In the 1980s, the Warumpi Band had an enduring hit with ‘Blackfella, Whitefella’. It’s been covered by a new generation of indigenous musicians, but it’s a lot more than just a catchy song.
Indigenous bands of that tumultuous era had whitefellers as musicians, record producers, tour crew and managers. They were the cultural go-betweens as black bands made records for the new Indigenous Media Associations when Land Rights was struggling towards Mabo and Native Title.
My novel, Dry Crossing, is about those hard years seen through the eyes of one of the whitefellers, a bloke named Dizzy Roundabout who has been touring with The Little Trees for the past ten years, busting his guts on both sides of the colour bar.
Dizzy wants to get off the train wreck, but loyalty to the band keeps him on board for one more tour – one more chance at a cross-over hit, which means not singing about Land Rights or Love, subjects which he knows will be rejected by the mainstream culture.
Mid-tour, with an indigenous girlfriend at a roadhouse in the Northern Territory, trying to resolve the daily disasters of blown-out gigs, clutch plates and ego’s, Dizzy jumps, but the bird has flown: no band, no girlfriend and no direction home.
He’s stranded on both sides of the colour bar, having produced records, got a distribution deal and with inside running, taken the band to the heights, but he’s down among the main street alcoholics, waiting for the bottle shop to open, when an elderly missionary offers him the chance to play gospel in the town camps of Tennant Creek.
Dry Crossing is a cross-cultural gothic romance, which looks back on a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Respected Indigenous academic, Professor Marcia Langton writes, “Crazy band members, publicans, missionaries, police, Aboriginal sorcerers, master painters of the Dreaming, and girlfriends at roadhouses may seem like the cast of a magical-realist Australian adventure, but Guy remembers astutely the real men and women of that very recent time who inspired him to write this glorious novel that grapples with the strange brand of English spoken by Aboriginal people in the outback, their lexicon from ancient languages that has crept into outback English, and the war of ideas that make claims of people’s souls.”
In a wry twist, the Outback City Express called it “a fascinating tale of an indigenous person grappling with the tensions between a birth culture and an acquired Western culture. It gives us glimpses into indigenous culture and the values that are meaningful in Aboriginal life.”
Dry Crossing charts an inner landscape of aboriginality and spirituality in contemporary Australia. Commenting on this aspect of the novel, the Alice Online notes that it has “unfashionable themes that may become fashionable again as society reevaluates its shallow infatuation with atheism and recognizes the inexplicable gift of grace and the need for meaning and redemption in our individual lives.
The book’s main character, Dizzy Roundabout, is a burnt-out refugee from an Aboriginal rock ‘n’ roll band and as the protagonist’s name might suggest, there is a subtle overlay of allegory to this modern morality tale.”
It’s been described as a good read for blackfellas and whitefellas and as Joe Geia sings in ‘Uncle Willie’, these are the days of our lives.
Dry Crossing, a novel by Russell Guy, is published by Boolarong Press, Q. and available at bookshops for $24.95.