Original big hut at the Amazon Acres property in mist in northern NSW. Image: Reach Foundation
Songs that made me:
Listen to the soundtrack of an outback Australian feminist utopia
26 Feb 2020
In the 1970s a group of women went north and carved out a space free of men, meat and machines. It was a 400 acre feminist, separatist utopia dubbed ‘Amazon Acres’, and it was here from the ages of seven to fourteen that Amber Jackson grew up.
Music has a way of pouring a moment into a time capsule and Amber spoke with Joey Watson, host of Out of the Box at FBi Radio, on the songs that soundtrack her life.
This song reminds me of being a little kid in our crazy communal house in Melbourne. It was when I was about four or five, not long after my mum became a lesbian. The two houses were joined together; one had an old shop window at the front and this weird little hut at the back that was covered in sticks. These houses had a heavy vibe. I knew a fair few people were struggling with drug dependencies.
There were lots of people who played music and were in bands living there. I remember hearing Patti Smith, Joan Armatrading and Bob Dylan vividly, as well as my mum playing ‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen. The women who lived there were into theatre and put on these big productions at the Women’s Theatre group.
Mum shaved my head when I had nits which I was very unhappy about. But she did relent and let me get my ears pierced for my fifth birthday because I was pretty miffed about looking like a boy. Mum’s girlfriend Trish used to take care of me here sometimes too, as well as a few other select women who I would know for most of my life as aunties. I remember the women were often getting hassled and attacked by strangers whenever we were out for looking dykey and different.
Amber Jackson as a child and her mother (left), and portrait (right)
I chose this song as it reminds me of being up on the Women’s Land near Wauchope where I moved when I was seven. I remember getting a shock when I was walking up a hill towards the Valley carrying a big bag and realising that this was life now. I realised that I now had to walk for miles to get to anywhere and there wasn’t a magic fairy that was going to wave her wand and get me to my destination. It was a new home with a new reality.
We had horses and the occasional old bomb of a car that would all too often break down. I had some very close girlfriends, like sisters, who I grew up with singing this song, so it will always bring me close to them.
We also loved singing Dolly Parton and some of the songs the women had written. Some of my favourites were ‘On the Road’, originally by John Denver, ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, and Silkie’, sung by Joan Baez. We had some beautiful singers and musicians up there and campfire singalongs often happened each night.
Mountain at the Amazon Acres, northern NSW. Image: Frances Phoenix
This song also reminds me of growing up on the Women’s Lands when I was around eight or nine. We were all obsessed with Olivia Newton-John after Grease (much to some of the women’s disgust!) and were dying to see Xanadu. We owned this fancy spotty dress that we took turns wearing into town. We thought we looked stunning wearing it and blended in with the other locals but no doubt that was the last thing we did.
Two well meaning aunties took us out to the cinema at North Haven to see it and after watching the film us ferals camped out on our sheepskins under the starry sky. This was quite normal behaviour for us but as soon as we snuggled into our sleeping bags it started to pour with rain. Yes that was a very long, soggy night. I wonder if I would ever have the guts to just do something like that now? Could I suck it up and just sleep in the pouring rain through the night?
I had this cassette tape of a Yazoo album You and Me Both which I loved when I was around eleven. I had a little boom box that I had painted all over around the time hormones and adolescence were kicking in. I loved Alison Moyet’s voice and this song really spoke to me.
It feels a bit cringey now but it still takes me back to all those hardcore feelings of being a teen. I was living in the Valley with my mum out on Women’s Land and I think I was starting to feel the need to break out of living up there. It was a complicated time. Some of my girlfriends were having a hard time and when I look back I wish that maybe I wasn’t so independent so early.
I moved to Sydney pretty much on my own at fourteen after mum came down and enrolled me in an alternative school. I lived in a share house with my two girlfriends who had also grown up on the land at different stages as well as an assorted hodgepodge of different characters.
We had this house on Edgeware Rd for many years that is etched into people’s minds forever. One night we had one of our huge, infamous parties and a couple of days later a toothless biker guy came knocking on the door “where’s my f***** teeth?! Someone ******* stole my teeth outta my car from your party, and you better find them!” We were so scared and didn’t know who stole the teeth (although it definitely would have been someone from our party).
Somehow it got sorted out and the guy never came back to collect his dentures. I got heavily into rap at this time and when I listen to EPMD, Jungle Brothers, Public Enemy or NWA it reminds me of dancing at def jams, cruising around on trains with my friends and playing songs on the radio program I had at 2SER. I felt absolutely over the moon with excitement when Central Station Records let me borrow records for my show and return them a week later. I’ll always remember feeling grateful that they took such a gamble.
It was 2000 and I was waitressing in Surry Hills. One day my gorgeous mate Yos who I knew from up on the land showed up delivering milk. She left me a funny flyer of a picture of some dogs and told me to come to a party she was putting on. I dutifully went to the party held in a great venue in Martin Place. It was so good to go somewhere where I immediately felt at home.
It ended up turning into a long running party called Bad Dog and I’ve been going for nearly 20 years now. When picking this song I was looking for an iconic dance track that could embody something that lasted the test of time. Over the decades I’ve been dancing at places like the fabulous Red Rattler parties, Mardi Gras, as well as clubs like the Freezer, Kinselas & Club 77. I got introduced to this dance scene early and have kept up going out over the years searching for fun parties with excellent music and people. Anyone who knows me knows that if you put on any good track I will happily most likely be the first person on the dance floor.
Initially I was going to choose something kooky like ‘Highway Man’ by Willie Nelson because my husband Jonny and I always get hooked on random tunes. But then I thought it’s not just Jonny and I now, it’s our child Monte as well. Monte is eight and our family of three loves music. Our Spotify playlists can get pretty random at times going between Kanye, classical, Fleetwood Mac and Marshmello.
One night myself, Jonny and Monte and I were stuck sitting in our old Toyota Corolla in torrential rain outside. We were parked out the front of our old place in Annandale and we had a Prince CD playing in the car. Monty was about four and when ‘Purple Rain’ came on the three of sang our hearts out. Such a cute, perfect moment. “He’s definitely our kid” I thought.
Jonny and I originally bonded over our shared love of ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’ by Prince and I knew he was the one for me. We are ten years married in March but it’s more like a lifetime of sharing everything we’d have had together. I feel lucky.
Amber Jackson will speak with Kerryn Higgs & Sophie Robinson as part of All About Women on their times living in a 1970s feminist utopia. Book tickets here.
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