“That’s a lot more meaningful to me than getting streams.”
CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussion of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Queensland’s Deb Suckling is much more than just a prolific singer-songwriter.
She is a fiercely proud mother, wife, mentor and has thrown herself into working with the Archie Roach Foundation, helping First Nations artists find their voice.
She is also a survivor of sexual and domestic violence.
Suckling’s latest music video, You Can’t Take Me, sums up a story she has waited many years to tell – and it’s all laid bare on her debut solo album, Worthy.
The album was recently released on Spotify and other streaming services, after Suckling dropped it in November on Soundcloud in exchange for donations to the Women’s Legal Service.
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“I’m never going to get a million streams. Like, that’s never going to happen,” Suckling laughs.
“So, what we did was people paid for it from Soundcloud and we raised almost $1,000 I think for the Women’s Legal Service. It was just a way of giving back before it was out there for 0.00001 of a cent, for something that could actually make a difference.”
With one in three calls to the Women’s Legal Service going unanswered due to lack of funding, it was a cause close to Suckling’s heart.
“Any money that they get goes towards another call of a woman in desperate need being answered,” she says.
“So even $50 to the Women’s Legal Service helps someone’s call get answered; that’s a lot more meaningful to me than getting streams.”
Growing up in Toowoomba, Suckling became the victim of sexual assault at the age of four.
She experienced more into her teens, before encountering domestic violence in her first relationship, which “went really south” when the pair moved out of home together.
“You just don’t know how to tell people what’s really going on, I think,” she says.
“You kind of feel like it's partially your fault, you know, and you do love this person and you kind of want to fix them, and then you can't so it just drags on. That relationship went for seven years until I moved to Brisbane.”
Worthy is Suckling’s way of clearing out the cobwebs and saying things she has kept in the depths of her mind for too long.
“You've got to clear your brain out of all the things that you've lived through, like past stuff, to allow you to be able to take in all the good stuff for the future,” she tells.
“I kind of went back to all the songs I wrote when I was young and angry; when I was just writing and just raging, you know, and this was a lot more considered.”
The album also features a track written for her current husband, Craig Spann, who once camped outside her old house to make sure she’d be okay if he saw her then partner drinking, because “the drinking generally led to the violence”.
“The first song on the album is actually the last song I wrote, and that's for Craig; because it takes a lot to be able to say thanks for doing all that,” Suckling laughs.
“It's just so easy to go under if you're not surrounded by good people, you know? I think just acknowledging that... but also how to put it into songs, is a lot of what the album's about, really - acknowledging those big feelings that you do find quite difficult to talk about, but music just makes it a little bit easier.”
The album also features a track called Romeo And Juliet, which Suckling wrote for her son and his girlfriend. That’s the track she points to as the key song on the album.
“It’s really fun – and it’s so ‘80s,” she laughs.
“You juggle with who you are when you're a mum and you're other things as well, and it's been really nice to be able to have my family in this album with me, and be a part of it together. Because they're my life and they made me who I am today.”
It was Suckling’s son, Jude, who was instrumental in getting her to “finally” get this album done.
“Even though we kind of stopped playing a lot - obviously it happens when you have kids and other things that you're passionate about doing - I was able just to mess around on GarageBand and start writing at home and slowly do it in my own time and space,” she says.
“Because my son's a music guru, he just basically helped set everything up and programmed some drum and beats for me... he's a big catalyst, he's put out two EPs and he's just turned 17.”
Suckling is surrounded by musically gifted teens, running the regional Queensland mentoring program Big Sky Girls from home, alongside Craig and guest mentors, like Roz Pappalardo and Kaylah Truth.
“We’re about to kick off Big Sky Girls again this year… we’ve had 36 girls through in the past three years, and we’re taking on another 10 this year,” she says.
“We've had Tia Gostelow, Asha Jefferies. Doolie, Amber Farnhan and Ella Hartwig... there's just so many. And they've all just gone so well, like there's maybe a half a dozen who kind of aren't doing music as a career.”
Suckling is happy to use her experiences as a teenager to help girls in the program. Although they may not have experienced sexual or domestic violence, their experiences as young women growing up in regional Queensland are somewhat similar.
“Unfortunately, there is no question that one in three young women is sexually assaulted by the time she's 18. You know, that's just how it is,” Suckling says.
“It's not just the music and the songwriting, that Big Sky Girls is, it's about confidence and assurance and being able to stand up for yourself and being really strong. All of the girls have suffered some degrees of bullying - mainly from other girls, too - and mainly around their music, which was quite shocking for me to realise.”
Running the workshops in her home, Suckling says she considers the girls in the program family.
“They do become part of the family,” she says. “So we have 36 additional daughters.”
The Big Sky Girls documentary will debut at Cinequest Film Festival between March 1-3. Worthy is out now.