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‘Redneck’ musician reflects on her refugee journey


Sharlene King
11 August 2011
Alumnus and musician Gleny Rae is returning to Southern Cross University to talk about her experiences in a controversial reality show which took a diverse group of Australians on a reverse journey to refugees' home countries.

Gleny's candid behind-the-scenes account of the SBS program ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’ will be held at the University’s Lismore campus on Wednesday, August 17 (and video-conferenced to the Gold Coast and Coffs Harbour). This is a free event and the public is welcome to attend.

Ms Rae also promises to sing a few of her songs, including Redneck Lovesong which sparked the interest of SBS producers.

In ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’ Ms Rae was sent to live in Liverpool, in south-west Sydney, with four Iraqi men who were learning to adapt to life in Australia after arriving here by boat. The experience changed her life.

“There’s nothing like personal contact to really empathise with other people,” said Gleny Rae. “When you meet someone and you hear their story it makes you think about how you would cope, what it would be like if you were in their shoes. And that was the point of the show. We only just touched on that but it was enough to radically change the opinions of half of the participants.”

Gleny Rae, 40, grew up near Nyngan in western New South Wales. The self-professed gypsy now lives in Newcastle where she works as a part-time schoolteacher and singer. She performs solo and in several bands, including Gleny Rae Virus and her Tamworth Playboys.

“I think SBS chose me because I’m a rural woman and a country music singer and as a result I think a lot of people had preconceptions about what my attitudes or political beliefs would be.”

Redneck Lovesong tells the tale of an outback Australian version of Romeo and Juliet.

“A girl from Nyngan falls in love with a ‘roo shooter from Burke and everybody looks down on their relationship because their towns have a friendly rivalry,” Ms Rae explained. “The pair wants to elope and escape to Ulladulla on the coast to get away from wagging tongues.”

The song came to widespread prominence at the end of 2006 in a Sydney Morning Herald article, ‘Tamworth tainted by small minds’. Journalist Damien Murphy observed the Northern Tablelands city was divided by rumour and racism over the resettlement Sudanese refugee families, while Redneck Lovesong played on the radio.

“I’m much more outspoken about the issue of asylum seekers and refugees now that I’ve experienced it. That’s where the debate in Australia has been so weak in sections of the media, with their focus on slogans like, ‘stop the boats’ and ‘red carpet rolled out for asylum seekers’. There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said.

“These scare tactics and fear-mongering are working, slowly seeping into the Australian psyche and allowing people to become fearful of newcomers arriving by boat. Particularly those coming from the Middle East where there are no UN-sanctioned camps for people to get visas to come to Australia via official channels.”

Ms Rae believes asylum seekers who arrive by boats are the most desperate of all and we should treat them humanely. She says Australia should accept more refugees, not withstanding her environmental concerns about overpopulation.

“I think Australia is as a whole very welcoming. Other than the situation in our detention centres, we have some of the best resettlement and assistance services in the western world for refugees. Most of the resettled refugees I’ve spoken to say Australia is a wonderful country and that Australians are very kind, very generous, very welcoming and very understanding.”

Ms Rae graduated from Southern Cross University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Education. She finished her degree by distance education while touring Australia with Gleny Rae Virus and her Tamworth Playboys. After her internship at a school in Karratha, Western Australia, Ms Rae was asked to stay for a year, teaching English and music fulltime.
Photo: Gleny Rae, SCU alumnus, country music singer-songwriter and participant in ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’. Event: Gleny Rae is at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus Room B231 on Wednesday, August 17, noon - 1.30pm, with video-conferencing to Auditorium, Beachside campus Gold Coast, and MGL13 Coffs Harbour campus. The public is welcome to attend this free event but seating is limited. RSVP via email to [email protected] by 5pm Monday, August 15. Media opportunity: Gleny Rae is available for interview.