You are here: Home / Media / 2 Live 2 Deadly

2 Live 2 Deadly

From humble beginnings operating out of a terrace house in Redfern twenty years ago, the Aboriginal voice on Sydney radio has struggled to seal its place on the city's airwaves reports ABC’s Message Stick on 5 July 2009.

For Koori Radio, its roller-coaster ride in the battle for a fulltime on-air licence ended in success back in 2002.

And since then the station's gone from strength to strength with the broadcaster opening its new state-of-the-art studio late last year.

Watch Video - Download Video: wmv | mp4


MIRIAM COROWA: Hello, I'm Miriam Corowa, welcome to Message Stick. From humble beginnings operating out of a terrace house in Redfern 20 years ago, the Aboriginal voice on Sydney radio has struggled to seal its place on the city's airwaves. For Koori Radio, its rollercoaster ride in the battle for a full-time on-air licence ended in success back in 2002, and since then the station's gone from strength to strength, with the broadcaster opening its new state-of-the-art studio late last year. 2 Live And 2 Deadly is the story of Aboriginal self-determination played out in Sydney's diverse media landscape. Enjoy the show.

NATHAN MORAN: Welcome back listeners, you're listening to Koori Radio, live and deadly, 93.7, and you've got the Goori correspondent doing the Yarncarters. And what we can report, again, is 221 years since the gubba invaded our shores and we're still waiting for freedom, still waiting for an offering of an agreement.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: 93.7, Koori Radio live and deadly. (SPEAKS LOCAL LANGUAGE) ..meaning "this is our voice", voice for all the Torres Strait people in both the eastern and western languages...

MALE ANNOUNCER: Special shout out to all the Samoan listeners tuning in tonight. (SPEAKS SAMOAN)

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: To all the girls, all the sassy mamas, this one's for you from Marloo's Blues, and here we go!

CATHIE CRAIGIE: We put it out there on the grapevine that Koori Radio was, although it always would be managed and controlled by Aboriginal people, the target audience that we were trying to reach was, you know, the brown people of Sydney.

BRAD COOKE: We've got our own recording studios and radio studios, state-of-the-art, well soundproofed, and the best equipment.

AGNES WARE: To hear any Aboriginal music on 96-point-whatever they are, one, whatever - you don't hear any Aboriginal music or Torres Strait Islander music or even Indigenous music from around the world, too, on any white station. You don't hear it. Why do you think we've got our own station? Hello! No! (LAUGHS)

NARRATOR: This story is about Aboriginal radio in Sydney, and its long struggle to achieve a permanent presence. Our story begins in 1988, Australia's bicentenary. The bicentenary saw the largest mobilisation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal protestors this country had ever seen. They were not only dissatisfied with the lack of black progress, but angered by continued injustices.

PROTESTORS CHANT: Land rights! Land rights!

NARRATOR: This so-called national birthday celebration clearly demonstrated to Aboriginal people that their voices were still not being heard. But the first Aboriginal community radio station in Sydney, Radio Redfern, set out to change all that.

TIGA BAYLES ON AIR: Radio Redfern's on air, Aboriginal people in control of the frequency, 88.9 FM. But '88 is going to be a big year. It's a big year for white Australia because they've got some big celebrations taking place.

TIGA BAYLES: So I'm in the march, giving reports back. "Oh, there seems to be 15, 20,000 people here. Now we've met up at Belmore Park and there's another 10, 15, 20,000 people there. This march is just looking amazing, there are traditional owners up the front that are painted up in traditional paint and they're singing traditional songs, and there's dances happening, and there's boomerangs and spears and stuff, and there are so many mixed race people behind us, the different cultures that are supporting us on this march."

CATHIE CRAIGIE: So the excitement of what was happening around 1988 here in Sydney probably influenced a lot of us, and thought, "Well, hang on, wouldn't it be great to have this feeling all the time or to be able to continue this information?" And there was a number of us, too, that realised that information is power, and that we, in terms to empower our community, we needed the most effective way to do that, and radio, of course, was culturally appropriate.

MAUREEN WATSON: White society has tried to assimilate and integrate us into their society. I think that what Aboriginal people hoped from the first landing was that we would maintain the good way of life that we had, and that they would fit in. The future I see is where they share the values that have maintained since the first sun rose. They're slow learners, sure, but they are learning. Things are changing. We only hope that they'll learn a little bit more in the next 200 years.

TIGA BAYLES: The beginnings of Radio Redfern was sparked by Mother going to Alice Springs, to a meeting that was held in Alice Springs. I think that was...'80, '81. Somewhere in those early '80s. And she saw CAAMA Radio in its early stages of development, and came back to Redfern and said, "Look, these blackfellas out in Alice Springs, they've got their own radio station, they're talking in language. It's so empowering." She said, "We've got to do it here in Redfern."

AGNES WARE: Tiga's vision was that we blackfellas needed a radio station so we could have our own things. We didn't want to go to a white station and broadcast our political rights at a white station. You're talking about blackfellas at a white station. He didn't want that. He wanted...Aboriginal people to have their own voice.

TIGA BAYLES: So we decided to build a studio in Redfern. Got some grant money from the Public Broadcasting Foundation. We pooled our dole cheques and stuff like that to buy sheets of glass and a panel, broadcast panel, things like that as well. The studio had no doors and we thought, "Well, doesn't need a door. It's open access, this is people's radio. This is community radio."

AGNES WARE: And me and Annie Gundy were just walking past, and Tiga goes, "Oh, do youse want to do a shift? Come in if youse want to do a shift." "Oh, a shift? What shift?" And when you walked in there was half a wall missing, and that was the kitchen area.

TIGA BAYLES: We knocked a hole in the wall so that you didn't have to walk through the front doors of each individual house. You could go into either one and still go into the other one, cross over. We kept one kitchen and bathroom and everything intact on one side, and all the bedrooms upstairs, but on the other side we took out the kitchen and bathroom area and made that the studios. And the lounge was like the green room area.

AGNES WARE: And then the next thing you know, me and Annie were on air. We just learnt the panel as we went along. You know, you get your mistakes and everything. That's OK. And then next thing you know, we were doing the night shift, we were doing six hours sometimes, cos the other fellas didn't rock up. And Griffo, Griffo used to come and do the night shift, and we'd see the record go... (HISSES) It used to go round and round and round. "Griffo fell asleep again!" So this is like the panel, and he'd fall asleep like that. The record player's going around and around and around. "Griffo!" We'd go and put the record back on, or turn it over and put it back on.

TIGA BAYLES: The people that were regarded as... people called Gummis. People that were virtually homeless, nowhere to go. They'd poke their head through the window to see the operator, the DJ, and say, "Hey, brother, play me Roger Knox." "Play me that Jimmy Little, Royal Telephone."

AGNES WARE: "Play me Patsy Cline, I want Patsy, put Patsy on there. Come on, Haggy, put Patsy on." Oh, it was so funny, said, "No, we can't play white music on radio, Tiga's gonna kill us, no way!"

TIGA BAYLES: Agnes is one of our...was one of our colourful announcers there, with the women involved, and her and a number of other women and people got together, and they were writing songs, and singing and stuff. So we ended up getting hold of a mixer and putting it upstairs and running a multicord down, putting people out in the bathroom, miking them up out there. And...and doing the recordings.

MALCOLM SILVA ON AIR: It says, "The Aboriginal prison song collection. Roger Knox, Vic Sims, and Mac Silva."

AGNES WARE: Mac Silva would come, singing live. We wanted somewhere for blackfellas, musicians, to come, as well. "Don't go over there to them whitefellas station. Come over here and record it here. Even if you have to sit in the toilet to record it." (LAUGHS) It was funny.

TIGA BAYLES: It was a real community centre, a real community place. And some of the people that came through there - Francis Little, fairly well-known daughter of Jimmy Little, was one of our women broadcasters. Linda Burnie, one of our women broadcasters.

LINDA BURNIE ON AIR: Community radio, getting it out to the people. Welcome to all those people that are just hitting town, moving into our radius where you can pick up Radio Redfern.

AGNES WARE: All the blackfellas that I knew at the time was really staunch and solid and they were for their land rights, they were political activists, black activists, and they wanted to put their point across the airwaves, so everyone can hear what we're trying to say. That's what it was mainly all about.

KATH WALKER: Because the theatre will be controlled by the Aborigines, not by the media. It'll be in our own hands.

TIGA BAYLES: There were some really good, community-minded people that were there, learning these new skills. And then committing themselves to shifts... I think a lot of the shifts I did in there were something like ten hours. Started at midnight on a Friday night and kept on going till ten o'clock the next morning. They were some of the challenges of hoping that somebody would come along and relieve you at some stage.

NARRATOR: Well, in 1991 Radio Redfern broadcasters were relieved, but not in the way they'd hoped. After a series of unfortunate events, the station failed, and the dream of Radio Redfern died, when the building mysteriously burnt down and was later demolished. But out of the ashes of Radio Redfern, Koori Radio was born.

AGNES WARE: I couldn't believe that Koori Radio was actually happening. I was so shocked, I couldn't wait to get on. (LAUGHS) Couldn't wait. I said, "And who's doing it?" "Cathie." "Oh, Cathie...Cathie Craigie? Oh, that's good, at least we've got someone tough behind it all." You know what I mean?

CATHIE CRAIGIE: We were filling the hours of Koori Radio in Radio Skid Row, and from there, it was then that we really started saying, "Well, hang on, we've got 20 or so hours here a week, wouldn't this be better to move those hours to something of our own?"

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: So our aspiration was to have a full-time licence, that the footprint went as far as we could possibly get it around Sydney, and so pretty much from day dot we worked towards getting a full-time licence.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: We opened the doors up and we had all sorts of characters. There'd be trannies, there'd be... we'd have all sorts of people coming in and out of the organisation. And they'd all come in and clean and serve people at the meetings and stuff, so it was always a bit of a laugh, the people that used to hang out at Gadigal. (LAUGHS)

RICHARD MORECROFT ON NEWS: There's a feeling of bitterness in the Sydney suburb of Redfern tonight after an overnight raid in which police smashed down doors and dragged suspects from their homes.

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: I literally remember being on air one day and hearing all these sirens and I thought, "Oh, what's going on? What's going on? And somebody reported back to us that there was a SWAT team surrounding The Block, and the police were coming in and whatever. So we could literally just pick up a microphone and a minidisk recorder and run up to The Block and we captured the whole thing.

AGNES WARE: That was the main message, getting that message across to the whitefellas. But we had to get them to tune in.

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: At least we were able to be there and to be a part, you know, to show our side of things. It was a pretty heavy duty raid on The Block, and mainstream media were there, of course, reporting it from the other angle, saying that all the blackfellas are causing riots and troubles and what have you, and it was literally in real time, we were talking to people on the street and we could just run back to the studio and put it straight to air.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: Koori Radio was a lot more powerful than what Radio Redfern was, I think, and the reason being it's a two-way thing, it's, one, about educating our own people, but also...educating our own people about our own affairs, and about other people's affairs, but educating the white community, too.

TIGA BAYLES ON AIR: Welcome back to Let's Talk. Peter Guivarra, the Mayor of Mapoon talking to me this morning.

NARRATOR: At the same time, the man who started Radio Redfern was in Brisbane, playing country music on 4AAA, Murri Country.

TIGA BAYLES: I get questioned, criticised from some of my mob. Saying, "What are you playing that country music for, that's redneck music." And I say, "Yeah. Some of it is. But ain't they the mob we want to change the attitudes of? Don't we want them mob to understand us? Don't we want to engage with them mob? They're the fellas on land. They're the fellas misusing land, destroying country. Don't we want to engage with them and tell them? And sure, some are racist and redneck, but by gee, you spend a little bit of time with them - the phone calls we get here from these people that say to us, 'No other station in town can tell us what's happening in your community like you do. We never knew any of that happened.'" We're winning more friends than we are creating enemies through country music. What's the sense of having a radio station if you can't engage or draw more than just your own mob? If we can't draw on the mainstream population, if we can't draw on them with our programming, we're not doing our own community justice.

NARRATOR: By this stage, there were a number of Aboriginal radio stations across the country, playing their own music and information. While 4AAA was and still continues to reach a wider audience through country music, the on-air policy of Koori Radio was to provide one-third Indigenous, one-third world indigenous, and one-third black music. This format, and the location of Koori Radio in the heart of Redfern, attracted a world audience, and pretty soon, international black artists were visiting Koori Radio to lend their support and get on air.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: Our very first day, first week at Koori Radio in the old studio at Chippendale we had Ice Cube, who actually cut our ribbon to open the building, so we were sort of lucky in getting those people. But one of the things that came out of it, and particularly with Ice Cube, was a connection with a lot of other African-American groups. They had a coalition of black musicians at the time, we were able to connect into them, and people would come to Australia and in fact, we'd get a call sometimes, before they even got to Australia, saying, "We're coming to Australia, we'd really like to connect up."

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: We had Michael Franti or Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, you know. We went and found those people, as well. But if they had already been to Sydney and they knew of Koori Radio, they would literally just drop by.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: We had been playing The Fugees on Koori Radio for a while, because we had all these young Aboriginal and other coloured kids playing the latest in music which wasn't being heard on commercial radio here in Australia. And somehow The Fugees was released at the time, and we were playing a lot of it and it was one of the most requested albums.

LAURYN HILL: So somebody told me... that the Indigenous people of Australia believe in self-determination, is that true?


PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: They did a show for us up at the Settlement, which was just at the other end of Edward Street, and it was only for blackfellas, and we of course broadcast that show at the Settlement pretty much live on Koori Radio. Which was awesome, cos they'd just broken into the charts with their cover of Killing Me Softly. And we actually broke that song in Australia, we were the first radio station to play it to death, and so they honoured us for doing that by coming to see us, and also, of course, they wanted to know who the blackfellas were and what was happening in the community.

NARRATOR: Redfern, over the years, has been known as Sydney's ghetto, a place of violence and crime. Locals say mainstream media play a big part in perpetuating this stereotype. And even though Redfern clearly suffers from these negative influences, it's also a vibrant community where people look after one another. Koori Radio was responsible for painting a different picture of places like Redfern, but when its lease expired, Koori Radio was forced to find a new home.

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: Well, when we moved to Marrickville, it was only supposed to be temporary, so we moved into the old Marrickville Hospital. Now, that place really was haunted. There's no two ways about that, people had died in there and we were literally, I think the studio was a surgery. There were gas taps on the walls and things like that for the oxygen to come out and emergency buttons and names - there was still the names, you know, where you slide the name in and out for the patient - what the name of the patient was, and that kind of thing. But we sort of got used to that after a while.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: You'd be working there late at night and you could hear noises. Being an old hospital, and the morgue was just next door, so it was quite a funny experience. The first couple of years I think we were all pretty on edge, thinking that, but it's a little bit like the Chippendale one, we got over those fears, and I remember we used to always say, "Hang on, we're Aboriginal, we were here well before these bloody ghosts." We were still waiting around for governments to support the accommodation, so what started off as only being six months ended up being six years.

NARRATOR: But in 2002, after 13 years of lobbying, and 19 test transmissions, Gadigal Koori Radio was finally granted a full-time licence, and instead of going for a larger, more costly transmitter, Gadigal decided to have a smaller footprint over Sydney and save its funding for better premises. In 2008, Gadigal finally moved back, and in style, to its original home in Cope Street, Redfern.

BRAD COOKE: So it took a long time, but four and a half years later, we moved from the old, decrepit Marrickville Hospital, which was our home for about eight years, to move into this amazing building that we're in at the moment.

AGNES WARE: We have all the advanced equipment. We are moving forward. Don't want to move back. We don't want to do that. Moving forward. We're creating more programs for young people from schools. We go to schools. This is how young we start.

BRAD COOKE: And then encouraging the kids to consider a career or an opportunity to come along to Koori Radio and broadcast, so that's been an exciting inclusion. We've married that now with the Young, Black and Deadly performance project, which helps us get the kids into performance. We've been teaching kids how to sing, dance and rap now for a good six, seven years. Casey Donovan came out of the program in 2003, so she's really our success story. And the beauty of it all is now she's a facilitator of the performance project, and she's also a trainer for the radio training project.

NARRATOR: Apart from teaching music and radio to schoolkids, Gadigal offers Aboriginal music, dance, politics, arts and crafts each year on 26 January through a festival they call Yabun.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: Yabun's really another extension of what Gadigal is. Yabun in many cases is the culmination of everything Gadigal is. Where Gadigal is a media arts organisation, Yabun takes that to another level and brings it out to the people and to the public. And it's not just for Aboriginal people. Yes, it's held on January 26, it's a celebration of our survival. It's not a celebration of Australia Day but a celebration of Indigenous cultures and our survival as people.

NARRATOR: Along with inviting the wider community of Sydney to celebrate Aboriginal survival, Gadigal also hosts a night called Club Koori, which is another opportunity to celebrate emerging Indigenous talent and get Indigenous artists into mainstream venues.

TIGA BAYLES: It's hard to have a blackfella radio station without blackfella music, and it's hard to get the promotion and get known as an Aboriginal artist if you haven't got Aboriginal radio stations, because the mainstream stations and mainstream venue owners still have difficulty dealing with Aboriginal people, Aboriginal artists.

BRAD COOKE: Black artists, for decades and generations, have busted their you-know-whats to get into these mainstream club venues, fought through racism, and this is something we're very proud of. It really allows us to get in there. The reputation that Gadigal's built over 16 years, now, has enabled us to break down those barriers even further, have the venues and the record labels and the other guys who support those venues allow us to come into those venues and put our artists on display.

CATHIE CRAIGIE: It's an organisation that you're happy to be involved with. And that feeling, I think, goes across all through every area of Gadigal, from the board to the staff to the broadcasters and people like me, who still keep coming back because it's such a viable and vibrant organisation.

PHILLIPA MCDERMOTT: For young kids to come in here and work in a professional environment and to have top-of-the-line equipment that they can work with and see other Aboriginal people working in a medium that is accessible to them - it's not out of anyone's reach anymore.

BRAD COOKE: Now we can record our own artists, using our own producers, release them on our own label, play it on our own radio station, it's the most amazing thing.

AGNES WARE: That's why you've got to tune in to 93.7FM, and you'll hear all the music that you love, and you can ring in and ask for a playlist. Would you believe it? We give you a playlist! So they can go out and buy their own. You're supporting an Aboriginal band, you're supporting Aboriginal radio, you're supporting Aboriginal community, you're supporting Aboriginal people. OK? (LAUGHS)

DR STACEY-ANN WILSON: Aboriginal radio is the perfect venue in order to showcase Aboriginal art, culture, and history. Without it, I don't know what exactly people would do, cos the mainstream doesn't care.

MC SEBBA: It allows other people who aren't, perhaps, connected with the culture to be able to listen to it and see where the people are coming from.

JOEL WENNINGTON: It's all still alive and happening. You can see, in the background here, it still is happening. There's still the storytelling, there's still the music.

MORGAN LEWIS: I take my inspiration from this, so thanks for this, Koori Radio. You can't get enough of this. Boom!

IMPOSSIBLE ODDS RAPS: # That's the story I guess it's loud and clear # It hurts to be treated as a second-class citizen up in here # So treat people as you would want them to treat you # And remember if it gets too much We'll laugh it off with you # Laugh it off # Brother Freddie said to # Laugh it off # Cousin Jimmy said to # Laugh it off... #

MIRIAM COROWA: If you'd like more information about the program, please go to our website. See you next time.