With four ARIAs, 36 Golden Guitar awards and 31 number one hits, it’s difficult to think country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley could leave a bigger legacy than his music.
But the man himself, who turns 50 next year, thinks it may be possible.
On Friday, Cassar-Daley releases a milestone double ‘Greatest Hits’ album to celebrate his three decades in the music industry. He is also preparing for another national tour accompanied by his daughter Jem.
But there are other things also weighing on his mind.
Cassar-Daley, the son of an Aboriginal mother and Maltese father, says it’s time for Australia to tell the truth about its past and the treatment of Indigenous peoples — and he wants to be a part of it.
“I really would like to see education at the forefront, what everyone is actually being taught at school,” he says. “Because that can really open up kids’ minds for when they get into adulthood.”
“I want the truth to be told. I almost want to get a t-shirt with the massacre sites of Australia and say, ‘It happened, we have to talk about this stuff’. That’s what I feel.”
“I think the truth is the most important thing. Recognition is one thing, but I don’t think it is going to heal wounds that are sitting there from people who don’t understand what actually went on.”
“History needs to not be a mystery right now. It’s a coined old phrase but I really would like to make it so that people know what our true history is.”
“There have been stories about the Rabbit Proof Fence in The New York Times when we lost the last lady from that particular event. There was more of a fuss made of it in The New York Times than there was here at home.”
“I read that while I was in France. I thought, here we go. Here’s our history being shared with the rest of the world but not with us. Our Indigenous and non-Indigenous people all need to learn it together. We’re on the same road. We’ve just got to walk in the middle of it together.”
It’s a subject Cassar-Daley, a father of two, is passionate about. The man, who has toured with Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash, is even putting up his hand to help, if there is an opportunity.
“I’d love to get into some stuff with schools to help kids get the right education on what has gone down in Australia,” he says.
“It fascinates me a lot that people don’t know. That you can talk to people in general about stuff and they really are not aware.”
“I don’t know if it means writing some sort of a really basic kids’ book, but keeping it so they are not traumatised too much … something that spells it out properly, but will tell the truth and stop sugar-coating stuff.”
“I would love to be a part of something like that. If I had to get with someone like (creative director) Rhoda Roberts or (filmmaker) Rachel Perkins, I’d love to be a participant in that.”
“It’s something that really drags me in. It could be a musical thing too.”
Cassar-Daley says in Queensland, where he lives, children from one of the schools sing his 2015 song Freedom Ride every NAIDOC Week. The song is a tribute to the late activist Charlie Perkins who led the 1965 Freedom Ride through New South Wales to draw attention to racism.
“Before the song, they didn’t know anything about Charlie Perkins, and that is okay,” Cassar-Daley says.
“You’ve been a tiny, tiny part of someone’s education. The power of song. I think they understand then, this stuff went on. There was segregation in regional towns.”
“This friend apologised to me the other day. He remembers playing a gig in Moree where there was a black side of the room and a white side of the room at a gig — in 1982. That’s not a long time ago. That scared me a bit.”
“A lot of those people out there probably still carry a lot of this angst. This is on both sides. But I think education is the key. If I can get in and help in any way, I might leave a better legacy than even music.”
Cassar-Daley has stayed true to his roots and his Indigenous heritage throughout his musical career.
Songs such as Freedom Ride, Shadows on the Hill and Dream Out Loud sit alongside his other 39 hits on the Greatest Hits album.
Dream Out Loud is about his childhood dream of equality and was his first single with Sony Music in 1995. He wrote this year’s Shadows on the Hill after a gathering with uncles and cousins on traditional Gumbaynggirr country where they talked about a massacre up the river.
The double album also features a new song — Wouldn’t Change a Thing — about his life so far and his childhood growing up between two parents who were separated. His mother lived in Grafton in New South Wales and his father in Sydney.
“It was a song where I wanted to put a tune together that really did talk about how my life started,” Cassar-Daley says.
“It was very hard to get through those stages quickly in your song writing, but I wanted to paint a picture of the two places I did spend my time as a child.”
“I always thought I had a bit of a broken childhood, but now I look back and see there was a lot of love at each place. I was very fortunate to have that.”
“The reflection of Wouldn’t Change a Thing, there were times when I remember rejoicing at something that happened in my career, or personal life, or something like that, but then there were times when you were so down you thought, ‘Ah I should just chuck this away’.”
“Those things are the character building things you’ve got to have in your life to get you to where you are going, to give you the tools. So, I thought even the bad times, I wouldn’t change them either. I’d still want to go through them. They’re the ones that make you who you are.”
As for the future, Cassar-Daley is looking forward to a Greatest Hits tour of Australia in the new year and to song writing along the way for his next album. His 17-year-old daughter Jem, a singer and pianist, will open the shows for him each night. She has taken a gap year from her studies and Cassar-Daley says he is excited about showing her the different corners of Australia.
“I think it will be a wonderful bonding time for us,” he says. “I’ve missed out on certain times with my kids on the way around with the touring and that, but we’ve always been close, our kids, and I wanted to give her a chance to come away and see a bit of Australia and see the honour that it is that I get to do this for a job.”
“I’m never going to paint a picture for her and say, ‘This is a walk in the park’. It’s as far from that as you could possibly get. It’s been a lot of hard work. I do want to show her where I get the privilege of going to.”
As for turning 50 in May, Cassar-Daley says it’s no big deal.
“It’s a pretty big year in most people’s lives, but I don’t think it’s going to be any different to 49 or 51 or that I’m going to go through some mid-life crisis,” he says. “But I think you may be a bit more reflective once you get to this age.”
“My Mum was 20 when she had me and I’ve just had some time with her. She always turned that really even number with me. Whenever I turned a 20 or a 30 or a 40. Next year she’ll be 70.”
“I think it’s one of those things you look back on and you think to yourself, ‘Yeah look, it’s been quite a bit of a musical adventure, it’s had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a single thing about it’.”
TROY CASSAR-DALEY’S GREATEST HITS ALBUM IS OUT ON FRIDAY. DETAILS OF HIS 2019 TOUR WILL ALSO BE ANNOUNCED THEN.
By Wendy Caccetta