Cool, Deadly, and Powerful: Thelma Plum Chats to Kerri-Lee Harding
The iconic musician and veteran radio host come together for NAIDOC 2018 and discuss music, life and community.
This year's NAIDOC week theme is 'Because of Her, We Can', celebrating the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the community. To mark the theme, we brought together iconic musician Thelma Plum and veteran community broadcaster Kerri-Lee Harding, host of 3CR Community Radio's BLAKNOISE RADIO program. The two discussed working in the entertainment and arts industry as black women, their support networks, and send messages of support to other Aboriginal women around the country. NAIDOC Week runs July 8th to 15th, but you can catch Thelma performing with Mojo Juju, Kaiit and Sovereign Trax at Melbourne Museum's NOCTURNAL this Friday, and Kerri-Lee speaking on the event's Blak Writers stage. Read Thelma and Kerri-Lee's conversation below.
Kerri-Lee: The NAIDOC theme is ‘Because of Her, We Can’. It’s awesome, isn’t it?
Thelma Plum: I think Aboriginal women are the strongest women in the world. It's really nice that we’re being recognized on [a large scale]. We recognize it, and we know it already, but it’s nice that it can be recognized in the mainstream.
Let's talk about your music, and working as a black woman in the industry. What's it like as a young black artist, navigating your way through the current political landscape in Australia?
I'm learning every day, but it can be pretty difficult at times. It can be quite isolating. It can be a little bit hard to feel backed sometimes. I feel like me existing in itself, being quite unapologetic with the fact that––sometimes I think I'm not a palatable enough black, I guess because I am quite unapologetic, and existing in itself can be a bit of a statement. That can ruffle a few feathers, just existing, really. It can be really tricky, but honestly I just make sure there are great people around me, great tiddas around me. I have really, really strong Aboriginal women around me. I think that's something that can help me navigate, being in a predominantly white Australian industry. It can be pretty tricky.
Who are some of those strong Aboriginal women that inspire you from your family, or who are close to you?
There are so many. How long you got? My older sister, her name is Muriel. Ever since I was little, growing up, she was so pretty and so cool and so talented. My other sister, she's the oldest out of all of us and she's incredibly inspiring and just so wonderful. Just like all of my siblings in general. Nayuka Gorrie is someone I find so inspiring every time I... just her existing, I find inspiring. She's just like great in whatever she does. I'm like, ‘Oh, sis it’s so good. Keep it up.’ Who else do I love? You know, one of my really good girlfriends, someone I look up too. Do you know Murrawah?
No, but tell me about her.
Oh that darling, yes I do.
Yeah, I think you know her.
Yeah, she's a darling.
She's just such a darling and these are all just like really.... I guess I'm lucky that I have known them all for little while. I’m also very lucky that in the last couple of years there have been beautiful Alice Skye and Emily Wurramara in music––not just in music, but in the creative industries in Australia––so many strong Aboriginal women that can kind of group together and back each other and have each other's back.
Yeah, and how important is that to have that close relationship with other Aboriginal young woman artists?
I think it's the most important thing. But more than anything I think there’s just so much... I don't even know how to say this, but there’s so much trauma and so much hurt but there’s a lot of really fucking great stuff and a lot of great things that I am so proud of. I don't know if I'm making much sense at the moment.
You're making perfect sense, Thelma. What do you think of the current blackfulla musical landscape across Australia?
I love it! Because we're a talented bunch. Like I mentioned before, Alice Skye and Emily Wurramara and all these beautiful little tiddas. They're just like angels. It's just time. I think it's our time now. We've been here forever. People are like [sarcastic tone] “Oh, I don't hear much Aboriginal music.” But we’ve always been here, we've always been doing what we’re doing and we’ve always been creating! But I guess it’s becoming more mainstream to showcase that talent. Which I think is something that's needed to happen for a really fucken’ long time.
Yeah. And you’ve been collaborating, I understand, with Briggs lately, and [Jessica Mauboy] as well.
Yes! Look, I'm not going to lie, this is like my dream, [working with] our Aboriginal princess Jess Mauboy. Often I’m like ‘I want to be an Aboriginal princess.’ I feel like she has that, but one day I hope she might pass that on to me. But she's just... You know, if you told me that when I was in high school. When I was voting for her on Australian Idol, that I could write a song with her, I would have just been so happy. She's just such a beautiful woman and she’s a beautiful songwriter. You know, she's not really... I think it’s really incredible that her and Briggs and I get to collaborate and that we get to create something like this you know, together. It's something that I have never done with Jess before and Briggs hasn't done with Jess before and it was just really special.
What was the vibe like in the studio with you mob? That would’ve been deadly.
It was hilarious because my manager who is absolutely wonderful, he's a lovely lovely gubba, he came into the studio to visit us and it was pretty loud and really.. I don't know, you know. Just like too loud for people to handle. You know when a lot of loud laughing. It was so fun. I loved it and I love collaborating and writing with Briggs. It's something we do quite often.
And what has that relationship been like? How long have you been working with Briggs for?I guess a few years now. He’s wonderful, he would pick me up from the airport when I was living in Melbourne and he would drive me home when I was too poor and couldn't afford the taxi fare. He’s had my back since the start and I think he’ll always have my back. I really love him so much.
That's what I was going to say. It’s so important for us sistagirls, working in the entertainment and arts industry. We have got solid brothas to back us. It’s so important.
I think that's something Briggs is aware of. I think it’s really important that it does go both ways and we all got each other's backs.
Yeah, deadly. If you could get a NAIDOC message out there for Aboriginal women across Australia what would it be?
Basically I would just say: I love you so frickin much. But also we're so cool, we're so deadly, we're so strong, we're so powerful. We have been through so much and we're still here.
Stop it, you nearly made me cry. That's beautiful. Things are really tough out there for young Aboriginal women coming through, trying to navigate their way through life and culture. We've got really high suicide rates, which is just horrendous. Do you have any messages or strong words of advice for any young women?
It can be so hard, it’s such a hard thing. It’s almost like, what do you really say? There is only so much.. I don't know, it breaks my heart. I have been there. I know what that feels like. I think something that really got me though was getting rid of all these toxic people in my life and surrounding myself with these really strong tiddas that I mentioned earlier. You just gotta talk to people, just try and talk to someone. There is no shame in feeling sad. We have such a long story, we have such a big story. Sadness is such a big part of it, but it’s also.. It is what it is. It proves how fucking resilient and how strong we are.
Check out the rest of Noisey's NAIDOC content, including an incredible new video from Mojo Juju and Nayuka Gorrie interviewing Alice Skye and Emily Wurramara, here.
Find NITV's schedule of NAIDOC programming, including fascinating new documentaries and interviews, here.