Brisbane Blacks

Mop & the Dropouts
Language: English

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Mop Conlon wrote 'Brisbane Blacks' so Aboriginal rights wouldn't become yesterday's news

In September 1982, Brisbane hosted the 12th Commonwealth Games. With the world’s eyes on Australia, First Nations people from around the country converged on the Queensland capital to march for Aboriginal rights.

The protests – and the mass arrests that followed – gained international attention. They also got the attention of a local musician by the name of Dennis 'Mop' Conlon.

Aboriginal dot artwork with the text Songs of ReconciliationPlaySpace to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Hear the story of 'Brisbane Blacks' above:

Conlon had grown up in Cherbourg, playing music with his uncles and with his band Dennis Conlon and the Magpies, who would later become known as Mop & the Dropouts.

As he watched the protests on the news that night, he realised he was witnessing a moment in history and wanted to make sure it didn't become yesterday's news.

"I was thinking, 'They’re only going to show this video on TV once [so] I’ll write a song," he says.

He grabbed a notepad and wrote down what he saw.

The song painted a picture of life as an Aboriginal person in Queensland at the time. He didn't realise it straight away, but Conlon had written an anthem.

You look down through your noses to see
The Black man problems down at your feet
With weary eyes looking up at you
Waiting for the message to get through

Kev Carmody remembers hearing it everywhere.

"To actually hear one of our mob singing on the radio… to me was it was just amazing," Carmody says.

The song struck a nerve and spread quickly, taking Conlon and his band well beyond their Queensland home.

"All of a sudden we were down in New South Wales and Victoria singing the same song and they wanted to hear it," Conlon remembers. "It just took off."

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At the same time a teenage Darren Hanlon, who was living in nearby Gympie, heard 'Brisbane Blacks' and its message struck him.

"Even though I was pretty naive as to the politics behind the song and things that were happening in Brisbane, I could still grasp the basic premise of racism that the song talks about," Hanlon says.

Those themes have resonated around Australia and beyond. Kev Carmody says they influenced a new generation of Indigenous songwriters to tell it like it is.

"They're at the forefront of all that," he says of Mop & the Dropouts.

"Because there was no way in the wide world I thought that we'd ever be able to record."

Conlon says he's still hearing from fans of the song and, nearly 40 years since the protests, the story has lived on.

"The song belongs to everybody, doesn’t matter where we are," he says. "It's all for us. All of us.

"They even picked it up in New Zealand, and I got a call from Los Angeles. I’m thinking, 'Geez, must have a good message in it then'."
On TV I saw a story, of the Brisbane Blacks
A story that is touching, a story that is right
In the story, a group of people sitting in a park
Drinking in harmony, drinking until dark

You wonder why they’re like that
Those so-called “drunken blacks”
They know that they’ve done no wrong
But the pressure from society is strong

Every day, each passing day, our culture slowly dies
Like a piece of paper thrown onto a fire
Now all we’ve got is ancient weapons, now is our only trade [?]
Compared to all the immigrants, look how much we’ve made

You look down through your noses to see
The Black-man problems down at your feet
With weary eyes looking up at you
Waiting for the message to get through

Now it’s time for them to sleep, and it’s not in a bed
But in some warm surroundings, in a park or in a shed
Warmed only by the grog that’s been drunk through the day
Warmed only by the grog, the killer of his mates

The very first Australians around
The very first people to be down
And why we fight, is to be recognised
Only to be felt by your blind eyes
Yes, only to be felt by your blind eyes

Contributed by Dq82 - 2022/4/2 - 19:15

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