Aboriginal singer Jimmy Little passed away in Dubbo, aged 75.
NATIONAL: Prominent journalist JEFF MCMULLEN pays tribute to a legend of song.
When Jimmy was inducted into the ARIA’S Musical Hall of Fame he asked me to address the music industry
and try to put into words what he had given us all.
It was the love and gentleness in his music, the heartfelt belief that music had a healing power, that it would close the space between cultures by simply drawing people to its message.
When Jimmy appeared on television and became an Australian star he wasn’t even a citizen in this land.
He allowed white Australians to see Aboriginal people in a different light, to see the warmth, the talent and that
their arms had always been open to us all, inviting us to get closer to the land and the Culture.
Wherever he went he gave of himself to other people, bending down and listening intently.
After the kidney transplant in 2004 that saved his life he was soon up and about. One night in Cairns I watched him, barely strong enough to walk, but with guitar slung over his shoulder he was crooning into a microphone to
perform for the Aboriginal doctors who had gathered for the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA)’s conference.
He wanted to share with Aboriginal children the knowledge that eating healthy nutritious food, avoiding the
poisons, and staying fit in body and mind was the way to balance and well being.
That was how the Jimmy Little Foundation created a team of musicians including Shelly Morris and Adam james, to visit remote communities and to work with the kids on the Uncle Jimmy’s Thumbs Up nutrition program.
That determination influenced the Northern Territory Education department to include this approach in their school curriculum.
He was always looking for ways to raise his voice for good.
Towards the end, when government policy was weighing heavily on so many elders in so many communities,
Jimmy chose that time to be there in Canberra for the Anniversary of the Tent Embassy.
Soon after he issued a call to action, urging other musicians to join the STAND FOR FREEDOM campaign asking the Parliament to genuinely respect and listen to the Northern Territory elders who had been largely ignored during the government’s so called consultations before the proposed ten year extension of the NT Intervention measures.
Jimmy’s message was that only the wisdom of the elders could show the way to improve local conditions and overcome problems.
Listen to the elders, he urged, the same message he had counselled for so many decades.
In one of his last interviews recorded with ABC’s Message Stick last Friday, he asked the Australian public to consider donating organs after their passing, knowing that this would benefit so many other people.
He then picked up his guitar a final time and sung for us all.
On the last night of his life, at home in Dubbo with the daughter, Franny, who had cared for him and still loves him so dearly, he was still writing, making plans for good.
Old songmen don’t die. Their music goes on forever. So look up at the stars tonight and sing.
• Dr Jeff McMullen is a prominent Australian journalist and trustee of the Jimmy Little Foundation.