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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Country Song: A lot about a Little

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Actor Michael Tuahine tells the story of Jimmy Little, the Indigenous musician and actor who rose to prominence as a musician at a time when Aboriginal people didn’t even have the vote. Charting alongside the Beatles and Elvis, this Yorta Yorta man had a voice that reached deep into the heart of his country.

Actor Michael Tuahine tells the story of Jimmy Little, the Indigenous musician and actor who rose to prominence as a musician at a time when Aboriginal people didn’t even have the vote. Charting alongside the Beatles and Elvis, this Yorta Yorta man had a voice that reached deep into the heart of his country.

Directed by Wesley Enoch, the show floats between documentary style ‘truth’ and theatrical storytelling. Tuahine takes the audience on a journey, telling the story of a man he greatly admired and respected.

‘I have always had a passion for country music,’ says Tuahine. ‘I grew up with country – in Brisbane. My father is Maori and my mother’s Aboriginal, so in our house there was always Charlie Pride, and Jonny Cash, or the Eagles playing on the record player!’

Michael believes that the Indigenous affinity with country music is simply explained.

It’s about survival. ‘The thing about country music that I love, in the the western sense or American sense, is that your missus leaves you and your truck breaks down and your dog dies, and the premise of all of that is loss, loss of love, and loss of connection. If there is a group of people who know about losing stuff it’s Indigenous people. I think that is why it has been such a wonderful and unique fit, hence the Jimmy Little, Archie Roach, Kev Carmody, Troy Cassar Daley, Yothu Yindi…’

It was watching The Johnny Cash Story that gave Tuahine the idea for the show about Jimmy Little.

‘I saw Walk the Line, and then I got thinking that surely we have a story like that here in Australia. Jimmy was an obvious choice. Unlike Johnny Cash, Jimmy Little didn’t run drugs down Mexico, or play San Quentin but he was, and still is, a hero figure. He really started it all for Indigenous Australians. He was the one who really cemented that position in the music industry. When people see the show they get it. Here was a man born into the depths of poverty in 1937 to an oyster-shucking family; his mum and dad were travelling vaudevillians. With all of that and all of the political stuff that was happening to Aboriginal people, he made it to the top of the Australian charts. He was sitting up there with the Beatles and Elvis. In 1963 he was a triple-gold-selling Australian recording artist; he had a million-dollar record in 1963 and he wasn’t even an Australian citizen at that time.’

The show is a powerful reminder of the legacy of colonisation and how hard it was for Indigenous folk in their own country.

‘I think people need to know about this stuff. I love country music, and I love guitar, but what I love most is telling the story of the amazing things Jimmy achieved at a time when it should have been impossible.’

Michael Tuahine was lucky enough to count Little as a friend. He first started preparing the show five years ago and Jimmy, says Tuahine, was ‘thrilled’.

‘It was like a blessing from an elder.

‘We started the conversation and then Jimmy died. Out of respect I stepped away from the project to let it settle for a good 18 months. It’s cultural respect. People may say it’s taken a long time to get this show to the stage, but I don’t think there is any need to rush someone’s story.’

Country Song is the fictionalised story inspired by the life of Jimmy Little, performed and conceived by Michael Tuahine. Catch this extraordinary show, presented by NORPA at Lismore City Hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Bookings 1300 066 772Shows at 7.30pm with an extra matinee at 1.30pm scheduled for the Saturday.


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