The Macquarie Dictionary description of ‘lyric’ states that it is ….”of poetry, having the form and musical quality of a song, and especially the character of a songlike outpouring of the poet’s own thoughts and feelings, (as distinguished from epic and dramatic poetry, with their more extended and set forms and their presentation of external subjects)”.
I don’t want to be too high brow about it, but in this trade, the meaning of words and the expression of feelings is all important. “A songlike outpouring of the poet’s own thoughts and feelings”. There’s plenty of room to move in that description. But there’s another essential element. A lyric has to transmit or have meaning for others. I know this is self evident, but we listen to so many songs, love them or dislike them and rarely give thought to what Leonard Cohen describes as the ‘Tower of Song’, where they are created.
I call it the ‘Monastery of Song’. The (often) lonely place that the lyric writer goes to, in order to bring shared meaning back to the community. Songs document history, describe feelings, communicate ideas and are one of the most potent, portable and transmissible vehicles of thought and feeling in the human experience.
In our modern world, there’s a commercial dimension to song and lyric. But I also come from an Aboriginal country that has used music and lyrics to hold memory and knowledge and transmit vital information about human folly, the rhythm of the seasons, the essential elements of law and simple observations that are absolutely central to survival. This is also true of my ancestral Irish background, with the deep Celtic well of music and lyrics that form a continuum of thought and feeling over thousands of years.
There is something about the song form that allows it to be easily remembered and repeated.
When I toured with the Guinness Tour of Irish Music in 1997, I spent a lot of time with Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners fame. Ronnie was a well spring of Irish song history and he wrote a poem out for me that was written in 1862 by the Irish poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy and simply titled , “Ode”.
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea breakers and sitting by desolate streams
World losers and world foresakers, on whom the pale moon gleams,
Yet we are the movers and shakers of the world, forever it seems.”
I don’t want to self aggrandise or over inflate my own sense of importance, but I do see my work as part of the massive continuum of song and song writing. One small thread in the vast tapestry of human song.
In this modest collection of lyrics you can’t hear the song; it’s just the words laid bare.
Some of them hold up as written form, some of them need the music to bring them to life, but I wanted to set them down, once and for all, in the form that they were written.
The illustrations are a different matter altogether and I didn’t originally intend for this to be an illustrated volume. But as I went back through thirty years of journals, I kept encountering these little illustrations and began to gather them together. I didn’t realise how many there were and both my publisher, Bernadette Walters and my wife, Teresa O’Brien, (a real artist herself), encouraged me to include them.
I wouldn’t call them art, but they do provide a different record of landscape and memory, people and place, that I hope complements the lyrics.
At one level, such a volume is vanity, but if nothing else, they are stories about people and places, real and imagined, that wanted to be written.
Shane Howard, Killarney, (Moonwer Gunditj Clan lands, Peek Whurrong tribal lands, Gunditjmara Country), Australia, August 2009
Published by One Day Hill Publishing
Solid Rock - Puli Kunpunka
In 1982, Shane Howard's anthem, ‘Solid Rock, Sacred Ground’, from the album ‘Spirit of Place’, recorded with his band Goanna, rang out across the airwaves. It was one of the first songs of its idiom to broach the subject of Aboriginal dispossession in the Australian mainstream and it impacted powerfully on an entire generation.
'Shane returned many times to Uluru and in 2009, commissioned by One Day Hill Publishers, and accompanied by renowned QLD artist Peter Hudson, Shane and Peter worked with local school children at Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kalkutjatjara communities to create a children’s book with illustrations to accompany the words written at that sacred rock 29 years earlier. 'Solid Rock - Puli Kunpunka' features the lyrics of the song in English, a translation of the song into Pitjantjatjara, together with paintings by Peter Hudson and children from the communities.
In 2012, teachers and workers from the Music Outback Foundation, through the schools in Ernabella, Mimili, Pipalyatjara and Indulkana have been teaching the chorus of ‘Puli Kunpunka’ to the kids, and Shane, along with Steve Berry and Mark Smerdon, recorded the children singing in the APY lands for the CD that accompanies the 2nd edition of the book.
Ruby James translated the song ‘Solid Rock’, in 2010 and Uncle Trevor Adamson made a further poetic contribution to the translation, by reviewing and developing a powerful Pitjantjatjara version suitable for singing. Special thanks must go to Jodi Martin for working on the development of the new translation into the song.
This book is now a bilingual resource for all schools and a gift from the children of the APY lands to the wider Australian community.
As an initiative of One Day Hill, 25% of the profits from each book will be paid through to the communities involved with the project by Ian Thorpe's Fountain for Youth Foundation. The Foundation empowers children, improving their education and health from the youngest age. Through the Literacy Backpack Project in remote Aboriginal communities, the Foundation aims to help all Australian children read and enjoy their own stories.
‘I hope this book gives something back, in gratitude, to the Anangu people of Uluru and surrounding country. May there always be enough good equipment so that the music can keep sounding out from the community centres and may there always be plenty of paints and brushes so that the art keeps being created and that your great stories are told and retold. May your future be as proud as your past. May all Australians remember to walk in the true spirit of the country, honouring the ancestors.’ Shane Howard
Published by One Day Hill Publishing