Paul Kelly and David Arden: Song Stories

Wednesday, 22 Apr 2015

Paul Kelly and David Arden, two Australian songwriters with strong activist and social justice roots, co-wrote ‘Freedom Called' in 2013.

The song highlights the important, yet often overlooked, role Indigenous Australians played during World War I and II. The sentiments expressed through Paul and Dave’s collaboration are as relevant today as they were when the song was first released. With 2015 marking the 100-year anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, we talked to both songwriters about the story behind this song.

“The idea for the song came from Dave,” Paul says of the song.

“He’d already started it when he approached me…we pretty much got together and wrote the song just through David and I talking—talking about those men.”

The men Paul Kelly refers to are the relatives of David Arden that fought in both the world wars.

David’s memories of them date back to family stories as a child, “When I was growing up, I heard the stories of my great-grandfather Timothy James Arden, my great grand-uncle William Reginald Rollings, my grandfather Andrew Arden, my uncle Captain Reginald Saunders and the Lovett family from my grandmother’s side.”

“They all fought in the theatres of war in their lifetimes. I heard their stories from my father’s sister Aunty Isabel Arden, who told me about the fighting Gunditjmara Aboriginal tribes in the Western District, Victoria.”

The moment of inspiration for ‘Freedom Called’ came when David saw an old photo of his uncle - Captain Reginald Saunders. When commissioned, he was the first Aboriginal soldier in the Australian army. “He was a young sergeant at the time… pictured standing near an old red-rattler train with some other young soldiers. As I looked at this photo, I saw the mateship they had for each other.”

It was this image of the bond between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that sparked this song’s unique flame.

Dave worked on the lyrics and melody for a number of years before he decided to send a demo to Paul Kelly. Condensing 100-plus years of relatively untold history into a four-minute song seems like a daunting task. For David and Paul, the song came naturally.

“There’s no secret to the songwriting process,” said Dave. “It’s about bringing storytellers together, to tell a story,”

Paul Kelly agreed. “I thought it was a good story. It was a song that needed to be finished.”

“We didn’t have to make things up…we had some true stories and some telling details to work with. It was just a matter of trying to fit them into the song.”

“In the second verse, his (David’s) uncle ended up being recruited to uphold the law - military law. At the same time, under Australian law, he wasn’t allowed to vote. Being able to get those two contrasts happening next to each other was a way of getting a message across pretty succinctly.” 

Now the song has been written and released, what message do its writers hope to spread as we move closer to the Centenary of the Gallipoli landing and ANZAC Day?

For David, it’s about making sure stories like those of his relatives are not forgotten.

“It’s a symbol of remembrance and respect to fighting Gunditjmara men and women who served for Australia. They were among many, many, many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders."

"Hopefully the song ‘Freedom Called’ can bring awareness to these men and women who served their country for the price of freedom, and that those elders should not be forgotten…lest we forget.”

Paul hopes the song spurs its listeners to learn more about Indigenous history in Australia. “They were treated equally in the army but not when they came home – it’s a good thing for people to know, there’s a lot to be learned. Not just about World War I and World War II. We don’t talk about the war that happened when the British came here 230 years ago. Lots of Aboriginal warriors died defending their country. This song is part of a wider story.”

“It’s hard to always see how things have changed or how a particular song or film or story has contributed. I think it’s a whole lot of little things that make things change slowly. There’s plenty of stories and plenty of things to write about, you’ve just got to keep your ears open.”

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