Anti-nuclear brothers are radio activists
The Super Raelene Brothers
Anti-nuclear activist band The Super Raelene Brothers first made it into the pages of Green Left Weekly in 1995. But the duo, who have just dropped their latest atomic-bomb-atomising EP, Nuclear Kop, were making music way before then.
“We've been making music since we were kids,” says guitarist and vocalist Basil Schild, who makes up one half of the band with his violinist brother, Derek.
“I think I remember our first recordings using mum’s old Tupperware containers and cutlery for drums and an old pump-action wooden pipe organ for the bass line.
“We've been making music here in the desert for many years now, at outback pubs, under huge desert skies, in dry river beds, on sand-dunes and rooftops, everywhere.”
The brothers first came to prominence in the frock-wearing, funked-up, fuzz-bop four-piece Aunty Raelene, formed at Adelaide University in 1989.
But Basil says: “Being a two-piece means we have a lot of freedom to take a track somewhere a little bit different each time we perform.
"We create songs that celebrate what we see and where we are. We also build songs that voice concern about what is happening or not happening in our local community."
Those concerns have led them to release songs such as "'Wiya Angela-Pamela", which went to number 1 on Triple J's Unearthed charts in 2010, and a cover of Redgum's 1980 classic "Nuclear Cop" ― both available as free downloads on their website.
"The decision of the Northern Territory government to invite the world's largest uranium miner to explore the Angela-Pamela lease, just 10 kilometres across the plain from four Indigenous communities on the edge of Alice Springs, led us to join the Stop Angela-Pamela campaign and release the Luritja and Arrarnta Campaign single 'Wiya Angela-Pamela'," says Basil.
"'Wiya' is the western desert word for 'no'.
"In response to a strong grassroots campaign in Central Australia, the Territory Labor government withdrew its support for the development of a uranium mine so close to Alice Springs. But the Country Liberal Party is committed to the mine going ahead.
“If it gains government in August, the Stop Angela-Pamela campaign will have to crank up and go nationwide.”
Basil says that is one reason why “Nuclear Kop”, is the EP's first single.
“The crew from the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs helped with the making of the clip ― shot on the land where they want to put the Angela-Pamela mine.
“Local filmmaker and community activist Dave Nixon donated his time and creativity to the shoot."
Super Raelene Bros' version of the song comes highly recommended by none other than Redgum's frontman, John Schumann.
"In the anti-nuclear cause, I'm delighted to see that the Redgum baton has been grabbed by the Super Raelene Bros and I'm delighted to reflect that 'Nuclear Cop' has stood the test of time," says Schumann.
"But the Super Raelene Bros version is better than ours. And I don't say that lightly."
That the song has stood the test of time is bittersweet for Basil, who says they decided to cover the song because so little has changed in the 32 years since it was first released.
The EP also contains the bittersweet “Darwin Song", which expresses a “push-pull” relationship with the Northern Territory's capital.
Basil says: "We are planning to head up [to Darwin] at the end of May, just after Wide Open Space festival ― a great little grassroots festival 100 kilometres west of Alice.
“Deciding to spend time in Darwin after so many years in the desert is kind of a natural progression ― looking for some water, rain and monsoon. And also the chance to stay engaged with a lot of the issues affecting the north of this country; political, environmental, cultural."
“Cooktown”, on the EP, also shows a love of the Top End. What appeals so much about that so-called-sleepy port?
"Everything," says Basil. "If you've never been there, get there.
“And better go soon. It might be the last port on the east coast that Clive Palmer doesn't use to load coal out of."
The band also show their passionate connections to country in the song "Story", whose deep story belies its brief lyrics.
"Behind the lyrics lie one of the darkest stories of modern Australian history," says Basil. "The dispossession of desert people by our country's involvement in the atomic bomb-making industry.
“In the ’50s and ’60s, two groups of desert people living thousands and thousands of kilometres apart were taken out of their homelands. The song's lyrics name those places.
"In the north, Pintubi people were taken to Papunya. Blue-streak rockets fired from Woomera landed on their country.
“In the south, Maralinga people were removed from their country, which was turned into an atomic bomb testing ground.
“But the song voices hope, because this story is not over. People are returning back to the country of their ancestors. Back to Kintore.
“So the song really has just four words: Papunya, Woomera, Kintore, Maralinga."
Many in the outback have strong connections to country music, and the brothers have not escaped it. The evidence is in their longtime live set favourite "The Lionel Long Song", which also appears on the EP.
"Lying around home as kids ― there were not many records. Of the few that were there, one had a young cowboy on the front. He sang ballads about bush history and bushrangers, convicts and sunsets, and his name was Lionel Long.
“It wasn't the kind of saccharine pap so often poured out by the country and western scene. I always loved the name of the guy. Years later we needed a name to grab attention at the start of a lyric.
“So comes about 'The Lionel Long Song', a bass-funk groove that bounces around on the stupidity and futility of our country's involvement in Gulf Wars I and II."
Considering such sentiments, it's perhaps surprising that their new song "I Wanna Live With Kofi Annan" is not intended to be a mockery of the United Nations.
Basil says: "We wrote it as a celebratory song ― in support of the things the UN fights for. The UN could play a much more effective role if it was better-resourced and if so many national governments weren't so gutless.
“The song calls for movement and action, especially in relation to West Papua, Burma and Darfur, and all places in need of peace and food and freedom."
And the band see that action coming from their natural fanbase, activists.
"Bands stuck out in the desert and the north of the country don't get to tour much," says Basil. "And audiences are small.
“Being an activist band means government grants and so on are not likely to come our way. It's only via grassroots support that we distribute our music and soundtracks for change."
[Green Left has a CD copy of the Nuclear Kop EP, worth $20, to give away. Just email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org before the next issue of GLW comes out on May 29. Winner picked at random.]