Shane Howard says: “We're not dead yet and we’re not going down without a fight”, as he and fellow socially conscious musical poet John Schumann prepare to perform in the Camden Haven.
Howard was 23 years old when he formed legendary Australian band Goanna whose song Solid Rock, released 36 years ago, won best debut single at the 1983 Countdown Music Awards.
A social conscience was brewing in Howard long before this. In year 12, he was given the environment as a subject to prepare a speech on and won the regional competition.
In his late 20s he went to Uluru to see if Aboriginal culture was still alive. His trip coincided with the Anangu Pitjantjatjara people returning to their homeland. “I woke up to the fact this was an Australia I didn’t know, this was the real Australia, the soul of Australia.
“Solid Rock began there, and it opened doors for me everywhere I went in Aboriginal Australia. It was a testing time. I faced some tough realities hearing first hand of massacres, the stolen generation, neglect, chaos, inter-generational trauma. The further I went, the more I became ashamed of my country.”
He’d like to think his and Schumann’s songs have progressed the message. “We’ve come a way since 1982, Solid Rock and I was only 19, but we still have a way to go in terms of Aboriginal justice.”
The success of Solid Rock surprised him. The record company didn’t want to release it. I thought we might get a bit of airplay and we’d get to travel to Sydney. We made it well, people could dance to it, and they were ready for change. I grew up with Bob Dylan and Times they are a changin’ . We believed in that stuff and music is a great universal language.”
He was fascinated by the sound of the didgeridoo as a young man. “It was the sound of the earth. When you hear it in the hands of a master it is actually the basis of hundreds of songs. It’s a lot more complex than I first thought. You start to understand the complexity of the song lines of this country. It’s how Aboriginal people still have memory. It’s their hard drive, it got them from water hole to water hole.”
Howard and Schumann came together in 2013, when Senator Bob Brown asked him to sing Let The Franklin Flow at the 30th anniversary of the saving of the Franklin and he invited Schumann to join in. “We’ve maintained a friendship ever since. He’s much more direct and politically astute than me.”
In 2015, Schumann wrote a song to honour Australia’s Indigenous soldiers. “We got involved and it was a lot of fun reconnecting.”
There song Times like These came about soon after and Howard says: “There is no better person to stand shoulder to shoulder with than John.”