When asked what comes to mind when you think about Australia there are many thoughts one would naturally conjure. Vegemite, kangaroos, barbeques, sunburn. . . There are also some famous Australian names that would jump into thought. Steve Irwin, Hugh Jackman, Ned Kelly. . . When people not from Australia think up these names in reference, they are thinking up someone who made Australia world known, or someone who started the Australian stereotypes. Would Americans constantly say ‘Crikey’ when imitating Australian accents if Steve Irwin hadn’t done so when capturing crocodiles?
When given this assignment to study the life of a significant Australian figure and to research how they had affected the culture of Australia, naturally I thought of Steve Irwin and Ned Kelly. Thanks to fifth grade studies on the two, I didn’t really feel inspired to research them. Why research someone I already know so much about? I tried brain storming different iconic Australians. Every one that I thought of seemed to give Australia the same image; the image of a land raised, bush roughing tough guy that doesn’t stand for the phrase ‘it can’t be done’.
This is a great image for Australia, I thought to myself, but isn’t there any iconic Australian that tells a different story? About this time while I was sifting through my head for the labels of Australian famous people, the CD I was listening to moved on to a cover of ‘You’re the one that I want’ from the movie Grease. The song is covered by Angus and Julia Stone and they completely changed the feel of the song. It is slowed down and sweetened to the point that it has lost the selfish lust heard in the original. As the song reached its last note, I decided to look up Angus and Julia Stone in the great library of our generation, Google.
Since I first heard the opening violin and piano chords of ‘Hold on’, the first track on Angus and Julia Stone’s award winning album ‘Down the Way’, I have been hooked on their music. I listened to the first minute and a half of ‘Hold on’ in the music store then the next time I went there, I bought the album. I am not exaggerating when I say I own almost every CD they have released, and I am not just trying to suck up when I say I enjoyed doing this assignment. While you may argue that they are not iconic Australian figures, I might argue that they could be well on their way to becoming some.
In the Northern Beaches of Sydney, little as six years ago, Julia Stone dragged her younger brother down to local bars and clubs to perform at open mic nights where they backed up each other in performances and sold their separate CD’s afterwards. In an interview Julia admitted that her brother, two years younger than her, always sold more. The pair had grown up in an extremely musical family, a different instrument lying in every room of the house at all times, so they were raised with calloused hands and a song on their lips.
Eventually they turned their two separate acts into a duo and made an EP (extended play) called ‘chocolate and cigarettes’. Soon after, as they toured Australia and then the UK, they made a second EP called ‘heart full of wine’. They lived in London for about a year, touring, writing and recording more music. Half of their first full length album ‘a book like this’ was recorded in their friend’s living room on vintage guitars and microphones. The other half was recorded in their mother’s living room. This is the album that was released in 2007, sold over 80,000 copies worldwide and earned them six Aria nominations.
Their career was moving so fast they still didn’t seem like famous musicians, more like average people that really like music. I am judging this from the interviews I have read:
“Interviewer: How did your parents react when you told them that you both want to be professional musicians under “one label”?
Angus Stone: I don’t know. What did they say?
Julia Stone: It didn’t ever happen that we were telling them that we were going out selling music.
Angus Stone: We still haven’t told them!
Julia Stone: They still don’t know what we are doing! (Laughs)”
In 2009 the brother and sister had some time apart. They spent the time writing more music. Angus came out with a single called ‘smoking gun’ under the name ‘Lady of the Sunshine’. Julia also made a solo album called ‘the memory machine’. They truly do live and breathe music, because when they got back together after their break each one had a whole set of songs ready to record. These songs made up their 2010 album ‘Down the way’.
They went from being an unknown pair in 2005, singing their songs at bars and clubs, selling their home recorded CDs after shows, to winning Aria album of the year in 2010 with ‘Down the way’, which sold over 140,000 copies, and single of the year with ‘big jet plane’. Their music has reached all over the world and has connected with individuals everywhere with songs about love and heart break that seem to be related to by everyone.
I didn’t just choose Angus and Julia Stone for this assignment because I love their music. I chose them because when I searched through the ever helpful Google I found interviews with them that told a story that was not often heard about Steve Irwin or Ned Kelly. It told the story of two individuals who are famous worldwide and can’t believe it is happening. It told the story of young musicians who are affecting not only their home country with their music, but countries all over the world, and they are still in wonderment at the fact other people want to pay to see them perform.
“I think it’s strange that people anywhere want to come and watch us play. I think it’s strange that people from where we’re from want to come and see us. As much as we enjoy playing music - and we love to do it whether we are onstage or at home - you wonder why people would want to pay money out of their hard-earned salaries to come and watch us. It’s unusual that it happens at home and it’s unusual that it happens here. It’s altogether unusual,” said Julia in an interview in 2007 around the time of their first full length album ‘A book like this’ was released.
When people think of Ned Kelly they don’t ever think of a guy who might have thought for a moment that he was in over his head. When Steve Irwin comes to mind no one ever thinks of a young man looking at a crocodile for the first time and wondering how on earth he was supposed to face that thing. When people who know of them think of Angus and Julia Stone, they think of the love and longing in ‘Big Jet Plane’, the raw passion and anger in ‘Draw your Swords’. Or maybe they think of a couple of hippies from Sydney who have some awesome tunes.
From reading the interviews I have deduced that while Australia will always be home to them, they feel like everywhere else in the world is not so different. They believe in equality and a unity among people worldwide. Everyone is connected by music, so how many differences can there really be?
“. . . Cultural boundaries are no longer identified through geographic borders. Australia isn’t so different from England which isn’t so different from America . . . . You just play music and, whether you are German, Polynesian or American, you can enjoy it. The world is down to people’s human emotions and what they are going through rather than where they’re from.” said Julia Stone in another interview.
With the Australian stereotype of racism settled into the world this is an invaluable view for influential and popular people to have, especially with Angus and Julia’s growing world wide popularity. So I ask if Steve Irwin can have the world believing Australia to be filled with crazy crocodile hunters, why not have Angus and Julia Stone bring the world to believe Australia is filled with accepting people with soul? While they are not Australian icons, they look like they are well on their way to becoming some.
My point is when Steve Irwin was just starting no one knew he would be such an icon to Australia. Yet he reached out to the world and had a catchphrase that is always at the heart of Australian mockery and imitation. If that man could make such an impact doing something not a lot of people can relate to, how much of an impact can the Stone siblings make with people who relate to their music? How much of an impact have they made already?