In this clip we hear the landmark Aboriginal protest song 'We Have Survived’, as performed by No Fixed Address on the soundtrack of 'Wrong Side of the Road' (1981).
Summary by Brenda Gifford
The reggae style of this song, inspired by Bob Marley, was different from other Aboriginal bands of the time, who played mainly country music.
The lyrics are key to 'We Have Survived’. Written by Bart Willoughby, they capture the frustrations of the black community:
We have survived the white man’s world
And the hurt and the torment of it all
We have survived the white man’s world
And you know you can’t change that.
This hard-hitting reggae version of Bart Willoughby’s song ‘We Have Survived’ is performed by No Fixed Address. It has become an unofficial anthem for many Indigenous Australians.
No Fixed Address formed in 1978 and broke up in 1988. The band left an important musical legacy and their song ‘We Have Survived’ represents Aboriginal people’s frustrations with mainstream society. No Fixed Address was one of the original Aboriginal bands to write songs about the Australian black experience and politics of their era. Politically, this includes the Australian 1967 referendum whereby Indigenous Australians were finally included in the census, while the black American political movement of the 1960s, in particular the Black Panthers and their leader Malcolm X, made a strong impact on the Aboriginal community. Asked why he wrote 'We Have Survived’, Bart Willoughby replied, ‘as a cause for surviving, to make sure that we did survive’. The song, in the vein of the Bob Marley and the Wailers song ‘Get Up Stand Up’ (1973), appeared initially on the soundtrack album for the award-winning film 'Wrong Side of the Road' (1981).
Aboriginal people have practised their culture for thousands of years through song, dance and art, and contemporary Aboriginal bands use music as a vehicle for cultural revival and survival. From the early recordings of Fanny Cochrane Smith’s Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs (1903) through to present-day Indigenous artists like the Black Arm Band, music has been used as a means for cultural maintenance and a medium to transmit culture. No Fixed Address appeared at a time when the mainstream Australian music industry did not have a market for black Aboriginal bands. They sang their own songs about their own experiences and expressed their own voice and culture through music. They were one of the first Aboriginal reggae-rock bands – up till then a lot of Indigenous music was country and western – and their music gave a new voice to a whole generation.
The band members came from Koonibba mission, Ceduna, in the far-western coastal regions at the beginning of the Nullarbor Plain, South Australia. The band members were: Bart Willoughby, lead singer and drummer; Ricky Harrison, rhythm guitarist and songwriter; Leslie Lovegrove Freeman (also known as Les Graham or Les Lovegrove), lead guitarist; and John Miller, bass player. In Aboriginal society, relationships are based on family kinship and this is the case with No Fixed Address: all members were related through family ties, and their music represented a modern version of a songline.
Some members of the band studied music at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music at the University of Adelaide. Aunt Leila Rankine, an Aboriginal Elder from South Australia, headed the Centre. Veronica Rankine (Leila’s daughter) played tenor saxophone with No Fixed Address. She was one of the first Aboriginal women to play saxophone with a reggae-rock band. CASM was important because it helped produce the next generation (at the time) of Aboriginal musicians and bands including: Kuckles (Jimmy Chi, Bran Nue Dae),Steve Pigrim from Broome-based Saltwater band, Scrap Metal and Us Mob whose Pedro Butler wrote the insightful song 'Genocide’. Other bands that went through CASM included Hard Times, Rough Edge, Malandarri and Coloured Stone.
In 1979, No Fixed Address played its first large concert at the National Aboriginal Day held at Taperoo, South Australia. Over the years they have played at numerous concerts for Aboriginal causes. In 1982, the band toured Australia in support of international reggae star Peter Tosh. After the success of the Peter Tosh tour, the band became the first Aboriginal band to travel overseas, becoming cultural ambassadors for their people while touring Great Britain, playing at nine cities including London, Bristol, Leeds, Plymouth and Manchester. They played at ‘The Elephant Fayre’ rock festival and appeared at a concert for striking miners.
No Fixed Address broke up in 1988. In 2009 the band reformed and played a series of concerts as part of a 20-year reunion tour. Former band members John Miller and Bart Willoughby are still playing music. Bart is now a legend of Aboriginal music, having had an extensive career in the music industry. Highlights include receiving the 1993 inaugural Indigenous ARIA Australian Music Lifetime Achievement Award for his Outstanding Contribution to Indigenous Music in Australia and his work with the bands Mixed Relations and the highly acclaimed Black Arm Band.
Notes by Brenda Gifford