Article by: DAVID WOOD Picture: JUSTIN SANSON
"YOU know, I'm not silly enough to think we can change the world".
"But that little piece, that little piece of the jigsaw that we've got our hands on if you like, we can actually have an impact and that impact can affect people's health and view on education and can affect their view on the world in general because as musicians, they are out mixing with other people, they're actually understanding more about how the non-community world works."
Mark Grose is the managing director of Darwin-based Skinnyfish Music, which he runs with Michael Hohnen.
The company records and promotes indigenous musicians. He said taking a band to a community could stop the entire town.
"And there are only three things, I think, that stop indigenous communities: cultural activity, football and music," he said.
"And we don't use football and music enough as a positive tool I guess, for engagement by government or engagement by service agencies."
The 56-year-old Victorian doesn't smile easily for the camera. Not to be taken for surliness or attitude, but that kind of man is more outback than out the front.
The ex-sheep farmer could be re-imagined in moleskins and RM Williams having quiet sodas at the Lismore Hotel in the 500-person town in western Victoria where he's from.
His studio in Stuart Park lacks the hookers and cocaine of the music industry. The brown-brick, two-storey office is hit by the brutalist architecture ugly stick.
But on a table in what may be the lunchroom there is a Rolling Stone with Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu on the cover. Grose and Hohnen are the blokes behind the international artist.
The blind singer from remote Elcho Island sold 500,000 copies of his first album and has played for the Queen and Barack Obama.
Grose and Hohnen are also behind the Saltwater Band (Gurrumul was in the band), Nabarlek, Timorese singer Ego Lemos and other artists.
The men shared the 2013 Northern Territory Australians of the Year awards.
Grose left Victoria to go to Western Australia in his early 20s.
He said he had "done everything in the wool industry". He graduated from a teaching degree after eight years of study, but returned to sheep back home after having spent time teaching at Derby in WA.
"I was not a natural teacher. I eventually decided to come back (north), it was too civilised down south."
He went to Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island.
"I ended up the CEO of the council there, basically because I was the only one left standing," he said.
"If you're there long enough, you'll end up doing every job in the community."
He and Hohnen met in 1998 when former The Killjoys musician Hohnen was running a music course for Charles Darwin University on Elcho with the men who would become the Saltwater Band.
"I said to him, sort of, 'How good are they?' And he said, 'Yeah pretty good but no one will ever hear them and they'll just disappear'.
"Michael came along at the right time. I'd had it up to my back teeth with people, black and white, coming in and talking about programs, talking we're going to do this, we're going to do that, we're going to do something else, most of which never happens.
"So you know I was at the point where I was pretty frustrated really with the inability of anyone, any organisation, or service provider to actually think long term.
"(Michael) had an idea he wanted to start this record label and he'd already put it to the university and they'd told him to forget it.
"So I just said to him, 'If you want to do it, let's do it together. I don't know anything about music'.
"But we did and we set up a little card table and a phone fax in the corner of his bedroom in Ludmilla.
"I was always amazed, when we'd go somewhere in particular, especially for mainstream concerts, with the Saltwater Band.
"No one would pick up on Gurrumul. I said to Michael, I think at the time, some ridiculous figure, like if we sell a few thousand copies we'd be happy. It has gone on to sell over half a million, that first album.
"But there was never any thought this would be hot, because who would ever have thought an album in Australia that was not in English by an Aboriginal artist would make any inroads?
"That would be the last thing that you attempt to do if you want to make a hit."
AWARD is music to the ears
While Gurrumul went international, Skinnyfish is more realistic about the other artists.
The company likes to focus on local performances, being behind the Barunga and Ngukurr festivals.
"Part of that is about being involved to help get outlets, local outlets for musicians rather than, you know, saying these fellas from the bush, you're going to go to Melbourne and Sydney.
"We believe that playing local is as relevant an outcome as a one-off, or going to Melbourne or Sydney or selling that false dream that Melbourne or Sydney are the centre of the universe for these guys, which it's never going to be. Local performance is what it's going to be."
But Grose said the artists found equality and perspective from playing bigger gigs down south.
"When I see a band from a remote community on a stage or in the company of other musicians, like the Paul Kellys or the Peter Garretts, I look at that and I go, 'there's an achievement' because for the first time in their lives, these guys in the band are being treated as equals within white Australia," he said.
"To me that's an amazing thing because when you work in remote communities you see how Aboriginal people get treated. You see the subtle changes in attitude, the subtle changes in tone of voice, the subtle changes in everything, when they walk into a shop, when they go somewhere, how they are spoken to.
"I'll give you an example. In Darwin here, Nabarlek came in to perform. I took them to a suburban supermarket to buy, I think they wanted to buy deodorant.
"They walked in. I walked in behind them. The woman from behind the counter, as soon as she saw them, rushed to the aisle that they were in and stood there and watched them. And when I got in there I said, 'Look boys, put all that stuff back'.
"And they said 'Why?' I said, 'Well she thinks, you're going to steal something'. And she said, 'Well, they might'. And these are the most honest guys you could ever come across."
Grose said his parents saw no future for their kids in agriculture, though he still has a farming heart. But he said it was hard to return.
"Once I'd experienced northern Australia, it's pretty hard to go back to southern Australia.
"I love being in a part of Australia where English is not the first language. I love being in a part of Australia where the cultural view isn't my view, you know, the remote parts of the NT are wild and just beautiful.
"I don't think people understand fully that people in remote communities are just like the rest of us. They worry about their kids. They worry about money.
"So I think for me the issues between black and white would be solved easily if we all socialised.
"I know that is a funny thing to say but, you know, if you're friends with someone and you socialise with someone, then you become much more aware of the problems they face and much more sympathetic to the problems they face."