May 27 – International ‘Tell The Truth’ Day

Missy Higgins once sang that “lies will lock you up, with truth the only key.” She’s not often given credit as a wise sage, but anybody who has ever been stuck trying to cover the tracks of lies they have told can tell you the relevance of this line.

Someone with slightly different viewpoint, but who I’m sure also appreciates the lyric, is Chelsea Manning. Five years ago today, the Private First Class in the US Army then known as Bradley Manning was arrested after leaking to the public thousands of classified documents. It would be several years, including nine months of harrowing solitary confinement, before Chelsea was eventually charged and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Chelsea had found herself trapped in a web of lies. Stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, it was her job to collect information but she found that the army wasn’t interested in information that didn’t say what they wanted to hear. Struggling already with the truth about her gender identity in a less than supportive atmosphere, Chelsea was presented with a choice. Either go along with the lies, or risk telling the truth – whatever the consequences might be.

In an internet chat that would later be used as evidence against her, Chelsea confided: “If you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time and you saw incredible things, awful things, things that belonged in the public domain… what would you do? … I want people to see the truth regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The truth can be hard, and nobody knows this as well as Chelsea Manning, who still has 30 years in a military prison left to serve. In those same chat logs she said: “I’m not so much scared of getting caught and facing consequences at this point… I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy.” In the time she has been imprisoned, she has maintained that she does not regret the consequences.

Though in chains, Chelsea is more free today than she would have been had she gone along with the lies and deception of the US war in Iraq, covering up atrocities in a war based on fictional “weapons of mass destruction”. Thanks to Chelsea’s sacrifice, we are all more free – able to know the truth about that war and also able to see the reality of what happens to those who dare to speak uncomfortable truths in our supposedly free and democratic society.

Untruths are so common for most of us that we don’t even think about it. We are lied to every day by advertising’s false promises, we have come to accept that our government lies to us, we even portray ourselves in idealised versions on social media. But at least for one day, it’s worth remembering the liberating potential of telling the truth.

Using Chelsea Manning as an inspiration, and to continue her legacy, take time today to tell the truth. Tell the truth to your friends and loved ones. Tell the truth to your workmates and boss. Tell the truth to those in power and the truth about the society we are living in.

George Orwell said many years ago, though it is as true as ever today, that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

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Two and a half years on the front lines against coal

I wrote this from Maules Creek in February for another publication. Since that publication still hasn’t come out, I thought I might as well put it up on this blog. Hope you enjoy it.

In August 2012, two people set up camp in the Leard State Forest near Boggabri in Western NSW. They were trying to stop the clearing of the forest and the construction of the Maules Creek coal mine. That camp has survived and grown through the last two and a half years. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, 300 people turned up to a six day festival of music and action called Bat Attack; and talked about starting Front Line Action on Coal (FLAC)  groups in cities all over the country.

An estimated 4000 people have come through the camp in that time, with over 400 people arrested disrupting work on the mine. It has survived evictions, corporate spy infiltrators, tragedy, and the harsh conditions of the Australian bush. Considering this is the first ever direct action blockade camp against a coal mine in Australia, it has been an extraordinary success.

It has carved out a space in the media and the nation’s consciousness that radical politics rarely can, turning tree-sits and lock-ons into everyday concepts. It has mixed conservative farmers with forest ferals, old with young, city folks with country. And for a lot of these people it’s been their first introduction to the politics of direct action.

Not that we should get too carried away. Despite all the opposition, the Maules Creek mine is now operational and shipping out coal. A huge gash has been bulldozed and excavated out of the Leard Forest. If we measure the success of the campaign only by whether it stopped the mine it set out to, it has been a failure. Yet few people who have been out to the camp could ever call it that. Besides all the other things I’ve already mentioned, the Front Line Action on Coal campaign at Maules Creek has changed the landscape of public opinion in Australia when it comes to mining. As huge overseas-owned corporations Adani and Shenhua prepare to set up mines in the Galilee Basin and the Liverpool Plains, they are being met with promises that there will be resistance.

In a country where people in radical politics often complain about the apathy of everyday Australians or the ineffectiveness of protest, we should be studying the campaign at Maules Creek to see how it has achieved all this. The answer of course is broad and has many facets. But as someone who has been out to Maules Creek many times and has followed the campaign virtually from the beginning, I’ll try to share a few points.

One of the reasons is the broadness of the issues involved, which has allowed it to resonate with many people. Climate change is perhaps the most pressing political issue facing the planet today, and one which is able to mobilise all kinds of people from all walks of life to feel a need to take action. But also at stake at Maules Creek is the protection of a critically endangered ecosystem, protection of aboriginal culture and the right to practice it, and the loss of farmland and water.

Another factor is that FLAC has always been a very media-savvy campaign. Helped immeasurably by a very brave (if also not exactly planned) action regarding Jonathan Moylan and a hoax press release, the camp has never been too far away from the media. Some canny and experienced activists have played a massive role in this, but a lot of it is the unintended by-products of sticking around long enough and building a strong movement. As the blockade has grown so has an extraordinary story that has captured the imagination – from that opening outrageous action, through mass walk-ons (82 people arrested in one day in March 2014), a 92 year old war veteran being arrested, 5th generation local farmers speaking out, a saga of corporate spy infiltrators hired by mining companies, footy players and country music stars locking on and much more. It plays out like an epic novel or a hollywood movie, with as many twists and turns.

The decentralised, non-hierarchical nature of the camp has been a real strength. While there have been some concerns over the involvement of environmental NGOs, the people on the ground at the camp have retained control over what happens there, with consensus decision making no less. It is this model that has made it the activist breeding ground that it is, because when people come out to the Leard they aren’t just told what to do and where to lock on. Skills have been shared and developed; from bush skills to action planning, media, artistic creativity, political organising. I’ve met so many people who have arrived at the camp with no history of activism yet are now experienced organisers. And always with a belief that skills shouldn’t just be kept at the camp but should be spread back to the cities and towns from which people have come.

But I think the greatest assets of the camp, the things which have turned it from a protest camp into a movement, have been the empowerment that comes from taking direct action and the community that comes from living, working and organising together.

FLAC is built not on the politics of words (there are enough of them), but on deeds. This has inspired and caught the imagination of people both at the camp and across the country. So many of the so-called apathetic, self-centred Generation Y have come to the Leard (sometimes just for a party) and discovered that politics can be something that you do. That your response to the greed and destruction of our society can be more than just throwing things at the TV. I’ve spoken to so many people out here that have told me the same story: “I’ve always cared about climate change (or the forest), but I didn’t know you could do anything about it. Then I came here.” In a society where so often activism is just another commodity you consume, the blockade camp has shown countless people that social change is something you can create, not just spectate.

And that it’s something you do together. Yeah, FLAC has a facebook and a twitter and all that, but the real action has always been at the camp, where you can meet people from across the country who have been brought there by the same things as you. All it takes is one mission through the bush to go from strangers to comrades. But there’s also the camp life – cooking and eating together, sharing stuff, talking around the fire, going through the highs and lows of chasing an improbable dream. It’s this sense of community that has connected people from across the country. As now FLAC action groups are being set up in cities all over the place, we see how valuable that sense of connection is. You leave the camp feeling invested; committed to this cause, this forest, these people.

You can talk about a world beyond fossil fuels, and you should. You can lock yourself to a bulldozer and try to bring it a little bit closer. But that world really starts to become tangible when you are experiencing the generosity, inspiration, loyalty and interdependence of a group of people working together for a better world.  Front Line Action on Coal is expanding from its base at Maules Creek. As we’ve already seen, it will be quite a challenge trying to slow down coal and fossil fuels in Australia. But its influence could potentially spread far beyond that single industry and open up new possibilities for radical politics in Australia.

 

more info at http://www.frontlineaction.org

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The war we didn’t notice

Years ago, when I was involved in much less activism than I am today, I used to play footy with a number of guys who were in the Australian army. One of these guys missed a chunk of the season when he had to go to Afghanistan on service. When he got back, I asked him what it had been like over there. He told me he didn’t want to talk about it.

I instantly realised what a stupid question it was. Of course he didn’t want to talk about it! I was genuinely interested in what the situation was like in Afghanistan, but I had asked him as if he was getting back from a holiday, completely ignorant of the trauma and mental struggle that a soldier in a warzone has to deal with.

I still cringe when I recall that moment, but I also think that in that environment I can’t completely take the blame. In fact, while the first and second world wars virtually shut down societies around the world (even to the point where the Olympics and all other sporting competitions stopped running); while the defining images of the 60’s and 70’s are of mass resistance to the Vietnam war; if history tries to record how our society was affected by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it will have to note that it was overwhelmingly the war we didn’t notice.

Several years later, I was arrested protesting the still ongoing war. As I was taken into the station, a policeman there asked what I was there for. When he was told it was an anti-war protest, he responded by making a joke that went something like: “What? There’s a war going on outside? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t have explained why I was doing the protest better if I had tried. Of course there was a war going on outside. It’s just that it wasn’t our towns that bombs were being dropped on, wasn’t our family who were being killed because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was our taxes that were paying for the bombs and guns.

Of course, many people will remember that the beginning of the Iraq war was met with millions of people taking part in protest marches around the world – possibly the biggest mass protests in history. But they were ignored by governments, and the protests didn’t last. Before too long it was possible to forget that the war was even happening.

And that’s pretty much the way it remained, despite huge death tolls, despite the sheer length (the Afghanistan war was longer than the first and second world wars combined, and even that stat is assuming that it actually ever finished), despite the legacy of PTSD and radiation poisoning from depleted uranium weapons, the war was the furthest thing from most of our minds as we went about our daily lives.

Now it should definitely not be claimed that this is just the result of people’s apathy. There were powerful forces who did their best to make sure we didn’t hear too much about what was happening – a military that kept a tight hold on what information could be made publicly available, and a mass media that rarely showed much interest in trying to dig deeper.

For the world to actually find out what was happening in Iraq required brave whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning risking life in prison to leak classified information to the public. When she leaked those files, Chelsea said she hoped they would bring “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

I think that these leaks were phenomenally important for showing us both what was happening in the war and what lengths our governments and military would go to ensure information remained secret. But unfortunately, Chelsea Manning is now serving 35 years in a US military prison, and it’s hard to argue that those things she hoped for have come to pass.

I thought about all this last week. As the media was entranced by stories of the first world war and the ‘centenary of ANZAC’, the Australian government announced that we would be sending infantry troops back to Iraq, that place we had supposedly left triumphantly having turned an evil dictatorship into a healthy democracy.

Given the respective media coverage of these two deployments of Australian troops to the Middle East, you could be forgiven for mistaking which one happened last week and which one happened 100 years ago. I guess with the passage of time it’s easier to make a good story about Gallipoli, one based on virtues of courage and sacrifice, where a military defeat can be viewed as an act of heroic bravery.

Of course, there are things we forget in our stories of Gallipoli too – while it might be mentioned that the ANZACs were sent to the slaughter by foolish British generals, rarely is the question asked what we were doing invading Turkey anyway. Nor is there much mention made of dissent to the war at home, despite the fact that two separate referendums to introduce military conscription were defeated (they learned their lesson for Vietnam and just skipped the referendum). And rarely do we try to draw links between that war and the one we are still fighting a century later, despite the fact that the nation of Iraq only came into existence in the post-war carve up of the Middle East by the colonial powers who emerged from World War One victorious.

Not paying close attention to the wars we are involved in means we can avoid tricky questions about our involvement – the reasons why we’re there and what the consequences might be. It means we can look at things like terrorist attacks or refugees and think that they are completely isolated issues in which only other people are responsible, not us. It means we don’t have to empathise with those who are on the other side of the conflict, that we can keep the morality black and white.

But unfortunately it means hiding from the truth. It means not seeing the part ourselves and our lifestyles play in the story. And it leaves us no closer to avoiding the next war, one where we possibly won’t have the luxury of being able to forget it’s happening.

These days I don’t claim to know everything about the wars that Australia and our allies are fighting. I don’t claim to hold a perfect moral position. But one thing I try to do is to not be ignorant or inactive about what our military is doing and what my role is in it.

Unfortunately this has at times meant that I’ve offended people, or been seen as starting conflicts with others (probably including some of my old footy mates, though I don’t see them much any more). But there’s still a war going on after all, and I don’t want to just forget about it. I want to play a role that I can be proud of, both today and in the future. Because not doing anything about it doesn’t mean you’re not involved in the war.

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Living Without Money – How and Why (a zine)

Click the link below to read a zine I made in the middle of 2014, in response to the proposed federal budget that included a recommendation that unemployed people under 25 should be refused the dole for six months at a time. I spent a week feeling powerless and frustrated, and then thought that making something like this might at least help a little bit. It turns out that things aren’t quite as bad as I sometimes think – the budget measures never made it to legislation.

Still, I’m glad it inspired me to write this, because as well as containing some practical tips, this zine is a good way to share a lot of the philosophies by which I attempt to live. As much as I think we need to resist government policies like the ones in that budget, living free is a glorious thing which I unreservedly recommend. Hope you enjoy the zine, feel free to print and share copies of it if you like.

Living Without Money – How and Why

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Selling manhood

Travelling around the city the other day, I couldn’t help but notice a billboard in Highgate Hill (it was about 10 metres wide after all). It was an ad for the Queensland Reds rugby union team, and next to a photo of three of their players was the slogan “HOW WE CONFRONT OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS WHAT DEFINES US”.

Surely I’m not the only person who finds that slogan a bit strange. I’m still not sure exactly what it means, but I think what this ad is trying to do is to play on some of our culturally ingrained notions of manhood in it’s talk of “responsibility”. The image of men as providers and defenders – of their families, their communities, their nation. Of hardworking, resilient pillars of strength. Most males probably in some way see this as part of their role as men, and the idea of “confronting our responsibility” resonates with us on some deep level.

Of course, there are things worth questioning in these traits that are supposedly inherent to those of us born with a penis. Like; if the roles of provider and defender are masculine traits, where does that leave women? Are they just the ones who need to be provided for and defended? What are they meant to do when men don’t always provide and are sometimes the ones who they need defending against? And how far does manly “responsibility” extend? Do we have a responsibility to respect women (or men who don’t meet our expectations of masculinity) as equals? Do we have a responsibility to be emotionally available to those close to us? To spend time with our kids? To do an equal share of the housework?

But like all ads, this one is not so much about who we are or what we have; instead it aims for the negative space in our identity – who we wish we were, what we wish we had.

And this ad seeks to exploit the fact that most of us probably don’t feel like we do many heroic deeds or lead a life full of the actions and virtues we associate with being a man.

Now I’ve got nothing against football (though rugby union has never been my preferred code), but it’s pretty ridiculous to think that all this talk of “confronting our responsibility” could be satisfied by watching football. I mean, this ad isn’t even suggesting that we play sport ourselves and satisfy our manly urges that way. No, the “responsibility” it speaks of is that we should pay money to watch other men play football.

I would suggest that our response to this ad should be to ask ourselves this: If our lives are lacking these virtues and activities that we consider to be manly, is that void something that we need to fill? And if so, how can we do it in a way that will ultimately be more real than just watching footy?

A bit further up the road, there is another billboard. This one is for beer brand XXXX. It is an electronic one that cycles through different images, so we get a couple of XXXX ads. One is a picture of four men sitting by the water in deckchairs, the slogan is “Working Late.” The other is a picture of a four wheel drive splashing through a puddle of water. Its caption says “The Daily Commute.”

These ads are selling a different kind of manhood – the opposite in fact. While one ad tries to sell its product by convincing us that it is fulfilling our “responsibility”, these ads are all about dodging responsibility – buy this brand of beer and you can become a free man, no longer shackled by the duties of family and work; free to spend time with your mates and have adventures conquering the wilderness in your 4WD.

Again, we should be wary of these notions of masculinity and whether they actually represent virtues (or traits particular to those born men). But again we should also ask the classic question of advertising – what are the gaps in our lives that this ad is offering to fulfill?

In this case it is that we want the adventure, the freedom and the camaraderie that are so often lacking in our stifled world of concrete cities and 9-5 jobs.

But can XXXX truly offer us this? Or does it merely give us the illusion of these things as we while away the hours sitting on the couch drinking? I think that alcohol and other types of intoxication actually stop us from pursuing truly fulfilling lives of adventure and meaning. Because it gives us the counterfeit happiness of momentary intoxication that can keep us doing things we hate long after we otherwise would have stopped; and because if our sense of escape and happiness comes from a product we buy, that actually will keep us chained to the 9 to 5 (and its much less glamourous daily commute) to pay for the booze that we need to tolerate it.

So again, we should ask ourselves: Are the desires this ad is trying to stoke up things we actually should be trying to live out? And if so, how can we do that in a way that will actually last?

At the end of the day, while both these ads purport to be selling us some masculine virtues, neither of them have any actual interest in our manliness. Both of them exist solely to sell the products they promote. The issue of how we express our gender identity; of how we live lives of meaning, freedom, adventure and responsibility; is up to us to work out. No product is going to do it for us.

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Guantanamo Bay – 13 years too long

I hung out in the city today for an hour or so handing out these pamphlets. I was met with a little bit of support, a bit more disagreement, but almost unanimous disinterest. Not the response I would hope for to the fact that our allies in this never-ending war have forced unimaginable horror on completely innocent people. Do people think that the recent spate of Islamist terrorist attacks have come out of nowhere? One lady did stop and talk for a while. She asked me what we could do about it. “I don’t know”, I said, “but we have to try”.

 

In December, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis gave an address at the human rights awards at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. After he had finished speaking, a man from the audience stood up. He said “Hey, my name is David Hicks! I was tortured for five-and-a-half years in Guantanamo Bay in the full knowledge of your party! What do you have to say?”

That day, the US Senate’s report on torture in the war on terror had been released. Though most of the report is not available to the public, what we got still contained reports of a person left naked and chained to a cement floor until he died of pneumonia, people being anally force-fed without any medical necessity (pretty sure that’s called rape), and innumerable other torture techniques that will give you nightmares just from reading about them.

After recounting the horrific details of the torture techniques used, the senate report unbelievably concludes “there is no evidence that terror attacks were stopped, terrorists captured or lives saved through use of torture.” In fact, because most of the people arrested and tortured by the US were completely innocent, to stop the torture they had to fabricate information. Which of course, would then lead to more innocent people being arrested, tortured or killed.

The torture report shines an unkind light on America’s self image as the defenders of the free world. It shows up a government which funds, develops and implements sadistic torture techniques as bad as you could find anywhere in the world. That kept on doing so even when it wasn’t gaining any useful intelligence. That will trample all over any human right just to maintain its place as the world’s superpower. And like the smaller kid who latches himself on to the school bully, there are a decade’s worth of Australian governments pledging unequivocal support, even when it was Australian citizens like David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib that were on the recieving end.

Thirteen years ago today, on the 11th of January 2002, the US opened its offshore military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. As well as these two Australians, at its peak it held over 600 prisoners. Most of whom were arrested in questionable circumstances, suffered things most of us could never imagine, then were released without charge.

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Detainees at Guantanamo have been beaten, drugged, sexually assaulted, sleep deprived, and forced into solitary confinement for extended periods. Those who were devout Muslims had the Qu’ran destroyed in front of them, or had female interrogators rub breasts in their faces or pretend to smear them with menstrual blood.

Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo if he was elected in 2008, but like many other promises made during that election campaign it hasn’t come to pass. In 2013, most of the 160 remaining detainees, who had at that point been imprisoned there for over 10 years without ever being charged, went on a hunger strike to try to force action on their cases. Some of them stayed on hunger strike for over 150 days. Guantanamo staff responded by force feeding them, sticking tubes up their noses. In 2014, 28 detainees were transferred to other countries to try to resume the life that has been taken from them. But there remains 128 men detained at the prison.

The real effect of torture is that when the US government dehumanises these men, it diminishes the humanity of us all. For every moment that we allow torture to go on, we injure ourselves by denying the rights that belong to all people.

Barack Obama has called Guantanamo Bay “a sad chapter in American history.” Policies like these torture camps have probably prolonged the war on terror by acting as a recruitment tool for more anti-US militants. But the US government has not been willing to loosen its grip on the power that a legacy of torture has given them.

To stop torture we need fundamental changes to a system based on violence and domination. We need everyday people challenging their governments and standing up for the dignity and humanity of our brothers and sisters across the world, whatever their race or religion. We can live in a world without torture, but we will need to create it.

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My top 10 songs of 2014

This is now the fourth year in a row I’ve done one of these posts, and I really enjoy thinking back through all the music I’ve listened to through the year to remember the songs that really impacted me.

I think I listened to more different bands this year than I have for the last few – that comes from spending a lot of time at a radio station where you are always trying to find new music. I think a problem that a lot of music nerds like me have is that the more music you listen to, the less attached you are to any particular artists or songs. That’s one reason why no music ever means as much to you as it did when you were a teenager and only had a few albums.

Still, it’s a privilege to get to listen to lots of music that people have poured their heart and soul into, and of course during 2014 I heard a lot of amazing songs. Here are ten of them.

 

Babaganouj – Bluff

Early in the year I was part of a group that organised a fundraiser for the Maules Creek coal mine blockade. I wasn’t the one who arranged for Babaganouj to headline, but I liked their music and was impressed by the grace with which they took the news that their set was going to be cut short and they could only play for about 15 minutes (sorry guys!)

Later in the year I started hearing this song on the radio frequently. It would stand out both by how raw the intro sounded (just guitar and vocals, singing “you make me feel like I’ll never be good enough”) and then by the fuzzy pop glory that was the rest of the song. It reminded me of The Hummingbirds, the tragically under-appreciated legends of Australian indie pop.

I obviously wasn’t the only one who loved the mixture of sad lyrics and joyous melody and distortion – it got thrashed on 4ZZZ and ended up in the top 20 of the year end Hot 100. Hopefully there will be more to come soon from Babaganouj.

 

Big Iron – Milton

With each year that goes by, I listen to more country music. I don’t know if this is just me or if we can make a generalisation out of it, but either way, I was lucky this year that to go with all the classic country artists (including Chad Morgan, who I actually got to see play), I could listen to a surprising number of really good Brisbane country bands.

Among these bands, there were great new releases from Halfway and Carrie and the Cut Snakes, plus the possibility of some other new releases on the way, but the shows and the record that probably gave me the most enjoyment were from Big Iron.

My favourite Big Iron song somehow never made it on to their EP of this year – hopefully one day “Ain’t Got None” (“you say money don’t mean a thing, that’s good ‘cos I ain’t got none”) will be recorded, but in its place I’ve picked “Milton”. I like the group singalong, and I like that it’s written about a local place. There are enough songs written about places in America, it makes much more sense to write about Australian places eve if it means writing country songs about inner-city Brisbane suburbs.

 

MC Triks and bAbE Sun – We Still Right Here

I spent the 26th of January this year, like I have most years for the last half a decade, with aboriginal people. While for many Australia Day is for flag-waving patriotism or drunken partying; for aboriginal people it is Invasion Day or Survival Day, a time for remembering the injustice that has been done to their people and celebrating that a proud culture has been able to survive the attempt to wipe it out.

This year, a few local rappers and activists managed to hastily throw together an Invasion Day Mixtape to mark the occasion. There are a number of artists on the record, but some of the highlights come from MC Triks, who on this one is joined by bAbE Sun to lay down the simple message of Invasion Day – “We Still Right Here”.

 

Caitlin Harnett – Wandering Man

In the last few days of 2013, as I often do, I went to the Gulgong Folk Festival in western NSW. It’s a nice relaxed festival with a good variety of music. That particular year my highlight was Caitlin Harnett, a former indie singer who had been to North America and returned with a banjo, an open tuned guitar and a wonderful set of songs that sound like Joni Mitchell gone country.

I wanted to buy her record then, but none of her new songs were recorded at that point. It took until the second half of the year for Caitlin’s album to come out.

It’s a great country tradition to sing about the joys and sorrows of being a drifter, and there are a few songs on the album that fall into that category. “Wandering Man” is one of my favourites.

 

Crow Eater – Spit On This Floor

When the organisers of the DIY Hard punk festival in Sydney announced there would be an acoustic afternoon show to end the festival, maybe even they didn’t foresee the national convergence of folk punk bands that would come – Heaps Tuff and Glitter Rats from Melbourne, Crow Eater from Adelaide, Lordy Lordy from Hobart/Alice Springs, an unexpected acoustic set from Byron Bay’s Sin Fondos, and myself from Brisbane.

Now I’ll admit this isn’t quite Coachella in terms of an all star lineup, but not that many people play folk punk in Australia and it was amazing to have all these groups playing unplugged in the same room. It was a very fun show which I was grateful to be a part of.

It was also my introduction to the music of Crow Eater, which was nice too. They were still badly hungover when the show started at 2pm, but it was a great set. In true folk punk style they had half a dozen of them up there playing whatever acoustic instruments they could get their hands on, including a drumkit that was just a hi-hat cymbal and a beer bottle.

Also in true folk punk style, they’re not very organised at getting their music released. But during the year they did a live appearance on an Adelaide radio station which meant two of their songs were put up on the net to listen to. I played both these songs heaps, somebody take a dictaphone to one of their shows so we can hear more.

 

Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel

It’s over a decade since I first heard Against Me!, and over that time there have been different periods when they have been the band I listen to more than any other, especially their first two albums.

Theirs has also been an interesting career trajectory to follow. I must admit though that I, like a lot of people I think, had not been particularly excited by their last few albums. But the story of Against Me! had an interesting twist to come yet.

A couple of years ago, lead singer Tom Gabel made the somewhat surprising announcement that she would henceforth be identifying as a woman and going by the name Laura Jane Grace.

The band still toured, still played the same songs, it’s just that Laura now sang them while wearing makeup, a miniskirt and high heels. The new album that was promised, called “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, promised to be an interesting insight into an incredibly difficult journey that not many of us have to make – to the point where the way you look matches up with the way you feel inside.

The lyrics of the album are definitely the highlight, and “True Trans Soul Rebel” is a brilliant tribute to the struggle of transgender people around the world – “you should have been a mother, should have been a wife… should be living a different life.”

 

Moonsign – Live Yr Own Life

It was a big year for transgender artists – Conchita Wurst won Eurovision and two trans songwriters got in Andy Paine’s top 10 list!

Seriously though, I have loved the music and writing of Bastian Fox Phelan for a few years now and am always excited to hear and see the things Bastian is creating. I haven’t managed to yet see Moonsign live (come to Brisbane!) but have listened to them a lot since the release of their first demo. This year we were blessed with not one but two Moonsign albums, although I must admit I do like the first one (released in January) more. And Live Yr Own Life is the gorgeous highlight, with it’s pulsing keyboards and multi-tracked harmonies. I’ve never quite worked out exactly what the lyrics mean, but I love them anyway.

Bastian’s songs contain the same mixture of vulnerability and life-affirming positivity that make their zines so amazing to read. They write so honestly and beautifully about a life that has been full of extraordinary experiences.

 

Kate Woodhouse – Dumpers

At the start of the year I had never heard Kate Woodhouse’s music. In the space of 12 months she has put out a great EP and played a whole heap of shows, to the point where she is now a fixture of Brisbane’s punk scene, seemingly playing every gig I see a poster for.

It’s awesome to see Kate’s success, I really like her songs. With emo and country music as the two main ingredients, her music is unlikely to liven up your next party. But if you’re in the mood for it, they are beautiful songs. I’m not sure how much it was affected by the fact that I had just gone through a relationship breakup, but I listened to those four songs a lot when they first came out.

“Dumpers”, with its striking opening line “home towns make me feel like I’m collapsing” and a wonderful instrumental section, is my favourite.

 

Tichawona Mashawa and Velvet Pesu – Kedush

I don’t know if it was officially released or just sent to radio stations (it’s certainly hard to find much info about it on the net), but one of the best releases of the last few months of 2014 was a compilation called “Echoes – World Music From Qld.

It’s full of brilliant songs, but maybe my favourite is this one from a Zimbabwean and Japanese duo living in Brisbane. They are normally part of a bigger band Umkancho, but this stripped back version of the song (just thumb piano and voices) is breathtaking.

I had already had my mind blown seeing Tichawona play earlier in the year at the World Refugee Day festival, but finding out more about his music is not easy. Surely one of Brisbane’s best kept musical secrets. Hopefully I’m doing my bit to get his music out there by uploading this song. And maybe one day music like this will be as prominent as white men playing guitars.

 

The Painted Ladies – Stranger In My Country

The story of Vic Simms’ album “The Loner” deserves to be an Australian music legend. I don’t have space to do justice to it here, but basically it’s the story of a 50’s teen star who through life’s ups and downs ended up in the Bathurst jail. While there, a stroke of good fortune led to Vic being able to record an album containing some of the first and best aboriginal protest songs to be recorded.

Naturally the album sank, but the few copies that did get made became cherished relics. Luke Peacock was working at Murri Radio in Brisbane where he came across a burnt CD copy, had his mind blown and ended up recording an album of covers from “The Loner”.

It succeeded in bringing attention to the original Vic Simms album (which apparently this year will get a brand new cd reissue), but it’s also created a great album in its own right.

The song that deviates most from the original is “Stranger In My Country”, which became a slow burning psychedelic rock song from the country-soul original. It’s also probably the highlight of the album. It’s a little bit cheesy having the all star lineup of singers (Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper, Bunna Lawrie) take turns at the mic, but I can forgive them when the incredible voice of Roger Knox “the black Elvis” comes in.

There were only two live Painted Ladies performances for the year. I got to see one of them, and live this song transformed into an extraordinary experience, especially when it begins to build up around the 4 minute mark. I found myself shaking in time with the kick drum, my spine tingling with Kahl Wallace’s howls, brought to tears by the emotion of the song and all the pain and injustice that it captures. I was speechless, blown away. I know from afterwards when I was able to talk to others that I was not the only one who felt that way.

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