Celebrating Australia's Indigenous Eurovision artists
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following content in this article may contain images of people who are deceased.
Australia has only been in Eurovision since 2015, but in that time a rich Indigenous history has already begun to emerge.
Today we celebrate the Indigenous artists who have taken part in Eurovision and Australia Decides, who have brought the much needed representation in mainstream Australian TV. We also look at initiatives these artists are part of and some of the artists' voices on indigenous recognition.
Jessica Mauboy – ‘Eurovision Song Contest 2014 and 2018’
We are affirming Jessica Mauboy as our first Australian Eurovision representative. In 2014 Jessica 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.
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’.
In the Marie Claire article Mauboy explains what Indigenous recognition means to her:
“I was born on Dreamtime land and grew up in Darwin with my mum and four sisters in the suburb of Wulagi. I walked to school every day hand in hand with my sisters, and we’d swim in the local waterfall in the afternoons – minding the freshwater crocs. I feel like I was born cultural. I am Darwin, I am the Northern Territory, I am the saltwater, the freshwater and the desert,”
“I recently went back to Uluru in the Northern Territory, and digging my feet in the red dirt felt powerful. I was there just before they banned climbing it and removed the chain. Uluru has always felt really free to me, especially now the chains are gone. The same thing needs to happen with our constitution, we need to lift the barrier to move forward. For me, Indigenous constitutional recognition would mean freedom.”
Jessica is an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF). Last year in September she took part in a virtual Indigenous Literacy Day celebrations. She is a long time supporter and ambassador for the organisation, which inspires broader Australia to appreciate the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ first languages and the importance of language learning. As part of the celebrations she sung ‘The Barramundi Song’, which is a take on the French nursery rhyme ‘Frere Jacques’. In Jessica’s rendition she sung in the indigenous languages Tiwi and Mangarryai.
For NAIDOC week this year Jessica performed live on her TikTok account to celebrate and bring awareness to the special week and spread this message of healing country.
Isaiah Firebrace – ‘Eurovision Song Contest 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 has 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 your eyes on the prize'."
Electric Fields – ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 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 also won our third National Final Countdown.
They toured the country with their 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.
On New Years Day 2020 Electric Fields released a January 26 statement on social media.
The statement read:
“On 26 January we acknowledge the survival of the living cultures and systems of Australia’s First Nations, and we honour women, who are the gateway to all life. From the earth we come, and to the earth we return. The earth is our mother. We are all her caretakers. Our responsibility is to take better care of her.”
The video features footage of the Minmas (Lore Women) of the APY Lands. The emotive music ‘Lore Woman’ by Electric Fields is a previous unreleased track.
You can watch their statement here:
In December 2020 Electric Fields were announced as the Ambassadors for the Adelaide Fringe 2021. The Adelaide Fringe is one of the biggest comedy and entertainment festivals in Australia which takes place in February to March every year.
The duo also performed at the Adelaide Fringe in their own show called ‘Inma’. They performed with Iwiri and SA First Nations Dance Collective.
Mitch Tambo - ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 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.
Late last year he released an electro-pop version of Vanessa Amorosi’s worldwide hit ‘Absolutely Everybody’. Mitch gives the song a contemporary sound and sings in Gamilaraay language. His rendition of ‘Absolutely Everybody’ is as part of the compilation ‘Deadly Hearts - Walking Together’, which features Australian classic songs covered by Indigenous artists.
Casey Donovan - ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 2019 and 2020’
Casey Donovan first wowed us all when she opened ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 2019’ with her energetic rendition of Australia’s first official Eurovision entry Guy Sebastian’s ‘Tonight Again’. The following year Casey decided to have a crack at going to Eurovision herself in ‘Eurovision - Australia Decides 2020’. She gave us a huge emotive performance with vocals that just gives you goosebumps when she ‘Proud’ penned by Justine Eltakchi. Casey was the televoters favourite and came second overall.
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."
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.
In 2019 Casey scored a role as Mama Morton in the Australian stage production of ‘Chicago’.
Mayor, Thomas, ‘Finding the Heart of the Nation: The Journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth’, Hardie Grant Publishing, 2019.
This article is a revamp of “Australia's Indigenous history with Eurovision”