Neil’s odyssey rolls on
NEIL'S coming to Lismore to play the Bowlo on Friday, April 19.
He's promoting Sing The Song, a double retrospective album of selected releases from his prodigious musical output.
Neil etched his name into Australia's cultural history when he set out for remote Papunya in the Northern Territory in 1980 to work as a relief teacher with the Pintupi people. An encounter with guitarist Sammy Butcher saw the creation of the Warumpi Band.
That band became a vital indigenous mouthpiece, producing three albums over 20 years, with the song
Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail) inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive in 2007.
Neil's ballad, My Island Home, became an alternative national anthem, was APRA's 1995 Song of the Year and was sung by Christine Anu at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympics. In 1993, Neil's autobiographic novel, Sing for Me Countryman, was hailed as an Australian classic.
Following his desert adventures, he embarked on a solo career, releasing nine albums that sought understanding of the fractured Australian identity and an artistic reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples.
Prompted by Sammy Butcher, Neil had returned to his own homeland, Lake Bolac in Victoria - Tjapwurrung country. He bought a small block near the farm he was raised on and lives there now in a small solar-powered shack.
"Since I came back to this area, I've started to develop relationships with Aboriginal people, particularly (venerated land rights activist) the late Uncle Banjo Clarke and his family," he said.
"He gave me a lot of guidance because he recognised the anguish in me about what happened to indigenous people - because south-eastern Australia took the brunt of the brutal dispossession in the 1800s and consequently a lot of traditional culture has been completely obliterated."
Neil researched the almost-vanished Tjapwurrung language to find raw material.
"There's a lot of guesswork involved, but I've been consulting linguists and I've managed to come up with a couple of songs, one of which I recorded for the next album," he said.
"I sing it in my best estimate of what Tjapwurrung was, about the life cycle of the lake here. Before settlement, up to 1000 people would gather to harvest the eels when the lake was overflowing."
He has helped start a festival based on that historical precedent, and conducts healing walks across old songlines. Meanwhile, Neil continues his own cycle of writing, recording and touring.
"I've always got the ears on, but you're always looking for something with a bit more edge that breaks a bit of ground," he said.
While touring an album of older works, he's confident that new ideas will inevitably emerge, if they're treated with the respect they deserve.
Neil Murray plays the Lismore Bowlo on Friday, April 19, supported by Mick Daley and Blakboi from 7.30pm. Tickets are $25 at the door or on eventfinder.com.au/2013 /neil-murray-warumpi -band/lismore.