WOMADelaide Festival
Tainmuntilla/Botanic Park
Foundation Stage
Sunday, 13 March 2022
Spirit of Message

We are just simple musicians, all we can do is amplify your voice”

Shane Howard to WOMADelaide audience

And wow what an amplification of that voice Goanna provided to the WOMADelaide crowd on Saturday night with its triumphal 40th anniversary celebration of the iconic Spirit of Place album.

It seemed fitting that they returned to an Adelaide stage at WOMADelaide. The event itself marking a milestone with its 30th anniversary and a celebration of its return to its spiritual home at Botanic Park, a place in which artists and musicians have amplified a global message for three decades.

Back in 1982 I was an idealistic 16 year old starting to develop my own political consciousness when Spirit of Place hit our airwaves that November. It is therefore no surprise this album has resonated deeply within me, confirming a growing belief I had that this continent had a deeper story that needed to be told. It was and remains groundbreaking stuff.

There has been much progress in amplifying that story and awareness since then, evident by the strong presence of First Nations artists at this year’s WOMADelaide. With a line up featuring Baker Boy, A.B. Original, Kutcha Edwards, Emma Donovan (with The Putbacks), Zaccahria Fielding (Electric Fields) and Barkaa along with Nancy Bates, Allara and Corey Theatre for the world premiere of Dhungala Baarka, and up and coming duo Marlon x Rulla, First Nations artists are loudly and proudly proclaiming their space, often in language, and not to mention dominating the charts.

Goanna, along with fellow contemporaries Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly (who closed the main stage on Monday night) set the pathway for this flourishing of First Nations voices.

For all that progress, there is still much that needs to be done to remove the white lens from our collective consciousness such as constitutional recognition for our First Nations people and a treaty. So while 40 years may have passed the messages of Spirit of Place still resonate.

You’re standin’ on solid rock
Standin’ on sacred ground
Livin’ on borrowed time
And the window of change
Are blowin’ down the line
Right done the line.

Solid Rock, Goanna

The path towards reconciliation over the past four decades was very much part of Saturday night’s musical celebration with Gumbaynggirr artist Emma Donovan joining the band, straight from her own powerful set on Stage 2, for a mighty and soulful version of Stand Yr’ Ground.

Not only did Spirit of Place dare to question the colonial-settler history of the early 80’s but also recognised the growing environmental movement that was starting to take hold. The headlines at the time dominated by the protests over a proposal to dam Tasmania’s Franklin river, a campaign that led to one of the first significant wins for the environment movement in Australia and the emergence of a new political party – The Greens – led by Dr Bob Brown. Little did I know back then that 17 years later I too would become involved in the Tasmanian forestry wars.

It was therefore fitting that local singer-songwriter and Redgum frontman – John Schumann – another musical political conscious raising voice of the same era, came up on stage to share the vocal duties on the environmental anthem Let the Franklin Flow.

Spirit of Place is one of those rare albums where all the tracks are fine works in their own right, there are no fillers here, something we were all reminded about on Sunday night.

Yet, it is powerhouse anthem – Solid Rock – that remains the album’s seminal track (as it did back in 1982 ). Donovan and Schuman once again rejoining the stage along with Yidaki didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton for an incredible finale of this searing song.

This was one powerful and epic performance with a deeply emotional message of hope.

Fontella Koleff

Photos by Sahil Choujar

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