Interview: Chasing Ghosts want to ‘shine’ promoting real reconciliation at St Kilda Fest

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Interview: Chasing Ghosts want to ‘shine’ promoting real reconciliation at St Kilda Fest

Chasing Ghosts
Words by Kate Streader

It’s Monday morning and Chasing Ghosts frontman Jimmy Kyle is drinking coffee in a towel, contemplating quitting his job.

“They’re a bunch of racist pricks,” he surmises. He doesn’t elaborate but, well, enough said.

As a Thungutti man, racism is something Kyle has faced throughout his life. Now, his work aims to educate non-Indigenous people and share stories that speak to the experiences of his community – be that through the cultural awareness training workshops and seminars he hosts for government agencies, including Victoria Police and the DHHS, or the themes woven through his rocking, politically-charged music with Chasing Ghosts, which audiences will have a chance to witness for free at St Kilda Festival in February.

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And while racism is still rife in Australia, Kyle notes the attitude shifts he’s witnessed that suggest we’re crawling in the right direction.

“I really dig that so many people are starting to reflect and think and build on the example of others and become educated bit by bit. I’m happy to be able to contribute a little bit where I can and do my part,” he says.

“This was the year I got to see someone like The Kid Laroi do something gamechangingly phenomenal; an Aboriginal kid from Western Sydney singing with Justin Bieber. It’s a different generation than the one I grew up in.”

Chasing Ghosts’ 2020 EP, Homelands, sought to push people to reflect on Australia’s dark history. A history which many non-Indigenous people often don’t even know the half of.

“Growing up, we never learned about massacres in books or at school. We learned about them around the coffee table. ‘Summer’ was the first song that I thought, ‘Well if they won’t put it in the school books, I’ll put it on the radio.”

The EP draws from six true stories, spanning a personal account comparing the experiences of a Koori kid and his white mate to the lower Towel Creek Massacre in New South Wales, which had just one survivor.

Knowing it would be some time before Chasing Ghosts could tour Homelands, Kyle decided he wanted to make an Australian record which relayed true stories that were “quintessentially from this country”.

With January 26 approaching, a day that represents white colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and the genocide of its people, Kyle decided to wield his platform to take back the power and host a Survival Day show at the Espy.

He hopes to make it “a day where we can be together, where we can celebrate we’re still here,” he says. “Just to be in each other’s company is something we always value and appreciate. There’s a lot of strength to share stories, to share our culture, to share our warmth, our humour, our love.”

“For us, the invasion didn’t end. We’re in the invasion, speaking a foreign language because of it… Reconciliation, for us, has nothing to do with Aboriginal people. Reconciliation is between the non-Indigenous community and the truth. They need to reconcile that truth and to stop editing out the truth and start teaching their kids what happened, to teach the Frontier Wars, to teach slavery, to teach servitude.”

As well as providing a space for his community to come together on such a painful day, he says the show is just as much for “our non-Indigenous allies and our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters and fam that will be there to support.”

“Coming along to a show isn’t going to solve all our problems but it does put you around likeminded people and gives us an opportunity to reflect and commemorate a difficult day and sometimes doing that around likeminded people makes it a little bit easier to tolerate the bear,” he says.

Ramping their gig schedule back up, Chasing Ghosts will perform at St Kilda Festival on Saturday February 12 on the Foreshore Stage. The day’s lineup will put them in the company of Archie Roach, Benny Walker, Kee’ahn, The Merindas and Izy.

After two bleak years for live music, full of cancellations and disappointments, Kyle is cautiously optimistic about the festival going ahead.

“I’ve sort of gotten to the point where I don’t hold my breath on anything, I’m like, ‘Okay, if the show goes ahead, it goes ahead’,” he says, “because it’s going to be outdoors I think there’s a lot more likelihood things will keep moving in the positive direction.”

And while his excitement is somewhat wary, he is emphatically grateful for the opportunity to perform at the festival next month.

“I’m blessed to be able to play a festival during inconsistent times so I’m going to take the opportunity and I invite everyone else to take the opportunity,” he says. “It’s been two years of being pretty quiet so it will be great to shine for a while.”

Chasing Ghosts will perform at St Kilda Festival on Saturday February 12 on the Foreshore Stage. For more information and the full program, visit the festival website.