Following the Sun

WORDS Caitlin Jones
PHOTO Solomon Scopazzi

Australian roots musician Xavier Rudd’s passport is proof of a life well-travelled, but there’s only one place he calls home.

For a man who has spent the past two decades touring the globe with his music, Australia is never too far from Xavier Rudd’s thoughts – or from his notebook.

“I write a lot about appreciating home,” Rudd concedes.

“Whenever I leave Australia, there’s always a part of me that doesn’t come. I love travelling and seeing different parts of the world, but I’m very connected to country back here.

“I’ve seen all sorts of other living circumstances and we’re just so lucky to come from Australia. Some people take it for granted, but it’s no one’s fault. It’s just human nature to do it if you haven’t been anywhere else. But that’s the thing that inspires me – I write about the things I see and what I feel.”

Rudd has found an avid audience for his highly personal music since the mid-nineties. “It’s an ancient place and we’re lucky to be a part of it.”

Drawing inspiration from socially-conscious contemporaries such as Ben Harper and Natalie Merchant, his songs have consistently touched upon themes of freedom, religion, sustain-ability, equality and spirituality.

Follow The Sun, from the album Spirit Bird, hit Triple J’s Hottest 100 list in 2012, propelling Rudd to a wider audience.

But as a United Nations partner, an adopted member of the Dhuwa mob in north-east Arnhem Land and a passionate supporter of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Rudd has never really taken a mainstream route.

Growing up in Jan Juc near Tor-quay in Victoria, Rudd’s early years were spent in nature.

“Life was outside a lot of the time because we grew up in the bush at the back of Jan Juc.

“When I was a kid, it was a fairly small town. We went camping and surfing a lot and loved being outside, mucking around with the dogs. I had six brothers so it was always busy and hectic and we’d light big fires to stay warm,” Rudd said.

“Even now, I crave the ocean, the sun, the feeling of the ground and its heat and dryness. I miss the smell of the country and its birdsongs.

“One thing we’re not taught in school is that the spirit of this country passes through everybody and we all feel and identify with that in different ways. We’re all part of this country and deserve to understand beyond just the beauty of it. It’s an ancient place and we’re lucky to be a part of it.”

Australia’s Indigenous culture and the treatment of its First People are regularly explored by Rudd through his music, most recently in “Gather the Hands” from his long-awaited ninth album, Storm Boy.

We’re all part of this country and deserve to understand beyond just the beauty of it
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His own melting pot heritage includes Indigenous ancestry, as well as Dutch, Irish and Scottish.

“I’m learning more about my heritage as we speak. I’m learning about my convict heritage and the colourful journeys of my ancestors. I do really well in Holland and had a number one single there so I think my grandfather is looking over me in that country.

“And I notice family traits in Dutch people. I also see the tough traits of the Irish in my family – they’re battlers who work hard. I’m hugely interested in ancestry and fascinated by people’s stories.”

Since May, Rudd has toured internationally to promote Storm Boy, a tour due to wind down in Perth at the end of the year. It’s a chance to reconnect with his Australian audiences and to relive a lifetime of stories.

“The biggest compliment is when people say they’ve used my music in a special time in their lives, like a death or marriage, or when they have a newborn. That’s huge and much better than being given an award.”

Given Rudd’s connection with land, it comes as little surprise that he has already given some thought to his final resting place.

“I think I’d like to be cremated and be near a ghost gum so that I can come out through the tree and my grandkids can climb on me.”

A pause. “And a bit of me can go in the ocean,” he laughs.

There’s no place like home.