[The following is a transcript of interviews conducted by Steve Elkins throughout Australia in 2009, which was published in Cadence Magazine as an elaboration of the aural map of Australia Jon Rose assembled.]
Jon Rose: Australia...it's a frustrating place. It's a disaster, culturally. Australia is this country which remains hopelessly in...what they call here a "cringe," it has a a cultural cringe, and it's unable to believe that anything good ever happened here, that it's all happening somewhere else and we have to import it, which is complete nonsense. Just take the didgeridoo, circular breathing, I mean its been going on here forty thousand years, so you don't have to look very far to find things which have been developed here.
Hollis and I, my partner and I, we've made a number of trips around the country, playing the fences - I think it was a total of forty thousand kilometers in four or five years - basically getting an audio-visual map of the country through the fences. It brings you in direct contact with really the real people of Australia. Various things came from this, and certainly research into the history of music here. Everybody knows about the didgeridoo. The fact is, it wasn't played very much in Australia by Aboriginal people. It was an instrument that really was only played in the north, in Arnhem Land in particular. But there are other instruments that Aborigines played.
Roseina Boston: I planted this tree myself, about nine years ago, so I can always have a gum leaf handy when I want it. (Roseina blows on the edge of the gum leaf and plays "One Day At A Time" with a horn-like vibrato).
Jon Rose: We met Roseina Boston, who is a Gumbayungirr elder.
Roseina Boston: In the bush when the old people used to go hunting, they'd sit down behind a bush with their spear and boomerang, the old men, and they'd play [the gum leaf]. They'd probably mimic birds, like...[Roseina mimics specific bird sounds on the gum leaf, and her dogs start barking]. Then the animals would get inquisitive and look up to see what's making that strange sound, and the old fellas would kill them with their boomerang or spear, and that was their tucker (bush food). That was our culture.
Jon Rose: "The gumleaf was used by Aborigines in Christian church services by the beginning of the 20th century, and reached popularity in the 1930s when the desperately unemployed formed 20-piece Aboriginal gumleaf bands. Armed with a big Kangaroo skin bass drum, they would march up and down the eastern seaboard – demonstrating a defiance in the face of the whitefella and his economic methodology. The Wallanga Lake Gumleaf Band played for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Why isn’t there a 20-piece gumleaf band marching down George street on Australia day? This is the New Orleans trad jazz of Australia.
Roseina is the only Aboriginal woman today who plays the gum leaf. She's an amazing person. Like most polymaths, she paints, she dreams, she sings, she plays gum leaf. There's no barrier to her creativity. If she dreams a dream, she will go and find out where the dream happened. So she'll get in the truck with her husband, and go off driving until they find where the dream took place. So she dreamt one dream that she was sitting in a pool of water and there were black snakes swimming around her. And then she went off and it happened. So this notion of the Dreamtime is alive and well in a lot of peoples brains in this country. It's not just in some mystic Past. And like a lot of Aboriginal people, she's really into country and western music."
Roseina: "The gum leaf if not heard so much as the didgeridoo and clapsticks, because not too many people can play the gum leaf. It's a dying heart, and I'm trying to keep it alive."