Kev Carmody

About Kev Carmody

When Indigenous artist Kev Carmody started writing songs, the social standing of Aboriginal people in Australia was such that they had only recently been given the right to vote (in 1962) and weren't yet included in population numbers. He released his debut album, Pillars of Society in 1988, the year that marked the bicentenary of white settlement in Australia; its songs railed against such injustices and the treatment of First Nations people at the hands of Colonial rule. Case in point is “Thou Shalt Not Steal”—it may sound like a laidback folk song, but its lyrics seethe with anger: “In 1788 down Sydney Cove the first white people land/Said sorry, boys, our gain’s your loss/We’re gonna steal your land.” Meanwhile, Carmody’s best-known song, “From Little Things Big Things Grow”—a co-write with Australian songwriter Paul Kelly—recalls the moment 200 Gurindji stockmen, domestic workers, and their families walked off Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory to protest land rights.
Carmody’s connection with the land has been sacred his whole life. He was born in Cairns in 1946 and raised on droving camps that crossed the Darling Downs, an occupation he turned to briefly after leaving school, and which informed songs such as “Droving Woman.” It’s provided fertile ground for his songwriting, particularly in songs such as “I’ve Been Moved” off 1990’s Eulogy (For a Black Person), which Carmody penned while droving and staring into the enormity of the night sky (“I’ve been moved by the wind upon the waters/And the shadows as the leaves are blown”). It was while working as a drover that Carmody came across a book in a rubbish dump called Teach Yourself Guitar, through which he learned the basics of playing the instrument with four fingers as opposed to a pick—a technique that defines his sound. His lyrical prowess, meanwhile, is derived from the traditional Aboriginal art of storytelling, a skill handed down from generation to generation. The power of Carmody’s words and music has resonated across decades and genres, with artists as diverse as Jimmy Barnes, Kasey Chambers, Courtney Barnett, and Alice Skye contributing to the 2020 expanded edition of 2007’s Cannot Buy My Soul tribute album, in which myriad artists cover some of Carmody’s best-loved songs.