Music in the face of repression


Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden

Andrew Stafford

University of Queensland Press, 2004


Pig City: from the Saints to Savage Garden looks at the development of the modern music scene in Brisbane, set against the backdrop of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government. In addition to being quite racist and repressive, the Bjelke-Petersen government was also socially conservative. Young people — especially musicians — were victims of police repression, a factor that radicalised them and affected their music.
According to Kev Carmody, "Three people in one place at one time constituted an illegal assembly so all you mob got the handcuffs on you. That was the law ..." Not even rock stars were safe. The Dead Kennedys' African American drummer was arrested for drinking, singer Jello Biafra later saying that he "felt safer in East Berlin than in Brisbane".

The book's title is taken from a popular song of the time that described Brisbane as "Pig City".

The book was first released following the death of Bjelke-Petersen, who was given a state funeral. Stafford is critical of how the former premier was remembered in the mainstream media.

The book also focuses on the resistance to Bjelke-Petersen's government. Community youth radio station 4ZZZ was an important vehicle of dissent, mixing progressive politics with alternative music.

Stafford also looks at the evolution of Aboriginal music in Queensland, including Kev Carmody's songs of struggle that later went on to achieve national fame.

The book doesn't address the current Queensland Labor government's continued attacks on Indigenous people. It will be interesting to see how music will develop in the wake of recent campaigns against black deaths in custody in the state. Already, a song by Brisbane's Powderfinger taking up the issue has been censored.n

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