"I get experience and confidence by sitting down under a tree and just talking and stuff... They give me that confidence."
Though most Australians have never heard of Bidyadanga in far northwest Australia, a place of extreme temperatures where the desert meets the sea, it only takes one listen to John Bennett's debut self-titled 2010 album to observe a day in the life of the Karajarri people.
"I've been doing it for a good while now, telling stories about the music and my background with the family and where I grew up, and a lot about the Kimberley area. It's really good to share the stories amongst people who've never listened to my music," says Bennett, whose album opens with Wangkaja, a how-to guide for catching mud crab.
"Over the years I've been lucky enough to sit down with Troy Cassar-Daley when I was at the Opera House performing there."
Quiet though thoughtfully spoken, Bennett explains how he started playing music, and the role his community plays. "I can't remember, I was pretty young. I've just self-taught myself how to play music by listening to it and other things around me. The most people I've looked up to is a band called The Pigram Brothers," he says of the Kimberley family band most recently known for their soundtrack work on Mad Bastards alongside Alex Lloyd. "There's also community bands back at home that I look up to, and I get experience and confidence by sitting down under a tree and just talking and stuff... They give me that confidence. I've just recently come back from Bidyadanga, my community, and we talked. [They said:] 'Hope you do a good job when you're in Melbourne — share the stories, the Karajarri stories of where we come from.' It will be good when I make it over there to Melbourne."
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Bennett is looking forward to playing AWME alongside David Hyams, though it's no surprise that someone who sings so fondly of home should have some apprehension about leaving it.
"[When touring I feel] pretty much homesick to be honest, but once you get used to it, you go with the flow. It's really amazing how many people that I meet who listen to my music that I don't know very well. Over the years I've been lucky enough to sit down with Troy Cassar-Daley when I was at the Opera House performing there for the Deadly Awards. [And] Archie Roach, that was in Melbourne in Federation Square... They're amazing people and just listening to their music and getting that confidence out of them too is great..."
In simple terms, connecting and sharing is at the heart of Bennett's personality, and his music. "The last show I done was in Kangaroo Valley, and there was this person in the crowd and she came up to me and said she'd lost her father just recently. And I sing a song about my father, Old Man, and the album is dedicated to him. She came up to me and she was so sad, and said, 'Thank you for singing that song, you just made my day special and I want to thank you for singing the song.' At the end of the day, it's just really good for people to come up and tell you, 'You've touched me,' or 'You took me back to my country.' It's really special."