AS an artist famous for writing songs about Aboriginal rights and environmental causes, it’s easy to understand why current global politics has Shane Howard angry.
The rise of US president Donald Trump, failure of the Australian government to address climate change, the growing economic power of global corporations and continued marginalisation of Indigenous culture and people are issues that burn within the Goanna frontman.
“It’s a pretty sad old world,” Howard tells Weekender from his home near Port Fairy on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
“Things that you felt you’d fought for and won many years ago, you suddenly realise the world can go backwards politically very quickly on racism, nationalism, and back into religious fundamentalism.
“Things we thought were well behind us.”
In the early ’80s Howard provided an influential voice in Australian music for progressive causes. His folk-rock band Goanna scored a top-three hit in 1982 with Solid Rock, which helped place Aboriginal land rights on a mainstream agenda.
Solid Rock remains a staple of FM radio and three weeks ago it was inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive’s 2018 Sounds of Australia.
“I was young and naive, but well intentioned,” the 63-year-old says. “It’s taken me all over Australia into Aboriginal Australia and given me very deep connections with Aboriginal friends across the country.
“Once you see the world very clearly through Aboriginal eyes it’s very hard to unsee it. For me, I love that so many Aboriginal people love that song as well and in many ways that song has managed to join Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together, and that’s something I’m proudest of.”
Another of Howard’s iconic songs is Let The Franklin Flow, an anthem of the successful campaign to stop the construction of Tasmania’s Franklin Dam in 1983.
A like-minded contemporary who also appeared on that track was Redgum leader John Schumann, best known for the haunting 1983 folk song, I Was Only 19, about the Vietnam War.
After more than three decades the two old friends came together last year to record the song Times Like These, where they expressed their exasperation at modern politics.
“John has a fire in the belly and we were angry young men and now we’re cranky old men,” Howard says. “There’s plenty to be cranky about too.”
Times Like These, which sounds like the love child of Tom Petty and Dire Straits, led to Howard and Schumann performing together in Adelaide and subsequently launching a mini-NSW tour.
It’s a creative union Howard continually finds intellectually stimulating.
“John is a really sharp mind and a great mind to lock horns with, and you’ll never die wondering what he thinks,” he says.
John Schumman and Shane Howard perform at Wests New Lambton on December 9.
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