In 2014, Decibel premiered their program ‘After Julia’ at the ABC Centre in Ultimo, Sydney, with the ex-Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard in attendance. Now, almost ten years later, the studio album of those works has been released as CD on Australian label Tall Poppies, and online at BandCamp and streaming services.
“My essential view was that it was because I’m the first woman, I’m unusual, and it will wash itself out of the system. It didn’t.” Julia Gillard, 2014.
The rationale for the origins of the project by Decibel artistic director Cat Hope is re-published here.
Personally, the period that Julia Gillard was Prime Minister of Australia was
a turning point for me. I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist – I thought that work had been done. But as events unfolded during her term, and I heard the words of parliamentarians, journalists and callers on talkback radio I realised I was wrong. That work hadn’t been done. I found out I am a feminist – because I believe men and women deserve equal opportunity and respect. Australia wasn’t ready for a woman in the ‘top job’ and it was quite shocking just quite how we were not ready. Things would be said that just wouldn’t have been if it was a man in that position, and I spent a lot of time pondering this – it was difficult to believe this was happening in the place I lived and worked.
There seemed to be something of a groundswell of agreement on the issue amongst those around me – men and women – and I started to look differently at what was happening in my own workplaces. I never felt that I was offered less opportunities as a woman, but was surprised to find that pay equity was still a massive issue in Australia. Whilst there are many women composers active in Australia, very few of them appear in concert programs. At ISCM n 2013, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho expressed similar concerns for the first time – she thought things hadn’t improved for women composers in recent years. Somehow, all this information was almost invisible to me before now, while I was busy ‘getting on with it’. I realised I had to be inclusive in curating Decibel programs, because women’s work is not always as easy to find. This experience of a female prime minister in Australian life had opened an awareness for me, and as it turned out, for many women – and led to the idea for commissioning this collection of works.
What would music from group of composers who responding to this cultural shake-up sound like? I asked women because I felt this was a topic most pertinent to them, and it now seemed that the time had come for women to regroup again. How would a group of women composers ‘sound out’ a response to this important time in Australia’s cultural history?
Commissioning work is an adventurous business – you open up a wide range of possibilities, and the group of composers represented here come from a broad range of style and opinion. Each composer was asked to address the topic of the impact of and reaction to Julia Gillard’s prime ministership in a piece of music for Decibel. I thank the composers for their consideration and enthusiasm for this project, but I must especially thank Julia Gillard, for opening up a debate that needed refreshing, who took flack from every angle, while really, just trying to do a job.
Cat Hope, Artistic Director, Decibel, 2014.
Post script 2023: whilst the works on this album were commissioned in 2014, and the concerts were held in Australia from 2014-2018, things have improved. There is more awareness of the difficulties women experience in being included in concert programs or leadership roles. The visibility of non-binary people has also improved and is being addressed. However, there is a long way to go, with the gender pay gap continuing to expand and women still a minority in the performance programs of major organisations and senior management roles in the music industry. Decibel have signed up to the KeyChange Pledge in 2018, where the ensemble commited to ensuring 50% of their programs feature works by women and non binary artists by 2022. We are happy to confirm we have met and exceeded that pledge, and will continue to do so.
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Top banner photo credit: The album cover for After Julia, by When Studios.
Other photos: 1. Julian Day, New Music UpLate presenter on ABC Classic FM, interviewing Julia Gillard at the concert. 2. Performing Kate Moore’s ‘Oil Drums’ in Brisbane, Queensland 3. Decibel back stage with Julia Gillard. 4. Decibel on stage with Julia Gillard and family members. See photos from the premeire concert here.
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The After Julia studio album is available on CD from our Bandcamp page, and can be streamed on your platform of choice. There are also live recordings available, such as the presentation in Brisbane, on our Bandcam