Traditionally the first Sunday in July kicks off nation-wide celebrations for Australian NAIDOC Week – celebrating the culture, country and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Unfortunately due to the coronavirus, this year’s national NAIDOC Week events were postponed.
However, thanks to an initial relationship with radio 3KND Kool ‘N’ Deadly – and their renowned Station Manager Gerry ‘GMan’ Lyons – Arts Centre Melbourne was able to play host to a huge two-hour showcase featuring some of the most respected and loved First Nations artists from around the country.
Filmed on the Hamer Hall stage under physical-distancing restrictions, the Vic NAIDOC 2020 Concert “Always Was, Always Will Be” was made possible through Victorian NAIDOC, 3KND, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the Victorian Government.
As Victoria bunkered down for the second time under COVID-19 restrictions, the concert was a chance to come together and heal through connection, song and dance.
We spoke with GMan about how this event came about, and what it means to be celebrating during lockdown.
What did you want to achieve from this event?
Well COVID-19 of course has changed everybody’s lives, but how it’s affected Indigenous people, not just in Victoria but around the country, has been horrendous. What we’ve had is such a high increase in mental health issues, and suicide rates, which are always high, but they seem to be higher.
And the thing that is really powerful and important for Indigenous people is music – it’s medicine.
So I was having this conversation with [Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission Commissioner] Jill Gallagher about what we could be doing in this space. We wanted to give something to the people that would allow them to have some chill time.
This event was important to me and to my team so that we could give black artists, Indigenous people, the opportunity to give the soul and the spirit back to country. And look at the line-up! All these artists from around the country, from Torres Strait Island. We’ve got all of these connections taking place because they all know how important music is. Not just the storytelling in that. Not just the dance, but the music that touches the soul.
What has it meant to the artists participating?
What was important in all of this is when I approached the artists, to ask “Would you like to take part in this?” A lot of them had tears. I said, “We’d like to pay you to take part in this”. They cried more. So to all the artists here, from high-level all the way through, this means so much. And it meant also that they were able to provide for themselves, for community, and have value.
How does it feel to be celebrating at this time? Why is it important to do so?
We’re unable to march, we’re unable to do so many things. But to be able to shine on stage! That is going to mean so much more. When people who have gathered with their food and their families can say, “Listen! My aunt and uncles are on! My cousin, my nephews, my family, my mob”.
And not just for those in Victoria – around Australia. And so many of those who are overseas that can’t come back.
It’s been hard under the restrictions because mob like to cuddle and hug. They like to show that affection and the pain of not doing that for all of us is overwhelming. But when these artists got on stage – all of them – they’ve left here after the performance with joy in their hearts.
Ordinarily you’re the Station Manager at 3KND. How different is it to take your work to the stages of Hamer Hall?
We’re a radio station. But why are we important to community? Because they hear our voice every day in their home. We’re family to them. That’s how powerful this medium is.
We had a lot of offers from around the state to put on a show – but do you know what – this land that Arts Centre Melbourne on is disputed land. And we wanted to bring healing here as well. To bring the different parties from the different clans here too, to have that conversation and to speak here. In that way, it brings about a healing. It brings it in itself.
This is our NAIDOC event for 2020. This will be the largest. It involves the voice, the song, the language. It’s given everybody dignity. That’s how powerful we are because in the moment where people are stressed and they watch something like this – it puts them into a world of peace.
Why I wanted this to happen was for all those reasons. To allow them out there who are finding it very hard to know that we all care. That we’re supporting their dreams and aspirations. We’re making history.
This article appeared in Spotlight, the Arts Wellbeing Collective magazine: