Singing for social change

Kerri Carr

Gary Cattanach: If it's infectious, I've done my job

The union movement’s strong tradition of campaigning in song was alive at Federation Annual Conference, Federation President Maurie Mulheron said.

The second day’s program opened with Aboriginal Education Restricted Committee member Gary Cattanach’s first public performance of his own song, “Recognise”, which deals with Aboriginal recognition within the Australian Constitution.

The Nambucca Heads High School teacher said he wrote the song a few months ago, after meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and representatives from Recognise, the people’s movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.

“I went home really charged and the song started springing out of me.”

He said the first version was a “finger-picking ballard” but the one performed at Annual Conference was “more of a campaign song”.

“If it’s infectious, I’ve done my job,” he said.

Mr Cattanach doesn’t consider himself a performer (“I write and play for myself”) and is looking for a singer or choir to share the song more widely. He said he is open to having the song “re-arranged and chopped”.

Mr Cattanach was the recipient of the Australian Education Union’s 2014 Arthur Hamilton Award for outstanding contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education.

On the first day of Annual Conference the powerful words of “From Little Things Big Things Grow” filled the Sydney Town Hall, led by the song’s Aboriginal co-writer Kev Carmody and Federation President Maurie Mulheron.

The protest song tells how the Gurindji people’s claim for the return of their land sparked the Indigenous land rights movement. Carmody has a strong commitment to social justice and this is reflected in his song writing.

Carmody had just finished addressing Federation’s Annual Conference, saying he learned the value of unions when a farmer hadn’t been paying him for mustering sheep into the shearing shed. Unionists told the farmer no more sheep would be shorn until Carmody was paid for the additional work.

“I got paid!” he exclaimed.

He said standing up for his rights had stuck with him all his life.