Australia's Indigenous history with Eurovision
Australia has only been in Eurovision for five years, but in that time a rich Indigenous history has already begun to emerge.
We're looking back at the Indigenous artists in Eurovision and Australia Decides who have brought the much needed representation in mainstream Australian TV.
Jessica Mauboy - 2014 and 2018
Jessica Mauboy is technically our first Australian Eurovision representative. Though in 2014 she wasn’t competing but was invited as a guest to take part in the second semi final in Oslo as part of an Australian presentation with the song ‘Sea of Flags’. She is also the first Australian with Indigenous background to go to Eurovision on behalf of Australia.
Jessica’s father was born in Indonesia and is from West Timor. Her mother is an Indigenous Australian part of the Kuku Yalanji people from the rainforest regions of Far North Queensland.
At a young age of 14 she won a competition at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2004. Then in 2006 she entered the fourth season of Australian Idol, making it all the way to the final but finished at runner up spot.
In 2018 she was invited back to Eurovision but this time to compete. She travelled to Lisbon and represented Australia with the song ‘We Got Love’. She played a key role in her stage performance and dress. She called her purple-ish, multi-coloured dress the Dreaming dress and explained that it helps to tell her stories, her needs and her happiness.
This year she took part in a campaign with Marie Claire, an Australian Women’s fashion and beauty magazine, called ‘#itstime’.
As a part of the campaign Jessica joined many big names in the Australian entertainment, sporting and fashion industry, stating that it’s time for the First peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, of Australia to be recognised with a representative Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution, through the ‘Uluru Statement of the Heart’.
Isaiah Firebrace - 2017
Isaiah Firebrace was internally selected to represent Australia at Eurovision in Kyiv after winning the X Factor in 2018. Born in Portland, Victoria he grew up in Moama on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. Isaiah's father is Yorta Yorta and his mother Gunditjmara.
In the lead up to Eurovision he told SBS that " want to do is to inspire young Indigenous teenagers, and not only Indigenous, non-Indigenous kids as well. Just to never give up on your dreams no matter how young you are. I think age is just a number."
He finished in 9th place in Kyiv, the highest position by an Indigenous Australian artist.
Since Eurovision he as gone on to do workshops across the country from Tamworth to Mount Isa and beyond to help inspire Indigenous students, telling them to "'don't be shame', 'be confident' and 'keep you're eyes on the prize'."
Electric Fields - 2019
The South Australian duo that make up Electric Fields are Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross. They competed in the inaugural ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 2019’ where they finished up in an impressive runner up position with their electro song ‘2000 and Whatever’.
Just like their previous work they incorporated Indigenous language together with English.
Zaachariaha is from Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, also known as the APY Lands, located north west of South Australia. Their inclusion of Indigenous language in their ‘Australia Decides’ song was important in showcasing Indigenous language to a broader audience and was also very personal for Zaachariaha reminding him of his childhood.
When he was 8-years-old his father, painter, Robert Fielding took his family back to country so they can experience their culture and pass on the Indigenous language.
‘2000 and Whatever’ was popular with many Eurovision fans across the world. Electric Fields came 4th in the OGAE Second Chance Contest, where Eurovision fans part of OGAE vote for their favourite national final song that didn’t make it to Eurovision.
They toured the country with their new song and went on to be nominated for an ARIA Award for Best Australian Live Act. They were nominated for many Indigenous music awards and won the National Dreamtime Award in 2019 which celebrates Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievement in sport, arts, academic and community.
Mitch Tambo - 2020
Mitch Tambo exploded on to mainstream Australian TV in 2019 by making the final of Australia's Got Talent performing his music combining traditional elements blended with modern pop music.
But before Australia's Got Talent, he had been working hard for the best part of the decade performing and making music, including releasing his album 'Guurrama-Li' in 2016.
A proud Gamilaraay and Yuru man he is known for his Yidaki (similar to a Didgeridoo) playing and has spoken about the importance of representation when performing,
“When you’re performing for people, you just want people to feel something but more than anything – feel that respect for us as First Nations people."
When choosing to do Eurovision he shed light on why the competition spoke to him.
"Eurovision songs often mix elements of traditional and contemporary sounds, which is exactly what I set out to do in my own music. Most importantly, it brings different cultures together all under the banner of music, which is beautiful thing!”
His song 'Together' for Australia Decides is in a mix of English and Gilmaraay language.
On top of music Mitch also completed a Bachelor of Social Work in 2014 and is Co-founder of True Culture, an Aboriginal-owned business empowering and engaging people through Aboriginal culture. True Culture offer interactive cultural performances, mentoring and empowerment workshops for boys and young men, cultural awareness workshops and music performance and songwriting workshops.
Casey Donovan - 2020
Casey Donovan wowed us all last year at ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 2019’ where she opened the show with her energetic rendition of Australia’s first official Eurovision entry Guy Sebastian’s ‘Tonight Again’. She returns to Australia Eurovision national final this time as a competitor with her song ‘Proud’ penned by Justine Eltakchi.
She is no stranger to the big stage when she became a household name winning the second season of Australian Idol in 2004 when she was only 16-years-old.
She featured in an ABC television series called ‘Dynasties’ which explores the family background of Australians. She detailed her struggle in the show,
“It's really hard. I'm half white, half Aboriginal. I'm proud to be white, and I'm proud to be Aboriginal. It's just there is a juggle there. There's lots of people who are on one side and I'm like what about my mum and her family?”
She revealed that her father is of indigenous decent from Gumbaynggir country on the NSW mid-North Coast, on her mothers side she has Irish roots, with even a small part Swedish.
Casey returned to the Australian TV screens in 2017 when was part of ‘I’m Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here’ and won the whole show.
Last year she scored a role as Mama Morton in the Australian stage production of ‘Chicago’.
It is only fitting in that she returns to the ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides’ stage with a song like ‘Proud’.
In a statement from SBS she explained the multi-layered personal meaning to the song:
“‘Proud’ is merely a reminder to yourself, to be proud of who you are, proud of all of the ups and downs, to keep getting up despite the pain and push forward no matter how many people put you down. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy at that. It’s an anthem of self-love and acceptance - a little reminder that we have to stand tall and proud."
All artists have represented Australia and First Nations people extremely well in the contest.
Could Mitch or Casey become the third Indigenous artist to represent Australia in six years?