Chuck Miller Creative Writing Service - Music

Social Justice, Solid as a Rock
Originally published in Goldmine, issue 660
Hits include: "Solid Rock"
"Razor's Edge"
"Let the Franklin Flow" (as "Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble")
Albums include: Spirit of Place
Spirit Returns
Shane Howard's webpage
Marcia Howard's webpage
Rose Bygrave's webpage
Port Fairy Folk Festival
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Write an e-mail to the author of this article
written by Chuck Miller

It was an innocent letter in Goldmine's "Please Mr. Postman" letters page. A simple request, asking if any Goldmine subscribers remembered a song from the early 80's, with lyrics about a solid rock and sacred ground. Usually with such a request, another collector would write in and answer the question, and that was that.

But this time, dozens of letters poured into the Goldmine editorial office, answering the question with varying degrees of accuracy. The song was called "Solid Rock," and they were pretty sure it was by a group called Goanna or something. The respondents might remember a melody, or a fragment of a lyric. In America, the song climbed as high as #71 in June of 1983, fell off the charts, and its group was never heard on these shores again.

But in Australia, the group Goanna were a catalyst for socially-conscious folk-rock music. Its songs kept a river flowing, brought a voice to a stolen generation, showed all dimensions and facets of their homeland. And their biggest hit, "Solid Rock," was a triple platinum-selling anthem, a call to the rights of the indigenous people who for 50,000 years called a huge rock their home. "Solid Rock" was a testament to one of the most holy places in Australia - and to the change it made to a folksinger's life.

The guiding force behind Goanna was lead singer-songwriter Shane Howard. Born to a large music-loving family in Dennington, a small working-class town near Warrnambool in western Victoria, Howard's first concerts were performing for his parents and siblings. "My mother Teresa Howard used to work on the local radio station when she was younger, before she was married. We sang in church, and we grew up singing as a family, so I thought it was going on in every household. It's only when you get older that it's pretty unique. Our home, because of Mum, became a hub for like-minded people who were interested in music."

In the early 1970's, Shane Howard spent his time working across Victoria, playing songs for a few dollars, picking fruit for a few dollars more. By 1976, Shane had enrolled in Geelong Teachers College, and was recruiting people for a new folk-rock band. Originally known as the "Ectoplasmic Manifestation," the group later shortened the name to "The Goanna Band", their songlists filled with Bob Dylan and Little Feat covers. Armed with his sister Marcia and a family friend, Rose Bygrave, Shane's band performed up and down the Great Ocean Road, playing pubs and hotels and any place with a stage and an audience. "I didn't really want my sister Marcia in the band back then. She was very young, and I saw it as a corrupting influence. But in retrospect, it was beautiful having your sister there - personal achievements diminish in favor of family memories."

"I was living near Geelong, which is where the band first started," said Rose Bygrave, "and I'd heard that a band Goanna, whom I'd seen a couple of times and thought they were beaut, were looking for someone to replace a guitarist. I met a couple of them, and ended up in an audition and got the job. I thought Shane was a terrific performer and songwriter, and that's grown over the years. Goanna was the first one I'd seen that really caught my imagination. I was in my early 20's and I'd been playing for a very long time, but never in any public way. From that moment I turned into a professional musician, I suppose."

The Goanna Band later became the opening act on James Taylor's Australian tour, which eventually led to a record deal with WEA (Warner Bros.' Australian affiliate). "The Australian live music scene at that time was very healthy," said Shane Howard. "There were some great bands touring the country - Dragon, Split Enz, Men at Work were contemporaries of ours. We were traveling around regional centers, coming into the cities and doing those shows, building a following, and we would keep bumping into Men At Work around the countryside, and we were both pretty much trying to make a name for ourselves."

"A lot of our songs were about the area," said Bygrave, "and we were all from the area. The crowds got better, and we started breaking into Melbourne, we started doing a few shows up in Melbourne, and everything changed from that point on. We were traveling to Melbourne five nights a week to play, and sometimes doing two or three gigs a night in Melbourne, and getting home at 6 or 7 in the morning, and getting organized to go again. I remember the first time that we made $1,000 a week, I thought we hit the big time. Not individually - $1,000 to the band a week."

The group continued touring throughout the Southwest coast, but Shane had a young family to support, and the long performing schedule began to take its toll on his health. In May 1980, on a doctor's advice, Shane took a month's hiatus from the Goanna Band and traveled to Ayers Rock, a geographic serrated monolith in the center of the Nullabor desert. To the aboriginals that lived in the area, Ayers Rock was known to them as Uluru, a sacred location where tribes gathered, worshiped, swapped the stories of their history and promised to meet again. It was this chance meeting with the aboriginal tribes at Uluru that gave Shane a new direction for his music.

"I ended up on a train from Melbourne to Adelaide, from Adelaide up to Alice Springs, and a bus out to Uluru, Ayers Rock as it was known then. Today there's a resort and accommodations, but in those days you took a tent and you camped there. And it was a dirt road for 300 kilometers to get there, it was a pretty remote place. I set up my camp there near the Rock - to put you in the picture, it's bright red, sandy desert with scrubby little trees, and this huge red massive monolith that is probably the size of 20 Super Bowls. And there was a little sign on a toilet block, just a handwritten sign that said 'Inmar' - a ceremonial dance - 'tonight at the other side of the rock, 7:30.'"

That night, on the other side of Uluru, Shane saw a traditional group of aboriginal people, a tribe from the South Australian border in the Musgrave ranges. "I sat with a couple of other tourists, and it was a very low-key affair. As the sun went down and the fires were lit in the performance area, and as the dance started up and the people came out, painted up - in firelight, all you can see is the white body markings, so you're watching these spirit figures dance. And just as they started dancing, the full moon started to rise out of the back of Uluru. It was a very amazing experience, it changed my whole perception of the depth of aboriginal culture and spirituality right there and then. I realized we were dealing with a culture that was very ancient, that had its own theology, its own spirituality that was very profound."

Shane spent two weeks at Uluru, then began the long journey home. As his bus entered Alice Springs, he saw a different group of aboriginals - ones that had been displaced from their homes, who suffered from racial abuse and intolerance, whose daily life consisted of a suicide cocktail of petrol and grog. "I had come from this beautiful inspiring aboriginal tradition, and the contrast between that and this harsh reality of conflict with western world 300 kilometers away, it marked me for all time. I saw an incredible injustice that needed to be dealt with. And also, I realized that this country that I grew up in, that I thought was my country, it wasn't. I had to reassess my whole relationship with the land and the landscape, and understand that we had come from somewhere else, and we had disempowered a whole race of people when we arrived."

On the way back to Melbourne and a reunion with the group (who had shortened their name to simply "Goanna"), Shane began working on a song called "Stand Yr Ground." But a new set of lyrics were pouring out of his pen - lyrics that didn't match the folk-rock music that had been Goanna's stock in trade. He put "Stand Yr Ground" aside, and began developing a different, rougher melody for the new lyrics. By the time Howard arrived back in Melbourne, he had a new song for the group to record, based upon his experiences at Uluru - "Solid Rock."

"Shane came back from the Rock," said Marcia Howard, "after he had written ‘Solid Rock,' and he said ‘I've written this song, why don't you come up on stage and sing it with me.' I thought the song was amazing, really powerful. I'd always loved Shane's writing, and it was the first time anyone had written ‘genocide' in a song."

"Solid Rock" broke new ground in Australian pop radio. In addition to the standard guitars and drums on the record, "Solid Rock" also featured an introduction from a didgeridu, an ancient musical instrument made from a long wooden tube. The song's subject matter was based on Australia's colonial past and its dichotomy with the aboriginals:

They were standing on the shore one day
Saw the white sails in the sun
Wasn't long before they felt the sting
White man - white law - white gun
Don't tell me that it's justified
Cause somewhere - someone lied - someone died - genocide
And now you're standin' on Solid Rock...

"When the single was first released," said Shane Howard, "there was a whole issue going on between the record companies in Australia and the radio stations, something to do with performing rights or income. There was actually a ban - the radio stations would take turns on not playing any PolyGram products for a week, and when "Solid Rock" was released, it was Warner Bros. material that they wouldn't play. So when it went out, it first went out through community radio and independent stations. And of course, we sort of thought it might get a little bit of airplay and we'd get to play a little bit further afield. I thought it was too politically contentious to make inroads into the mainstream."

But the song did get airplay - first on the state-run stations like 2JJ in Sydney, then on commercial powerhouse stations like Melbourne's EON FM and 3XY, 2SM in Sydney, and Geelong's 3GL. By December 1982, "Solid Rock" was the #1 song in Australia, and the accompanying album, Spirit of Place, sold over 300,000 copies, the biggest selling Aussie LP of the year. In 1983 Goanna received ARIA awards (the Australian Grammys) for Best Debut Single and Best Debut Album. "I still don't know to this day how that song got through," said Shane Howard, "and in a way, I think it was probably predestined somewhere out at Uluru. As a writer, I think there are certain songs that come from you, and there are other songs that come through you. In many ways, ‘Solid Rock' was one of those songs. That song belongs not to me, if you know what I mean."

Goanna undertook a nationwide tour in support of "Solid Rock," to crowds of appreciative Australians - and many aboriginals, who wanted to talk to the band after the show about this new hit. "Every town we played, there'd be a group of aboriginal people who would actually come to check out these white fellows, what do those white fellows know about cultures or aboriginality? But we learned very fast, and we learned every night. It meant sitting up till 2, 3 in the morning, talking to groups of aboriginal people in every town we went into. And we were hearing firsthand the stories of how they grew up, the life they had to lead. The oppression and the racism that they lived with every day. And every night when you're hearing direct stories from aboriginal people, once you know, you then can't un-know."

"It was amazing meeting all of those communities," said Marcia Howard, "and we forged friendships there that still stand. It's not an issue of land, or of black and white, it's about human beings and relationships. That enriched my life, and hopefully that's helped a lot of people along the way."

"There was an enormous sense of pride amongst the aboriginal people who came to see the band," said Rose Bygrave, "there was a group of white people actually acknowledging them and their struggles. A lot of the communities we went to, places like Broken Hill, the whole community would come, white and black. People who never had a lot to do with each other in normal situations, but because the band was really popular, they probably said, ‘We're going, regardless of who else is going.' I think it brought people together in that situation."

"Solid Rock" was later released worldwide, hitting the charts in over 30 countries. In America, "Solid Rock" was picked up by Atco Records. "Atco pressed enough copies to service radio," said Shane Howard, "and I think in the first week of release we had an enormous number of add-ons in radio. There was a two-week period there where we were being added right across the country, and it was gathering an enormous momentum - but the problem was they hadn't manufactured stock, there was very little stock in the shops. So it was hard to find. And the record company was asking us, ‘come up and tour the States,' but we were on our first national tour of Australia, we felt a great sense of responsibility about honoring that commitment before we looked at tackling America. I'm sure there's a lot of people out there in the States, somewhere in the back of their mind, that song is somewhere in the background there."

Goanna also happened to be on the same label as another Australian band, INXS, and both were distributed in America through Atco. But as Marcia Howard recalled, the American promotional department had room for only one Australian rock band. "They basically had a lot of INXS albums printed, even though ‘Solid Rock' was the most added-on song across America for three weeks in radio, but there were no records in stock, no records printed to sell. I think at an INXS concert, the promotional people threw out ‘Solid Rock' rhinestones into the audience as a promotional piece for our album. Pretty classic, huh?"

Conquering American radio stations would have to wait. In 1983, Goanna, along with some friends and associates, recorded "Let The Franklin Flow," a simple ballad to stop the damming of Tasmania's Franklin River. The controversial project would have created jobs, but its ecological repercussions to the surrounding wilderness and wetlands would have been catastrophic. Recorded at the "People for Nuclear Disarmament Concert" at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl, "Let The Franklin Flow" became a top 20 hit in Australia, where it was slyly credited to "Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble." "We did the ‘Stop the Drop' concert at the Myer Music Bowl," said Marcia Howard, "and Midnight Oil and Redgum were there, and we're all singing that song together."

"All Tasmania knew what to do by that stage in terms of engineering was to build dams," said Shane Howard, " to keep their people employed. We were riding high because of ‘Solid Rock,' and we had the ear of the media. I went to the Franklin River where all the protesters were and hung out down there, and then came back from that experience and wrote ‘Let The Franklin Flow.' We released the song very quickly, I think it was turned around in the space of three weeks. We even had a promoter one night ask me, ‘Don't sing the song in Burnie,' in this little town in Tasmania. And here we were in the town hall in Burnie, and of course we did the song. And the whole hall erupted in fisticuffs. One fellow even wanted to wrap a large piece of wood around my head."

One year after "Let The Franklin Flow" was released, a high court declared the Franklin River a protected waterway, eventually ending the dam. "‘Let The Franklin Flow' brought politics to the mainstream," recalled Australian music journalist Christie Eliezer. "It got a lot of newspaper coverage, and taught young kids they could affect their situation."

Goanna was also part of a new Australian music movement - groups that sang about ecological issues and conservation and war crimes and Imperialism and American nuclear testing. This was not happy-go-lucky music about tying a kangaroo down, sport, or living in a land Down Under. These were groups like Midnight Oil, Redgum and No Fixed Address who, like Goanna, used their music to raise social consciousness. "Oz rock is loud and brash," said Eliezer, "but Goanna were gentle with great vocals. They had great faith in themselves. I remember when the Sri Lanka civil war broke out, some friends and I had a concert to raise money for Tamil refugees who were displaced by the army. Shane hopped a tram to the gig and played ‘Common Ground' (a song slated for their upcoming second album) to an audience made up of Tamils and rivals Singhalese, who had migrated to Australia and terribly upset by what was happening to their (former) home land. The song was wonderful."

Surprisingly, WEA rewarded the band for their pop chart success and their environmental platitudes - by dropping Goanna from the label. At the time, the Australian branch of Warner Communications was having severe financial drains, and Goanna was caught in the squeeze. "At first, we couldn't figure out why they dropped us," said Shane Howard. "I actually did a trip around the world, looking for other record companies to pick us up. We went to New York, to London, spoke with Richard Branson at Virgin, who was very interested at the time. We were just on the verge of signing a worldwide deal with CBS, and Warners in Australia called us and said they had to have the album."

During Shane's worldwide tour to search for a new record label, he visited Ireland, the home of his ancestors. "I was supposed to see Richard Branson from Virgin in London, and for some reason I turned left at Heathrow Airport and ended up in Ireland. I spent a short time there, and that was another cultural awakening for me. At that point, I wasn't free to explore it too deeply, but I knew I wanted to get back there. The whole experience of traveling through aboriginal Australia and awakening to that cultural reality made me ask the question, okay where do I fit here? In this landscape, in Australia, I'm not aboriginal, I'm not of the land, I'm not of this country - so I came from somewhere else. It made me want to look at where my own people had come from."

Eventually Goanna's second album, Oceania, was released with high hopes. The album was produced by Billy Payne of Little Feat, a band Shane counted as one of his personal inspirations. "Little Feat were one of the bands that were an icon for Goanna," said Shane Howard. "We loved that band, and the whole approach to rhythm and blues and soul music. To me, Little Feat were one of the great American bands, in terms of musicality. What Richie Hayward was doing with the drums, there was absolute perfection of their sound, and the technical excellence, but they had this incredible soul band going on as well."

Warners hoped Oceania would sell as well as Spirit of Place - and although the album eventually achieved gold certification, neither the album, nor its first single "Dangerous Dancing," featuring Marcia Howard on lead vocal, had the same social impact as "Solid Rock." After Goanna released a non-LP single, "Song For Africa," dedicated for famine relief, WEA dropped Goanna from their roster again.

"We had such a successful album, and we toured a lot," recalled Marcia Howard, "and we had a building in St. Kilda called Goanna Manor. And out of Goanna Manor came Uluru, which was Shane's own publishing company, we did our own artwork, and our management was there. And there was a lot of overhead, and the music actually became a business at that point. Oceania was a beautiful album, and I have no regrets that we did it. But it didn't go anywhere. And eventually people started to jump ship, and in the end there was Rose, Shane and I left - answering creditors' calls and trying to hold everything together."

A few years later, Shane Howard learned the reasons why Goanna was dropped - re-signed - and re-dropped from Warners. "As a musician, you've got no idea what's going on in the boardrooms of big companies. The head accounting guy in Warner Bros in Australia was embezzling money. We always threatened to do an audit on the company, and that's when they dropped us, of course. It all became very heavy - I got threatened at that time, if I did an audit on the company, I'd have my legs broken, and it certainly changed my perspective. The whole embezzlement thing, basically we left it alone, and it took me five years, after the demise of Goanna, to work out what had actually happened there. The guy who had been doing the embezzling got found out, and he spent time in jail. But it was a very heavy period for us, and it was the major catalyst in the demise of the band. We found ourselves frozen out by our own record company. In many ways, most bands fall apart because of internal pressures, but for is it was really external factors that pulled us apart. Rose and Marcia and I remained friends, we stayed pretty solid through that whole nightmare."

So Shane hopped a bus back to the one place where he thought he might find inner peace; the Uluru monolith. He had arrived just in time to witness a ceremony in which the Australian government returned the land around Ayers Rock, as well as the monolith itself, to the aboriginals.

"In 1985, Uluru was being handed back to the original owners by the Australian government. This was quite an amazing and symbolic gesture, I felt very much a part of that process because of ‘Solid Rock.' It was important for me to get to that ceremonial handback, which I did. I was pretty much a mess at that time, the band had fallen apart, we had a lot of bills and debts, and I met up with Bart Willoughby."

Aboriginal musician Bart Willoughby's original band, No Fixed Address, was one of the first all-Aboriginal rock bands. "They were a legendary group. No Fixed Address were using didgeridoos on stage and in their songs. From a white perspective, a non-aboriginal perspective, here was middle class Australia confronted with this band going through the mainstream circuit, the likes of which we had never seen before, playing an Australian version of reggae inspired by Bob Marley, and political songs of resistance and struggle. Bart was the Bob Marley of Australian black music. We've been great friends of 20 years."

Willoughby asked Howard if he wanted to tour with Willoughby's new band, Coloured Stone. Howard agreed, and spent the next three months riding a truck throughout the Nullabor desert with Coloured Stone. Once a vocal and prominent member of the pop community, Howard virtually disappeared. "I went bush after the demise of Goanna, I lived a hermit's existence in a very remote part of Australia. But I got as far away from the mainstream and the music industry, as far as I could. If I was driven to anything, it was to write more than to perform. So I wanted to get inside the landscape. In doing that, it then sent me on a bit of a quest to find out who I was and culturally where I fit in the scheme of history. And that eventually drew me back to Ireland, to my own cultural origins."

In 1987, Shane returned to the pop world, this time as a solo artist. His first LP, a self-produced record with his own Big Heart Band called Back To The Track, was a classic collection of Australian music, both white and aboriginal. BMG Records signed Shane as a solo recording artist and released his next album, River, in 1990. He also made pilgrimages to Ireland, talking to people, studying archives, trying to retrace his own origins. Trying to find the reasons why a potato famine drove his great-grandmother from Ireland to Australia. Trying to find the comparisons between his country of citizenry and his country of ancestry.

In 1992, popular Irish singer Mary Black, played a concert tour through Australia, with Shane Howard as her opening act. Black was so enamored with one of Shane's songs, "Flesh and Blood," that upon her return to Ireland, she recorded it as a Top 5 hit. "I didn't know a lot about Mary's work, but I knew of her as a singer, a very beautiful talent, a remarkable purity of tone as a singer. And Mary fell in love with that song, ‘Flesh and Blood,' and went back to Ireland and recorded it. And I didn't really know about this, until one day her manager rang me up out of the blue, and he said ‘Mary had a big hit with your song "Flesh and Blood" over here, it's a Top 5 hit at the moment, and we'd love you to come over and do a tour here.' I said, ‘Yeah, who is this really?' We went to Ireland with a four-piece band, and had a brilliant tour with Mary. When we hopped off the plane at the airport in Dublin, we got in the car, the radio was on, within 2 minutes the song came on the radio, and we thought it was a setup. Every night, we'd hear 5000 people sing along to a song that you'd written. It was quite emotional for me - if my ancestors could see me now. It felt like a very long cycle that had been made whole. It wasn't lost on me how the desperate circumstances of my great-grandmother would have left in, and I thought about that as I stood there in the Point Theater in Dublin listening to 5000 people in the encore all standing and singing and clapping along and singing to a song I had written, a song about family."

One could say "music makes a difference" and that statement might be as hollow as a pipe. But on one of his trips from Ireland back to Australia, Shane Howard was invited by the Tasmanian citizenry to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the rescue of the Franklin River, something that might not have happened had Howard and Goanna not recorded "Let The Franklin Flow." "I guess at a critical time, it lent enormous weight. That remains a great memory. I went back ten years after that, I was invited to a dinner to sing the song, because it remains one of the great environmental victories in Australia, the saving of the Franklin River, and it's still there, still going, still flowing."

Meanwhile, Marcia Howard devoted her time to the Port Fairy Folk Festival. She had attended the first such festival as a teenager, and Goanna performed there in 1987. And as the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, Marcia Howard has opened her home to Port Fairy performers - including visits from her brother and his special guests. "My husband and I had a bed and breakfast there in 1992, after we got married. We did the Festival there, and we'd have a lot of artists staying at our hotel. Shane brought Mary Black down to perform at the Festival, and we'd have pretty wild musical sessions in the house."

In 1996, the three core members of Goanna - Shane Howard, Marcia Howard-Gubbins and Rose Bygrave - began work on a new single, a not-for-profit song dedicated to raising awareness of the "stolen generation" of aboriginals. From the late 19th century until the 1960's, the Australian government removed part-aboriginal children from their mothers and placed them in foster care with white Australian parents. Originally done under the guise of social welfare to solve what was then called the "Aboriginal problem," tens of thousands of children and babies were taken from their parents and taught a white culture, a white lifestyle, taught to forget their own past.

The new Goanna track, "Sorry," was written by Marcia Howard and based on the life story of Margaret Tucker, whose autobiography If Everyone Cared (Grosvenor Melbourne, 1977) told of her kidnaping and enslavement. Along with the Howard siblings and Bygrave on "Sorry," was Liam O'Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers, and an Australian aboriginal musician, Cameron Goold. Goanna performed the song at the Reconciliation concert of the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and later performed it in Australia's capital city of Canberra as part of "National ‘Sorry' Day."

"I had set up a studio at home," said Shane Howard, "and I was recording tracks for my own album, and I was recording tracks for Marcia and for Rose for their solo albums. We were just working on solo projects, and Marcia came down one week and played me this song, told me the story of how she'd seen Margaret Tucker's story on the television. As I sat and listened to it after she'd gone, it struck me that it was a very weighty subject to deal with about the stolen generations of aboriginal children, it was all part of Australia's assimilation project, where the state welfare would take aboriginal children away from their families on the premise that it was better for them to grow up in white families than grow up with their own people. The more we looked into it, the more we realized that it was a very conscious and almost secret attempt to breed the aboriginal people out of Australia. It gets dangerously close to the world of eugenics and ethnic cleansing. Look at what's happening in Kosovo right now. In our time, from 1980 through to 1996, we'd seen things get better in the world, environmentally, consciousness had raised. And in a very abstract way, I see those things as the triumph of the Woodstock generation. We saw things get better - here in Australia, aboriginal people, their rights started to get better and better under the Labour government. Then we had a conservative government come to power, we had the rise of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation concept that had an incredibly racist platform. And it started to gather incredible momentum here, like this backlash against aboriginal people getting native title rights. And we came to the realization that things don't just keep getting better - the rug can be pulled from under your feet at any time. We can fall back, right back where we started, and even beyond that. It's a slippery slide."

In 1998, Goanna released their first album in over a decade, Spirit Returns (Big Heart/ABC 4982122). Included among the album's 14 tracks were songs of love and anger; of home and a loss of home. For this album, Goanna enlisted a legendary Aboriginal poet, Lionel Fogarty, who told stories of love in "Black Woman" and of greeting in "Walkin' Talkin' Singin' Dancin' In The Land / Garri Inda Narmi." "So on this record, rather than have a group of white fellows singing about aboriginal issues, it was aboriginal people speaking about aboriginal issues, like Lionel Fogarty. Lionel's poem, ‘Walkin' Talkin' Singin' Dancin' in the Land,' the spirits are all still there, even though they physically were wiped out - their spirits still walk the landscape. ‘Garri Inda Narmi' is a traditional welcome and farewell song that used to be sung at a festival gathering that happened every two years in southeast Queensland, for thousands of years. The tribes, they all came to that site, would all approach singing that song, and it was a song that was one of the best-known songs that travels through an enormous number of tribal groups throughout the Queensland - New South Wales region."

The first single from that album, "What Else Is A Life," received some moderate airplay, but many fans bought the CD single because of a bonus track - a 1993 live recording of "Solid Rock." "With 'Solid Rock,' after all those years that it's had to distill and ferment, along with that now comes an enormous responsibility. And for me, it just drew me ever deeper into the real Australia and into aboriginal spirituality and aboriginal culture and history. Certainly not single-handedly, there have been great people doing great work for a lot longer than my road to Damascus. Spirit Returns was very much a sense of the act of gathering. Just the very act of gathering makes it ceremonial in a way. We felt there was unfinished business with Goanna, even though we weren't recording as that entity, those connections still remained strong and gathered strength and momentum. So we felt a great need to address the unfinished business, and also to reconnect those songlines together again. Under one umbrella can you bring all those songlines, all those influences, all those people together - and Goanna was the obvious way for all those forces to reconnect again. We felt very strongly about doing it our own way and doing it independently as well. The sheer act of gathering and creating. Which we did. It was built to a recipe, I suppose, and the catalyst was the rise of racism and environmental vandalism in Australia, and we felt that just by Goanna being present suddenly again in the media, it would be a catalyst for ‘Solid Rock' being played again - but it just helped to maybe focus people's attention on ‘Hey hold on, remember when you supported this song?' We felt a sense of responsibility and a sense of making some small contribution to life."

Goanna doesn't tour as much as they did in the old days - a few shows at the Melbourne Folk Festival; some performances at a fundraising benefit; standing ovations in Canberra and Sydney and Port Fairy. There are still the solo projects - Rose and Marcia recently completed solo albums; Shane is working on a musical about the Eureka Stockade uprising. "It took two years to make Spirit Returns," he said, "and it was made with a lot of love and care. It's a gentler record, we're older people, we're not out rockin' and rollin' in pubs, so it's very much a record for people our own age group, too. We didn't want to be as foolish as to try to pursue a youth market or try to get the record in the mainstream. It was a very gentle offering, for people to put on in their lounge rooms and to absorb or take whichever way they wanted to. The writing is more sophisticated in the 80's and it's certainly a more acoustic band. Our roots were folk roots. ‘Solid Rock' gave many people the impression that we were a hard-rockin' band - which we were in our day."

"The 1960's gave us our voice, the hippie culture and demonstrations," said Bygrave. "And things that were happening in America, it translated to here too, the fact that we could demonstrate and we could have a voice. It was the same thing that happened with Dylan and Joni Mitchell and John Lennon, people writing about stuff that hadn't been popular, was too confronting in the past."

And a final sign that change has truly occurred in Australia - at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australian track star Cathy Freeman was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies. The fact that Freeman, an aboriginal Australian, lit the most famous flame in sports was lost on no one - especially on the members of an Australian folk-rock band. "Cathy Freeman personifies all of us actually saying, we support you," said Marcia Howard. "It was moving for all of us. It's fantastic to think that in the 20 years since ‘Solid Rock,' that these things have happened."

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