A Call to Arms

Musician and activist Wil Thomas reflects on Broome’s recent Concert for Heritage. This article was published in the ‘Live’ section of the prominent online music publication, ‘Tom Magazine.’ Click on the (more…) button to read his powerful article in its entirety. “The Kimberley is under threat from major industrialisation. Now the battle lines are drawn and the money-hungry state government has leveled its aim at Prices Point, sixty kilometres north of Broome. “So, how do we spread the word to the masses of the plight of the Kimberley? The Walmadany Concert for Heritage. Friday 27 March, Male Oval, China Town, Broome WA. Organised by Alan Pigram, founding member and lead guitarist with the legendary Pigram Brothers, stalwarts of the Kimberley and Australian music scene since the late 70s. The idea of the gathering is more a celebration than a protest concert – a celebration of Country. While others rightly protest the desecration of country, the heritage concert celebrates the land, the culture and the power of the country. “What made this night different from most music events was that the audience and the artists were bonded by more than the music. It was, as I say, a celebration that the audience and the names on stage were a part of. John Butler, Shane Howard, Rob Hirst, the Pigram Brothers, Scrap Metal and a host of other musicians, all passionate for Country, all with their own story of what it meant to them. Everyone coming together -pro bono, by the way – to perform from the heart. ” I arrived at Broome airport to collect Guy Ghouse, guitarist for the Hopeful 3, performing with us at for the Concert for Heritage. As the luggage carousel wound its way past us, the familiar sight of Gaffa clad guitar cases, aluminum boxes and road cases of various sizes spilled out. Musicians began to emerge from the gates. Amongst the hand shakes, hugs and catch-ups, a tangible energy of solidarity could be felt in the air, as if a call to arms was being answered. The feeling is hard to describe and harder to replicate. For me it was emotional. Being a musician and an activist for the Kimberley, playing to politically deaf and poetically apathetic audiences for the last three years – including a one-off venue full of booing rig workers, fresh in from the cyclone ravished Browse basin – the sight of familiar, well-known musos gathering for the celebration of Country that day was to me akin to General Custer seeing the approaching choppers of the 105th airborne… The Kimberley is under threat from major industrialisation. Now the battle lines are drawn and the money-hungry state government has leveled its aim at Prices Point, sixty kilometres north of Broome. Their aim is to build one of the largest gas precincts Australia has ever known on this remote and beautiful coastline – smack bang in the middle of the migratory path of the humpback whale. A number of dedicated groups oppose the process, as do thousands of Australians whose numbers grow daily along with growing international concern. So, how do we spread the word to the masses of the plight of the Kimberley??? The Walmadany Concert for Heritage, Friday 27 March, Male Oval, China Town, Broome WA. Organized by Alan Pigram, founding member and lead guitarist with the legendary Pigram Brothers, stalwarts of the Kimberley and Australian music scene since the late 70s. The idea of the gathering is more a celebration than a protest concert – a celebration of Country. While others rightly protest the desecration of country, the heritage concert celebrates the land, the culture and the power of the country. In the Kimberley the locals hold Country to their heart. Prices Point holds sacred song- lines and a rich culture rich running north and south up and down the Kimberley coast. For many people – just like the Pigrams who were born and bred in Broome – the thought of desecrating the land is abhorrent. Their long association with the musicians who came for the concert and who have shared fish, mud crabs and songs over camp fires on this country in the past, meant that filling the bill was a mere phone call away. What made this night different from most music events was that the audience and the artists were bonded by more than the music. It was, as I say, a celebration that the audience and the names on stage were a part of. John Butler, Shane Howard, Rob Hirst, the Pigram Brothers, Scrap Metal and a host of other musicians, all passionate for Country, all with their own story of what it meant to them. Everyone coming together -pro bono, by the way – to perform from the heart. From the very first chord there could not be any mistake. This was going to be a night to remember. Kimberley Riders delivered an awesome set, followed by the Hopeful 3 dedicating their last song to the WA premier who had popped in backstage for a chat, a quick drink and to drop ten bucks into the donation bucket on the way out. Harry Jakamarra, peeling blues like a youthful John Lee Hooker. Kimberley musician and veteran songwriter Patrick Davies joined by Shane Howard. Patrick tells me at the sound check: “I’ll always love Shane Howard. He was the first to take our issues into popular music – against all advice.” He was referring, of course, to the Goanna Band’s 80s classic Solid Rock. The much awaited return of Scrap Metal, a poignant reformation as their song Broken Down Man had its video shot at threatened Prices Point. By the time Shane Howard got to the stage, the audience had swelled close to its peak of more than 5000. Delivering a set that left the hair standing up on the proverbial neck. Heart of my country; delivering a plea: this fight can be won because there are precedents. Let’s hope the Federal Government intervene this time as well – before playing the historic Let the Franklin flow. Rob Hirst and others joined the fray. Hirst launching into a drum intro befitting his international reputation as the sledgehammer behind Midnight Oil. The newly named “Goanna Oil” plunged into Solid Rock and the Oil’s classic Dead Heart. As Shane Howard proclaimed later: “The spirit was certainly there on the stage.” Traditional owner and law man for Prices Point, Joe Roe, spoke to the gathered masses about heritage and Country, before introducing his brother by another mother. John Butler’s delivery of slide and acoustic guitar was frighteningly wonderful. Before being joined by Rob Hirst in a set of sheer energy-fueled boogey, Butler delivered his personal message. “There’s a long tradition of people stoppin stuff. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Vincent Lingiari, Eddie Mabo and Martin Luther King, and I just want you to know that I’m with you in your strength and I want you to know that no army, no politician, no big business can make you do anything you don’t wanna do.” Referring to Premier Barnett’s threat of compulsory acquisition of the land on the Kimberley coast, Butler then offered his haunting version of Kev Carmody’s Thou Shalt Not Steal. Rob Hirst introduced his old mates, The Pigrams, and spoke of his love of Country through his and the Oil’s history with the Pigrams and the area. I was not the only one who noticed a crack in his voice. Those that couldn’t attend sent video messages – Xavier Rudd from a hotel in Canada, reinforcing the message to be strong for Country; Missy Higgins talking from the heart and singing Going North from somewhere in Mexico; Paul Kelly wishing he could be there to sing live – From Little Things Big Things Grow as the Pigrams appeared, one- by-one on stage to accompany him in song, as 5200 voices echoed across the mangroves of nearby Dampier creek and out into Roebuck Bay. While those in office ponder and bully the fate of the ancient and beautiful Kimberley coast, those there on the ground are reminded that if music can indeed stop wars, then the Walmadany Concert for Heritage is to Broome what the mighty Woodstock was to the Vietnam war. As Shane Howard sang it: “That has to be something worth fighting for.” Wil Thomas, Broome See it online at: http://www.tommagazine.com.au/index.php?area=Live&pg=51&subarea=9655&sel=9655




  • http://www.myspace.com/savethekimberley MJ

    It’s wonderful to see so much support developing for Save The Kimberley amongst artists and musicians. They say artists are the antennae of the human race. They move to a different beat than the rest of humanity and are much more in touch with the natural rhythms of the Universe. There is something powerful about music, in which messages can be passed and inspire people to make a difference and in such a gathering can gel a common bond and bind individuals in a cause or interest. The power of music to tell a story and ignite passion is evidenced throughout history in all nations, tribes and peoples on Earth. We all have our anthems and “War Cry”. So thank you to all the musicians who have offered their support to Save The Kimberley and are helping spread the knowledge and the passion to fight for this most important and urgent cause.

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