Written by: Mandy Stefanakis
Climate Songs Project: musicians in support of climate action.
Shane Howard AM is best known for his work with Goanna Band in the 1980s, a group that highlighted Aboriginal land rights issues with an anthem called Solid Rock that helped spur a focus on this issue and others affecting Aboriginal people.
Howard also provided the soundtrack for the fight to save the Franklin River, perhaps the most successful environmental campaign in Australia. He has continued to write songs about the issues he sees impacting Australia and on his 2015 album, Deeper South, his songs explore a range of themes impacting both the local and the global. The overall message is that through a striving for so- called progress and prosperity for some, many are left depleted by both poverty and a seeming inability to tell the world to slow down, take stock of the damage done and find a more conciliatory path for the planet and its inhabitants.
Everything is Rusted is a blues song highlighting decay, the natural and slow decay of the mountains and the much more rapid decline caused by human interference with the environment.
Some things are so disgusting
You can’t believe they’re true
The carbon situation
Is right out of the blue
The whole wide world is rusted
Right before your eyes
The whole show’s disappearing
As the waters rise.
The title track, Deeper South/Gone with the Wind also explores this issue with a focus on the greed of some at the expense of many.
But the most potent track is In the Long Run, because it recognises that the land rights issue Aboriginal people continue to battle is not only about Aboriginal peoples’ connection to land, but about a culture that has been sustained over many thousands of years where music, dance, story, are of the utmost importance. This, all of this, all that ‘culture’ means, has been undermined in a relatively short time by people so determined to exploit land, sea, people, flora and fauna that the entire planet’s future is threatened. In the poignant repeating chord progression (D, Am, C, G) with great improvisations on lovely Maton acoustics and fiddle, Howard deplores ‘the wealth you enjoy on the back of our misery’ and proclaims:
I’ll tear down your lies
And your empires
I will fight
For the soul of the universe
Time will tell
In the long run
And Howard has always had this drive to publicly protest the far-reaching injustices he sees. But he has also come to a point where he understands that the conversations shared around the kitchen table, as he refers to them, are a microcosm of the world we should be building – for everyone:
She gathers honey
Look at the food she prepares
Her generous soul
All are fed
Her family gathered ‘round her
Children at her side
On her lips
A smile as gold as sunlight
Such songs that explore all the ramifications of those who refuse to pay heed to the signs, the signals, the science, of a damaged environment where ‘in over our heads’ is a portentous metaphor, are an incredibly important part of our contemporary culture.
VIEW AND LISTEN
Shane Howard https://www.shanehoward.com.au/
Solid Rock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjzCDNOBicw
Let the Franklin Flow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyU7KxVBGP8
Everything is Rusted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDHnLNCO4pU
In the Long Run https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcwfPAGb_Dw