Looking back on things, it’s crazy how one step in a different direction, away from our comfort zones can open up a whole new world of opportunity. It seems this has occurred more than once for me and has completely realigned my path.
In 2002, fresh out of the stock camp, with no real training, I entered a singing contest in Adelaide River, which in turn qualified me for the Academy of Country Music in Tamworth. I’m not going to lie; I was packing myself about getting up on stage in front of all those people! Mum’s saying “they can because they think they can” rang true that day.
Promo shot taken at Mount Sanford Station.
This led to a life-changing two weeks in Tamworth working with mentor Becky Cole and numerous other musicians who went on to do great things in the music industry. It was here I met arguably one of the best music producers in the country, Garth Porter who also produces Lee Kernighan’s music. I later put out two albums with Garth – ‘Smack Bang!’ and ‘Heatwave’.
Busking on the street at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
With a budding music career on the horizon, in 2003 I decided to part ways with Mount Sanford Station and headed out contract horse-breaking throughout the Northern Territory and Queensland. Every 2-3 weeks I would break in about 10 horses before I hit the road to the next destination.
Breaking-in a horse at Mount Sanford.
It was great meeting so many people from all walks of life. I got to travel to several different stations all over Queensland and the Territory. Every station had its own strategies when it came to mustering and handling cattle and managing stock camps. It was a great learning experience, particularly having the opportunity to work with so many different horses of all types of temperaments and personalities.
Martin Oakes and I.
It was these experiences that really inspired me to write more songs about life in the bush, particularly the funny things that happen almost on a daily basis. I think humour is just part of life in the outback.
Too often all we hear about from the outback are sad and negative stories of loss, drought, dropping cattle prices, floods, fires, depression and suicide. Whilst there is no denying this is a reality of living on the land, there are just as many great stories that need to be told.
Having a better understanding of how a song can impact someone’s life, I am very conscious to keep my song writing and music upbeat. Not to mention, it’s far more fun for me performing it! I’m a strong believer that surrounding yourself with positive people (i.e. the Gary Barbours of the world) is key to maintaining a positive frame of mind.
When I began touring with Sara Storer and The Sunny cowgirls, many of the towns we visited were in the midst of a drought. The girls and I made it our mission to put a smile on the faces of our guests and allow them to forget about their own backyard just for one night.
On tour with Sara Storer.
We got to travel to some weird and wonderful places such as Augathella – one of my favourite crowds.
It was a complete contrast; from working in a round yard all day with breakers, to being flown to a big stage with flashing lights and full band, rocking out a song I had written and actually having people sing-along – that was really mind-blowing for me, still gets me today!
As a result of stepping out of my comfort zone, I have been given the opportunity to meet some of the nation’s most valued country music artists including Becky Cole, James Blundell, Sarah Storer, The Sunny Cowgirls, Luke O’Shea and The Davidson Brothers, just to name a few. Had I not taken that risk fourteen years ago, who knows where I would be today?
Rocking out on stage with the awesome Davidson Brothers and Matt Scullion
Martin Oakes, myself, Peter Cooper and the Davidson Brothers