What Could Be Done With The ARIA Hall Of Fame

22 September 2023 | 2:48 pm | Jeff Jenkins

An open letter to ARIA from journalist Jeff Jenkins that provides suggestions to make the Hall of Fame a renowned annual event in the Australian music calendar.

ARIA logo

ARIA logo (Source: ARIA)

Dear ARIA,

I’ve been writing the same story for many years. It usually starts, “Why isn’t Stephen Cummings in the ARIA Hall of Fame?”

And I regularly have the same discussion with my mate Neil Rogers on Triple R. Recently, I remarked to Neil: “Unfortunately, I think we care more about the Hall of Fame than ARIA does.”

As they say in the classics, it’s funny because it’s true.

Except, it’s not funny.

As a fan of Australian music, your lack of respect for the Hall of Fame is both disappointing and perplexing. It should be the highlight of the Australian music year, not an afterthought at the ARIA Awards.

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It’s glaringly obvious that the Hall of Fame needs to return to being a standalone event, with multiple inductees every year.

I was lucky enough to be there for the first standalone event at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in 2005. Michael Gudinski inducted Renée Geyer (“Yes, you’re a difficult woman, but you’re bloody fantastic”). Harry Vanda joked about how he shuddered when he received the Easybeats’ induction letter – “I thought it said indictment”. Hunters & Collectors played together for the first time in seven years. Molly Meldrum did a memorable Molly-like speech to induct Normie Rowe, who then played with The Living End. Smoky Dawson revealed he’d just signed a new record deal – at the age of 92. And John Clarke inducted Split Enz, calling them “the musical All Blacks”.

It was a magical night.

The producer of that event, Mark Pope, proudly explained, “We really want to give the Hall of Fame the prominence it deserves.” Responding to critics who argued that inducting a number of acts detracted from the honour, he pointed out: “We don’t want it to be a posthumous award. We realised we had a real backlog of worthy inductees, so we wanted to get cracking.”

Well, you got cracking with the standalone event in 2005, but since 2011, your commitment to the Hall of Fame has been sadly lacking.

In the last decade, you have inducted Air Supply, Molly Meldrum & Countdown, Tina Arena, Crowded House, Daryl Braithwaite, Kasey Chambers, Human Nature, Archie Roach and now Jet. Not quite a wasted decade – they’re all worthy inductees – but do you think that’s good enough?

Of course, in 2021, there were no inductees due to Covid. Last year, you were able to stage the ARIA Awards, but you totally ignored the Hall of Fame.

I have no beef with Jet being in the Hall of Fame. I recently wrote about the cultural impact of their debut album, Get Born, on these very pages. They are deserving of the honour. But in an article announcing Jet’s induction, I found your CEO’s comments disrespectful and offensive.

Annabelle Herd told the Nine newspapers that Jet would lead the charge of younger inductees. “I want this to be the first of many,” she was quoted as saying. “We have so many artists that are still young and still performing and very active in their careers, but they’ve already achieved so much. We don’t want to have to wait until acts are retired, or their audience has moved on.”

I’m sure no offence was meant, but how would a pioneering band such as The Atlantics feel when they read those comments? Sure, most of their audience might have moved on, but does that mean they’re not worthy of being in the Hall of Fame?

Back in 1963, Bombora was as seismic a single as Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl in 2003. The noted critic Clinton Walker called it “the first great Australian record that was equal to anything produced overseas … Australia didn’t know what had hit it. Something like the future. This was the point at which Australian pop, Australian songwriting, caught up with the rest of the world.”

The Atlantics were the first local band to write and record a number-one hit. And it was the first international hit by an Australian band. (And by the way, they’re not “retired” – they put out a great new record this year, Still Making Waves.)

Then there’s Rick Springfield. The guy has had 17 Top 40 hits in the US, including a number one. What does he have to do to be inducted? Sure, he’s spent most of his career overseas, like AC/DC, the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Frank Ifield and Air Supply, who are all in the Hall of Fame. But Rick is still such an Aussie; he even had an EH Holden shipped to the US. 

Of course, when it comes to who should be in the Hall of Fame, the point – as Rick would say – is probably moot. And that’s one of the many great things about the Hall of Fame: everyone has an opinion. It’s not that hard to compile a list of potential inductees. I sat down today and came up with 108 names.

Why don’t you put together a Hall of Fame advisory committee consisting of passionate Australian music fans?

People like Neil Rogers, who’s been doing an Australian music show on community radio for more than 40 years; Vicki Gordon from the Australian Women In Music Awards; and Melbourne band booker Mary Mihelakos, who’s been to more gigs than anyone I know. We are lucky to have many passionate and knowledgeable Australian music fans across the country. If you don’t care about the Hall of Fame, it’s easy to find some people who do.

And you could easily add a public vote to the process – like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does in America – to get fans involved.

As for the actual event, it should be on the same day every year, a date on the calendar that’s significant in Australian music history. How about July 5? It was on this day in 1958 that Johnny O’Keefe released Wild One, the song that started it all.

So, we’ve got a standalone event with multiple inductees and a date. We just need a broadcast partner.

It should be live on the ABC, simulcast on ABC radio.

It’s a no-brainer for the national broadcaster, whose charter states that it should be “broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain and reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community and … to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia”.

Of course, the production bill would be big. But just as ARIA has to be shamed into treating the Hall of Fame with respect, convincing the ABC to commit to the event should not be difficult.

With a rich history of music shows, including Countdown, GTK, Rock Arena, Recovery and Rage, the ABC has a remarkable archive. Cutting together the highlights reel for each inductee would be a breeze.

The event shouldn’t be a Sydney-centric show like the ARIA Awards. It should move around the country. One year, it could be in Brisbane; the next, it could be Perth or Adelaide or Ballarat or Newcastle. Each year, it should celebrate what that city has given to Australian music.

For many years, I have argued that the Hall of Fame should also include producers and songwriters. Vanda & Young were in the first induction in 1988. But aside from Ross Wilson, Lobby Loyde and Molly Meldrum, the Hall has pretty much ignored producers since then. It’s crazy that the work of producers such as Mark Opitz, Charles Fisher, Tony Cohen and Mike Chapman has not been recognised. Then there are songwriters such as John Farrar and Steve Kipner. Without songs, we have no records, right?

I’d even stretch the eligibility criteria to video director, whose creativity has contributed to the success of many artists. Australia has given the world two of the finest video directors – Russell Mulcahy and Richard Lowenstein. Surely, their work should be acknowledged?

So, what could a standalone Hall of Fame event look like this year? How about: The Atlantics, Rick Springfield, Kate Ceberano, No Fixed Address, Redgum, Baby Animals and Mike Chapman?

Don’t like the look of that line-up? How ’bout this one: The Cruel Sea, Kevin Borich, Stephen Cummings, Tiddas, The Screaming Jets, Delta Goodrem and Mark Opitz.

Tell me that wouldn’t be a good show.

Of course, ARIA is all about selling records. I get that. Every year, there could be a bunch of Hall of Fame-branded limited-edition releases celebrating the work of the new inductees – seven-inch singles, live albums, compilations, vinyl, CDs, cassettes …

The Australian Music Vault could take an annual Hall of Fame exhibition on the road. And all of the material produced for the event could be turned into an educational package for schools and music colleges to teach students about the history of Australian music.

Following the Jet announcement, it’s been heartening to see people talking about the Hall of Fame. It shows that people care about Australian music. It’s just a pity that ARIA needs to be reminded of that fact.

The Hall of Fame should be a special event. The artists that have built our industry deserve to be treated with respect and celebrated.

There’s a quote that’s attributed to a Polish politician, Józef Piłsudski. I’m not sure if he was a music fan, but it seems apt:

“Who doesn’t respect and value his past is not worth the honour of the present and has no right to a future.”

Or, to put it more simply, with a popular modern quote:

Do better.

Yours in Australian music,

Jeff Jenkins