ALISTAIR HULETT is gone. He went on 28 January 2010. But Alistair is still everywhere in the world, on vinyl, cd, and now of course on Youtube. We still have every song he wrote. He was a socialist and internationalist, a revolutionary with a mouth and a guitar.
The stories he told are our stories, of the fights against racism, war—injustice anywhere. He sang of our past, our struggles, and he sang of our victories. And every time he sang, he gave us the history that produced the song. Everyone learned a lot and had a great time doing it. More than this, he took to the streets, organising, marching, occupying, picketing.
When we first came across Alistair, he was part of the punk, thrash, folk band Roaring Jack that Sydney’s Sandringham pub knew so well. They joined the campaign to expose two quite separate police framings of Tim Anderson in NSW and Kerry Browning from Women Against Racism (WAR) in Canberra. Tim had already done time for a crime he didn’t commit and was being targeted for the 1978 Sydney Hilton hotel bombing, which was in fact the work of Special Branch and ASIO. WAR organised against apartheid South Africa, black deaths in custody and the 1988 Bicentenary celebration of invasion and occupation. Kerry Browning was finally charged with blowing up diplomatic cars.
The battles of one person against the state are never easy, the odds are stacked against you. After all, the bosses own the courts. But against the odds, we won both battles—the truth didn’t fit the frame!
Alistair and his band told our stories and raised money for our defence. Roaring Jack put out a single, Framed on one side, Criminal Justice on the other. The message: Don’t get hysterical, negative and cynical / We’re gonna change it / Get political!
And that’s what he was—political, always with a call to action. He told stories to show how the people in power try to divide and rule us. He sang of the crimes committed against this country’s first people and their land—the theft, the massacres, the atomic testing, the deaths at the hands of police and prison officers. But there it is again, he had confidence in us! Koori and White, old Australian and new / Brothers and sisters of every hue / The future is ours, take the wealth from the few / And raise the red flag in Australia
Many people got to know Alistair the man on the people’s picket line at the Canberra showgrounds in 1991. We were there to stop AIDEX 91, the defence department’s and arms manufacturers’ war fair. Alistair’s job was to bring a tent for our gear, our books and our pamphlets. A tent? As Alistair got out the sledgehammer and huge pegs, people shook their heads. But he was thinking big! The tent was like a circus marquee and became the main meeting place for everyone to discuss tactics.
And while we barricaded, blockaded and occupied, Alistair kept us going through the night. He sang and we joined in. We lost that fight, the war fair went on, after hundreds of arrests, and a city on our side, and a world watching. But we won the battle—there hasn’t been a war fair in this country since!
People all over the world know his songs—people from all over the world are in his songs. From Scotland and England and Ireland to Bougainville, Chile and Timor, they are there. There won’t be any more from Alistair, but he’s left us everything he did. And the people of the world, fighting for a different world, won’t stop singing songs and making music. We won’t stop telling the stories and we won’t forget to think big!
From the killing fields of Vietnam to the backstreets of old Derry Town / They ring us round with tanks and guns to keep us in our station / From the coal pits of Northumberland and down below the Rio Grande / They bind and break the worker’s hand with hardship and starvation / Oppression is the bosses’ creed and profit their religion / Where are the ones who’d dare to set the cat among the pigeons?
We are those ones. We will dare to fight. We have a world to win. See you on the streets! And ta-ra Alistair—we won’t forget you.
By Tanya McConvell