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The Point -

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(generated from captions) (MY ISLAND HOME
BY CHRISTINE ANU PLAYS)

# Six years I've been in the city

# And every night
I dream of the sea... #

Before there was Jessica Mauboy,
there was Christie Anu -

someone who had already broken
through on the charts,

succeeded in every aspect
of the industry -

stage, screen, movies, television,
of course music as well

and someone who has racked up awards
that are too numerous to count.

You can put ARIAs and Deadlys
and everything else into the mix.

Christine Anu, of course,

performed at the closing ceremony
of the Olympics as well,

taking her island
to the rest of the world.

Christine, thanks for joining us.
Lovely to be here.

When you were performing
My Island Home at the Olympics,

what were you thinking of?

Well, to be honest, what I was
thinking of was how terrified I was,

because this was the biggest,
you know,

audience I've ever performed to
in my life.

This would be
the first massive audience.

'Cause we're not just talking
about the people in the stadium,

it's all the people
around the world.

And this little song

chosen to represent not just me
and the Australian music industry,

but my culture, my people

and all the fans that follow
Australian music and indeed mine.

So, I was absolutely
terrified about that, how...

With the responsibility
of representing your song?

Yeah, yeah.

And it's a one...
You get one shot at it too.

Because... Exactly.

Because the Olympics was...

Yes, it's about the sporting prowess
of a nation, but it's also...

More than that.
It's about an identity of a nation.

The identity of the nation,
but in that identity,

it's just "What is
the culture of Australia?"

And we...

You know, to be selected
was a massive privilege,

to be selected to represent
the music of Australia

was a massive privilege.

So, the honour and the pride
and the absolute welling of that...

..of what that emotion
and what that pride means was...

I think is what, right through,

right to that last minute when just
before the green light's like, "Go,"

is when the tears started to come.

It's like, "This is the moment.
Oh, my God. This what feels like."

And then they turn off the lights
and it goes silent,

and you feel like you, you know...

You're having this intense moment
all on your own.

It's amazing.

And it's an extraordinary song too,

because it's a song that can mean
different things to different people.

Clearly when...

..it's sung to represent
all of Australia,

there's the island Australia,

originally written for the Warumpi
Band and had a different meaning,

and of course your own background
as well and your mother's island

and your own heritage - what did it
represent for you at that moment?

Did you feel as if you were
seeing it from where you come from,

where your mother comes from,
where your ancestors come from,

or was it about Australia and
Australia as an island in the world?

It was...Stan,
it was all of those things.

It was absolutely, it was...

It was that island that
I'm sure that when I was a child

I couldn't wait to be voted off,

that island
where the child was dreaming

of all of those great big things
that I think you can only imagine

because when you're tiny and live so
far away, your dreams are massive.

What you imagine
your life could be like

is where the playground
is and starts,

and all of those things
were pretty much coming to fruition.

So, you sort of...you're actualising
your dreams, your childhood dreams

and it represents that small place,
but it represents your culture,

my family, my...

You know, the family...

The communities, all of them,
all of them combined -

not just the segregated islands
of Torres Strait,

but the united
Torres Strait islands,

and then all of the communities
in Australia.

It's flying that flag -

it's that moment where
you fly the flag for your nation,

for your island, for your culture,
but for the nation as well.

It was...

It was a responsibility that was
great, but wow, what an honour.

When you peel back the layers, and
you've discussed some of them then,

you know, the world can get...

..ever bigger, ever larger
as you reach for another ambition,

another dream,
and you rack up another success,

but when you peel back
all of the layers,

where do you find you yourself?

If you were to say, "I'm Christine
Anu from here," where is that?

(LAUGHS)

The first thing
that comes to my mind

is you can take the girl
off the island,

but you can't take the island
out of the girl.

I mean, I've...

It doesn't matter how far and wide
my career has taken me

over the last 20 years, I've...

It's... It just...

I'll always be that person

that comes from
a very special place that's unique.

I feel that that's...
It's all about my identity.

If I didn't have my identity as a
Torres Strait Islander, I don't...

I think I'd be lost in this
expansive world of what...

It's ever-changing.

The technological introductions of,
you know, this digital age

and you can get lost in all of that,

but thank God for my identity,

that I can draw it all back
to what that is.

You know, popular culture
changes so quickly,

but the thing that
I have always based my music on,

and what I paid respect to when
I first started out writing songs

and finding out who I was going
to be in the music industry

was honouring my cultural identity
and my ancestors and my heritage.

If I peel all of those layers back,
I can come back to that

and know exactly who I am
and where I come from.

It's interesting
you use the world "lost",

how you can get lost sometimes in the
larger culture or the greater world.

It's interesting for
Torres Strait Islanders, isn't it?

Even if I use that phrase,

you're immediately ignoring
the multitude of identities

that exist under that umbrella
of the Torres Strait,

the individual island identities.

But then it's become subsumed

into the broader Indigenous identity
of Australia.

Indigenous people
are a minority in Australia...

Then there's
Torres Strait Islanders.

..then Torres Strait Islanders
are a minority of that.

Yes.

Do you struggle sometimes with that -

with being lumped in with
this broader sense of identity,

and losing the specific aspects,

the special nature,
the uniqueness of what it is to be,

not just a Torres Strait Islander,
but in your case,

your mother from Saibai, your
ancestors, all of that, that it's...

You lose it sometimes when you
take it into a much bigger stage.

Well, we're all lumped into that
one basket of this whole,

you know, this label of being
Indigenous, but we're all...

We all belong to a language group.

We all have
our own individual identity,

and it's less of a struggle more
than a need to want to say,

"Listen,
I'm a Torres Strait Islander.

"I'm a proud Saibai Islander by
birth, by, you know, by bloodline,

"and I have a history that belongs
specifically to my family

"that I stand here with people
who've struggled before me,

"who've done things that are...

"Have enabled me to say, 'I do what
I do because of their struggles.'"

So, yeah, it's their struggles,
but now it's a need to sort of say,

"Well, listen, I'm Indigenous,

"but I'm a proud
Torres Strait Islander woman,

"and I can't get lost
in who that is."

And it is a very different history.

A very different experience
to mainland.

Very different influences.

What would you, if you were to say
"This is what makes us different,

"this is where
we differ from the mainland,

"where we even differ from
Indigenous people on the mainland,"

what would that be?

Well, we...

We have our songs, we have
our story, we have song lines,

we have our stories
that are unto us.

We have our Dreaming, if you like,
of the stories of how...

What our creation stories are,

that are specific to my totem,
cassowary,

you know... (SPEAKS
INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE) ..that...

They're specific to me.

That's what, I guess, separates me

from even the clans
within Saibai Island as well.

And therefore,
the rest of the Torres Strait.

But we've got similar clans
that connect us through marriage

and just to through the clanship
through the Torres Strait

that connects us anyway as a family.

So, I guess it's...
That's what separates us.

And I always think of,
when I think of Saibai Islanders,

I always think of that
headdress that is, you know,

it's my metaphoric head...

I'm out there, with my, you know,
proud dhoeri on

every time I'm up on stage.

You might not see me wearing it,
'cause it's only worn by men,

but I have my dhoeri on,
and that's what separates...

..the Saibai Island identity

from the rest of the
Torres Strait Islanders.

And the Torres Strait more broadly,
Saibai in particular,

it connected with the rest
of the world, with, you know,

for want of a better phrase,
with the white world

in different ways as well, didn't it?

And there was a different history.

Christianity was
a significant aspect of that.

How did that...

How was that absorbed
into the culture of Torres Strait?

Uh...

The one thing that...

..I understand is
that before Christianity came

there was a lot of warring
between the islands,

and even between Papua New Guineans

and the Torres Strait Islanders
as well.

When Christianity came,
it was a time for peace,

hence the coming of the light,

meaning the light
and the love of God,

and it was an opportunity
for that to all be put to rest -

for the warring to be no more.

Because it's intense, when you think
of people warring all the time.

They're living in absolute fear -

the women, the children
and the elderly

living in absolute fear
for their lives.

"When's the next kobul coming?
When's the next war coming?"

So, I think it was an opportunity
for all of that to be put to rest,

and for Christianity to unite
the Torres Strait Islanders.

'Cause I think before that, I mean,

other than travelling for war
between the islands,

there was very little other
than that to do with each other.

I know in your own family as well

there was a very direct link
to the missionaries,

members of your own family
embracing that,

and I suppose in a way reforming
their own culture along the way.

Yes, it was something
from the outside,

there's often a belief that people
give up their traditions

to embrace Christianity.

It was probably different
in that experience, wasn't it -

that Christianity became absorbed
into the existing culture?

It looked like an extension
of what was already a pre-existing,

you know, way of communicating
to a higher...

..a higher presence, you know?

You know, within my own family,
once the church was formed,

Anu is my Grandad's father, he was
one of the church choir leaders,

and so that, you know, the singing
sort of bloodline starts from there.

So, yeah, I think I look back
at trying to discover

what is Torres Strait
before Christianity, it's very dark.

It's a very, very dark time.
And yeah, we're a Christian culture.

And there's something about that
to be taken, you know, quite...

..quite seriously, I think.

Quite meaningfully.

In your own case too, you were able
to connect very directly with that

through your own study
of your family's history,

even recordings of your own
ancestors, grandparents and so on,

singing these songs
that you talk about now.

Incredible.

It's like when Heaven opens up
and you're able to hear

that direct channel
to what that could have been like.

And the beautiful thing about that

is nothing's really changed
that much.

We've evolved -
that's going to happen.

You live in an ever-evolving society

and you've got to find a way
for your culture to coexist,

or to survive it
with all of this change around.

I think that to hear that things
are not too, you know, different,

was that 'aha' moment.

Oh, it just feels great that we're
still practising, you know,

our traditions
the same as the old ways.

But, you know, we're not going to be
able to escape how, you know,

the contemporary life is going
to come in and affect us.

I do contemporary music.

And, you know, for example, and...

But it was just nice to hear
those songs as they were,

before, you know, before
the introduction of the guitar

and all things like that.

It was a very special opportunity

to connect with
my ancestral heritage like that.

I mean, mind you,

I was listening to anthropological,
you know, recordings,

so that was, you know, when it was
all being done for the first time -

anthropology, that is -
that was pretty amazing.

And it is that connectedness,
and that sense of place

and that continuity
that gave Australia a great gift,

of course, through the Mabo case.

And that...
It came from the Torres Strait.

It was able to overturn
the fiction of terra nullius.

It was able to challenge the idea
about the settlement of Australia

and connect Indigenous people
to this land with a real legal,

British legal recognised
sense of inheritance.

That must be a great sense of pride
for you as well.

This is what the Torres Strait
gave Australia.

Absolutely.

Another reason to celebrate
who we are as a people.

All of our accomplishments

and a day to acknowledge every year
for the rest of our lives

for the next generations -
3 June every year.

So, yeah, it's an important day
for me, that's for sure.

To leave that...and
then to come to Sydney

to start a career that
you've hand, was there a sense that,

"Yeah, I do need to leave this behind
if I want to achieve my goals."

And was there also a fear that,

"In leaving this behind
I may be losing something?"

I think you never leave it behind.

I think there's...

You take who you are,
you take your family,

you take you are with you
wherever you go in this world

through whatever journeys
you take in your own life,

personally and career-wise.

I think I was really fortunate
because I got to join

the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Dance Theatre,

and what I had been raised with,
culturally at home -

language and, you know the culture
of...my cultural ways, customs.

You just take them for granted.

And then there I was immersed
with kids, you know,

adults from all over Australia
coming to this centre,

this place in Sydney
to learn about our culture,

and to keep it alive.

How do we, you know, pass it on
to the next generation?...

And it was just...

It was in 1988,
and it was the bicentenary,

and we were doing a lot of
performances at a lot of marches.

It really did...

It turned on a lightbulb for me.

So, it was that moment of, like,

"Oh, I think I will be spending
the rest of my life,

"no matter what I do,
carrying the torch for my people."

So, you leave a place, physically,
but you take that very much with you.

You very much take it with you.

It's that...
You're always flying the flag.

It's always
at the back of your mind.

You're never too far from the values
that you've been raised with.

And to then explore that
with other Indigenous people

from their own backgrounds as well -

in your case, was that
the first real experience

you were having with people...

..other Indigenous people from
the rest of Australia put together,

sharing culture, sharing friendship -

was that the first experience
for you?

Hectic, yeah. It's a very...

It was an amazing experience.
I mean, who... I never even...

I didn't have anything
in my life experience, all of 17,

of what that would feel like
to have a congregation of people

with like-minded goals
and that is all about culture.

It's an amazing,
very powerful experience

to go through study
with all of these people,

all with that same aim of, you know,
celebrating -

constant celebration of who we are
and performing that

in a way that just is spiritual
and all things, all things combined.

Yeah, I just...

I think it's one
of those experiences

that'll never leave me.

I think it really was the...

The thing that...
The poignant moment in my life.

If I wasn't there, it wouldn't have
awakened what I was going to...

..who I am as a person, my identity

and who I was going to be
as an adult

if I didn't share those primary
years as growing to an adult

with other
young Indigenous Australians

who came from
all sorts of backgrounds.

I mean, I was meeting my first gay
community for the first time.

It was discovering
and growing up with other people

who were doing it at the same time
in the same way

was really, really powerful stuff.

And you talk about this now - culture
and not just Indigenous culture,

but the multiplicity
of those cultures.

You're bringing something
from different backgrounds -

set against the commonly held belief,
certainly in 1988,

that Indigenous culture
didn't really exist.

It was lost, it was something
that had disappeared,

and here you are living this
entirely different and very unique

and powerful experience.

That's...that's so true,
because in high school,

and even primary school before that,
so coming through the '70s and '80s.

And I graduated in 1987
from high school, it was...

You celebrating your culture
or talking, discussing who I am

with, you know, my Australian
counterpart, it just never happened.

Those discussions
just never happened.

So talking about who we are
as a people, about our history,

which seems to be the biggest shame,

the biggest white elephant
in my life -

talking about what's happened
to my people,

and all of a sudden you've got this
permission to be who you are

and talk about the things

that other people feel too ashamed
to talk about -

all of those, you know, stereotypes,
you know...

That was what...

That's what we were all trying to do

was just get rid
of all those stereotypes

and show the next generation
where we can take our culture.

It's something to be owned,
it's there...

It doesn't fall out of the sky
into your lap.

And it changes.

It's not frozen in time, you know?

It's not that here are
Indigenous people pre...

It's alive.

..1788, and...and that's where
it stops, that's where it ends.

No, it changes, doesn't it?
Absolutely.

Look, when I came to Sydney in '88,
I discovered much more.

There were so many things.

I didn't even know Aboriginal bands
existed, or if I did,

I didn't know that they were
fully fledged Aboriginal bands

with music out there talking,
you know,

social commentary
about our political situations.

I mean, it was very, very powerful
to be immersed in all of that

and to stand alongside people
saying, "Yes, this is our story."

And yet, Christine,
while you're having this experience

and you're ready
to share this culture,

there was a resistance, wasn't there?

I suppose, particularly in 1988,

a resistance to really embracing
that from mainstream Australia.

Still a sense of,
"Let's leave that in the past.

"Let's forget about that. We don't
want to be reminded about that.

"That's the ugly side of Australia,
of Australian history."

How do you think you managed
to overcome that?

Particularly in your case,

where you managed to have a popular
successful mainstream career.

For me to get my head around it
was just accept that...

Essentially, we as humans,
we fear things that we don't know.

And we...we're complacent
in that ignorance, almost.

Because if we don't know about it,
then we don't have to deal with it.

We don't have to confront
what that is for us

and have an opinion about it,
wrong or right, whatever that is.

It's...

As long as I could get my head
around sometimes people

just need a way to engage and
you need to find that way to...

..inspire that curiosity.

It's OK to not know,
but it's OK to try to understand.

We're not asking you
to make a decision

to love everything about who we are,

just a bit of understanding
and acknowledgement.

And if I could get my head around
that, it made me passionate...

..more passionate
about what I wanted to do.

And the arts is a way for people
to engage with that, isn't it?

It can be...

It's entertainment on one level,

it can also have
a much more powerful message.

When did you start to realise that,

"We're not just performing here -

"we're not just singing,
we're not just dancing, but we are...

"We are opening people up
to our history.

"We are having
a much deeper conversation.

"There's much greater
significance and substance

"to what I'm doing
than just entertaining someone"?

I think was just, you know,
the five years of being at NAISDA

and having the opportunity to
perform that annual show every year

and just watching every year
the increasing numbers of people

walking through the Belvoir Street
Theatre doors to come and embrace

and learn and appreciate
and share, celebrate,

whatever those things that
reconciliation ended up being about,

we were already starting that bridge
of trying to engage people with...

..with what our cultures...

They're different. We're all
from different language groups.

We all have our own unique identity,
but this is us,

this is what it looks like
as united force of Indigenous people

and culture, just being there,
celebrating that culture

was a great opportunity
for those five years.

And watching those people
come through the door

made me realise how powerful
that could be.

Because, you know,
popular culture comes and goes,

but culture - it's ingrained.

It's one of those...
It's a staying force.

It's never going to go anywhere.

And when I realised how absolutely
solid that foundation was,

it was, you know,
I knew I was in it.

I was in something
that was a winner for me.

I found a place where I'm truly me.

(SINGS IN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE)

And at the same time, you're going
through a personal journey as well.

Yes, you're having
this cultural experience

and you're connecting with
an audience in a very profound way

as you've just described,

but personally at that time,
how were you changing?

As a person, as a performer?

I mean, I don't know.
I can't put any sort of...

You're growing up and you just...

You're experiencing all of the...

You know, those little
embarrassing moments or...

You're having to grow up
with each other.

There's the support there, but
obviously when I went off and did...

..became a singer, I had to make all
of my mistakes in a very public way.

So, it was... I mean, it's good.

I guess what doesn't kill you
makes you stronger.

So, I guess I was just brave enough
to just jump in that deep end

and just see where it would...

But that's a very different
experience, though, isn't it?

Because suddenly you're
leaving the collective and...

..and you said before,
the power of collective to say,

"Yes, we're different.

"We're from different parts
of Australia,

"but here's the power of us
as a united force."

Exactly.

And then you're saying, "But now
I'm going to do it on my own."

And see, as long as you're having

those like experiences
with your friends -

'cause we're all Indigenous people,

we're all going to have
the same, you know, experiences -

good and bad - in terms of, you
know, how society looks at us.

Look, you know,
we all just want to be accepted,

and as long as I was with my people,

I was growing up,
making my mistakes.

And I had great mentors.

We had great teachers
and older students as mentors

sort of guiding us and teaching us
the ropes, so to speak,

but when you leave that and you're
left to basically fend for yourself,

and I had a white male manager...

..on my side,
mentoring me through that.

And we...

That was a very different experience
as well,

because I'm all of a sudden,

I'm stepping into an industry
that's quite male dominated...

And white.
And white.

And the women in the industry
are few and far between.

I mean, my closest connections
were The Tiddas -

those lovely women who, you know,
whenever they would see me,

embrace me and say, "Come here."

You know? So, it was...
Yeah, I think...

Yeah, I don't know what it was like.

I just think that whenever
it was a bad experience,

I was just very glad that
I got through it and survived,

and that people still loved me.

That acceptance is
such a crazy thing about what we do.

We need... We have...

We feel this need to be accepted
by everyone all the of the time.

And yet you put yourself up on stage
where you are going to be judged.

Absolutely.

They're going to make
the harshest judgements about you.

But who cares if they're judging?
I'm on stage. That's my home.

That's where I am doing
what I know best.

See, out in life, you're going to
making judgement calls every day

that people are going
to judge you about,

but up on stage - that's what I do.

And you own it.
Yeah, I own it.

If you're going to judge me,
then that's, you know,

each to their own, you know,
so to speak.

But, I mean, I don't care.

If you're going to judge me,
I'm up here,

I'm passionate about what I do,

and this is my language
and this is my story.

To do it - to take that step
and do it as an individual,

what was it in you think
that made you want to do that -

that had that ambition, that drive.

What was it?
I don't know.

Because you could have
stayed dancing,

you could have stayed with
the group or whatever.

But I wanted to sing
when I was seven, you know?

I wanted...I wanted to sing.

I used to pretend
that there were cameras in the trees

and the flowers in the garden -

you know, camera one, then change
to camera two and then camera three.

And I was one of these children
who was walking down the street

always waiting to be
talent scouted, you know?

And waiting for my moment
to be discovered.

So, I think I always had my one line
for 15 minutes of fame sort of thing

ready there to go.

But, you know, I knew that
I came from a long way away.

I didn't have parents connected
to anybody in the industry.

I knew that...very, very quickly I
learnt that it was not what you know

but who you know.

But the thing is, I had a vision,
and I had to follow what that was,

which was, "I want to be on stage.

"However I get there,
will find... I'm going to do that."

And it was through dance.

Dance was...was my caretaker.

It was my godmother, you know?

It was the way that
I was going to get there.

And everything I knew
would fall into place after that.

It was just about staying in it.

"Don't give up on your dreams,
just...

"Once you put your mind
to something, stay there."

And it might not be
how you imagined it would be,

but surely around the next corner
that opportunity is going to...

..show itself, and, you know,
you take it from there.

So, you had a white manager,
and I'm sure that helped in a sense,

but how much resistance was there
in the industry?

You know, we'd had people
like Marcia Hines,

who'd had a significant career,
but she was from America.

Yeah, she was black,
but she was from somewhere else.

You're Indigenous.

There wasn't really a lot of people
who'd trodden that path before you.

How much resistance was there, if at
all, in the industry at that time

to you as a solo performer
going out and making your own way?

There was more resistance to my
white manager than there was to me.

I think that the fact
that there was something different

about the package
that I had to offer

was what was embraced
in the beginning.

I don't know what,
but I wasn't writing songs,

and I wasn't developing myself
as a singer.

I had a few months
as a backing singer

with Neil Murray and the Rainmakers,

so that was how I sort of
cut my teeth, and I was...

But still very green as a singer.

I mean, my voice was movement.

That's how I was telling my story.

So, the transition my head to go
from storytelling with movement

to now using my voice
and being that front person was...

..a baptism of fire, you know?

And I had to make that...

My manager and I, we had to make
that up as we were going, you know?

But there was something that
the record company liked about it,

whatever that was.

# Stepping out
in my deadly red shoes

I had, thank God,
five years of dance training,

but the cultural side
of that as well

which was probably
a unique perspective

as far as they were concerned.

Archie Roach had already been in
the industry, The Tiddas, you know,

Kev Carmody, you know?

There was the wave of that...

..what Treaty did for Yothu Yindi,
so I was really...

There was this wave of
Indigenous music and entertainers

that was coming on to the scene

that was really getting
everybody's interest.

And Australia was more ready
at this point?

We'd been through '88
and we have had that education.

At this point, exactly.

And, you know,
and Warumpi Band almost had
a great hit with My Island Home,

and while I was singing with...

..you know, what I call
my practice run as a singer -

with The Rainmakers and Neil Murray,

I got an opportunity
to front the band with the song,

and that's when
the opportunities started to come.

And it wasn't like,

"Oh, hang on a minute, just see
what my schedule's like,"

it was like, "Oh, my gosh!

"They're asking me now
if I'd be interested

"in taking this little bit further."

So, we laid down the song, and here
I had My Island Home by default

because I didn't...I wasn't
writing any demo songs at this time.

So, it was,
"Quickly, get into the studio,

"give this to the record company
that is showing the interest

"and see where it goes from there."

So, it was that song
that really was the impetus

for the record company to go,
"No, no, we think..."

And I just...

I put all of my blessings
on that song,

'cause I think it doesn't
matter who the artist is,

the beautiful thing is that
actual song is...was my first baby,

was what actually got...

Was what the, you know, the,
"Hello," from the record company

and industry people alike.

And as you say, Warumpi had almost
broken through with that as well.

It must have been a great moment for
them, perhaps even bittersweet,

I don't know, but for them
to have given up their song...