Country music giant Troy Cassar-Daley’s own stellar career has never been hampered by racism, but he sees it in the world around him.
The son of an Indigenous mother and a Maltese father, Cassar-Daley spent his childhood with one foot in each culture, dividing his time between his mother’s extended family in Grafton, in northern NSW, and his father’s in Sydney.
His autobiography about his early years, Things I Carry Around, will be published next week.
Cassar-Daley has always embraced his Indigenous heritage, so he can’t understand some of the things he sees or reads about, such as the Port Adelaide fan who threw a banana at Indigenous AFL star Eddie Betts.
“I simply can’t believe a sound-minded young woman would ever think to do that,” he says. “I saw her father on the news last night crying saying sorry on behalf of her. That’s not a sorry as far as I’m concerned and if she’s gone to ground, I don’t know what would possess a young kid to do that.
“I was surprised enough at the cartoon that was put in one of the papers recently with the Aboriginal father saying he didn’t know his kid’s name. That was so hurtful.
“I still can’t get over how Adam Goodes was basically booed into retirement. I feel it’s something that needs addressing and it’s something that is still in the Australian psyche.
“It proved to me that racism is still alive. I like the way the AFL dealt with it, even though I don’t follow the AFL. I like their stance. They get in and they stamp on it.
“It’s a continual battle, but we’re in it for the long haul here. We’re not going to be giving up.”
Cassar-Daley, 47, is one of Australia’s most popular country music stars. He’s toured with Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash and he’s won 32 of Country Music Australia’s coveted Golden Guitar Awards.
But as a child he admits he was never going to be voted the most likely to succeed. What put him on the path to success, he says, was the “hard work ethic” of his parents’ families, the voice he inherited from his father, and the people who helped him along the way.
His book is a tribute to them.
“This is not some shiny experience of my rise to fame or something,” he says. “It’s actually an acknowledgement of my family, for starters. They played a big, big role in my life. Being able to be raised by uncles and aunties as much as I was, by Mum and seeing Dad in the holidays, and with my grandparents having been such a big influence on my life, I hope young kids get to read this book.
“I know it’s not the best role model thing as to the sort of kid that I was. And I wasn’t the clean-cut, little shiny boy that everybody probably thinks I was, but I do believe you’ve got to acknowledge your family for what they give you at those early ages because that is what molds you into the adult that you become.”
Cassar-Daley was born on May 18, 1969, at Sydney’s Crown Street Hospital, the only child of Irene and Tony Cassar. He was 18-months old when his parents’ marriage broke up and he went to live with his mother and her family, the Daleys, in Grafton.
His Nan and Pop Daley owned a house on the outskirts of town and Pop Daley worked for the railways. Troy’s mother also joined the railways as a cook,
In his book, Cassar-Daley remembers his grandfather coming home with bush tucker like echidnas, rabbits and wallabies.
School holidays were spent with his father in Sydney.
“Both hardworking,” Cassar-Daley says of the families now. “To live between the two cultures was interesting for me. I’d go down to Sydney as a little Indigenous kid and run around the streets with no shoes on and stuff, but I didn’t realise you couldn’t do that in Sydney because there is broken glass and things like that — and we were in Surry Hills.
“I felt like I had a bridle on at times when I went to Dad’s but the best part of that, too, was he was able to let me go too. He’d say, ‘Ok, well just take it easy. Be careful on your bike when you’re riding around the block. Watch out for cars’. He’d say, ‘There aren’t as many cars in Grafton where you normally ride your bike’. It was really great to get those life lessons from Dad, but gee, all the lessons I got from my uncles and aunties and they were just as willing to give me a smack on the bum if I was naughty too.
“We got smacks like other kids. If you were playing up at your aunty’s house you got a wallop on the bum. You soon learn right from wrong then.”
Cassar-Daley says his father was a good singer and could play the guitar.
“He was a basic guitar player, but it made a great noise from memory,” he says. “Then on Mum’s side all the cousins did guitar lessons and we also listened to a lot of vinyl music as well. One of the best groundings a young musician can have is having a really good music library.
“I had uncles and aunties who were old enough to be my older brothers and sisters really. That was great having that around because they gave me what was the pop music of the day as well. If a new Eagles song would come out, they’d introduce me to that. All the cousins who were only a few years older than me would introduce me to Cold Chisel back in the late 70s and early 80s that I wouldn’t listen to . . . . because I was too busy listening to Slim Dusty and Merle Haggard.
“My mother was the country fan and because I spent the bulk of my time with Mum, that was the biggest influence on my life.
“Hearing Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard and Slim Dusty and George Jones, they really were a part of my fabric even before I realised I had a fabric.”
Cassar-Daley initially trained to be a cook like his mother and worked at it for two years. He says he still likes to get in the kitchen at home and make his own tomato sauce and whip up dishes such as his specialty, baked macaroni.
But at some stage, he says, “I realised that maybe I wasn’t going to be a cook and maybe the passion for music was too strong.”
He was 26 when his debut album Beyond the Dancing won the 1995 ARIA Award for Best Country Album. Since then there have been another eight albums and numerous awards, including the 2008 Country Music Association of America Country Music Global Artist Award.
A new album, Things I Carry Around, coincides with the release of his autobiography.
Cassar-Daley says his Indigenous heritage has never held back his career.
“There were a couple of instances where someone said something within ear shot but that got shut down pretty good,” he says. “But I never felt it to be a big hurdle. All I knew was my background was my background.
“My first single was called Dream Out Loud, that was about equality and bringing black and white together. That was how it was going to be. I wasn’t going to run and hide. I think people got to know who I was and what I stood for very early in the piece. I like the fact it set the tone for who I am, I guess.
“I just figured I had to work as hard as everyone around me who were having a go, whether it was in a talent quest or going out to Tamworth busking on the streets. I was prepared to do what I had to do.
“But there were a lot of other jobs that had to be done in the meantime to pay the bills. I was happy just to work and I thank my parents for that. They taught me that nothing comes for nothing.”
At his 1996 wedding to wife Laurel, a radio presenter with whom he now has two teenage children, Cassar-Daley says his wife’s father gave an unforgettable speech. His father-in-law told the gathering: “One of the things I’ve learnt while playing Rugby League is that it’s not the colour of the jersey that counts, but the character of the person who wears it”.
Cassar-Daley says: “I think that’s a wonderful analogy to use when you are looking at people for creeds and colours and religions, everything. I”
- Things I Carry Around is published by Hachette Australia, RRP $32.99; e-book $17.99.
You can catch Troy on his book tour at some of the following destinations, check ticketing details with the venue. Riverbend Books in Queensland, August 26; Gympie Muster, August 28; True South in Victoria, September 1; Rooty Hill RSL, NSW, September 2; Brisbane Writers Festival, September 7; Slim Dusty Centre Kempsey, NSW, September 8; and Coutts Crossing Coronation Hall, NSW, September 9.