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This Musical World: How to protest, or not

Why wear hi-vis at an illegal protest march? It would seem to defeat the purpose.

It’s been a time, of sorts, in my home state of Victoria, a week of riots, rising COVID numbers and just a small earthquake to ensure we all remain on high alert and never question our fallibility. The body and mind become weary of high alert when it has been the default setting for eighteen months. But it’s how people respond to their situation that reveals societal chasms.

This was also the week of a Fridays for Future world-wide climate protest, the first since the beginning of the pandemic. In Berlin alone, Greta Thunberg addressed a crowd of more than 100,000, with the only attendees armed and dressed in black, the camera-equipped media force.

Here in Australia, where climate protest marches are normally amongst the largest in the world, there was silence. People are in lockdown in its two most populated states. Small groups of activists in non-locked-down Tasmania and Queensland, protest daily to protect native title, natural forests, and clean waterways, because they can, and need to. The mass of climate activists, as with those in other countries, act on behalf of the wellbeing of the entire planet. To undermine health efforts keeping people safe is antithetical to this ideology.


Musicians and others in the arts are of a similar ilk. In many ways, they too, act on behalf of all. This is despite being one of the industries most negatively impacted by COVID, with little remittance coming their way, as so many already live frugal existences. For those musicians usually able to top up their income with teaching and lecturing appointments, these opportunities too, have suffered with the inability to run lessons in person, unable to connect in real time, to make music with others. In utter frustration at the selfishness of rioters on the streets of Melbourne, the head of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis said:

Our Arts industry in Victoria has been decimated & shut down for basically 18 months with almost no support. What has that community done during this time? Many have done fundraisers to support charities and use their voice to help other communities in need.

Musicians have also banded together to contribute powerful messages to people, perhaps appealing to those who might otherwise question the necessity for vaccination, for example. And their actions are certainly in the music industry’s interests. Vaccinated people can re-fill concert halls. What greater incentive? It is no surprise then, that VaxTheNation has been established by Live Industry Venues and the Entertainment Alliance. Their messages are strong. Drawing on the greatly known and loved Powderfinger song My Happiness, a video is from the perspective of performers soaking up the intoxicating atmosphere of joy at festivals and concerts, which, once the musical meme has hit, is interrupted by snippets of static leading to news broadcasts about the pandemic. It ends just as the chorus kicks in, depriving the listener of its musical dopamine hit, and the word ‘happiness’. It is a minute of smarts, much more powerful than a bunch of protesters singing The Horses on the Westgate Bridge as they interrupt and taunt traffic and the constabulary. Though attributed by most to singer-songwriter Darryl Braithwaite, The Horses was actually co-written with Walter Becker, by songstress, Ricki Lee Jones. It was composed for Jones’ one-year-old daughter, Charlotte, as a commitment of loyalty and steadfastness to her, even when the going gets tough.

Photo by Mandy Stefanakis

It’s the clunky misreading of messages, the ready acceptance of theories and media hype, without scrutiny, that is so frustrating when people take to the streets in defiance of, what are, painful impositions on the freedoms of everyone. Most suck it all up, because with foresight and empathy, they know lockdowns are imposed for the wellbeing of all, not just the few. Lockdowns will end and ‘things’, as D:ream says, ‘can only get better’.

Another anthem of so-called ‘freedom fighters’, is the Australian National Anthem, in their hands, as with our current flag, fast becoming a parody. But again, there’s a misread in the very first line where Peter Dodds McCormack says:

Australians ALL let us rejoice

There is only one thing in common by those who protest for the freedom of a few in response to a virus, and the climate activist marches. That is, the source of both groups’ responses. Because neither a pandemic, nor climate change can be mitigated by a selfish approach. Both necessitate mass collective responses that consider the wellbeing of the planet and all who inhabit it. Individualism simply doesn’t cut it.

As the light gradually shines for those yet to fathom this truth, there’s always music.


Greta Thunberg addresses climate activists in Berlin


Mandy Stefanakis is a sessional lecturer in music education at Deakin University. She was previously Director of Music at Christ Church Grammar School and Essex Heights Primary School. She is a member of the Advisory Council of The Music Trust, Assistant Editor of the Trust’s e-zine Loudmouth, past-President and a Life Member of the Association of Music Educators. She lectured in music education at the University of Melbourne where she received her Master of Education degree. She has contributed to many arts curriculum initiatives and conducted professional development to assist implement these curricula over several decades. Mandy is the author of the Australian music focused education kits, Turn it Up! She has conducted extensive interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive, is an avid composer and her obsession with piano and cello continues.

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