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Rock's radical Australia Day message

  • 23 January 2013

As a social and political activist since my teens, people often ask me what motivated me so early on. A few factors shaped my values: my Irish Catholic background; my public housing upbringing by a widowed mother on welfare ; and, later, my discovery of a radical message about love and stuff.

But it was a rock song that brought it all together. It was 1982 and I was 14. I was watching Countdown with my brother, when the song came on. It was catchy, had a haunting chorus, rich harmonies, and a great guitar riff. But there was something more. It gave me goose-bumps, though I couldn't explain why.

'That'll be a hit,' my brother predicted.

The song was 'Solid Rock' by Australian band Goanna. It is now 30 years since I first saw that clip, but when I hear the song today, I still get goose-bumps, and the chorus still haunts me.

I couldn't wait until the repeat of Countdown the following week. As soon as I had saved up $9.99 I took a bus to town and purchased my first record with my own money — Goanna's Spirit of Place. I soon memorised the words to 'Solid Rock' as well as every 'ooh',' ah', and grunt — but it was a simple phrase, sung almost under the breath of lead singer Shane Howard, that had me mesmerised.

'Someone lied ...'

What? Someone lied? As a teenager, already angry about a few things, I wanted to know who lied, what did they lie about and why did they lie about it.

But Howard went further.

'Someone lied,' he repeats, and then whispers: 'Genocide.'

Genocide? Wow. At that point to link genocide to Australia's Aborigines was not done on prime time television — but there it was on Countdown and repeated countless times on radio for the next 30 years.

'Solid Rock' has moulded itself into the consciousness of many Australians like myself. As a schoolgirl it prompted me to ask questions, to challenge the narrative of history I was receiving at school, to think. I wrote to the band — the only fan letter I've ever written — and received a reply, which I've treasured. It encouraged me to read further about Aboriginal issues and politics. I followed Goanna, and later Howard's solo career.

In 2006, I was thrilled to meet Howard (I approached him during a break at a concert) and tell him of the influence his songwriting had