Rock anthem speaks to a new generation
The community of Mutitjulu, at the base of Uluru, opens its gates as it celebrates the 30-year anniversary of Goanna’s Solid Rock, by Shane Howard (inset). Photo: Glenn Campbell
THE previous time so many vehicles converged on Mutitjulu, they carried an army of police, soldiers and bureaucrats, the advance party for the Howard government's emergency takeover of Northern Territory indigenous communities.
A little more than five years later, the Aboriginal community of 250 at the base of Uluru welcomed a happier convoy. Trucks brought sound and lighting gear, radio broadcast equipment and portable toilets, while buses delivered hundreds of tourists from the hotels on the other side of the monolith.
This is not the Mutitjulu we've come to think we know, the one former indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough described as a ''scared community'', the place stigmatised by claims of sexual exploitation and substance abuse, the emblem of remote dysfunction.
In the days after the intervention was announced in 2007, families fled Mutitjulu, fearing their children would be taken from them. But in an unprecedented move this weekend, the community, which is normally closed, threw open its gates for a concert to mark the 30th anniversary of the Goanna land-rights anthem Solid Rock.
Three new versions of the song - arguably the first to raise with a mainstream audience the injustice suffered by the nation's first peoples - are being released to mark the anniversary. One features schoolchildren from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in South Australia singing in their first language, Pitjantjatjara.
Goanna frontman Shane Howard was inspired to write the song after witnessing an inma (traditional dance) at Uluru on a camping trip in 1981.
''This place gave me something, it gave me an incredible gift,'' he recalled on Saturday.
''It's so beautiful 30 years later to be able to bring something back to this country, and to give something back.''
The concert, held as part of the yearly community carnival, was two years in the planning. Howard was joined on stage by artists including Archie Roach, Bart Willoughby, William Barton, Dan Sultan, Neil Murray, John Butler and Natalie Pa'apa'a.
The 57-year-old said Mutitjulu had been brutalised by the intervention but wanted to share their culture and traditions with the non-indigenous.
As the sun set over the rock, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children played together on the broken concrete slab that rings the football field, while in the dust, the home team, in Geelong jumpers, battled the side from Amata, 140 kilometres south. By the stage, black and white queued together for sausages and snow cones.
''We're [making] a good spirit here together,'' Howard told the crowd. ''Blackfellas and whitefellas, all together. We're showing Australia a new story. A way of being in this country, a proper way. Giving a good example.''
That Mutitjulu faces steep challenges was denied by no one.
''We're still losing far too many people,'' Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation chairman Sammy Wilson told the crowd in Pitjantjatjara at the start of the performance.
''Now we found ourselves losing too many young people as well,'' he said, before calling for a minute's silence.
Later, he said the community members sometimes felt they had been portrayed as animals and it was important for the community to tell a positive story about itself.
''We really want to counteract that negativity and work our way to a positive future.''
The Age travelled to Uluru as a guest of Tourism NT.
Shane Howard will perform at the Forum in Melbourne on December 8.