On Chasing Ghosts‘ new EP, ‘Homelands’ (out this Friday) the goal is truth-telling, of sharing the real stories of people not with the platform to speak. In a true punk rock fashion, it’s to lift up other voices. For its two singles, ‘Summer‘ and ‘Busted Lung,’ the six-piece addressed Indigenous rights and white supremacy, and then forgiveness by a victim of an LGBT hate crime respectively. With this EP – Chasing Ghosts first new lot of music in five years, since the stellar ‘I Am Jimmy Kyle’ LP – frontman, lyricist and bandleader Jimmy Kyle is talking openly about a great many topics. So for this lengthy but insightful interview, he discusses with me Indigenous sovereignty, more of the story behind ‘Busted Lung,’ dangerous whataboutisms, and exactly what music and mainstream media can do to better communicate Inidigenious related issues.
Jimmy, first off as it’s about to be Pride Month, talk to me about the story of the recent single, ‘Busted Lung.’ That song is a really interesting grey area. Because it’s got this strong message of forgiveness and second chances, which can be a hard pill to swallow, but as an LGBT person, knowing that those two men committed a hate crime on an openly gay man also boils my blood.
I think that’s what makes the task of telling the story in an appropriate manner challenging to do but also gives the song a unique personality. As a storyteller and songwriter, I was honoured to be able to shine a light on the inner strength and compassion of a man I admire with an invitation to bring forth larger conversations and that’s what good storytelling should do, challenge our preconceived notions. Busted Lung has its roots in a very dark true event, where a dear friend of mine survived a vicious pre-meditated assault by two brothers in a hate crime for being a gay man. But that horrendous behaviour wasn’t what inspired the song but rather the survivor response. There was an admirable and profound sense of empathy and compassion to two people that had done something monstrous. And that value gave this track a universal message that makes a person think “What if it were me?” … Could I muster so much empathy towards those who displayed none to me? Could I show compassion to those who would hurt me? I wasn’t sure my answer was yes.
It echoes a very old wisdom Mahatma Gandhi was quoted as saying, “An eye of an eye turns the whole world blind” I had a very similar visceral response like yourself when I learnt of what happened to my friend. Anger, I think, was the first emotion. The song I feel raises lots of challenging feelings and ultimately challenging questions. I do hope more folks are conscious that this cowardly toxic behaviour is still prevalent, it has no place in our society. To the broader community, I ask; surely this is our responsibility to stamp this rubbish behaviour out? We have got more work to do to address homophobia and transphobia head-on. The weight of prejudice can’t be carried by marginalised communities alone and nor should it be. The rate of suicide across the LGBTQIA + community is staggering. We need to empathetic active listeners but also, learn to speak up when we hear slurs and casual bigotry, as too often our silence can be misconstrued as agreement. It’s our silence that makes us complaisant. We shouldn’t fear accountability but rather we need to learn from it and take responsibility to educate ourselves and grow and mature our notions and perspectives.
Neal Walters, who directed the clip, albeit used artistic licence but essentially really revealed how grotesque and traumatic this hate crime was with the intention of making the question “What would you do…?” as poignant as the real incident. Challenging the viewer to grapple with how ugly intolerance really is and thus note how incredibly generous the survivor was to the two perpetrators. We wanted people to ask themselves “Could I forgive such a disgraceful low act if it happened to me?”. As for forgiveness, it’s sometimes something a person does for themselves and not for others. A way to not be defined by one moment alone but a way for survivors to regain their power and to define themselves, not by someone else’s hatred and narrow view of the world, but by their own inner strength. My mate chose a unique but timeless response, but he made a very interesting considered point to me that neither of the perpetrators would get better in jail. Another challenging proposition to contend with is neither of these cowardly criminals would come out a more enlightened person with a newfound appreciation for LGBTQ+ folks nor be rehabilitated. I couldn’t help but agree that our prison system more often fails to rehabilitate, educate and mature those in cells but returns them to the streets many times no better, with outdated skills if any and often much worse. I think this notion gave him poise for consideration, as did I.
Justice was had, although the whisper of vengeance would have been very intoxicating and understandable. However, for my mate, I suspect he was too grounded in his sense of self and chose what he thought would be better for the LGBTQ+ community, the perpetrators and himself. I respected that. They didn’t get off scot-free and nor did they deserve to but let’s imagine for a moment they had received the maximum sentence, what or who would they be when they were released? Would you want to live next to those two guys? It’s not something my mate ever asked for, but his response was carefully considered, compassionate, pragmatical and ultimately although there were no winners in this situation, perhaps there is a lesson for us all and many more challenging conversations.
Music can be such a great platform to discuss change and progressive ideas. Yet there is that recent phenomenon of people misunderstanding Rage Against The Machine songs and lyrics; Aussie’s loving Midnight Oil songs but not really taking on-board the actual meaning behind their songs. Do you ever worry that what Chasing Ghosts stand for in your songs could ever be misinterpreted?
If you’ve found yourself singing “some of those that are in forces *JUN JUN JUN* are the same that burn crosses” and then find yourself saying “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” then you weren’t paying attention to the message. To your point, I recently went with brother Tasman Keith to see him rap with Midnight Oil on their latest tour (Tas was dope by the way!) and I heard some ignorant comments coming from Midnight Oil fans about Aboriginal centred issues over a few conversations throughout the night. I was disappointed the message had gone over some people’s heads who were clearly long-time fans. They weren’t malicious so much as entitled and ignorant and I had naively assumed that wouldn’t happen there and perhaps they would probably be a little more enlightened or educated. I thought exactly what you’re suggesting, “Does this happen with my music?” It made me re-value and appreciate the courage and conviction of the Oils throughout their career and still today. It also made me more affirmed to speak truth.
Just so people don’t misinterpret me, let me take the chance to make it crystal clear: I stand with our Elders and our lore so rather than listen to anything I say, I ask you to listen to our Elders. You are also welcome to stand with our communities. I personally stand with all people around the world who have been colonised, whether that’s here in Naarm (Melbourne) on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Country, or in the West Bank with Palestinians or in West Papua where the locals are being butchered by the Indonesian military. I stand against imperialism and believe Indigenous People’s sovereignty all around the globe should be respected. I stand against white supremacy. I stand against bigotry in all forms. I stand for equity and equality, education, emotional growth and maturity and believe we are stronger when we stand together. We need more truth-telling when it comes to our history here and we need Treaty.
[This interview was conducted before the latest Victorian lockdown.] A big way to get that message across can be through live music, something that you and the band have also got coming up with the Espy Hotel headliner in Melbourne later this month. With Covid-19 concerns before now, was there originally a worry that you wouldn’t be able to take these new EP songs out and share what they had to say?
What a timely question! We wanted to wait until the lockdown was over before we released Homelands but didn’t know how long that could After a year since completion, we were excited to share it with people. A few days before the Corner Hotel show we had a snap lockdown. The show went off without a hitch but we were a little anxious. Again, our recent show at The Espy has been postponed due to our recent covid considerations. It’s always been a concern but we’re just taking it in our stride like everyone else and will reschedule that show. Get out and see bands while you can and support your live venues!
What kind of response did the band see to ‘Summer’ initially? The media and review side of things seemed very positive, but what was the reaction that you and the band saw from the average listener and commenter?
Overwhelmingly super supportive – thank you to everyone who checked it out! One of my main goals was to make sure my mob back home felt happy with the process and outcome in particular the descendants of ‘Baaba’ Jack Scott. Baaba Jack back then was a mere baby and the sole survivor of the Towel Creek Massacre in 1856. He was found amongst the bodies of the innocent victims sucking on his dead mother’s breast. My main ambition was to not have an important part of history erased and lost to time but to shine a light on the Frontier Wars, Aboriginal resistance and the Invasion by colonial forces. My logic was if they weren’t going to put it into the history books, then I was going to put it on the radio and that’s exactly what we did!
A big part of ‘Summer’ is the conversation around Change The Date, and its release in January before the 26th was timely. Yet one thing I notice with the Australian general public is that when there’s an issue brought up – whether it’s the topic of Invasion Day or even the Melbourne Cup – the response is “How come people don’t talk about this throughout the rest of the year!?” I find it to be a lazy way of ignoring the actual issue at hand, though I feel like this new EP releasing in May is a good way to combat those comments.
Whataboutisms aren’t very useful in my experience to finding a resolution and creating greater understanding and that’s not generally the intention behind using those types of loaded questions. Whataboutisms are great for disingenuous parties to derail and stall the conversation but your readers should be aware this is a tired and well-used tactic done deliberately to maintain the status quo, or when a person doesn’t fully know how to argue their position or has a weaker argument. As you noted, it ignores the fundamental issue by trying to attack the credibility, approach, or personalities of the people speaking up because actually addressing their concern or argument is much harder for those who want to maintain the current balance of power and privilege.
First Nations people talk about these issues all the time and have for many decades and generations, dating back to well before the first Day of Mourning protest in 1938 (150th anniversary of the First Fleeting landing.) However, the media and in particular, the Murdoch press (who own the lion’s share of our media landscape) don’t tell people that, but lean in on certain dates that are emotive and potentially divisive because it creates more clicks, views and thus more advertising revenue rather than working in the public interest which is genuine discussion and education. There’s a long history of choosing commentators who don’t have any expertise on the subjects, who lead on false premises and who are not Aboriginal, but instead are generally all non-Indigenous panels usually with a couple of shock jocks or politicians talking confidently to issues without ever having any lived experience. This leaves the public further ill-informed and in the absence of facts, they’ll use myths to bridge the gaps of their knowledge. Hence why they say those types of comments you mentioned in your question.
Not long after the release of ‘Summer,’ I saw on your Instagram a post about Triple M airing an interview with you about the single, with you thanking them for playing it but also being concerned with it as they host their own Hottest 100 on the 26th. Did that post go any further in terms of a conversation Triple M and their listeners? What kind of response did that receive?
It either fell on deaf ears, was overlooked or ignored but that’s okay – we’ll have more yarns in the future if they’re serious. In fairness, it was a short form interview and we never got to discuss the 26th which I had hoped to. That wasn’t deliberate on their behalf, but I think just the nature of some interviews and me trying to find the best moment to crowbar it into the conversation. When Triple M started their Hottest 100 on the 26th to me it looked hacky, out of touch and a quick rating grab at the expense of First Nations Peoples. However, for Triple M’s demographics it probably didn’t raise an eyebrow because fundamentally most people are just not educated on the true history of Australia. I understand Triple M are a commercial radio station and this was probably good for business. I think there are some great hosts on Triple M that are potentially onboard with moving their Hottest 100. I think they’ve made inroads to include many more First Nations artists in their programming and that should be applauded. But again this is the station that jams Midnight Oil though potentially not for the message but because it’s commercially and economically viable. So, my unsolicited advice to Triple M is there are better ways to get better ratings. You can lead in this space and it’s never too late to do so. I would love to see Triple M work with Reconciliation Australia to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan and bring their audience on the journey with them.
I wish to chat about your role as a speaker and advisor, and how that role moves into the Australian music scene by educating people on how to properly discuss Indigenous topics. Whether it’s speaking at Invasion Fest 2020, counselling the likes of Antagonist A.D and speaking at one of their recent shows, or even myself in the past with KYS with how to communicate Indigenous related topics in media. What’s that role like for you? Do you feel the weight and any pressure that comes with that position?
It’s filled with many mixed feelings. Often pressure from a deep sense of responsibility for making sure I follow appropriate protocols and articulate messages in a way that’s authentic, honest and constructive. Many times, it’s a privilege and honour. Many times its exhaustion and dissolution. It puts a great deal of pressure on many First Nations peoples to balance the expectations of our communities and the broader community and feeling squeezed in the middle while trying to make positive steps forward and not compromise our own integrity and lore in the process. We all do our best in our own way and it’s important to understand I don’t speak on behalf of all Aboriginal people or anyone else only myself, I’m simply a vessel. I will always advise people to lift up the voices of their local Elders. I’m grateful I’ve been able to contribute.
Lastly Jimmy, when it comes to continuing the conversation about Indigenous rights, what can the media, whether myself in music or at larger outlets, can change in order to help communicate these issues better or raise more awareness? What’s something you want writers and listeners alike to take away the most from the ‘Homelands’ EP?
The role of non-indigenous media in part is to lift up the voices of Aboriginal Elders and community leaders that the community endorse. Follow the stories important to First Nations Peoples and bring them into the mainstream. Media staff should participate in regular cultural awareness sessions, include more First Nations reporters, hosts, contributors and guests. Ultimately, if you make space for Indigenous artists, musicians, journalists or contributors, those spaces will be filled but that can be a slow process if you don’t have the networks. The media can strengthen the role they play by investing their time in becoming better educated on First Nations centred issues, working with the community and engaging with actual experts.
Keep this rule of thumb. Nothing about us, without us. What this means is not having an all non-Indigenous panel who are not qualified to discuss First Nations centred issues. For example, since we just had Sorry Day on the 26th May, let’s look at what not to do. Firstly, some context; It’s nearly a quarter of a century since the Bringing Them Home report was handed down on the 26th May 1997 after interviewing 1,000 survivors of the estimated 100,000 cases of Aboriginal children stolen from their parents from circa 1910-1970 due to race laws. These children became known as the Stolen Generations. The report gave the government 54 recommendations which we’re still waiting for to be fully implemented well over two decades on.
So back to my example, in 2018 Sunrise aired a segment where an all-white panel discussed Aboriginal adoption where this comment was made by a panellist who has zero qualification which sadly went unchallenged by the other white panellists also unqualified to speak to the issue. “Just like the first Stolen Generation where a lot of children … were taken … it was for their wellbeing, we need to do it again,” Prue MacSween was quoted as saying. Now you would think perhaps Sunrise would have members of the Stolen Generation on there to discuss this issue of Aboriginal Adoption or maybe members of the Aboriginal community who work in the field of social services or in Kinship Care but no. Sunrise gave us Prue, the original Karen. Clearly, the comment is profoundly racist, paternalist, fundamentally untrue, ill-informed and deliberately misleading, irresponsible and incredibly offensive. To be clear, the laws that stole Aboriginal children were never based on welfare but rather laws based on the assimilation of Aboriginal children that shared European ancestries such as the Half-Caste Act, which was the common name given to Acts of Parliament passed in the colonies, of Victoria and Western Australia in 1886. Hence why terms like ‘Half caste” are so offensive to our community. There are so many examples of our voices being left out of important conversations on our lands.
Remember the rule: nothing about us, without us. If it’s on our lands, then yes, it’s about us. As for Homelands, its six songs inspired by six challenging and interesting true stories dedicated to those who don’t get the microphone nearly enough.