This week has been an interesting one for Jimmy Kyle, the frontman and mastermind behind Melbourne’s Chasing Ghosts. As a Thungutti man with both Aboriginal and mixed cultural backgrounds and heritages to his name, the recent news of Triple J’s Hottest 100 date change from January 26th (Australia Day) to January 27th in 2018 has been met with appreciation. However, it has also caused Kyle to reflect on the matter, the larger issues at hand here, and offer a different perspective on the topic rather than “fuck triple J” and other such noise that’s flooded comment sections lately. He actually first did so on our Instagram page regarding our Hottest 100 post when the news first broke, and after chatting with the singer, he was more than happy to further flesh out his thoughts for us. But enough from us, let’s let the man himself speak…
“Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to perform my music all around the world but when I come home to Melbourne, the 9 to 5 has always been working in the Aboriginal community. It’s a massive contrast that I’ve never stopped enjoying. It’s very humbling as I often train folks around Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultural awareness and history for many large organisations. In this line of work, I’ve heard every possible argument, redneck comment, genuine misunderstanding and enlightened insight just about possible.
Now, if you know nothing or very little about Aboriginal Australia then our school system taught you exactly what it wanted. It’s not the fault of the average person; it’s a by-product (a failure of a by-product, I feel) of our education system. After all of this time living together, non-indigenous folks, broadly speaking, still know so little about the first Australians and the land on which they’ll go to sleep on tonight. I don’t think it’s at all fair that Non-Indigenous Australia has missed out on a great many number of things. And those gaps in the public’s knowledge of our nation’s first people have left gaping holes that are so very easily filled by misinformation kings such as the Andrew Bolts of our world: all small minded and always ill-informed.
Truthfully, for me, my life has been two different worlds and seldom did they ever cross over but more and more the streams seem to cross as of late. I’m a Thungutti man, originally from a tiny place called Billybyang Creek on the Mid North Coast of NSW. This was my paternal grandmother’s country; I’ve been to the massacre sites there, and I know the stories of my country. Additionally, my Thungutti Koori heritage is also shared with Irish, Scottish an English ancestry; a mixture of cultural backgrounds that apply to many other Australians. However, my own blood has always come from a land and era well before the concept of time was ever a thing.
In 1778 on January 26th my Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather was stuck in the bottom of the 7th ship of the first fleet. With shackles around his ankles in leg irons, he was about to take his first steps onto the Australian shore – a convict simply for being an Irish man. He would never see his wife and two children again. His marriage was annulled and he would spend the next two years in leg irons in this foreign country. I imagine he deeply missed his family till the very day he died. My great grandmother on my mother’s side was an English woman migrating to Australia to get out of the working poor class of England. She came for a better life. These three very different narratives of being Australian all run through my mind when I think what it is to be an Aussie today. But for whatever reason your family was brought here, migrated here, sought asylum here or was maybe always here, our life is short and it’s time we started to pull together for the benefit of the next generation(s).
I cannot speak for all 700,000 Indigenous Australians. But I know for many, celebrating who we are, as Indigenous peoples and sharing it in an authentic way is important just as it would be for anyone. We don’t want to feel invisible in our own country. Aboriginal people today spend a huge amount of time trying to explain who we are, defending who we are and debunking myths on who we are perceived to be. Because often we don’t get to simply celebrate whom we are! Many of us want to celebrate with all the other Australians. The question is, can we as a nation, do just that in a genuinely respectful, authentic way? Yes, I think we can.
Yet suggesting to Aboriginal Australia that this is a matter of tradition and this particular date can’t possibly be shifted superseding any ability to negotiate is the height of arrogance, bias and hypocrisy. Aboriginal Australia is the oldest continuous culture on the planet rich with traditions dating back 70,000 years. It’s the weakest argument a non-Indigenous person could ever hope to make. However, simply wanting to celebrate all that is good in Australia is an understandable and reasonable concept. Many First Nations people also understand the need to come together and to celebrate with everyone – to be a unified nation. Yet the real beef here is with the date, as it is very disrespectful. It’s an Anglo-centric narrative. It’s exclusive, not inclusive. As it so often excludes other narratives and cultures such as those being here for 70,000 years before Anglo-Australian culture took control.
As for the wider debate about Australia Day as a concept, the idea of a national day of celebration seems on the surface a good idea! However, I can’t celebrate on the day that symbolises the beginning of cultural destruction, massacres, genocide, and slavery. Because all can I think about on that day are my Grandmother’s, of my Thungutti people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s grief and loss on that day so long ago.
Symbolism is important. It helps to shape our thinking. As someone of cultural duality, changing the date to one that considers all Australians is truly a real Australian Day. It sends the real message that we are all indeed united, that we have common ground to build on, that we all stand together as equals. Triple J’s switching of dates for the Hottest 100 countdown to the 27th, while perhaps small in the grand scheme of things, is indeed a step in the right direction. Yes, it’s not the magic elixir to all our social ailments but it is a win for further progress.
Australia Day is meant to be a day to unify us as a collective but we as a whole didn’t choose a date that’s inclusive to begin with. The Howard government chose a very Anglo specific narrative to take for it – the date the English arrived on the first fleet under Governor Philip. Howard clearly had no intention of including the First Nations people of this country in this national celebration unless we were prepared to ignore what has happened. He and his government pushed us all into a corner and made this division. Whether intentional or not, it’s put Indigenous people in a very uncomfortable place right now.
If Australia were to be invaded today by North Korea or some other such foreign power, wouldn’t you want your grandkids to stand up, to defend the ANZAC memorials and the way of life and all the heritage that has been created here? I think we all would. So, are we really being unreasonable? Would you really expect me – or any other – to celebrate a day that signifies so much loss of one’s own heritage and culture? I do acknowledge the English arrival is important in our national history and should be commemorated and recognised as such. But non-Indigenous Australians are no longer English. And many Australians never were. For Aboriginal Australians, we are sovereign peoples and we’ve never willingly ceded our rights or our land.
I’m not asking for people to be politically correct – it’s not about being PC or about left or right-wing politics. I’m suggesting we suspend our judgement of one another and get more curious about whom we are. We as humans must seek to understand one another before we ask to be understood. I don’t want my friends to be worried about saying the wrong thing in front of me rather than actually understanding. If people have a better conceptual understanding of Australia’s first people – even if it takes some time and some awkward conversations – it doesn’t take long for them to start finding the right terminology and approach. Hell, sometimes it’s as simple as politely asking. Or better yet, stop looking at bloody cats and dogs on your Instagram feed for two goddamn minutes and Google it!
None of us were born with manners; we learn them. But we learn them as a way to denote respect. This is a concept all cultures recognise.
With the date change, some people say that politics should stay out of music. Yet ‘political music’ is as old as music itself. It’s all a part of life. Art reflects life, politics included, and often vice versa. I mean, come on, how many times have you heard;
“Fuck you! I won’t do what ya tell me!” come on the local karaoke! While I don’t need to explain the political undertones of Rage Against The Machine’s music, still most people join in!
Or how many times have you heard people of all political backgrounds and ethnicity sing “How can we sleep when our beds are burning?!”
Or “God save the Queen! A fascist regime!”
People used to have courage in their convictions to stand up and say some real shit even if it pissed a few people off. But for the last ten years or more, heavy music, on the whole, has become more about self-indulgent noise or break-up song bullshit more than ever before. Music has always been a vessel to connect and share a message. Growing up on heavy music and hearing political messages when I was young informed me not to swallow everything I was being told but to start questioning everything, to get curious, to be inquisitive – for better or for worse. The hardcore scene used to believe in no racism, no sexism, no homophobia and in most cases, it still does today. Because that punk rock ethos just won’t ever die, which is great! Even skinheads used to be against racism before the ideology got hijacked. So when people say “don’t bring politics into music”, I figure the horse has already bolted! Please go back to your bubble-gum pop and turn in to another radio station.
Come Saturday, Jan 27th, 2018 when the Hottest 100 starts counting down, I plan to reciprocate the very cool gesture Triple J has made, one in which many Aussies support. And I, along with many of my mates, regardless of their heritage, will celebrate good tunes with good people and will be complaining about the heat just like everyone else! So, thank you Triple J for showing the kind of leadership that many so-called leaders don’t seem to possess or are at least, afraid to show. Thank you for having the courage of your convictions and listening to the people. Trust is created when your words and actions are the same things and Triple J has just shown that they’re legit, authentic and respectful.”
– Jimmy Kyle, xoxo.
What do you think of the Hottest 100 date change? Us here at KYS are all for it!