30 Years ago, Shane Howard, the lead singer/songwriter for the band Goanna, penned a song that was to change his life forever. That song is “Solid Rock”. I was in my late teens at high school and it was one of the first songs that ever meant anything to me. It’s been on my playlist ever since. I’ve watched him live a few times, all powerful emotional shows. 2 years ago I watched Shane Howard performing different versions with Neil Murray and Archie Roach- an amazing afternoon gig at WOMAD 2010 when they each individually told a story and then shared each others song.
A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer that he was celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the song with a concert at Mutitjulu Community at the base of Uluru. When the dates just happened to coincide with our quarterly road trip, I was counting the days. Joining him would be Archie Roach, Amy Saunders, Bart Willoughby, Dan Sultan, Emma Donovan, John Butler, Nathalie Papapaa, Neil Murray, Warren H Williams and Wil Barton. As well as a mob of kids from the APY Lands. EPIC!! Absolutely E PIC!!
The concert was included in the program of the annual Sports Carnival where other Central Aus communities travel to compete in Aussie Rules and Softball. We rolled up at around 2pm on Saturday to a very sparse crowd in final preparations and a few football spectators. It was pushing 40 degrees. Hot and dusty- most of the community were sensibly avoiding the hottest part of the day. I went and asked permission to photograph the Footy and the concert and was given the ok. There was a bunch of media, and I did ask the Australian but they reckon they had enough “Indigenous content for Mondays’ edition.”- classic!
I’m glad too otherwise I’d be seeing it through the eyes of what they wanted rather than how I’m experiencing the experience.
I shot some photos of the footy with the Rock looming large in the back ground. Aboriginal Rules is played hard on hard bare earth. Some play in boots, others in socks and others prefer barefoot. Competition is fierce and later in the day the crowds move in and pull some shade under a mulga to cheer them on. My boys are keen Yuendumu fans(not sure if they were there) and Utju Tigers, (from where we’d just traveled) It’s great to see the boys get stuck in to their own game wherever there is a spare bit of dirt.
As the sun dropped behind the Rock the attention on the footy gave way to a small stage just to the side of the oval. Respects were payed, Elder women danced a sacred law song and the concert began.. It started with a long slow and soulful version of Solid Rock eased into with some Wil Barton Yidaki(Didgereedo) magic which followed the sun into the ground and allowed the crowd to reflect and absorb the country they were sitting on. I moved away from the crowd to a position were I could see the rock and listen. As the music played kids played on the footy field and Felix and his mate Terry posed for photographs. This was the stuff of dreams.
I’m not going to ramble on except to say that I also recorded the concert(although I can’t find John Butlers Song). They played three versions of Solid Rock and all guests sang a tune of their own. The song I’ve recorded here and thrown some pics to is the finale where the children from schools in the APY Lands sing the final chorus in Pitjantjatjara Language…this was a high energy version that I’m pretty sure anyone who witnessed it will long remember.
It’s a long song, they all were that night.
We returned on Sunday for more footy and a low key concert in the evening from Shane, Archie and Neil. We all sat in a wide circle and listened before they passed the microphones to the local bands and let the dancing begin. This time there were just a few white fellas and the scene was subdued and beautiful with all the kids getting their groove on up the front as soon as the local bush reggae kicked in.
I want to add my personal thanks from my family Pete, Kira, Xaver and Felix to the people of Mutitjulu for opening their home to us and for sharing their stories, footy and celebration. It was a great weekend for us- of learning and celebrating your culture. It is why we came to Central Australia. Thanks to Shane Howard for organising it and for the gift of this song.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy a taste from this special evening.