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lotl.com • Lesbians On The Loose Magazine
given the opportunity, they would have loved
opera as a medium for telling the really
How have the arts been vital in sustaining the
longest continuing culture in the world?
For Indigenous Australians, the visual and
performing arts are the most powerful way
by which we may know the world and give
meaning to everything in it. For more than one
thousand generations, the Indigenous people
of this land have passed on all knowledge of
geography, the sciences, medicine and human-
ity through the visual and performing arts.
Culture is knowledge - knowledge is survival.
You performed during Reconciliation Week
this year. Do you think this week has as much
relevance today as it always has?
It is important to realise that there are many
Australians who have not yet come to under-
stand what the past 230 years has meant for
the First Peoples of this land. Reconciliation
Week will only reach its use by date when
Indigenous culture is valued at the heart of our
Were you really thrown off the church choir
because of your sexuality?
My adoptive parents were strict Baptists and
brought me up in the church. By the mid-’80s I
had risen to the position of Musical Director in
the second largest Baptist Church in Sydney. I
was in my early 20s and already quite sure of
my sexuality. Sadly, when I came out in 1988,
the Church leadership group felt that they
could not support my ‘lifestyle choice’ and
asked me to resign. I left a community of over
three hundred people, many of whom I had
known my entire life. Although I struggled for
many years with what had happened, I never
looked back. If you cannot be true to yourself,
what hope of true happiness will you
Do you think there is enough education about
Indigenous History in Australian schools?
There is still such a lack of understanding of
the true value and depth of Indigenous knowl-
edge and methodologies.
In early September this year, I turned down the
opportunity to perform ‘Advance Australia Fair’
at the 2015 AFL Grand Final. As an Indigenous
leader, I simply can no longer sing the words
‘we are young and free’. They do not ring true
in Australia at the moment. So what is to
In 2009, I was privileged to help launch
alternative lyrics penned by Australian legend
Judith Durham in consultation with Muti Muti
singer-songwriter Kutcha Edwards. The words
are as inclusive as they are beautiful.
I particularly love the second verse:
‘Australia, let us stand as one, upon this
A new day dawns, we’re moving on to trust and
Combine our ancient history and cultures
To bond together for all time, advance
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance
Words matter, Australia. It’s time to sing a
Why are Land Rights so crucial?
Where do you live? How long have you lived
there? Imagine you had to leave right now -
Imagine you are prohibited from securing food
from any known source. Imagine your water
supply being cut off. Imagine the place that gives
you your sense of self - mentally, physically and
spiritually - is closed off to you under the threat of
death. Imagine everything you know is counted
as worthless. I think Paul Keating summed it up
so eloquently in his Redfern Park Address in 1992:
‘Isn’t it reasonable to say that if we can build a
prosperous and remarkably harmonious multi-
cultural society in Australia, surely we can find
just solutions to the problems which beset the
first Australians - the people to whom the most
injustice has been done.
And, as I say, the starting point might be to
recognise that the problem starts with us - non-
Aboriginal Australians...we took the traditional
lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We
brought the diseases. The alcohol. We commit-
ted the murders. We took the children from their
mothers...It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being
done to us.’
You became an Ambassador for the Indigenous
Literacy Foundation earlier this year, joining the
likes of Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan.
That must have been such an honour.
I serve so that the message is clear - Indigenous
culture is our greatest untapped asset. With the
oldest arts practices and longest accumulation
of knowledge and wisdom, Australians alone can
lay claim to the longest continuing culture in the
world. I work to help Indigenous children and
adults understand their own worth.
What would your dream night sound like?
Dame Joan Sutherland is on stage at the Sydney
Opera House singing Lucia di Lammermoor. I am
in the audience with my darling Toni. At interval
we bump into Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-
Frid; we all have drinks overlooking the harbour.
After the performance our driver takes us back
to the Presidential Residence where we retire for
You called Abbott ‘anti-gay’ for his refusal to
pass the Marriage Equality Bill. Do you think we
will fare any better now?
Eventually. But how many of our LGBTQI sisters
and brothers have lived their entire lives waiting
for equality or even more importantly, waiting for
justice? Most of all, I am impatient for justice.
So you would marry Toni if you could?
Yes. Message to Toni - DARLING, I LOVE YOU
WITH ALL MY HEART AND HAVE FOR ALMOST
TEN YEARS NOW. WILL YOU MARRY ME?
Don’t miss the exclusive performance of Til The
Black Lady Sings starring Deborah and Toni at
NSW’s Glen Street Theatre on 31 Oct.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM | INTERVIEW
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