The Chess Set Vol 1- The Age Of Dissent "Do not go gentle into that good night Old age should burn and rave at close of day Rage, rage against the dying of the light" Dylan Thomas
This album began as many new realisations do with a degree of heartbreak and despair.
After 15 years and six albums of writing, what were effectively, love songs to my nation; by the beginning of 2002 I had to face the stark reality of what we as Australians, as a nation; as a people had actually become.
The last song on 'ThroughThe Cracks'; 'The Spirit of The Southern Shore'; was nothing short of a 'manifesto;' a call to hope; a statement of all that Australians had told me that they aspired to and hoped to emulate. And I guess I wanted to believe them.
In my heart of hearts I clung to the assumption that we were a generation of Australians blest by history and circumstance, a generation who looked in bewilderment at the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the world by British colonialism; at the Stolen Generation, the bombing of Hiroshima; the death camps in Dachau and the destruction of the global environment; a generation that swore that it would never ever happen on our watch. We assumed that it couldn't... because we believed that we were somehow different to all those who had been responsible for these evils.
Weren't we, after all, the generation who had, in our youth at the beginning of the 1970's, stood up to the imperial powers of the western world and dragged them shamed and beaten out of South East Asia. We founded the anti-war movement; established and supported Amnesty International; placed big business under scrutiny; put Human rights on the global agenda and placed posters of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights on our bedroom walls. We sought to redress the injustices of sexism and racism and dreamed of a better world for all our children.
Some of us, like the White Knight on Volume 2, held onto that illusion longer than others. The True Believers; The Last Diggers. Telling ourselves that nothing had changed; that we were still all good decent folk. But it's one thing to stand and sing the national anthem with our hands on our hearts and quite another to be in any way deserving of it's aspirations.
"For those who come across the sea we've boundless plains to share."
Perhaps for Australian Baby Boomers, the moment that truly defined us was the 2001 Federal election. It was during those brief weeks between the interception of the Tampa and the re-election of the Howard Government that Australians of my generation most spectacularly, and en masse, chose utilitarian pragmatism over principle.
It was in those weeks that they chose nationally to comprehensively violate the most basic principles of Freedom and Justice; principles that they had claimed all their lives to hold most dear.
At the behest of the Howard Government they consigned thousands of people, including children to indefinite imprisonment and in their mass acceptance of the abrogation of Habeas Corpus; of the ratification of detention without charge or trial for 'non Australians' they set the stage for all that was to rapidly follow.
That they did so out of fear for their own prosperity, peace and security; that they were led into it by a cynical and populist government so desperate to regain the 'Hansonist' vote that it appealed to and fostered the very worst in our insular and racist national psyche drew disturbing parallels to the Germany of 1938. It was the triumph of that part of our psyche which found it's resonance more in the populist lynchings of Chinese diggers at Lambing Flat than in the proud uprisings of The Eureka Stockade.
As a consequence of our acceptance of these violations of Freedom for others, Australians were soon to face significant erosions of their own liberties, violations that twenty years earlier would have been unthinkable.
Many of the pieces were already in place. It began with the issuing of a tax file number and then of a photo driver's license.
Although Australians had emphatically refused to be given The Australia Card some years previously, after September 11, 2001, the RTA and their equivalent departments in each state began, without our permission, to store our images in mass citizen identification databases.
Australians must now apply to have them removed. And it is difficult, because people without these licenses are still required to have category one Identification such as an RTA photo ID for a range of private activities including banking.
This system of citizen tracking received spectacular gains from a generation of young Australians who now regularly line up like lemmings at the RTA to be photographed in order to gain a card which grants them entry to licensed premises. What they don't realise is that they are getting into a lot more than just the pub.
Recently we have also mindlessly submitted to the ASIO Bill which allows our secret police to arrest Australian citizens and hold them for up to seven days without charge and without notifying anyone that they have done so. The maximum length of their interrogation sessions has recently been extended and had not the Senate intervened their would have been no guarantee of an Independent observer.
In search of the Weapons of Mass Deception we backed an illegal war based on incompetent, biased and possibly even dishonest, intelligence assessments, a war which has killed an appalling number of innocent civilians.
At a time when even The British Government refused to countenance it, our government rolled over for the US administration by refusing to protest the holding of Australian Citizens in Guantanamo Bay for periods of several years without access to a lawyer or any visitors.
These people are to be held and tried outside the rules of The Geneva Convention or The US Justice system. They live in a legal limbo; as a category of human beings invented by the fascist fantasies of the Bush Administration and recognised by no country on earth. 'Unlawful combatants' is the term manufactured for them.
It is unnervingly the same as the one John Howard and The Liberal Party developed for the Refugees.... 'unlawful immigrants'. 'Unlawful', despite the fact that they are held without access to Law or to even the basic standards of Child protection that Australians expect for their own children.
We turn our back on these people because they are not like us. We allow their rights and freedoms to be violated because we are suspicious and frightened of them. In doing so, however, we open the floodgates of totalitarianism within our own governments and it is inevitable that within a very short time these precedents will be used against us also.
Martin Niemoller once said when he asked why he didn't oppose the Nazi's earlier in his career.
"First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Finally, they came for me and there was no one left to speak out."
And so with this album, I speak. I don't expect it to make me well liked. It hasn't. I have already experienced staged walkouts and quite hostile comment as a result of some of these songs at The Tamworth and Gympie Country Music Festivals.
This album, however, should remind us that there was a time when musicians and poets dented the powers of suppression and tyranny with words, with ideas and with dissent. It is very, very humbly dedicated to the Chilean Poet, Victor Jara slaughtered in an act of state sanctioned terrorism perpetrated by the US ironically enough, on September 11th, 1973; and to those heroes like Victor who, down the centuries have paid the ultimate price for speaking the truth in dangerous times.
Pat Drummond 2004
P.S. Since I know already what he's likely to say, I should point out that the problem with our White Knight on Volume 2 is that his ongoing search for the national soul is actually becoming rather tedious. Such indulgences are really a form of spiritual selfishness. Like so many of his ilk he's more concerned with his own salvation and inner peace than achieving anything truly transformative for the world at large.
The peculiar form of ethical navel gazing that he's pursued so earnestly on the last five albums fails to engage directly in the political processes that shape the real world. And by doing so, it simply leaves others to languish in conditions often so violently oppressive that the luxury of self-exploration that he seems to believe is available to all, is often totally crushed under the weight of their daily struggle to survive
If he ever came down from those National Parks and Mountains he's so fond of disappearing into to 'find God' he might find a real world in need of some very real assistance
He might mow the lawns, learn a little carpentry, join a activist group or teach school. Hell, he might even run for the local council or the CMAA.
Anything where he might have to deal with other people instead of just singing about them. Knowing him as well as I do, however, I suspect that he'd find it all too difficult. He's not a contemplative, he's just lazy. It must be plain to everyone else by now, that, as a child, what he really wanted to be was some kind of preacher. Unfortunately for the rest of us he grew up to be a songwriter and he's been taking it out on the world ever since.
Chess Set Homepage / The Age Of Dissent / The Descent Of Age