[Gig Review] Spinifex Gum @ Canberra Theatre Centre – Tuesday, 10 September

The woman sitting next to me seems like Spinifex Gum’s biggest fan. She is cheering, clapping loudly, and giving them so much encouragement and love it seems like she is their mother.

Her pride rubs off on me within minutes of the show starting, and I know why she is cheering so loudly. Spinifex Gum symbolise something huge in the Australian arts and the wider community. Their music has a message and they are the messengers – and everybody in Australia is listening. 

The previous day, 9 September, Spinifex Gum gave a moving and important performance at Parliament House, where they sang their important message loudly and proudly to politicians in the hope of recognising Indigenous people in the constitution.

Spinifex Gum is Cairns-based indigenous choir Marliya of Gondwana Choirs, who sing beautiful, spine-tingling melodies in English and Yindiibarndi.  There are other masterminds to the project too. Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill of The Cat Empire started the collective; Lyn Williams is the conductor; and their clever choreographer is Deborah Brown. An exceptionally talented bunch indeed. 

Introducing the night, the speaker says, “May the sun and the moon be the pathway for you all,” and this sets the scene. There is joy and sorrow in every song. The sweet harmonies collide with the tales from the Pilbara of injustice and inequality. But what better way to convey these tales than through their powerful music. 

Spinifex Gum samples an iron ore train, gravel, leaves blowing in the breeze, and engines in their song Spinifex GumYurala is full of clever, multilayered lyrics matching beautifully layered harmonies. “But red dust from the iron ore train’ll, Make a white cocky all stained and rusty, And rich boys and the royal family, They needed water for their dusty money,” the choir sing, sticking their hands above their heads like cockatoo crests. The song tells the story of the Harding Dam being built on Aboriginal land.  

Make It Rain and My Island Home are performed with the sultry voice of Emma Donovan. The publicised death in custody in Western Australian of a young Aboriginal woman, Ms Dhu, is the topic of Ms Dhu, with disturbing footage of the injustice filling the screen behind the stage. This song was written to spread the word about this case. Gawarlarwi means butterfly, and is sung from a teenager’s voice, telling the “big fat fingers” to stop pointing and leave them alone. 

Honest, political, with tales of disparity and injustice that hit home, Spinifex Gum is the stunning musical celebration our country has been waiting for, and their voices must be heard.

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