TRUE POET: Indigenous singer-songwriter Kev Carmody at the launch of the University of Southern Queensland's national reconciliation plan.
TRUE POET: Indigenous singer-songwriter Kev Carmody at the launch of the University of Southern Queensland's national reconciliation plan. Contributed

Recollections of generation: Telling stories through song

IT DOESN'T matter how big or small the stage, when singer-songwriter Kev Carmody performs, it expands to the size of Australia. It's a necessary change to accommodate the breadth and width of this narrator's national stories.

At 70-years-old, this indigenous man's life has spanned an extraordinary period. He recalls when he heard the historic radio broadcast announcing the revolutionary strike action taken by the Gurindji tribe as they walked off the Wave Hill Station in 1966.

"I said to my mother, 'Holy mackerel, what will happen now?'" Kev recalled.

Twenty-five years later, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly posted a poetic answer to the question with the beautiful lyrics of From Little Things Big Things Grow.

This moving song tells the story of the history-making Wave Hill strike, the event that saw the Gurindji tribe walk off the Northern Territory Vestey Homestead in protest against inhuman wages and living conditions.

The strike for equality and land rights lasted for seven years and resulted in prime minister Gough Whitlam's recognition of indigenous land ownership.

In 2016, Kev still deeply feels the pulse of his people, of this land, their trials and tribulations, and he is still interpreting it into a raw and beautiful style of musical poetry.

Yet he's not a mainstream name, and it's probably fair to say other people have become more famous from his songs than he has himself. But that makes little difference to him.

He's not shy to say to talk about his humble beginnings, and as a child he says his: "tribe lived at the end of the bush and up the river, and in those days you went into town and got out very quickly."

His heritage - a mixture of two great storytelling lines, Irish and indigenous - has come together in his ability to capture the essence of a generation. Perhaps one reason he has stayed away from the commercial music is because he prefers his music organic and real.

He believes too much work on sound, including the work put into digital recording, can sanitise and ruin the authenticity of a song.

"I don't rehearse," he tells me.

After a hiatus of about 10 years, last year he put together 40 years of his unpublished songs. He said singer-songwriter Paul Kelly provided the encouragement he needed to do the job.

"When he'd stay with us, he'd say, 'What about those folders you got with all that music in them?'" Kev said.

"What the hell are you going to do with them?"

Kev got to the job of putting it all together in a packing shed in Stanthorpe and he's now touring the country with music from the four-disc set, titled Recollections/ Reflections.

But when not touring, he just likes to rest on the veranda of his home, set on 28ha in Stanthorpe, and "ponder the enormity of existence".


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