations people, that’s transformative. When change comes, it comes in a rush.”
While it’s still early days of the new government, Howard admits to being “deeply moved” with Anthony Albanese’s commitment to the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
“I was overwhelmed emotionally, and I guess I was able to measure the distance that we’ve come.”
And what a coincidence that now, with this change of government and renewed sense of hope, Spirit of Place not only turns 40, but also takes another trip – one last trip – around the country.
The tour is an opportunity to say thanks to the people that supported the band at an imperative time for political music in Australia, providing the band with the privilege of living as artists.
“Let’s celebrate one last time. Let’s celebrate the dream we dreamed of back when we were young and idealistic. Let’s rattle the cage again and let’s make sure we realise that change.”
Inset: Photo: Martin Stringer