Mob Mentality: The Deadly Spirit Behind Treaty Day Out 2024

16 February 2024 | 2:48 pm | Ellie Robinson
In Partnership With Treaty Day Out

Ahead of this year’s Treaty Day Out festival, we sat down with Dallas Woods and Djaran Murray-Jackson to chat about the powerful message it aims to spread.

Dallas Woods

Dallas Woods (Credit: Amir Hazim)

Since it debuted in February of 2022, Treaty Day Out has become one of Australia’s most important music festivals, not only spotlighting and celebrating First Nations talent on a major scale, but also delivering a mighty push to the campaign for Treaty in Victoria.

For those coming in totally blind: a treaty is, at its very core, a negotiated agreement between two parties. For Indigenous Australians, this would mean having the government acknowledge the sovereignty of this land’s First Nations, and work directly with Aboriginal communities to help improve the lives of their peoples. Treaty would allow them an independence from the Colonial binds that hold them back even today; as explained by the Victorian government’s own First Peoples State Relations crew, Treaty would serve as “the embodiment of Aboriginal self-determination”.

They expound on the sentiment: “Treaty is an opportunity to reframe how all Victorians view ourselves, our culture, and our State. Victoria’s Treaties will be shaped by the social and political context of our state, and the aspirations of Victoria’s First Peoples. Treaty will be based on an honest reflection of our history – one that asks for respect and courage, to listen and respond to the voices of those who have cared for this Country for thousands of years. Treaty will deliver long-term, sustainable solutions because First Peoples will be in the driver’s seat, making decisions about the matters that impact their lives.”

This is not a new endeavour for the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, who have been calling on the state government to negotiate a Treaty since its formation in 2019 – but the launch of Treaty Day Out offered them a powerful new avenue to spread their message. After all, music is perhaps the only existing medium for communication that truly transcends language, class, culture, and all other manner of socio-political boundaries.

Djaran Murray-Jackson (the Assembly’s seat holder for the Dja Dja Wurrung people) tells that “probably about 60 percent” of those who attend Treaty Day Out every year come from non-Indigenous Australian backgrounds. But regardless of their personal stakes in the mission, those punters “come and they have the best time ever, and in the process they they learn about our culture and Treaty and everything we stand for” – something Murray-Jackson avows is “priceless” to the Assembly’s cause.

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Each edition of the festival happens in a different part of Victoria: the first went down on Yorta Yorta land (Shepparton), and the second – held in October of 2022 – took place on the lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung and the Taungurung peoples (Bendigo). A third edition was held on Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Country (Melbourne) last June, and the upcoming fourth edition will happen on Wadawurrung Country (Ballarat) next month.

It’s scheduled for Saturday March 2 at the historic City Oval, with a lineup sporting such heavyweight acts as Jessica Mauboy, Electric Fields, Mo’Ju, 3% (the supergroup of Nooky, Dallas Woods and Angus Field), Scott Darlow, Blackfire, Brolga, Madi Colville-Walker, Jada Weazel and Canisha. Free access will be granted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are enrolled with the Assembly (if you’re eligible for enrolment but haven’t sorted it out just yet, you can head here to get on top of that), with tickets for everyone else available here.

Murray-Jackson notes that most of the artists on the bill are “heavily involved” with the Assembly’s push to campaign for Treaty in Victoria. Dallas Woods affirms the sentiment, telling us he “wouldn't say ‘yes’ to the show” if he “didn't actually believe in what they’re trying to achieve”. It’s a core part of his ethos – artistically and beyond – and that’s been the case since say one. He explains: “My mum always said, ‘If you've got a voice, use it for the right thing. Don’t ever use it to bring other people down.’ I’ve always been very blessed that people have resonated with what I have to say.

“It was a big eye-opener for me to actually realise how much people resonate with it – from all different walks of life and all different parts of this country – to realise it’s not just a WA thing, it’s all of us going through the same situations. So the more common ground we can find and the more connections we can make, using our voice and not violence, the closer we get to actually winning this war and making sure we break down them walls without having to throw a single spear.

“In general, you know, this government has taken away the warrior within us. We can't just go out there and fight anymore – we’ll get locked up. So we've got to find other ways to be just as staunch [in spreading] our message and inspiring the next generation, and beat them at their own game.”

The fight to have Treaty instated in Victoria is one that means a lot to Woods, with its significance instilled in him as a young’n. “No matter what tribe or clan you’re from,” he says defiantly, “we all want to be able to feel like we actually belong on our country, not just live in someone else's government on our country. We want to have a say, and we want to be able to make sure the First Peoples of the lands that people stand on are actually being heard – that country is being looked after, and the communities on it are being looked after.”

Woods hopes the festival will inspire people to share in his dedication, to “start the fire for us to start doing this everywhere”. Because the end goal isn’t just to have Treaty made a reality in Victoria, but all across Australia. “Every single person on this lineup,” he continues, “we all come from different clans and different tribes, but we all agree that the people of the country, we need to speak first. Just being a part of that there is something beautiful – so I hope it gets done in a way where, you know, everyone is heard where they are, and everyone feels comfortable.

It’s not just Woods’ fellow mob that he hopes to appeal to – because in the grand scheme of things, as Murray-Jackson affirms, Treaty “isn’t just for First Nations people, it's for everyone in Victoria”. The Assembly is on track to start negotiating Treaty with Victorian Government later this year, and when they do, he says, “it's going to be a good first step in closing the gap”.

The Assembly have made enormous strides in bringing Treaty to the precipice of actuality. “It'll be the first treaty that gets negotiated in this whole country,” Murray-Jackson points out, adding that “when you look around the world, Australia is one of the only Commonwealth countries that still doesn't have a treaty with its First Nations people – so it's very monumental, and it's going to deliver some real positive outcomes for our people. It’s exciting.”

So what happens after that treaty is signed and becomes an ironclad facet of Victoria’s state government? “We're hoping to plan some proper structural reform,” Murray-Jackson says, “which will give us the power to stick around for a long time.” The ultimate goal is to establish “a Blak Parliament, for lack of better words”, which will allow the Assembly to “laws and policies on things that affect First Nations people”.

Back on the topic of Treaty Day Out, this year’s event will be the first Woods has performed at, but he’s no stranger to the festival or the team behind it. “I've been lucky enough to get over to a few of them,” he beams, “and it’s always amazing to see that many strong Indigenous leaders and musicians up there on them stages – but [the best part of the event] is the energy you get when you’re among it, you know? It brings all the mob together in such a positive way. And when the energy is high, it’s just something beautiful to be around.

“This is exactly where we want to kick it all off with 3% – when you see our names next to Jessica Mauboy and Electric Fields and Scott Darlow and all those guys, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing something right here.’ We’re with all the mob, and together we're going to make something awesome.”

Late last year, 3% linked up with the Assembly to lead the inaugural Treaty Day In tour, where they visited prisons around Victoria to perform for – and more importantly connect with – First Nations inmates. Touching on the unique initiative’s origin, Woods says soberly, “It's no secret that the incarceration rate for our mob is... I mean, it’s criminal. It really is. It’s to the point where it’s globally known – it really isn't norm in other countries, you know, for the First Peoples of that place to be incarcerated at this level.

“Me and Nooky, we have so many family members that have unfortunately been in and out of the justice system. So we wanted to go in there and let the mob know they're not forgotten – they never had been – and let them feel human again... Because they're locked up on their own country, you know? They’re made to feel like they don't belong. But they’re just as human as anyone – they're dads, they're uncles, they’re brothers, they're sons – they’re actual people, exactly like us, there's just a big wall with barbed wire that separates us.

“So it was amazing to go in there and not only show them some love and have a good time, but also hear their stories. They really made the fire within us burn brighter. And you know, if we keep doing the groundwork on the outside, when those mob come out, they’ll be coming into a system that's more beneficial for them, instead of one that's going to lead them straight back to where they came out of.”

This is the spirit of Treaty Day Out, and indeed the Assembly as a whole: to uplift Indigenous Australians and strive for a landscape where First Nations communities can not only survive, but thrive.

Treaty Day Out 2024 is taking place on Saturday March 2 at Ballarat’s City Oval (on Wadawurrung Country). Head here for more info.