Recently I found myself declaring, sotto voce, that maybe I did not give a toss.
I'm not sure where that idea came from and it took me by surprise.
Was it a sudden attack of despair at the way politicians seem to be more openly interested in serving themselves rather than the people they purport to represent?
There is nothing new in this phenomenon, but I was alarmed at the sudden surge in pessimism as I am normally optimistic about most things.
It may have been triggered by attending a climate change protest in a town in Germany while on tour there.
Young people of high school age had turned out in considerable numbers to lobby for action. They were full of real enthusiasm, but it was sad to see the dampening effect of adult speakers who droned on and on, clearly happy to hear their own voices with no insight into the value of short and too the point.
I watched as the young people gradually drifted away from their own protest bored by the endless speeches and the hijacking of their moment to be heard. I felt my idealism deflating. Was it the jetlag talking and undermining my usual sense of purpose? Or did this demonstration demonstrate that adults need to get out of the way and let young people lead?
This mood change came partway through a two-week tour playing gigs in Germany. The weather was glorious, I had touristy adventures courtesy of my friends, and audiences enjoyed hearing my songs. On instruction they sang along with gusto to some of them.
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They took a particular shine to one of my favourite songs and this provided a timely reminder of what a song can do. Called From Little Things Big Things Grow, it was written in 1991 by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. It tells an Australian story of the long campaign by a group of Aboriginal people to regain their traditional land. In 1966, the Gurindji people walked off the big sheep stations and settled into their ancient lands requesting that it be returned to them as its rightful custodians. The song derives extra power from its replication of an ancient oral story-telling tradition by retelling the story to new generations of young Australians who may not otherwise be aware of the many injustices inflicted on the indigenous peoples of Australia.
As the songs says in the closing verses, it tells the story of the Gurindji tribe but also speaks of "something much more: how power and privilege cannot move a people who know where they stand, stand in the law".
I explained the lyrics and the story held in the song to my German audiences (I speak da lingo). It became apparent that the chorus - From Little Things Big Things Grow -resonated with audiences as a universally inspiring message. They sang it loud and strong, endorsing the message that it is often the small things, done over time by people who care, that creates meaningful change. And they sang it together using the collective power of voices of all ages and backgrounds.
Last weekend at the songwriter's gig, which was part of the Whanganui Literature Festival programme, the audience sang along to that song again. It was inspiring to hear voices singing together. It seemed for a moment to tilt the world towards a shared sense of purpose. Thank you to all who sang, carrying forward the notion that indeed it is from little things that big things grow.
- Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a musician, writer and social worker. Feedback: email@example.com