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Audio Jimmy Little outlines his views on racism, 2008

TLF ID R10110

This is an edited sound recording, from July 2008, of Indigenous singer-songwriter Jimmy Little. Little tells how his parents lived on an Aboriginal mission, with their movements very restricted. He also recalls going to a movie theatre where people were separated by race, but says examples of racism such as these were 'border lines', imposed by white society, which he could sometimes cross by being open and friendly. He was not inspired 'to wear the banner' or to try to change people's attitudes in his role as an entertainer.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording outlines the views on racism of one of Australia's most successful Indigenous singer-songwriters. At the time of this recording, Little (1937-) had been performing for more than five decades. His style has varied, but he is known mainly for his country music. His music output since 1956 includes 'Royal telephone', which topped the charts in Australia in 1963. Little has also worked as an actor in theatre stage plays and movies.
  • In this recording, Little gives an insight into how he has personally responded to racism in Australia. He has not taken a confrontational approach in his music or used his fame to go into politics. An example of his softer alternative thinking is seen in his recent plans for a television program, in which interviews with Indigenous people would take their voices and opinions to the government. He believes that this could be a successful form of reconciliation.
  • The mission station to which Little refers here was the Cummeragunja Mission, near Barmah on the New South Wales side of the Murray River, where he was born and where he spent the first few years of his life. Cummeragunja produced many leading Aboriginal activists. Among them was the Yorta Yorta leader William Cooper (1861-1941), who formed the Australian Aborigines' League in Melbourne in the early to mid-1930s to campaign against racial discrimination.
  • At the time of Little's birth, living conditions on the Cummeragunja Mission were very poor, and 200-300 Aboriginal people staged a walk-off in protest in 1939. Although a small number later returned to the mission, most settled in northern Victoria or Melbourne. Little says here that he never heard his father complain about racial discrimination, yet one of Little's early hits, 'Give the coloured boy a chance', was written by his father, strongly suggesting that he did feel it.
  • The town to which Little refers here, with movie theatres that segregated Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, is Nowra on the NSW south coast. At the time such segregation was common and considered unremarkable by many. Little's family moved from Cummeragunja to Nowra in about 1944 and although he notes that the segregation did not bother him then, he obviously had second thoughts about it in later life.
  • Little has received numerous awards for his contributions to the Australian music industry and to reconciliation. One highlight was induction into the music industry's ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2004 he was awarded an Order of Australia, and named one of Australia's Living National Treasures. In 2005 he was presented with an honorary doctorate in music by the University of Sydney, where he had been a guest lecturer since 2000.

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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
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  • Person: Jimmy Little
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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
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  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.