When Vicki Gordon publicly announced the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards in March, the #MeToo movement was fast gaining momentum in America and had sparked important discussions within the Australian music industry.

While Harvey Weinstein was laying low in Arizona, following decades of allegations of sexual harassment and assault, Gordon was unveiling an event that had been years in the making.

On October 9 and 10 in Brisbane, the Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA) will shine a spotlight on the underrepresentation of female artists on radio, in festival line-ups, as award recipients, and in the boardrooms of the Australian music industry.

“History is finally on our side to produce this event. We are trying to provide an alternative model of inclusivity and diversity” Gordon tells TIO.

AWMA will be presented at the Brisbane’s Powerhouse and will feature two days of forums, diving into pathways for music makers, new and emerging digital platforms, the role of music as a cultural, social and political songbook, a film screening, photographic exhibition and a keynote by none other than Kate Ceberano.

The following night, the diverse Awards categories will recognise First Nations and culturally diverse artists and music practitioners, excellence in technical and production skills, cross-cultural development, songwriting, music education, music photography, film making, management, leadership, humanitarian work and more. Helen Reddy will also be the first woman inducted into the AWMA Honor roll.

In the Q&A below, AWMA Founding Director Vicki Gordon chat to TIO about the change she’d like to see in the music industry, the response she’s had from the public, the responsibility Australia has to its’ First Nations peoples, and what she says to those who feel gendered awards are a thing of the past.

The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Awards have been such a long time in the making, how are you feeling now, just weeks away from go-time?

The response and support has been so overwhelmingly positive. In my heart of hearts, I’m very proud of what we are creating and of course I’m anxious for it to go well. I believe by the response we’re receiving and by the number of artists that have come on board that we are on the right track.

I’m really grateful to have such a great team of people working beside me; AWMA Co-Producer Tracee Hutchison, Executive Event Producer Theresa Famularo and our Juror Council Chair Martine Cotton. All extraordinarily talented women in their own right! AWMA simply wouldn’t exist without them.  

Vicki Gordon AWMA Launch March 6 standfing at lecturn
Vicki Gordon at AWMA Launch, March 6. Credit: Sarah Marshall

The Awards have been largely seen as a signifier for change in the industry. What kind of change would you like to see?

The AWMA’s are having an impact on a number of levels. First of all, we are creating a positive celebration to recognise and acknowledge the value of women and by doing that we’ve established a powerful platform for broader conversation to be had.

The AWMA’s are also backing in all the men and women who are already engaged with change in the industry. Men and women who can see what the future holds in creating a diverse and more inclusive music culture.

Sometimes change can take a long time to happen and when it does it happens really quickly, and that’s what I hope is occurring now. 

What’s the response been like from the industry, artists, media and music fans?

Creating change disrupts entrenched attitudes so, you’re always going to upset someone. You create real change in the world, systemic change, by rocking the boat. 

There are many people in the industry – artists, managers, producers, media and music fans who have been working and waiting for this change. They are voicing their support and being a part of the solution.

Some countries have done away with gendered awards. What would you say to those who feel gendered awards are a thing of the past?

Gendered awards can’t be a thing of the past when we don’t have equality. If we really believe in a world where men and women are equal, in the home, in the workforce and in a country, then we need to acknowledge their contributions.

Up to this point we have been dealing with bias or unconscious constraints to acknowledging natural merit and we have an enormous opportunity to consciously redress that imbalance now.

We have an incredible 26-seat Juror Council made up of both men and women who are genuinely committed to what we are doing. We’ve got extraordinary female patrons and advisors working with us. There’s no question in my mind that we are on the right track.

 Cover of On the Street 1991. Vicki Gordon with Jeanette OP MC launching Australia’s first trading program for female DJs SCRATCH
Cover of On the Street 1991. Vicki Gordon with Jeanette OP MC launching Australia’s first trading program for female DJs SCRATCH

The Indigenous community has been front of mind throughout the curation process. Throughout your whole career actually. Tell me a bit about the responsibility we have as a nation to First Nations peoples?

I’m not Indigenous to Australia and this conversation is far better had with an Aboriginal person than me so I can really only talk about my own experiences. My heritage is New Zealand-Maori and my ancestors come from a long line of political activists and artists.

Indigenous dispossession upsets me deeply and impacts on how I feel about living in Australia on a daily basis. This is why I try to do as much as I can, whenever I can.

Our commitment first of all is to respect, listen and honour our extraordinary First Nations people whose country we stand, breathe and work on. Sadly, I believe we are blocked as a Nation because of our inability to come to terms with our racist past. There needs to be far more education about the history and culture of the many Aboriginal cultures of this country.

My life and my work has been immeasurably enriched by my connection with many talented First Nations performers and artists.

In the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of working in Arnhem Land and the Central Desert. I have recently launched a film in Alice that I associate produced and it moved me deeply when we screened the film to community in a river bed just 2 weeks ago. I saw men crying and had women weeping on my shoulders.

Vicki Gordon in Arnhem Land
Vicki Gordon in Arnhem Land

The transfer of trauma, stolen generations, broken families, kidney disease, children incarcerated and the impact of alcohol – all of which is a direct result of colonisation and then meeting all these First Nations people who are trying to work together to create positive change, it is truly inspiring.

We can listen to, and work with, First Nations people to protect country and empower change and non-Indigenous people need to try much harder.

It’s not just an Awards, in fact the 9th of October has a jam-packed exciting program. What was the main vision for the conference element?

The vision for the Forums is to drive those conversations around what we need to do to help each other to move forward with a new vision for the industry. Conversations around leadership, ceremony, celebration, those things, but also obviously respect for our First Nation and culturally diverse brothers and sisters.

We have amazing partners with the QLD Government and Canon, and many others, and we will have a great keynote from Kate Ceberano. Kate has had a long music career from a young age and she will have an extraordinary perspective to share. I worked with her mother Cherie Ceberano when I was running the Australian Women’s Rock Institute. Both Cherie and Kate have been trailblazers for women in the Australian Music industry.

AWMA's vicki gordon, christine anu and katie noonan
Katie Noonan, AWMA founder Vicki Gordon and Christine Anu

Where do you go from here, what’s next for the AWMAs?

Well let’s make 2018 a massive success first. I am hoping that both men and women in the industry, and audiences will see the support, endorsement and professionalism that the AWMA’s have attracted and be willing to jump on board for 2019. I will never forget those who have supported us early on especially the QLD Government and Canon, who have given us a chance to prove ourselves.

Of course, we’d love to go again in 2019 and especially coming back to Brisbane with an expanded program and even with some international players. We are extremely committed to presenting the AWMA Honour Roll on an annual basis, it is so important to honour our elders past and present.

All of my career I’ve felt strongly about empowering women. I think for most of our lives, we’ve been told we are not good enough and that impacts on your self-esteem, your capacity to lead and move forward in your life.

The inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA) will be staged in QLD at the Brisbane Powerhouse, October 9-10, 2018 2018. AWMA will present a series of free forums, a key note address by Kate Ceberano, a film screening, a photographic exhibition and unique networking opportunities.

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