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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Breakthrough launch; contemporary Indigenous music

Doorstop interview: Breakthrough launch, Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation, Redfern
30 March 2009

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GARRETT: Thanks for coming to Gadigal and Koori Radio here in Redfern this morning as we launch this Breakthrough project, offering contemporary Indigenous musicians the opportunity to get in and do some professional recording as a way of having material that can be broadcast but also helps them build their career. And recognizing that one of the most powerful drivers of culture, of creativity and of employment is contemporary music. And it doesn't matter which community you visit - whether it is in the suburbs of our major cities, in our country towns or out in the remote areas - Indigenous kids are producing fantastic music and they have got some wonderful, wonderful predecessors to take as inspiration - Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu, Gurrumul Yunupingu - but there is a mass of talent out there and we're really keen to see that talent get the opportunity to build a platform for itself and to build careers for young Indigenous musicians which can sustain them in the longer term.

JOURNALIST: Do you see contemporary Indigenous music as different from contemporary Australian music?

GARRETT: Well to the extent that music that people are producing in communities - Indigenous communities - is one of those activities which is one that people really want to immerse themselves in. And in some places where there aren't many other options, either employment options - immediate employment options - or otherwise, I think there is a difference. But at the end of the day it does all become music and we listen without prejudice or without any regard to taste or where music comes from .Everybody responds to music because of what the music does.But there is an opportunity here I think for up and coming Indigenous musicians and performers to get that next step up the ladder that they could really do something with by having the opportunity to record in this circumstance.

JOURNALIST: And do you see in this project the balance between helping the young people do something themselves but also getting the music out there to a broad Australian audience?

GARRETT: Look, I think one thing that we know is that any musician when they are coming through in their early stages, is competing with others. It means competing with people whose music gets played on the radio and they have recording budgets and marketing budgets and production budgets that far exceed anything that any Australian musician can contemplate. So to be given the opportunity to make music and have a decent bit of dough to do it well is a wonderful opportunity. It is a way of learning your craft, of getting a piece of work up to the best it can be and it can sound, but it is also a really beaut thing to have in your kit bag when you go forward as you push your career forward.

JOURNALIST: How far is $25,000 going to go?

GARRETT: It'll make a pretty big difference. It will go a long way. I mean you can do a lot with $25,000. You can certainly make a very good EP, you can record a number of songs well. It means that you'll have good engineering services and skills in place, and it means that you won't have to rush what you are doing. I think for most people when they come in, but particularly for Indigenous musicians who may not have a lot of substantial means at their disposal, quite often the pressure is on to get it done as fast as you can, as quickly as you can, because you haven't got much money. This means that people have a bit of an opportunity to do the work thoroughly and, I think, get a result that they can be proud of.

JOURNALIST: And what sort of backgrounds are you hoping the musicians will come from? Is there going to be a wide range that are chosen?

GARRETT: Look we know that there will be many more people who apply for this than ultimately end up getting the opportunity to do it, but I think that we'll be looking for people whose work is of a level and a standard and has got a spark to it which shows that they have got the capacity to take it further. To that extent, I don't think there will be any shortage and it will come form all places and it will be all styles as well.

JOURNALIST: Who is going to make that decision, Minister, as to who gets the grants in the end?

GARRETT: Well I won't be making the decision, that is the thing. It will be done at arms length by an expert panel who have got the capacity to make those kinds of decisions. And you know what? Whenever I am traveling around the country I am really struck when I visit Indigenous communities at how much music is actually coming out of bedrooms and houses and from the back of sheds and other places. There is that vitality and that productivity there which is just absolutely staggering. And anything that we can do to lift a little bit of that up and give it a bit of profile is a good thing.

JOURNALIST: You mention a couple of I suppose iconic Indigenous Australian artists there, but they're from a decade or so ago. Do you think there is much around at the moment?

GARRETT: Well look at what Gurrumul is doing, you know? I mean he has taken music that is in language, its been recorded in a way which I think is both sympathetic to what he has been singing about but also mindful of the kind of ambient needs that audiences have nowadays, and actually achieving an extraordinary level of success. If you go to any music awards in the Top End or you go across to Broome or you travel out to some of the remote regions you hear plenty of music being made.

There have been two issues that I think have been critical for Indigenous musicians. One is the tyranny of distance and the other is having sufficient means in the early stages to develop material which is actually capable of standing up in technical terms - not in creative terms, it will always stand up in creative terms - but in technical
terms with the other work that is around. Now we're really focusing on the ways in which we can break down the barriers for Indigenous musicians to do well. This will help them.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask, sorry, what percentage of Indigenous Australian's are on Australian radio now - what percentage make-up the amount of musicians on radio?

GARRETT: Oh look, I don't even know that I could hazard I guess. I think what I would say is that you will see that there is a pretty high representation of Indigenous musicians on radio generally - and I am talking about all the radio formats running from commercial, FM, AM, CALMA, regional broadcasting, community radio, Koori Radio and all those radio outlets that are there, particularly community radio - there is a wealth of material that people are producing and that is being heard. And let's have more of it.



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