Geelong band Goanna started life as Ectoplasmic Manifestations in 1980, led by ex-folkie Shane Howard (1955), they specialised in Bob Dylan covers performed at surf clubs and local dances in Geelong and along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.They were support band on James Taylor’s Australian tour in 1981, and signed a recording contract with WEA the following year.
Ultimately, they would hold the distinction of recording the first aboriginal land rights protest song in Australia, Solid Rock was written by Shane Howard, whose concern about Aboriginal dispossession was sparked by a visit to Uluru, where he witnessed a corroboree and came to understand the strong spiritual connection between this sacred place and our indigenous people, and the impact that dispossession had wrought on First Nations people, following white colonization of the country. Goanna circa 1982- Top L-R Ian Morrison, Warwick Harwood, Peter Coughlan, Graham Davidge, Robert Ross; Bottom L-R Rose Bygrave, Shane Howard, and Marcia Howard.
Didgeridoos, drums and then bass lead us into the opening verse and the rest of the band arrives with an aural wallop, the listener is now fully engaged, and the narrative is mesmerising, frontman Howard sings with a pronounced Australian accent, flat unvarnished vowels, at once laconic and then passionate, angry but never overwrought “They were standing on the shore one day/ Saw the white sails in the sun/ Wasn’t long before they felt the sting/ White man, white law ,white gun,/Don’t tell me that it’s justified, ‘cause somewhere, someone lied/ Yeah, well someone lied, someone lied, genocide!”
Bush animal sound effects, and rousing backing vocals from the group, including Shane’s sister Marcia Howard, are complemented by the musical attack of keyboardist Rose Bygrave, the hypnotic guitar wizadry of Warwick Harwood, and the pounding rhythm support of bassist Peter “Brolga” Coughlan, and drummer Robert Ross. All contribute to the theatre and drama of the song that leads us to the anthemic chorus “Standing on solid rock/Standing on sacred ground/Living on borrowed tiiiiime/And the way that change is comin’ down the line.”
Solid Rock eschewed the simple folksy protest ballad format for a hard-driving up tempo beat with insistent, riveting percussion, memorable guitar riffs, sound effects, and poignant, confronting lyrics, the song remains one of the most stinging and anguished indictments of the European invasion of Australia and the subsequent displacement of our First Nation inhabitants, it pre-dated Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning by five years, and Yothu Yindi’s Treaty by 10 years
It also featured the didgeridoo for the first time on a commercial record, played by Billy Inda (No Fixed Address) and Bobby Djabanunga, and was also the first use of the word “genocide” in a song lyric to describe the impact of Australia’s white settlement on our indigenous people. Historian Manning Clark wrote the liner notes for the album and the video is a studio performance of the song by Goanna interspersed with images of animated Aboriginal rock paintings and Uluru – the “solid rock”.
Lifted from the Spirit of Place album it charted at #3 nationally, was on the charts for 26 weeks, the album hit #2 and charted for 43 weeks, selling over 300,00 copies. Let the Franklin Flow was lifted from the debut album as a follow up to Solid Rock, it charted #12, and was one of the first songs about the environmental movement in this country, some thirty years before climate change and the campaign to replace fossil fuels with renewables gathered momentum here.
WEA were reluctant to actually release Solid Rock because it was a strident protest song, but it’s cause was championed by Paul Turner of Warners who remarked to Howard at the time “Shane, the poets, the artists, the writers, they see it, write it, paint it, and 15, 20 years later, it’s legislation.” Below Trevor Lucas and Sandy Dennys.
Both Solid Rock and the Spirit of Place album were produced by the brilliant Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Trevor Lucas, a country boy from rural Victoria (Bungaree) who moved to the UK in the 1970’s, performed with the legendary Fairport Convention and was briefly married to Sandy Dennys, virtually unknown in Australia, he was held in high esteem in UK folk-rock circles.
The band’s debut recordings attracted attention in the USA, their record label believed that they could replicate the success of Men At Work internationally, but they were reticent about taking the plunge, early success had consumed the band, they pushed on with writing and recording their next album Oceania, with producer Billy Payne of Little Feat, and released the critically-praised single Common Ground in 1984, which stalled at #42 locally, while the album crept to #29 and left the charts after 14 weeks. Music vid was shot primarily in the Great Hall of The National Gallery of Victoria and several international locations including NYC, Berlin, Arlington, and others.
By 1985 Howard had suffered a nervous breakdown and left his wife and four children to live in a caravan on the Gulf of Carpentaria, the band fell apart, and Howard would lick his wounds for another three years before returning to mainstream musical activities. Between 1988 -2020 Howard released no less than 11 studio albums and 2 live albums, but commercial success has eluded him, he has however maintained his rage and continued to campaign against racism and associated violence, substance abuse and the socio-economic chasm between black and white. Goanna in 2022- L-R Ruben Shannon, Graham Davidge, Marcia Howard, Shane Howard, Rose Bygrave, Richard Tankard, and Marcus Ryan.
In 2022 Goanna reformed for a national tour with original members Shane and Marcia Howard, Graham Davidge, and Rose Bygrave, with special guests Ruben Shannon, Richard Tankard, and Marcus Ryan, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their iconic debut album, and to once again share the magic of Solid Rock – at once soulful, lyrical, brimming with musicality and creative volatility, while mixing folk song craft with spirited roots rock – a unique and timeless part of our country’s canon of protest music.