Concert For The Kimberley
Music and political issues have been intrinsically linked since the dawn of the melody but ascertaining exactly what influence artists have is difficult. John Butler and his Trio along with Clare Bowditch will perform a free concert in Melbourne’s Federation Square to raise awareness on the James Price Point gas factory set for construction on the pristine Kimberley coast of WA. Missy Higgins will send a message of support during her tour of the US and former Australian Greens leader Dr Bob Brown will address the crowd.
The issue is simple – and simultaneously daunting. Woodside (with commercial partnerships established with BHP Billiton, Shell, Mitsubishi and Mitsui once the project is up and running) want to build Australia’s most expensive industrial development (with cost estimates ranging from $30 billion to $50 billion) along the Kimberley coast. The coast is a nursery for the world’s largest Humpback population and is home to a startling amount of endangered species. The Northern Kimberley is the only region in Australia with no recorded mammalian extinctions (yet) and sits on the Aboriginal song line.
The project – 30 billion litres of effluent will be pumped into the ocean from the proposed plant, will cover 2500 hectares, require the dredging of 34 million tonnes of seabed leaving a marine dead zone of 50 square kilometres and will use up to 8 billion litres of fresh water a year. It has not yet been approved by Federal parliament and there are alternatives that are far more viable.
Butler states that he is not opposed to mining, a box that anyone who opposes obviously environmentally destructive mining activities is shoved into, but that he vehemently opposes this project based on common sense. Mining may be Australia’s greatest economical export and people argue that without it, we couldn’t pay the bills. However, if your child is a prostitute and that was their only way of paying the bills, they’d probably be advised to enter another industry.
Butler is idealistic when it comes to projects such as these and laughs off the suggestion that it is strange to interview an artist when they aren’t selling something.
“How refreshing,” Butler begins with laughter. “Art is an expression of our opinions and our point of view. I understand why people don’t want to be political. Speaking about politics of and by itself is a little bit boring. But when you speak about life – life is political, life is spiritual, life is economical – it’s so many different things. I don’t know if you can separate them.”
Some musicians avoid the political realm and the world of social commentary, afraid of the impact it will have on their fan base, but Butler has never been that sort of artist. “My base is quite different,” he admits. “My opinion has always been very integrated into everything I do so I guess I have less to lose on that front. There is a great quote by someone, I always forget who said it, ‘Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to make a great change on this planet. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ It’s really true, it’s not musicians or politicians or millionaires that can make a difference, it’s individual. The individuals who are making a big difference up in the Kimberley are a group of very committed people who want to protect their land and culture and it’s not for any political reasons, it’s just for common sense reasons. They love how beautiful the place is and they don’t want it destroyed by fly-in fly-out cultures and by mining companies that don’t really have any respect for land or culture. No one will ever know the names of those people and they are doing massive things.”
The event is designed to generate support for those opposing the short-sighted project with a view to influencing the government’s approval. According to Woodside’s 2012 Half-Year Shareholder revue, they have already enjoyed an $812 million profit for 2012 but these are all just facts and figures with lots of zeros, intangible to most. Killing turtles and dolphins and wasting water while abusing finite resources – that’s tangible. At the end of the day, it seems essential to ask Butler whether he worries that he is merely preaching to the choir. “That is always, you know, the concern,” he admits. “I do get interested in who’s gonna be in the lineup because if you have too many like-minded bands on the bill then you’re going to bring a like-minded audience and you’re not going to be reaching anyone new. I try to keep it diverse, I’m aware of it, and I think that’s the reason why it’s free. Hopefully it won’t be just fans but people who want to be a part of a musical event about something that they may have heard about on the wind and they’ll get to find out even more. You’re always going to have the issue of preaching to the converted but small things make a difference and if you [and] twenty people are turned on and educated (and I think it’ll be much more than that), then we’ve done our job.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
CONCERT FOR THE KIMBERLEY will kick off at 6pm at Federation Square on Friday October 5 with John Butler Trio and Clare Bowditch. It’s free too.