Grafton’s favourite country music son Tory Cassar-Daley was the standout winner at the 44th Country Music Awards of Australia, held at Tamworth over the weekend.
Cassar-Daley won five coveted golden guitars from the seven categories for which he was nominated: Male Artist of the Year, Single of the Year for Take a Walk in My Country, Album of the Year for Freedom Ride, Heritage Song of the Year for the song Freedom Ride (co-written with Paul Kelly), and APRA AMCOS Song of the Year for Freedom Ride.
Standing on the side of stage at the awards, Cassar-Daley told an ABC News reporter that he didn’t have butterflies. “I had fruit bats in my stomach when I got here today,” he said. “It’s very nerve-racking, but it’s been a wonderful town to me.
“It’s a beautiful industry; I always feel like I’m a part of the family, so I’m very proud.”
He said he had enjoyed meeting “a lot of beautiful people … in small country towns” as he toured the country over the past year.
He said meeting people in small country towns, rather than in the big cities, had inspired songs like Take a Walk in My Country.
During his acceptance speech, Cassar-Daley revealed that he had been keeping a secret about a throat operation he had before starting work on Freedom Ride.
“I hadn’t told my wife about how my voice didn’t actually come back for a while,” he said.
“I kept it to myself, went through all of the therapy to try and get it back up after the surgery and wrote the first song for the record.
“I think it became a journey of healing, as much as it was an enlightenment.”
Cassar-Daley spoke with the Independent, about the making of Freedom Ride, in March 2015.
In 1965, Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins AO led a group of like-minded people on the Australian Freedom Ride, protesting against the discrimination perpetrated upon Aboriginal people.
The bus went to rural towns such as Walgett, Moree and Kempsey, and exposed the endemic segregation. At Moree, Perkins and his party were confronted by hundreds of irate townspeople when they tried to access the swimming pool, where Aboriginal people were banned from entering.
Cassar-Daley sings on the title track: On a blazing summer’s day / Charlie Perkins led the way / at the public pool in Moree / ‘Step back’, said the man, ‘you can’t get in / ‘you’ve got the wrong coloured skin / we don’t want no trouble here, you see’.
He also took part in the Freedom Ride re-enactment, and remembered how the song, co-written with Paul Kelly, evolved from a moment in an Indigenous Studies class at St Aloysius College in Grafton.
“Everyone was picking people like Lionel Rose, Jimmy Little and Evonne Goolagong. I decided to try and pick some sort of an event that was different,” he said. “It was an amazing journey, just reading about the Freedom Ride.”
The story continued 30-odd years later: “I got in touch with Rachael Perkins, Charles Perkins’ daughter, and she said some beautiful bits and pieces for me to do some research on.
“I took all that stuff down to Paul Kelly’s house in Melbourne and we sat there for a few hours scratching through documents and paper clippings and watching this little DVD and then we wrote the song.
“The original freedom riders [who he met on the bus] were fascinating people that still have a lot of purpose in their lives and had some amazing stories.”