by Connie Savage
At Woodford Folk Festival it’s 28 degrees, it’s 11:30am and musician Xavier Rudd is due to appear on stage. However, this isn’t a regular performance, but a discussion on his Wurundjeri heritage with Head of Indigenous Programming for Sydney Opera House, Rhoda Roberts.
Ms Roberts announces Xavier Rudd is running late. A young woman in the crowd behind me says out loud “that’s not an issue.”
But what Rudd describes was an issue. Picture this; a white-haired, dark-eyebrowed boy nicknamed “peroxide,” Rudd jokes, by his peers in school.
And, years later, this boy becomes “a white fella with an Aboriginal flag.” And as Xavier Rudd says, “back then, no one that wasn’t black acknowledged that flag.”
The crowd, spilling outside the venue, let out a synchronised cheer that signalled Rudd had arrived on stage.
“Sorry I’m late, drug tested. Passed,” Rudd said. The crowd cheered again.
From a culture with strong beliefs in reincarnation, Rudd said he’s always had an older woman with him. He doesn’t see this woman but feels her spiritually.
“I’m a vessel for that spirit to come through me,” Rudd said.
“I almost feel shame when praised for my music because it’s not me. Cultural stuff comes through me that I’m not responsible for.”
He wonders if this presence could be his missing country Great Grandmother who simply “vanished,” with no formal death record.
“I have vivid dreams of things unrelated to me,” he said.
He speaks of a recurring dream he had as a child. He describes running down a track with black legs infront of him.
On another occasion, Rudd describes seeing eye-to-eye with a red-tailed black cockatoo in Kimberley country. During this, he describes feeling as though he was in quicksand, seeing memories of places and faces he did not recognize.
Later in his life, Rudd laughs as he describes how a flock of these birds followed him on his adventures in outback Australia. Towards the end of the trip, one dropped a feather. He now wears this during his performances.
Ms Roberts, member of the Bundjalung nation, added that perhaps Rudd is a true custodian, a “vessel to keep things going.”
While Rudd acknowledges the compliment, he says he’s still coming to grips with its meaning.
“I don’t understand it. None of us really can,” Rudd said.
“But I can make space for it.”