What Rings Their Bell

with Dr Michael Whiticker

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles embracing the offerings of some of the great musicians who live in our region.

 I recently welcomed the opportunity to chat with former Maleny resident but now Brisbane-based, Irish born singer and environmental activist Jenny Fitzgibbon. Jenny arrived in Darwin in 1988 at the age of 25 with traditional music in her blood. Singing was something that came naturally to her as both her parents were lovely vocalists and schools in Ireland encourage everyone to sing and participate in community singing activities. Gifted with a gorgeous voice Jenny was soon active in the Darwin folk scene and learnt much from the talented itinerants who frequented its arts scene. One of the first salient lessons given by her was to question every song you sing. As she says, just because a song is popular is no reason to sing it. Along with folk music, a passion for the environment was ignited in those days and she was soon writing songs warning about global warming to tour through the Northern Territory.

After ten formative years in the Territory, she realised that nearly everyone who inspired her was gone or going South. Many of her folk friends had moved to Maleny so she decided to visit en route to a move to Melbourne. Well, she didn’t make Victoria, but she did travel widely over the next years as an a capella artist. Tulku Mor, the SE Qld band led by Fred Graham, which played traditional Irish music, was another important step for Jenny. She joined the band in the early noughties and it allowed her to develop her own tradition, but in a band setting. In the years since, she has broadened her canvas and moved further from Irish music. Recordings of her work with different artists are found online and readers are encouraged to seek it out. The influence of traditional Irish music is never far away but her development of original material and exploration of politics through the arts is singularly impressive.

For although music has allowed Jenny to establish herself as an artist, her passion for the environment has never faltered and she finds that it dominates her activities these days, though in a healthy way. 

I asked Jenny if she might have something to offer aspiring musicians and her response was immediate. It is a very difficult job to be a commercially viable musician, she said. Every community needs local, live participatory music-making opportunities. It is human to make and share music. Huge numbers of people driving to big, centralised gigs is not sustainable. The commercial music industry only picks up certain styles, certain people. If the motive is only profit, everyone loses. Think local, she said, we can’t keep growing. Using our creative talents to build a new world is an urgent and worthwhile aim. Thank you Jenny for your striking thoughts, words and music.