The year was 1982. As a college student with a fresh radio spot on Hamilton College’s radio station WHCL, I penned an editorial that was later picked up by Billboard magazine. The article was read by a mobile DJ in Melbourne, Australia, who sent me a cassette tape of various Oz Rock artists that hadn’t yet broken in America – the tape included tracks from Midnight Oil and INXS and the Divinyls and a few others – as well as a track that completely blew my mind.
Let me introduce you to Goanna.
From the opening drone of the didgeridoo that started the song, to the lyrical content of a land where 40,000 years of culture were pushed away by European colonialism, “Solid Rock” caught me and didn’t let go. I asked the Melbourne DJ to send a copy of the 45 to me. He did, and I found a way to add it to the WHCL library and playlists.
Eventually Goanna’s debut album, Spirit of Place, was released in the United States. “Solid Rock” actually made the Billboard charts, peaking at #73. And I probably drove everybody at WHCL completely kooky by playing “Solid Rock” on my show and getting other people to play “Solid Rock” on their show.
A few years later, I received another music package from Australia, and this time it contained a 45 of a new Goanna project – a record that hoped to stop the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania, which would have destroyed many fragile natural wonders in a shortsighted land grab for electric power. Credited to “Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble,” the song “Let the Franklin Flow” also had a powerful message of ecology and nature.
Let’s move forward to 2000. I’m now a writer for the music magazine Goldmine, a record collector’s biweekly. The members of Goanna had reunited for a new LP, which featured a powerful and moving track called “Sorry,” a true story of Australia’s Stolen Generation (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were torn away from their families and sent to live with white families in a twisted form of ethnic cleansing). Here.
I eventually pitched the idea of a Goanna profile to my Goldmine magazine editor, and he agreed to it. This allowed me the chance to interview several of the members of Goanna, including Shane Howard, Marcia Howard and Rose Bygrave.
I kept up with the group’s activities, celebrating when Marcia Howard participated in the Australian version of The Voice.
And even in that audition, you knew that “Solid Rock” would come back.
And trust me, “Solid Rock” has proven itself as an Australian anthem as powerful as “Waltzing Matilda” or “Down Under.” I still find this version quite powerful, as performed by the Street Warriors with Australian Idol finalized Shannon Noll.
And 40 years after that release, “Solid Rock” received a command performance at the halftime of the Aussie Rules Grand Final. This is huge in and of itself.
And I realized … for all these years, I never thought to ask the members of Goanna if I could get their autograph on an LP. I contacted Shane Howard, and he gave me the mailing address for Goanna’s head office. The band was in the middle of a 40th anniversary Australian tour, so when they had a break, they would autograph a record for me.
I found my old, reasonably well-kept radio pressing of the Spirit of Place album. A rare USA promotional copy, complete with the white label on the jacket front to indicate to DJ’s which records should receive the most promotion. And off it went.
Last Wednesday … the record came back. Autographed by the members of Goanna.
Oh my God.
And in addition to the autographs … I received a handwritten letter from Shane Howard. Seriously. This is absolutely incredible.
Just an absolutely incredible moment. And gifts that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Of course, now the record (and the letter) needs a framing. To hang along with my other framed records from my time with WHCL and with Goldmine and with all the adventures within that lifetime.
Much thanks to the members of Goanna and all the joy and social awareness they’ve brought in the past 40 years. And thanks again for taking the time to make this American Goanna fan as happy as possible. All the best.
Now if you’ll excuse me … I’m got “Solid Rock” stuck in my head and I don’t want to stop singing it.