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Talking Heads -

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Jimmy Little

Peter Thompson talks to Australia's first Aboriginal pop star, Jimmy Little.

It's more than 60 years since Jimmy Little first hit the road with his family and captured
Australian hearts with his soulful voice. Revitalised after a recent kidney transplant, Jimmy is
making tracks again, attracting new generations of fans.

Jimmy Little is a proud member of the Yorta Yorta people and loves his native country with a
passion. This week Jimmy strums his old guitar and sings a couple of songs for Peter Thompson.

PETER THOMPSON: Born by the banks of the mighty Murray, he's a Yorta Yorta man with a big heart and
more than a little to say. He topped the music charts and was named 'Australian pop star of the
year' in 1964. By the 80s he was largely forgotten but then fortune smiled and last year he notched
up his 34th album.

Tonight's Talking Head - is Jimmy Little.

PETER: Jimmy, it's great to have you with us. Thank you very much for coming in.

JIMMY LITTLE: Thank you, Peter, it's nice to be here.

PETER: Now, I think it's fair to say, that both health-wise but also musically you were dead and
buried, and then you staged this remarkable revival.

JIMMY: Yeah, almost. But, like my Dad, I'm a big philosopher and I started to think about, what do
I do now? And luckily I got the right advice about, you know, getting fit medically and the rest
follows from thereon.

PETER: But the music came back too, just as strong.

JIMMY: Yeah, I didn't realise that I had so much in there to bring out. It came out the right way.

PETER: Well, let's go have a look at your early days as a child by the Murray.

JIMMY: Alright.

JIMMY (VOICEOVER): Last night I dreamt that I was a child. Out where the gums grow wild at dawn.
Jimmy Little was born here. A proud member of the Yorta Yorta race, at Cummeragunja. On the old
sleepy Murray river.

JIMMY (ONSCREEN): This old tree and me, we go back a long way. And this is me long time friend. I
just love coming here when I can. And Jimmy Little belongs here.

JIMMY (VOICEOVER): My Mum and Dad, James and Francis, they taught me well about the value of life,
freedom, love, respect, all those basic things that we need.

As Vaudevillians, I loved them. It was part of my dream to follow in the footsteps of Mum and Dad.
And I'm so proud that I was able to do that. The first real heartbreak in my life was the loss of
my Mum. She accidentally cut her finger on an oyster shell and the great sorrow of that I found a
way to heal on the inside through the world of music.

The great joy of rebuilding my life at the early age is my beloved wife Marge. We became good
friends and were married in 1958 and the real strength behind my success. Shortly after our
marriage we were blessed with our beautiful daughter which I named Francis Clare. Hence, the Jimmy
Little trio was born.

FRANCIS (ONSCREEN): I would always sort of be with my parents on tour and, you know, everyone,
people in the band would raise the kids who were there. We were all family on the road. Music was
all we thought about.

PETER: So Jimmy, that gumtree by the Murray - you were born under that weren't you?

JIMMY: Yeah, that's where our camps used to be right on the river and each tree had a role to play
in terms of being the prop to our camps. I've always been akin to the bush and to trees in general.
To me they're silent friends that I can rest against. And I also love the water. To me I just feel
comfortable in those surroundings.

PETER: And another thing which is crucially important, is your totem - the long-necked turtle.

JIMMY: Yeah, I'm again being a water person and if you can think of the life of a turtle is really
very quiet, very private and goes everywhere with his home and he lives in the water and he lives
on land. And there's a lot of my nature in the old turtle. So, and my star sign is Pisces which
means there's two fishes going each way. So I'm a liquid kind of flowing person.

PETER: You don't really see it as a coincidence, do you? The fact that you do have that totem of
the long-necked turtle. That in a way, is your personality too.

JIMMY: Yes, it is. We all have a species connection from being the human species to other living
species. And there is a definite connection between the human life and that of other species.

PETER: So, Jimmy, what was life on the road like with your Mum and Dad? It must have been quite

JIMMY: Oh, yeah.

PETER: This is the 1940s, during the war and after.

JIMMY: Yeah, we just had one ball in terms of going from community to community in our modern day
corroborees of exchanging information. How are the family? And what's happening in the clan, the
different clans. So it was really a meeting and a celebration of life. An ongoing thing that would
happen in our travels. So, for the boys and girls it was not the hard work that Mum & Dad went
through but it was holidaying, you know, around the clock.

PETER: So, your Mum and Dad, it was largely a song and dance show that would go from town to town
to town?

JIMMY: Yeah, it was a mixture of both. Contemporary and traditional. So, I remember when Dad and
the other players would have a make believe campfire on stage. Where they would dance around, chant
and tell little stories. Like eavesdropping on a campfire group, talking about the day. And it was
funny and it was also serious and there was a little lantern and a fan and crape paper and the wood
and it had the flicker. It looked like a real fire without the smoke. It was all really stimulating
and interesting to see the past that I mostly missed growing up in the semi-rural and European way.
Away from the real traditional.

PETER: So, then at a crucial age, just as you're reaching Aboriginal manhood at puberty, your Mum
dies with this cut from an oyster.

JIMMY: Yeah.

PETER: Of all things.

JIMMY: Just, you know, when we moved from Mum's area inland to the coast, Dad's territory, then it
was oysters and seafood was our diet and apparently she didn't get the Tetanus injection in time or
wasn't efficient and she passed away suddenly. All I know is, it really turned our world upside
down. And I often wonder how she would have responded, like my Dad in later years, as I became a
star of some sort in the music industry. I know that she sees me but I don't see her reaction. And
I feel her presence, as I do Dad.

PETER: And when we look at those photographs of her, I mean, she was a very, very beautiful woman.

JIMMY: I thought so. She had a wonderful nature. She was the disciplinarian in our family. And Dad
was the philosopher. Between the two of them they did a good job on me, I think.

PETER: Why don't you play us some music? I'm thinking of that time of your life. Because that's
when you really took up music in a special way. It became more and more meaningful for you, didn't

JIMMY: Yeah, well, I learnt a lot from Mum and Dad musically. And this was one of Mum's favourites.
Songs that she used to sing. I do reminisce about her with this lyric line.


If I sent a rose to you

For every time you made me blue

You'd have a room full of roses

If I sent a rose of white

For every time I cried at night

You'd have a room full of roses

If you took those petals

And you tore them all apart

You'd be tearing at the roses

Just the way you tore my heart

If someday you're feeling blue

And you should send some roses too

I don't want a room full of roses

I just want my arms full of you.

PETER: You sing it very sadly.

JIMMY: I suppose I'm reflecting on the passing of Mum and knowing how much she

enjoyed life and loved her family. And songs do bring great sentiment and joy and a mixture of

PETER: Jimmy, your success came to you at a very young age. Let's have a look at that.


JIMMY (VOICEOVER): In the mid 50s I was lucky to get a signing with a record company Regal
Zonophone, Columbia, EMI. And a little time after that I changed labels to the Festival record
company. And during this time it was the pioneering days of television shows. And growing up with
an exciting new generation of performers.


JIMMY (ONSCREEN): Tonight I'm not appearing as Jimmy Little the singer. But as Jimmy Little, a
member of a very proud race. My people, the aborigines, the first Australians.

JIMMY (VOICEOVER): I know for a fact that I've been openly criticised by many factions of my people
about not being more involved in Aboriginal issues.


Black fella, white fella

It doesn't matter, what your colour

JIMMY: I believe that action speaks louder than words. And when I talk about action, I don't
respect the fist as much as I do the open palm. Because that means friendship and I rather make
friends than enemies. Don't mistake kindness

and niceness for weakness. The 80s were a trying time for me and my family. We went through a bit
of a tough time. My industry was drying up. My regular income, coming from the wonderful world of
clubs, pubs and travelling shows. And the thing that really hurt me most was my wife contracting
diabetes. It was quite a blow.

PETER: That 'Royal Telephone', that came out when I was 10. And I can't remember the words of many
songs but I can remember the words of that one.

JIMMY: That's interesting it really is. I still find people along the way remembering that from
sunday school. It was a magic thing that gave me a lifetime signature tune. And it established me
as one of the, I guess, leading commercial entertainers promoting faith in commercial music for the
gospel world.

PETER: Country music, that's really been your heart and soul hasn't it? You've tried other things
but that's your main love.

JIMMY: In Aboriginal community we adopted country music as our jazz and blues. As the Afro
Americans with their jazz and blues its still about the hardship and the success. And ours is about
the country road the country river the fields of corn. And although we're making it up now with all
kinds of music because our country, Australia has become, not a melting pot it's a fruit salad

PETER: Right. I like that. Now, you'll be tickled by looking at this - 'Shadow of the Boomerang'.
Let's have a little look at that.

JIMMY: Alright.

(FOOTAGE OF 'Shadow of the Boomerang')

COWBOY: I oughtta pound that black face of yours to a pulp. Then you can keep it outta places where
it don't belong. That's what I said, where it don't belong. Get it? Oh, you Abo's are just itching
to be like the rest of us.

PETER: So there you were, Jimmy, playing Johnny as it turned out. You save his life in the end. So
you become the hero. But at the beginning at least you are treated, you're a black man and you're
treated as an underclass person.

JIMMY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and that was the theme of the program to show that the world of religion
was going to play a part of bringing two individuals together from two different worlds.

PETER: So, what did you think about the idea of actually being typecast though as sort of
underclass person?

JIMMY: I didn't mind because when you have a point to bring home with that that has merit, then you
play the role to get people talking and to get the answers to the surface. And you convert people
to thinking fairly. And I enjoyed that role.

PETER: So you're this young good-looking bloke, you're having huge success musically, you're in the
movies. What kept your feet on the ground?

JIMMY: I think just being grateful, being thankful and being honest. It kept me floating a little
bit off the ground but nevertheless my head may have been in the clouds for a while. But I knew I
had a long way to go and a lot to prove. And I wanted to do that with a sound mind and a good

PETER: Did Marge keep you down on earth?

JIMMY: She was the rock. She kept me anchored.

PETER: What about politics? Because we saw that clip there of you, saying you were talking as a
proud member of the Aboriginal people. But there was criticism also at the time because you were
such an emblem of the Aboriginal people. There were criticisms at the time that you weren't doing

JIMMY: Yeah, at the time the fever pitch of youth wanting to right a lot of wrongs, I understood
that. And had I become too aligned with one faction group or several faction groups I would have
alienated myself from people who were important in our lives, on our side.

PETER: You played in clubs for example where Aborigines probably weren't all that welcome as


PETER: Or were banned. I mean it must have been an odd sort of existence in a sense. That you were
welcome anywhere in white society. So long as you were an entertainer.

JIMMY: Yeah, I had a freedom that excluded me from being prejudiced against. Because I was
non-threatening. I was an ally of everybody. Wanting to be an interpreter, a communicator and a
person who can explain situations. I didn't want to jeopardise that by saying, I belong to this
group. And then, you know, the rest of you can go wherever.

PETER: Let's not underestimate the pressure, because, I mean some people were saying that you were
a bit like a white man inside a black man's skin. I mean, it was cruel, it must have been hurtful.

JIMMY: When you believe in yourself and you believe that you're working side by side with the Lord.
No kinds of sticks and stones of any kind can really get through and spoil your thinking of being
fair-minded being honest and being good.

PETER: Really?

JIMMY: Yeah.

PETER: Well said. Did you kind of bury yourself inside a shell of that belief. Is that your
resistance to the outside world and all those pressures?

JIMMY: Yeah. Yeah, I felt that if they can break the egg that I'm in then they can destroy me if
they like, you know. What I was doing, I was promoting Aboriginal Australia. Promoting to the hilt.

PETER: Now let's hear some more music. Would you play some more for us?

JIMMY: Yeah.

PETER: What are you going to play this time?

JIMMY: Well, this is a long song but we'll condense it down. It's about the love of this country.
And the country and landmarks.


We belong to this land

To this land they call Down Under

All our states

Our Aussie mates

We'll make you proud no wonder

In Autumn on the Torrens

there's a city on parade

It's Festival of Arts time

down in Adelaide

Perth is on the river Swan

Our western coastal shore

Down Under is a big big land

Across the Nullarbor

Somewhere north of Alice

On a road they call, The Track

The Darwin hospitality

Will always call you back

Our sunny face is Queensland

Brisbane is their host

From the Barrier Reef to Surfer's

See their golden coast

We belong to this land

To this land they call Down Under

All our states

We celebrate

In all her grace

beauty and wonder

There's a city on the harbour

Not a bad place to be

There's the Opera House

Australia Square

Downtown Sydney

Canberra's the capital

Of all we do proclaim

Down Under if they like it

But Australia is the name

Earlier I missed out on Melbourne

And Hobart

But we'll do that another time.

Just remember

We belong

To this land

It's our home they call Down Under

When I say 'they', the rest of the

world calls us the land Down Under

But we know who we are

We are A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A


One more for luck


JIMMY: My wife and I wrote that in one hour.

PETER: And next show we'll do Melbourne and Hobart. We'll pick up on them. Now, music's been a
great way, always has been, to communicate messages. And you're quite big, for instance, in talking
to remote communities about people with kidney disease for example. Where a lot of Aborigines, it's
true isn't it to say, aren't getting help.

JIMMY: My people far and wide across the nation we've had to change with the changing lifestyle of
our nation. We used to live off the land in a natural way and all of that we've had to change in
terms of diet and lifestyle. And so we're finding the result of internal organs not adopting
quickly enough to the food chain.

PETER: So, Jimmy, you were on dialysis for years before you got your kidney transplant. And it's a
problem, isn't it, for many Aboriginal people who don't want to leave their remote country to get
dialysis and so it's a hard choice they make.

JIMMY: It really is. What we have to do is take the medicine to the people with qualified people
locally. So it's going to take a while for all those to be in place.

PETER: What do you think about the fact that probably you have a white person's kidney inside you?

JIMMY: That only goes to prove that we are all the human family. It's a matter of attitude and it's
a matter of personal preference of believing that we're so different. And yet we all come into the
world the same way, we go out the same way and we depend on the same things.

PETER: Jimmy, you've talk about God a lot as kind of a foundation stone. You don't define it all
that precisely which is interesting. Tell us about the connection between God and the Dreaming for

JIMMY: I look at all the miracles around me. You and I can't make a tree but we depend on that
tree. We can't make water but we depend on it. We operate it we turn it into other things. And
there's so much in the land that's there for the taking for human life to benefit from. And in
Aboriginal history we lived in our pharmacy. The bush medicine. Our pharmacy. We lived in our
marketplace. It provided all the food. We lived in our library for information. Everything was
written in the oral history. And it's our church as well.

PETER: We're asking people how they would like to be remembered...

JIMMY: I just want people to remember me as a nice person who was fair-minded and had a bit of
talent that put it to good use.

PETER: And all that in spades didn't you? And continue to have. You've given pleasure to millions
of Australians and thanks for sharing time with us and also, your very interesting message, I
think. Personification of the fact that love triumphs. Jimmy, thank you very much indeed.

JIMMY: Thank you, Peter. I enjoyed the chat and it is true love does triumph.

PETER: And would you play out for us?

JIMMY: All right. I'd like to go back to that lovely melody of my Mum because she's the one who
gave me life.


If I sent a rose to you

For every time you made me blue

You'd have a room full of roses

PETER (VOICEOVER): Next week on, 'Talking Heads' - Wayne Goss, the former Queensland premier who
quit politics when diagnosed with a brain tumor.

WAYNE GOSS: My approach to life is I never look back. And I always take the view that what you're
doing tomorrow is much more interesting than what you did yesterday.