TROY Cassar-Daley, like most fathers, was shocked when his 17-year-old daughter Jem declared her intention to spend her gap year travelling Australia alongside him.
Aren’t kids once they complete their HSC meant to backpack overseas, start an arts degree or give their liver a workout?
Not Jem Cassar-Daley. The budding singer and pianist wanted to learn the business and who better to learn from than her old man, who over the past 25 years has been one of the most successful artists in Australian country music, amassing four ARIAs, 33 Golden Guitars and 31 No.1 singles.
Starting on January 24 in Tamworth, Jem will open for her father on all 44 dates of his national Greatest Hits Tour.
“I still pinch myself that she’s said yes to coming out,” Troy Cassar-Daley tells Weekender over a coffee at Juicy Bean Cafe.
“I didn’t know what she was going to do. I thought she might go overseas or straight into uni, but she said, ‘my brain is tired and I need to do something a bit different’.
“She wants to do music, so I said ‘why don’t you open up a few shows?’ She showed me her repertoire of songs she can play on piano and sing and she’s been getting a few $100 gigs around Brisbane.
“I said, ‘why don’t you come and have your gap year on the road? You might actually be able to save some money’.”
Cassar-Daley says Jem performs everything from country like Patsy Cline to Nora Jones-style contemporary jazz.
“She’s coming out to look at the privilege it is to make a living out of music, not that it’s an easy path,” he says.
“She realises how much hard work it’s been. She’s seen me work my whole life.
“But to engage an audience for half an hour is something you won’t get from your first year of university and that’s a life experience you just can’t buy.
“I’m just glad she still wants to hang around her parents. Some 17-year-olds can’t get far enough away from their parents.”
It’s fitting that his daughter is joining him on tour because family and heritage have always been central to Cassar-Daley.
In 1994 Cassar-Daley, 49, released his debut single Dream Out Loud, which promoted reconciliation between white and Aboriginal Australia.
In the song he sang, “There's two people in a room, one black and one white/“Now who's to say, who's wrong or who's right/Both standing tall, both standing proud/Both too afraid, to dream out loud.”
It’s a message 25 years later that the proud son of a Maltese-Australian father and Aboriginal mother continues to spread.
As I get a bit older I get more hungry for knowledge.Troy Cassar-Daley
His latest single Shadows On The Hill - nominated for Heritage Song Of The Year at the Golden Guitars on January 26 in Tamworth - taps into a darker theme.
Cassar-Daley was inspired to write the song after a family camping trip on traditional Gumbaynggirr country, near Grafton.
There around the campfire, where they cooked fish and turtles, one of Cassar-Daley’s uncles told the story of an Aboriginal massacre in the 19th century.
Cassar-Daley was so affected by the tale he wrote Shadows On The Hill upon returning home to shed light on the dark chapter of Australian history.
“As I get a bit older I get more hungry for knowledge, and this is a little part of the knowledge I’ve gained that I want to share with everyone,” he says.
“My old uncle says, ‘we’ve got to make sure we don’t make history a mystery’, and it’s so true. Getting that nomination made me so proud, for that reason alone.”
While Shadows On The Hill deals with heavy subject matter, Cassar-Daley has never wanted to be divisive with his music. He’s always approached race relations from the point of view of unity.
“We felt it was a way of uniting people,” he says. “It was never about, this is my stand. You’re not dividing anyone. What you want to do is be the glue.
“Music to me was always the glue that brought us together sitting around campfires with non-Indigenous kids. The guitar was the leveller. When it came out nobody thought of you as different at all.”
Troy Cassar-Daley brings his Greatest Hits Tour to Lizotte’s on June 13.