On Saturday 22nd September I had a very special performance. Ruth Halbert Textile Artist and a very good friend of mine asked me to perform at her exhibition opening for the Great Southern Art Trail. I love performing and for the past 5 years I have been playing at a whole variety of venues from pubs to house concerts and many festivals in between and I love to entertain too whether that be with my own songs or with my favourite covers. That is one facet of my life, however, the other facet is my social activism and my desire to be a part of social change and many of my songs relate to the things that concern me. So to be able to play at Ruth’s Exhibition opening was the beginning
of a new era for me. I was able to weave my story and question the things that concern me, between carefully selected songs to suit the sentiment. It was also wonderful to engage the audience in a way that created a beautiful intimate experience for all. I’m afraid I only got one photo and here it, so it’s not a great depiction of the evening but I think you can get the gist of it. The Sanctuary is where we did it and there is no power and only a rainwater tank and compositing loo so very much back to nature as you can see by the photo too. It was all acoustic which too made it a very special evening.
I had the best time in Townsville! It was warm, actually compared to Denmark it was really hot!! Townsville was much dryer than I expected and I’m not sure why I was expecting the tropics because it’s not that far north really. Even though it was the middle of winter it was very dry and quite flat too to my surprise but quite a vibrant multicultural community which was fantastic to see and be a part of. It was wonderful to meet Farvardin Daliri organiser of the Townsville Cultural Fest at long last and his son Erfin Daliri…they are both doing fantastic work in the areas of social cohesion and raising awareness of the important things in life…equality, justice and peace on earth.
I met some amazing people there including the lovely Anisa Nanduala who is activist/poet studying politics, she is only 19 years old but incredibly astute and aware. She speaks really well and her poetry is very powerful. Interestingly she had her performance just before mine and the man who was in charge of the engineering company heckled her….I was disgusted…he was an older guy and obviously did not approve of a young strong Ugandan woman speaking up for what she believed in….but she kept going regardless which in itself was powerful. However, it was very disappointing to witness and I hope that he is in the minority. All in all I met an incredible diverse group of people who come from all corners of this very round planet and they were smiling, dancing and generally having a great time. My favourite band Kallidad were there and it was wonderful to catch up with the Jace, Julz and Tom because I have missed them twice when they have been in Denmark WA (my home town). I haven’t seen them play for at least a year so it was great to dance my socks off again. Another highlight was to see Baker Boy, what an awesome band they are….they really do bring energy and fun to the stage. Danzal Baker is fantastic with the audience, he really does know how to interact with them well. It just so turned out that they were staying in the same accommodation as me, so it doesn’t get much more exciting than that!! I even got almost all of 2 seconds of time in this promo video….Folk n Roll!!!
NSW Documentary Screenings
After the Townsville Festival I hopped on a plane to Sydney and grabbed a car and drove up to Gosford for my first “Music from Manus” documentary screening that was being held at The Avoca Picture Theatre in Gosford. It was a fantastic evening and Danni Habib did a great job of organising the event and I had the most amazing response to the documentary which really set me up for the rest of the tour. The format I used was that I first
introduced myself and talked a bit about how I got engaged in the whole issue and then I sang 2 songs and then we did the screening and then we had Q and A afterwards. There were many great questions asked and the overwhelming response was that people were inspired to do more after the event. It’s much more than I could have ever asked for. My whole purpose for going to Manus was to try to engage people in the issue and hope that they would be encouraged to do more.
The next day I drove up to Newcastle where I stayed with Amanda Perram, another great advocate for the refugees on Manus and Emma Comely joined us from Sydney. It was our first meeting with Amanda who is a wealth of information when it comes to the recent years of lies and deceit coming from the Australian government. It really is great to at last meet with all these amazing women who are doing incredible work across Australia in supporting the refugees.
In Newcastle I met with Nikola Leka who organised the screening with Hunter Asylum Seeker Avocacy group and it was another great night with lots of new connections made and a fantastic response to the documentary itself. I then drove down to Sydney the very next day where I stayed with Emma Comely for a couple of days. That night was the Teachers for Refugees and Refugee Action Collective screening in Surry Hills which was a great location. That is where I met with Mark Goudkamp and also film director Ian Stevenson and a number of other advocates that I have been in contact with on facebook throughout this whole journey. Ian was very impressed with the documentary and he was very keen to talk about submitting it to SBS which we talked further about and he has now submitted it. So we are waiting for a reply and fingers crossed that something can come from that because that would be a much wider audience and a real chance to see more change in attitudes.
I had Thursday off then I drove down to Thirroul on Friday to meet with Patrick Harrison who was organising the screening there where we had a full house and very keen bunch of people. I met a lovely lady Naomi Lai there too who is also an advocate and she sent her mum to the screening for the following in the Eurobodalla region. I stayed with Mairi Peterson in Shell Harbour which is a lovely spot and it was wonderful to see Russell Hannah at the screening too. I have stayed with Mairi a few times now and I have talked about her before….she is this incredible woman who has been fighting for refugees for 20 years and I have a huge amount of admiration for her. Once again in Thirroul we had a very attentive audience and I am just amazed each time at how everyone gets something different from the screening but the end result is everyone wants to do more which is brilliant. I know I keep using the words amazing, brilliant, fantastic over and over but there is no other way to describe how much I love this work and the fact that it overlaps with my work as an artist (singer songwriter) is even more incredible because I can use the very essence that drives me to create social change in my own small way.
It was a three and a half hour drive down to the Eurobodalla region where I was staying with Marn and Peter Cole. I think I got the presidential suite and I was totally spoilt and it was wonderful to meet and spend time with Marn and Peter too. We did the screening in Moyura and this was the last one so I was feeling a sense of relief that I had gotten through the 10 days. I met more wonderful people from the Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla who organised the event.
It was a five and a half hour drive back to Sydney the next day….it was beautiful drive and I was buzzing with adrenaline from the previous days and I was really happy to get back to Emma’s where we hung out for a few days and I enjoyed a rest. I flew back to Perth on the Tuesday and drove back down Denmark which is another 5 hours the same day so I was buggered once I got home. It really has been an incredible journey and from here I am going to be spending some time recording and playing music and writing new songs and engaging more in my music. So I will close for now but I’m going to write update in just a few days to report on the recording weekend that I had a few weeks ago and festivals and gigs that are coming my way. YEW FOLK N ROLE!!! LOVING IT!!!!
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.
Denmark Festival of Voice 2018 The sun was shining and there was a buzz in the air in Denmark as the Festival of Voice got into full swing. Our beautiful little town came alive with song, poetry and music scattered in every venue across town. I played at Mrs Jones Cafe on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday early evening Tim and I did a documentary screening of “Music from Manus – 5 Days not 5 Years” which was very well attended. Once again we had a fantastic response and people really engaged with the information being shared on the screen and thanks to all those who signed my petition and put money in the tin afterwards. I have been able to send some money to help a refugee get some urgently needed dental treatment today as a result of the money raised at the screening.
Thanks to the Denmark Yoga community for raising funds and to all the individuals who have approached me in the street to donate too, their money also was able to support the dental costs. We have a few more local screenings, one in Denmark and one in Walpole then the next ones will be when I go over east in August.
So life has been changing dramatically for me in recent months with so many more engagements than ever before. My music career has overlapped with my activism work and my purpose has become more clear. I am passionate about music and writing and recording songs and performing which always comes first. However, alongside that is my desire to see an end to the offshore detention of innocent people. I am passionate about that too and I am honoured that I can use my music profile to raise awareness and support change.
In the next few months I will be doing my usual gigs and they include my first time at Freehand Wines right here in Denmark and then I have been asked to perform a the Truffle Kerfuffle in Manjimup being organised by Kelsi Miller Good nights Bunbury on Sunday 24th which is fantastic!. A week before I go to Townsville I will be playing at one of my favourite local spots….well almost local….in Albany called Six Degrees which will be a great warm up for the pending trip.
Next Album in the making I have a heap of new songs that I want to get onto my next album so I’ve booked a weekend in September to record the first few songs and it’s wonderful to have Tony King there to do lots of the instrumentation and Al Smith from Bergerk! studios is coming down to set up his recording gear in my music studio. I’m going to ask a bunch of locals to participate too so it’s really going to be another local affair. I’ll keep you posted on that one folks.
Townsville Cultural Festival
July is a month where I will be getting organised for the biggest event for “Dawn Barrington Music” this year and that is that I will be performing at the Townsville Cultural Fest! This will be my very first visit to Townsville and it’s going to be awesome and especially lovely to catch up with Kallidad who are one of the headliners. This is an incredible festival where gender equity is a priority and all cultures are recognised in one big celebration. The organiser of this festival Farvardin Daliri and his team have been making this happen for many years and he is a great advocate for cultural diversity in his community and I am very looking forward to meeting him and his team in August for this fantastic weekend.
After the Townsville Festival I will be going down to NSW to do a heap of screenings down the NSW coast in Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney x 2, Wollongong and Eurobodalla. I am very excited because there is such enthusiasm by the people hosting them to make it happen and I will get to meet all the fellow activists/advocates over there who I have been conversing and liaising with on facebook for the past 18 months or so.
I am now keen to spread the word far and wide so please feel free to share the documentary and if you want me to do a screening in your town please make contact with me because I am very happy to come and do that.
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.