And the ARIA goes to… constitutional recognition!
Last night, ground-breaking band Yothu Yindi was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
Their music has had a huge impact in raising public consciousness of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It’s fitting that they seized the opportunity – being recognised by the music industry – to talk about the importance of Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It’s perhaps ironic that the music and sporting industries are increasingly recognising the great contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but our Constitution does not.
After all, it is our founding document, or as a former Attorney-General said, the birth certificate of our nation. But there’s a growing movement of people, including musicians, who would like to see that changed.
From the American civil rights movement in the ’60s, to the UK’s Rock Against Racism in the 1970s and the global phenomenon of Live Aid in the ’80s, music has played an integral role in giving people a voice and building momentum for social change.
Martin Luther King talked of the freedom songs playing ‘a strong and vital role in our struggle’.
Earlier this month, a series of concerts was held throughout Australia to promote awareness of the need for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.
Gurindji man and rock hero Dan Sultan headlined, and thousands attended gigs in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Fremantle.
Only a few gigs, sure, but they may well herald the start of music playing a role in the emerging movement for Constitutional change.
The rich tradition of political activism in music in Australia often goes unrecognised.
Perhaps the best known example that has stood the test of time is the song From Little Things Big Things Grow, written by Paul Kelly and Aboriginal artist Kev Carmody.
And there is a neat congruence here - Dan Sultan is a Gurindji man and a descendant of Vincent Lingiari, the leader who fought for land rights in that famous song.
But there are other examples too - the aforementioned Yothu Yindi, Archie Roach, Midnight Oil and The Herd all have given voice to their political and social views in their music.
John Butler and Missy Higgins are strong supporters of the Close the Gap campaign for Indigenous health equality.
Powderfinger and Silverchair toured the nation in 2007 in support of reconciliation.
Whether or not you believe music has the power to change lives or even change the world, it’s hard to deny the power of music to create awareness about important issues and to unify people around a common cause.
The Rock for Recognition concerts were part of the wider campaign towards a referendum to change the Constitution to recognise Australia’s First Peoples, protect their cultures and heritage, and remove the power to discriminate on the basis of race.
So why has this movement come about now?
Put simply, it’s time. Momentum has been building for the past few years to put this right.
In failing to recognise the First Peoples in the Constitution, Australia lags behind comparative countries.
And while racial discrimination is no longer accepted in our community, workplaces and daily lives, parts of the Constitution still permit laws that discriminate on the basis of race. Our founding document needs to be updated to reflect modern Australia, not the Australia of 1901 with the values and ideas of that time.
Australia’s First Peoples have been calling for this change for many years. The changes proposed have the power to go beyond symbolism and to have a real and meaningful impact on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Together with the Close the Gap campaign - of which Oxfam and ANTaR are members and which aims to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality - Constitutional Recognition has attracted bi-partisan political support.
Our goal is to ensure that support is maintained and public pressure will play a key role. Ultimately, it’s people power that will get this over the line.
Doing so will say a lot about who we are. It will help us walk together towards a unified, reconciled nation.
We know change is possible. In 1967, the overwhelming majority of Australians voted in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the Australian population.
Now, this generation has a chance to do something great for our nation’s future.
The Rock for Recognition concerts this month, and the honour bestowed on Yothu Yindi last night, represent small steps on a longer journey, but history tells us that ‘from little things big things grow’.
Rock for Recognition was organised by ANTaR and Oxfam Australia, in association with the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and YouMeUnity.
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