It’s lunchtime and Allara Briggs Pattison is running slightly late. In fact, the Yorta Yorta musician has a surprisingly packed lockdown schedule: remote gigs in the morning, interviews during the day, YouTube Live events after dark. Not to mention her new single, the bass-driven spoken-word slam, Murnong Farm, which dropped earlier this week.
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“Life still goes on, even at home,” laughs Allara, who’s also a Bank Australia customer. “I was kind of hoping that the pandemic would bring a bit of down time, which it did at the start, but we all need music in our lives, right? We can’t not have it.”
We’re chatting down the phone on the first day of National Reconciliation Week. This year’s theme, rather appropriately for 2020, is ‘In This Together’, although Allara’s quick to point out the sad irony behind those words. “I think it’s a bit annoying in some ways. It’s a great time to reflect, but as our mob often says ‘Working towards reconciliation needs to be happening every week, not just ‘Rec Week’. Reconciliation can sometimes feel tokenistic without genuine relationship building over time, especially considering we’re working for social justice every day of the year.”
For Allara, that work involves writing, performing, composing, making films, sharing her culture and fighting for climate justice – particularly for young people, and particularly for First Nations young people.
After finishing her Bachelor of Music Performance in 2016, the Preston local started touring with iconic Stolen Generations songwriter, Archie Roach (“Uncle Archie”), performing at the Sydney Opera House when she was just 22 years old.
Now she’s one of Australia’s hottest emerging talents – a combination of energy and politics and musical experimentation; spoken word poetry meets neo-soul meets folksy pop…with a big double bass.
“I started playing double bass because I played electric bass,” she says, “and my teacher thought I should try and learn the double. So I did. Not realising how big or annoying or heavy it can be, or how you need a specific car to drive it around, or how they’re really expensive. I didn’t realise any of that. I just thought it was cool.”
The double bass thrums beneath Allara’s new single, Murnong Farm. The track was commissioned for Arts House North Melbourne’s annual Refuge program: a series of workshops and events that brings together an unlikely mob of climate advocates. Artists, scientists, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, emergency service professionals, local residents – and musicians like Allara.
“Murnong Farm, when I sing it live it’s just the bass part,” Allara says, “bum-bum-bim-bim-bun bun-bun-bun, and I do a nifty trick with the loop station, where I loop the first eight bars, so the words start coming over the top of each other.”
Truth, lesson, archives, answers, agriculture, culture, black traditions
Ecosystems, regeneration, conservation
Love, ash, dirt, aunties, mothers, grannies, children
Allara’s family, the Briggs mob, is from Yorta Yorta country, a swathe of green farmland that spreads over northern Victoria and southern New South Wales, straddling the banks of the Murray River from Cohuna all the way to Albury. Her grandfather’s generation were displaced from their home at Cummergunuja Mission during the Walk Off in 1939, moving from the strict enforcement rules of NSW to the comparative freedom of Victoria, then eventually to the fruit-growing towns of Mooroopna and Shepparton. Allara’s mother headed further south to Bendigo, and Allara travelled all the way to Melbourne, laying roots in the northern suburbs, embedding herself in the local music scene.
Murnong Farm explores those ideas of displacement, movement, land ownership, and the growing importance of Indigenous agricultural systems.
“I already had a veggie garden, and I became interested in harvesting methods, you know, researching traditional foods that I could grow. It’ll never satisfy my desire to walk on my own land, the way my Ancestors did, but by writing this track I found peace. Practicing food sovereignty in my own backyard. I think Indigenous knowledge systems are the key to the current climate crisis.”
Allara says Reconciliation Week shouldn’t be about guilt ¬– more collective grieving and moving forward. The artist’s job isn’t necessarily to make the audience feel bad. It’s simply to make them feel.
“There’s no way a non-Indigenous person can truly understand the depth of what our mob has been through,” she says. “We carry the trauma in our genes, in our personality, in our culture. But this week means we can come together and talk about that. It’s not a place for guilt, but rather love and respect for the first people of this land, and to feel the loss we’ve had. Because it’s not just First Nations’ history that’s been denied – it’s their true history, too.”
Photo supplied by Allara Briggs Pattison. Photographer - Michelle Grace Hunder
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