The Sydney Festival is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum with a concert filled with heart, soul and appreciation to those who made it happen.
‘Music in the key of yes’ will acknowledge the historic vote which saw over ninety per cent of Australians vote ‘yes’ to to count Aboriginal people as part of the population.
The plebiscite was a critical milestone in the struggle for rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and gave way to recognizing us as people, by including us in the census.
The event will be a once in a generation performance, showcasing some of the greatest songs from the civil rights movement, reinterpreted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch says his intention was to highlight and celebrate that pivotal moment in time in a meaningful way.
“This is a referendum that changed my life and changed the life of my families.”
The creative architect of the event told NITV: “There’s a lot of conversation at the moment around Recognise, around Constitutional Recognition, and actually it’s overshadowed the sense of what ’67 meant for us. So it’s just to take a time out and to reflect what the world was like before ’67 and how it’s changed since then.”
Soul and hip-hop vocalist and songwriter Radical Son will perform Sam Cooke’s classic hit, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, a song that was deeply felt by those who were part of the Indigenous rights movement.
Radical Son told NITV News: “Different communities have been exposed to different sounds. Some people may have not have even heard this song. I was only introduced to it myself a few years ago. But I feel like I’m only one of a few ‘cause when I do sing this song I can see out there in the audience that there’s so many that connect with it.”
Radical Son believes the referendum was such a significant moment for Indigenous Australians, that it should be celebrated not only during big anniversaries.
“I want people to remember that … 90-odd per cent of our population voted for our people to have rights. Never since then or before then has that happened, and the fact that it did should be celebrated every year.”
He told NITV: “it’s more than just a yes circled or ticked on a piece of paper. I believe compassion came out in the person and I think that is a quality that I think all of us need to bring out more often. What I love about that [is] I believe that’s how our people always were”.
ARIA award-winner Dan Sultan will perform his own yet-to-be released tune, ‘Drover’, a song about the Wave Hill Walk-Off.
“It’s about the Wave-Hill Walk-Off and sort of the lead up to that. Two young men, two brothers, two cowboys, two drovers talking about something that’s about to go down.
“This is about the history of our struggle and our continuing struggle, it’s still going. I don’t write many political songs, and this one is still not political. This is about two brothers and where they find themselves, and happens to be the Wave Hill Walk-Off”.
Dan says he’s proud to be part of the concert.
“I think the show’s got a message that’s dear to, and close to a lot us, and I think it’s important.”
Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch echoes the sentiment. To him, there’s no denying Indigenous Australians today have all been touched by the significance of the referendum, as its implications changed everyone’s life in profound ways.
“I was born in 1969, so the referendum had already happened... Every step along the way as I was growing up in terms of education, in terms of housing, in terms of healthcare, in terms of going to university, about employment, all of the steps along the way, I think had been affected by the ’67 Referendum.
Enoch hopes the show encapsulates the spirit and depth of the date.
“For me it’s a really a moment of reflection. When you listen to these songs and you think about the era of 1967, ‘you can go’ what has changed,” he says.
“Fifty years is a long time, but in some respects not enough has changed… For me it’s really a little spur, a little moment to go, think back [and realize] yes, things have changed, but it’s time to think forward about what we want to change into the future.”
For his part, Radical Son has a good idea of what he’d like to contribute.
“I can’t tell what the future brings, but I think while I have a chance to speak as a leader or a role model, whether it just be through music, or as a parent, or a community member, I think I’m gonna take up that opportunity to teach the importance of respect and compassion. I believe then, that there truly will be hope for our future.”
The concert will also include performances from triple j Unearthed, NIMA and Deadly award-winning artist Thelma Plum, five-time Helpmann nominee Ursula Yovich, Darwin singer-songwriter Leah Flanagan, Anindilyakwa singer from Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory Emily Wurramara, triple j Unearthed artist and Wergaia woman Alice Skye and Yirrmal Marika from Arnhem Land, as well as award winning artist Adalita, formerly of Magic Dirt.
The event will also feature striking archival film footage from the period.