So it’s almost winter and I can’t believe that 2 months have just passed me! However, I certainly have enjoyed the break and I’ve actually had time to relax and do nothing somedays….which is always something or course.
Denmark Festival is coming soon 31st May – 3 June 2019. This is when the whole of Denmark comes alive with music from all it’s venues.
It’s a great honour to be selected for the Denmark Festival of Voice and I always look forward to this weekend because I can throw my guitar over my shoulder and walk down the road to the venue.
There will be people from all across the world and Australia and the past few years have cemented this festival on the map of Australia. I will be playing on Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 12 noon at Freehand Natural Wine. I will be facilitating a skype talk with refugee and award winning journalist and writer Behrouz Boochani at 12 noon too. Behrouz is still being detained on Manus Island with approx 500 other men in the most in humane conditions under the Australian government. It’s disgusting and I can’t believe they have been there almost 6 years.
It’s been quite a gruelling couple of months after my trip to Manus Island and getting deported didn’t help. I am still embroiled in this story as it continues to unfold and it will be a big part of my life until all of the refugees are free. You may ask me why get so involved and why put this pressure on yourself? For that I have no answer except for, ‘it is just something I have to do’ just like when I was extremely concerned about the environment and destruction of our planet for so many years in my teenage years and on through my 20s, 30s and 40s.
Although back then my work in activism was separate and on it’s own whereas now my music overlaps with my concerns for human rights, social justice and the planet we are all destroying at a rapid pace. So in effect the work is never done but I get a huge amount of satisfaction knowing that my art can participate in the solution to all these problems.
I do have a few other things happening behind the scenes and one of those is a small documentary in collaboration with 3 other artists; a poet (Renee Schipp), a textile artist (Ruth Halbert) and a film maker. Rob Castiglioni is the film maker and he has asked the three of us if he could make a short documentary about each of us and show how our lives and our art practice have been impacted by our work in the area of offshore detention.
Of course I jumped at the chance, any opportunity to be in front of a camera or microphone …… lol …..We have done a lot of filming and in the process we also made a music video for one of the songs that I wrote on Manus. I collaborated with one of the refugees there Kazem Kazemi who is a heavy metal fan and an amazing guitarist and musician for that matter. He wrote the melody and I wrote the words so we put the two together and came up with the song below. It’s called “We live and we die”. I wrote these words at 3am in the morning while on Manus. I had been visiting some very sick men at the local hospital in Lorengau which barely has the facilities to take care of the local population let alone an extra 600 refugees. The two men I saw were very sick and were both on hunger strike and had lost the will to live. I sang a few songs to them and one of the guys actually spoke on the 2nd and 3rd visit (he was probably sick of the singing lol) but he did sit up and we had lovely chat. His name is Qassim and he is still there now in the camp languishing and has no idea how much longer it will go on for.
It’s almost time to pack my bags and get ready to go again. Next week I am off to Townsville Cultural Fest and I am soooo excited about it. I am even more excited to have a little feature photo on the program. The Townsville Cultural Festival is an all inclusive all ages festival which is the amazing work of Farvardin Daliri who has been running this festival for the past 30 years. He has a wonderful team of people there including his son who have worked hard to make it happen each year with no government grants or funding. (I have inserted the program at the end of this post)
GIGGING LAND I’ve had a fair variety of gigs the past couple of months, the Manjimup Truffle Kerfuffle was a great opportunity to play to a totally different audience and what a fantastic venue! I also played my first gig at Freehand Wines which was lovely…Matt and Danni are a lovely couple who are passionate about what they do and they love to have live music at their cellar door 2 nights a week which is wonderful for us musicians.
Then I got an opportunity to play for the WAM Winter Sounds Series which was at Brookfield Place in Perth. This is a very upmarket dining place in the big smoke where the corporate mob go to have lunch. It was a great gig and once again nice to get paid well for a gig of all original songs. Thanks WAM for that. On Sunday just gone I played at Six Degrees Albany and it was my first 3 hour gig for while and I have to say probably my best. I had an awesome night, with great hosts and an wonderful audience. I hope I can do it all again soon.
Documentary screenings have also filled my time and as much as I try to keep my music separate to the documentary screenings it seems like a strange thing to do now. My music has been inspired by the things that I am concerned about and the plight of the refugees is the most current concern right now although I am not limited to that issue. There are many concerns and my music is my vehicle to express what I need to say with clarity. I am a communicator and I spend most of my time engaged in the big issues we face today and expressing those concerns is, I feel, the most useful thing that I can do for myself and for the planet and humanity.
DOCUMENTARY SCREENINGS I have done a number of documentary screenings and I absolutely love doing them! I have done one at the Agricultural Colllege of Denmark, the B’hai youth group and a home schoolers group as well as a community group in Walpole WA. I have a heap of screenings organised in the next couple of weeks from Townsville to Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney, Thirroul and Eurobodalla. I am so excited about meeting all the refugee groups and advocates that I have become friends with on social media over the past 12 or so months. I absolutely love the work that I do and it gives me so much pride that I can do this.
The format for the screening events is that I introduce myself and I talk about how I got involved in this whole thing and then I play 2 songs which are the songs I have dedicated to the refugees on Manus and Nauru since June of 2017. Then I show the documentary and then I do a Q and A afterwards and I have found people really do engage with the whole situation. I feel that people really do care but they are just overwhelmed with the terrible way in which the policy has become a political tool and the magnitude of it. Many people are fearful to discuss about the subject matter because it has become so political and I find that when the bare facts are placed there with the music and the joy of playing music with these lovely young men the viewers become disarmed. They actually see the refugees are real people with the same human traits as all of us and that is the most exciting moment for me because it’s at that moment that I can see change is possible.
I am sat at my computer 3 weeks after returning home from a 9,000km round trip that has changed me forever. I had no idea where I was headed emotionally and physically and I actually went with no expectations, but one thing I knew for sure and that is my life would never be the same again.
There has been much controversy over the offshore processing of refugees on Manus and Nauru. I wanted to find a way to seek the truth and I was feeling helpless and overwhelmed as I watched the cruel regime of our government and it’s treatment of refugees. So I planned to go to Manus to play music and document the trip…Why? because I wanted to use music to connect with the friends that I had made there and then show the world that the men on Manus are just regular human beings like us. Like mine and your sons, our brothers or cousins. Thank you to local film maker Tim Maisey for trusting in me and taking the journey with me and for doing a fantastic job of documenting the experience.
How did I get involved in this journey?
Around 2 years ago I noticed that my very good friend and textile artist Ruth Halbert was becoming more involved in the very politicised issue of offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru. I wasn’t really aware of what it was all about and after all I was way too busy with my music career and my family to fit anything else into my life. But then she started writing letters to the Prime Minster Malcom Turnball every day….I mean every day. She was writing for every woman, man and child in offshore detention. I was slowly starting to notice more and more facebook posts that were damning of the Australian Government and the name Peter Dutton kept coming up. I don’t have a TV so I had not idea who he was but I could see he was creating a few problems. Then in June 2017 Ruth was asked to contribute her work to the Denmark Festival of Voice, so she asked members of the community if they would read aloud the letters for 30 mins at a time. So i put my hand up to be one of the readers and I felt a bit uncomfortable with the idea but I did it and it was a very moving experience. People there were very moved by the readings and it was an incredibly powerful way to share the stories of the refugees and to bring more awareness to the issue.
I was playing at the Festival of Voice and it was time for me to start taking a stand for these people who had been detained indefinitely for 4 and a half years in terrible conditions. So this was when I started to dedicate one of my songs to the refugees. The song is called “Cross to Bear” and I sang it for the first time with real purpose. Then something happened in August….I liked a post on Ruth’s facebook page and it was a video of a song played at a protest in Melbourne. The video was written by a refugee on Manus, “Moz” and a lady in Melbourne called Dr Emma Obrien who had a recording studio recorded the song with a bunch of amazing musicians. The song is called “All the Same”
I received a friend request from ‘Moz’ and we started chatting, I was scared because I had only heard about the refugees being terrorists and criminals on the news although I knew that couldn’t be true. I found myself chatting with this beautiful, charming courteous intelligent young man who was in a terrible situation. We talked about music and shared songs and I realised then what Ruth was doing, she was being a voice for these innocent people who were not able to defend themselves from the lies and deceit of our government. I found more friend requests coming in and I became more and more involved.
We arrived in Port Moresby on March 16th and then on Manus on March 17th. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left we were taken care of by the refugees, they organised a place to stay and they brought us food everyday (from their own rations) and they joined us for music and they sat and shared their stories – it was heart breaking and heart warming at the same time.
Here is a preview of our documentary, thank you to Tim Maisey for filming and editing and thank you to Dave Anger for recording and mixing the song while I was in Tasmania last month.
I had to do something – I’m an artist (singer/songwriter) and that’s my job to ask the tough questions.
So before I had time to even think about what I was doing I had started the crowd funder to go to Manus. Donations came in quickly then an incredibly unbelievable thing happened while I was on tour in NSW. While in Gosford I met a total stranger at a coffee shop. She told me later that she was so taken by my passion and drive to do something that she offered to pay the balance for the trip, it was a very emotional moment….I cried because someone actually believed in me and she cried with the gratitude that she could help. It was a moment in time that I couldn’t have organised if I had tried…..the stars were aligned and I was going to Manus. Below is a reflection that I wrote on the way home from Brisbane.
5 DAYS NOT 5 YEARS ON MANUS REFLECTION
We’re on our way home and I just don’t know where to start. There’s just so much to process and right now I am filled with rage and compassion all at the same time. I can’t imagine the torture these guys have endured and I can’t imagine the pain they are carrying. I am amazed they still have the warmth in their hearts to greet us after all that they have endured under our government our sovereign nation under the guise of our National Anthem which use the words “with those who come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share”.
Today on our last day William (name changed) came and his story is tragic. He was flown to Darwin for a small infection on his wrist then back to Manus where he waited a year to have the operation in Port Moresby. He said the doctor said it would be back to normal in 6 weeks. The doctor cut the nerves in his wrist and his hand is now paralysed. He is in pain all the time and he takes Tremedol, panadeine forte and anti depressants and 2 other medications for his stomach, kidneys and liver. It’s been 12 months since the operation and he no longer has the use of his left hand and he feels he is half a man now. He is 31 years old and he has children back in his homeland in Iraq. He came to the Hotel to give us some discs with x-rays and medical records, for me to pass on to the person coordinating all the medical misconduct cases.
He is so traumatised by it all that he can hardly function. He’s a beautiful kind grateful young man and as I sit next to him to listen to his story I am filled again with shame of the government that we have accepted as our leaders.
There is no leadership in this government, no leadership traits; honesty and integrity, commitment and passion, good communication, accountability, delegation and empowerment, creativity and innovation. I saw more leadership in all of these young men, they are all incredibly smart but they are more than that they have courage and wisdom beyond their years. They have open hearts despite having it sliced into so many piecesby the systematic torture that they have endured on a daily basis for 5 years. Every part of their being has been shattered into many pieces and thrown into a hole so dark and deep that any regular person would never have survived. Yet these guys have managed to salvage the shards and found a way to hold them together and maintain integrity and generosity for others. They carry a huge amount of the guilt and blame themselves for what is happening to them.
They told me how each night 80% of the men can’t sleep because as soon as they put their heads on the pillow the pain of torture runs out of control, regrets and what if’s keep running round and round and they just can’t sleep. Some of them sleep sat up. Farvard said ‘I can’t sleep lying down but I can’t get up because I am so tired then around 4 – 5 am I fall asleep till lunchtime’ …..approx 80% of them live like this and have done for the past 5 years.
Lukini lodge was a good choice because the men were willing to come to visit us. Lukini lodge was in town and the men don’t usually go into town on Saturday or Sunday or after 5pm each evening because it’s not safe. There is a big problem with alcoholism amongst the locals and robbery is the main problem. It’s a bit different to Australia because if you don’t hand over your money or phone there is a high chance that they will knife you.
Each day new men arrived and shared their pain, they all had the same disposition. They sat politely in the chair or on the edge of the bed, shoulders slightly hunched, head tilted slightly forwards. As the stories unfolded of the torture they had endured and the pain they had experienced I found myself sitting helpless. They all began with the same words. We have been here almost 5 years, not 1 day, not 5 days, not 3 months not 8 months but 5 years and some of them would say the actual number of days. Then they would say again 5 years almost 5 years holding out their hand with 4 fingers and a thumb showing.
Hazara believed that the Australian people hated them and he said “we thought Australia was different to where we fled from, but they hate us”. When I explained that many people didn’t know the truth about Manus and that the government had been lying to its people for the past 5 years he was shocked. It was the first time that he had heard that, he really believed that everyone knew and that they were all filled with anger and hatred towards all refugees.
Some of the guys actually believed that the guards, teachers and caseworkers were an example of all Australians. The guards were all horrible, abusive and total rednecks. The refugees believed that this must be what all Australian’s are like. There were some really good teachers and caseworkers but they usually left because it was too traumatic to witness such inhumane conditions or they spoke up and were sacked. Many were cruel and very unkind. When the refugees went to the caseworker they felt they were not supported and they were left to feel like no one cared and no one could help them.
Najaed said we don’t want to go to Australia we hate Australians. Then there were the ones who know there are many wonderful people in Australia and that is was the government.
Something else I heard over and over again was we are dead, we are all dead inside and we have nothing left for them to take. I would say to them “yes I can see that, I can see the life has left, but in all of you I see a tiny sparkle in your eyes” and they would show me a huge smile. A huge smile. The guys I met all still had a glimmer of hope but there were many who didn’t come to the hotel too and I know there are many men staying in their rooms or in the camps feeling helpless and very depressed most of the time.
Sometimes when I was talking to some of the guys I felt like I was talking into air, air that was filled with no hope and I would feel this wall rise and I felt like an idiot. Like what am I saying? Nothing I say could possibly be of any help to them and I almost felt like I was needing to dig myself into a hole to get out of the mess I had gotten into.
I was explaining that we wanted to take footage and take it back to Australia and show the people what we have seen so that we can help shift their views. But I felt like my words were empty like what the hell can I do it’s 5 years too late. How many people have been before and said the same thing only to do nothing or have no impact no matter how many people they tried to talk to or write to. Because every time people take action the government tell more stories of boarder safety and terrorists and the red necks all jump up and follow the governments lead. The advocates are all called ‘do gooders’ and are shut down. Dutton changes tact and makes up new rules.
Isaac was there in 2013 and he watched as the Australian guards and PNG police for no reason attack his friend Reza Barati. Reza was tall and he looked strong and they “piled on him and beat him till he was dead” the refugee said he watched his friend get murdered by Australian guards and PNG police officers. This refugee was only 20 yrs old when he witnessed that by our government under our watch.
Isaac sits in the chair in the hotel room in Port Moresby. He has been living there for 9 mths. He went there after some refugees were offered the option to go there to “integrate”. That door closed very quickly and recently refugees were sent back to Manus. Isaac felt it would be a better option to go to Port Moresby to keep his mind busy. He works 14 hours a day 6 days a week for 200 kina (approx. $85).
He sits in the chair slightly hunched over and shoulders slightly forwards. He is 6’4” and he has a beautiful strong face and that same sparkle in his eyes. He tells the story from a place in him that is devoid of emotion, that’s how they all share their stories from a place that keeps them safe from the pain. Just enough expression to get our attention.
We need to be strong and we don’t want to burden them, Abdul said “it’s too much for people, many case workers and psychologists have left because they can’t cope.”
* I have changed the names of the guys to protect them from retribution or hindering their chance to go to the USA.
Where from here? Artist and Musician finding her path
On the home front I have been busy with gigs and a week after I got back from Manus Island I was asked to play at Arcadia Wines for Easter Sunday which was a real treat and I’ve come back with a new perspective on my work as a musician and artist. It was lovely to catch up with Gaye and John again and to get back into the swing of my regular work if you know what I mean but I also have a new vigour and passion for my work. I now know that I have to play my original songs when I perform and I am happy to do a mix of originals and covers for a 3 hour gig but I have to do my original music in the mix. I know this means I won’t get some gigs because some venues think that the audience wants all covers and there are the venues who want musicians to play covers to entertain the audience as they slowly get drunk . This is not my opinion I have been told this by venues. The brief usually is to play covers and lift the beat towards the end of the night to get the punters buying more alcohol. It’s just how it is in the music industry in Australia. I’m not sure how it is overseas but I would love to find out one day.
The week after that I was booked to play at the Three Anchors where I haven’t played for ages so that was a lot of fun too. I am now gearing up for a couple of gigs in May and then it’s the Denmark Festival of Voice.
Then my very very big news is that I am off to Townsville in August for the Townsville Cultural Festival. I will keep you posted on that news next.