Scott Bird: "Everything’s costed, not valued"
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Wearing an open, faded-blue flannel with sleeves rolled up, Scott 'Scottie' Bird sat slouched, resting on the floor of his friend’s recording studio; The Music Cellar. His body rocked on his knees, hidden behind a mixing desk of rotary knobs and dials. The tobacco-residue from numerous cigarettes, stained his hands, which now masked his face. Only his ears appeared to be engaged with their surroundings, listening to each instrument being played as a whole and individually. Scott is a songwriter, producer and musician, who describes himself as a ‘surgeon’ that only uses his ears. He listens carefully and aims to pull each individual instrument out of the mix.
Scott is also an 'artist' that uses a unique 'sonic palette' that he has hand-selected over the last forty years. Each instrument in his personal collection has been chosen wisely because it adds a "colour that was missing from the toolbox”, says Scott. Most notably, he found his treasured old girl, 'Loretta', a rare 1934 Gibson acoustic guitar hanging in a little music shop in Essendon.
After strumming a few chords, Scott realised that the guitar would "sonically match" his other instruments and add a missing colour to his sonic palette.
Scott slowly lifted himself off the carpet, and as his body twisted, the buttons on his blue, flannel shirt parted ways for a moment, revealing a t-shirt underneath. A plain t-shirt that had the words, ‘Protect takayna / Tarkine’ printed below a Tasmanian devil, cyan-coloured lobster and a Tasmanian masked owl.
Walking, he made his way outside for a smoke-break. Intrigued, I asked, "What’s the meaning behind your shirt?"
Revealing his shirt, Scott continued, “takayna, it’s like Australia’s Amazon, but not enough people know about it." He lifted his hand to light his cigarette, and paused, "Some people that do, are burning and logging it."
Tapping the ashes into a coffee cup, Scott walked back inside to prepare for the next recording.
The Tarkine contains Australia's largest cool temperature rainforest, where water trickles down moss-covered rocks, before filling pools of water that swirl like Van Gogh has played a hand in its beauty. Rivers slither through the landscape, stone creek beds on its embankments, and endangered giant freshwater crayfish below its surface.
And, among the branches, sit endangered birds who only call this place home.
Scott also calls takyana 'home'. Even though he currently lives on the Central Coast, "the main-land” according to Tasmanian's, takayna is the place where his mind finds peace from the battles of daily life. Scott says, “When I am on country, I don’t write, I don’t play. It’s all provided. When I am not there, I recreate it, because that’s where I want to be. I manifest the stories and the colours, the sounds and the songs." When he writes, his lyrical phrases accompany native and earthy sounds, revealing the heart Scott has for his land and culture.
Growing up in the small, seaside town of Penguin, nestled in the foot hills of the Dial Range on Tasmania’s north-west coast, Scott has always had a passion for the forest. His love of takayna began the day he received his first surfboard. Through a friend of the family, he had his first surfing trip to Tasmania's west coast. He said, "I'd be down there all the time. That coastline, that's where Hawaiians used to go for the offseason to surf." Trudi, Scott’s wife, grew up on a 200-acre dairy farm called 'Redpa', an aboriginal name meaning Mosquito, situated in the middle of the rainforest. Scott recalled, "She grew up right there. It was a natural thing. We’ve always felt a connection to the place."
His father comes from Limerick in Ireland and his mother is Palawa, which makes Scott a living descendant of Tasmania’s Indigenous past. History would rather mask the details; however, aboriginals were massacred in the 1880's. Scott said, "So much got lost. People, culture, art, language and identity. It has been a huge process putting the pieces back together."
The Tarkine holds a beauty that should be marvelled and treasured, but Scott said he has seen it being clear felled, burnt, dug up, drilled and vandalised.
In 2016, a handful of spot-fires ignited 85,000 hectares of Tarkine rainforest, which saw the death of many threatened animal species, including bandicoots, quolls, birds, and the Tasmanian Devil. Scott says, "logging and replacing clear felled native forests with tree plantations" has been the rainforest’s greatest threat. He said, "Rich corporations are taking all the resources. At a time when there is a fricken climate crisis. They are tearing the guts out of our greatest natural assets." Scott, enraged in passion, continued, "Wet rainforest is burning. It is essentially putting fire starters around something that would NEVER burn."
"Everything’s costed, not valued", believes Scott, as he questions why one expression of art holds more significance over another. Scott said, "If somebody goes and pulls down a Captain Cook Statue, he's going to be arrested, right? Rio Tinto blew up 46,000-year-old caves at the Juukan Gorge, they get a slap on the wrist." His utter disbelief was written over his face, "I mean, what the f**k is that?"
Helping to 'protect land environments, wildlife and marine ecosystems' is Scott and Trudi’s friend, environmentalist Bob Brown. According to Scott, Bob first found out about the tarkine when he was on the search for the allusive Thylacine; Tasmania’s Tiger, during the 70s. Whilst Bob failed to find evidence of the striped animal, he found a beauty in the untouched wilderness.
The Tarkine holds stories from tribes, not written on paper, but chiselled into the landscape. These carvings are called ‘petroglyphs’ and made from tools that are as simple as two shaped rocks knocking against each other to chisel stone. The most notable symbols are circular rings, which represent a 'meeting place', a place that symbolises 'home'. The International Federation of Rock Art Organisations state that Tarkine heritage sites show the highest levels of damage and vandalism.
In 2002, Scott and Trudi decided that they wanted to do their part in protecting the forests, so they went searching for some land to invest in. Scott’s dad, Ken, discovered a 185-acre plot in Lower Wilmot and asked, "How about this place?" Scott had a look and thought, "It is way bigger than what we were thinking. We can’t do that."
A few days later, Scott’s brother-in-law rang him and said that he had just been down at the local pub when he overhead some of the locals discussing, "There’s this place on the way to Cradle, we should put a consortium together and log the whole valley for telegraph poles." After hearing this, Scott and Trudi put in an offer on the property. Five years later it was declared a private forest reserve.
When Trudi was diagnosed with her second brain tumour, Scott was in Tasmania and decided to go for a walk to the edge of his river, sitting the stone-covered embankment to try and process the news. As he sat, soaking in the nature, which he describes as giving him a "big cuddle", he watched a Black currawong, known as a 'black jay', fly down to the river’s edge. It leaned down and picked up a pebble in its beak, then turned, dropping it in the glassy, still water. Scott said, "What the f**k does that mean?" The black jay did it again, picking up a small stone and dropping it in the water. Scott said, "Oh yes, little brother." Then the bird flew away. Scott recalled, "Keep moving forward, one ripple at a time. I just had to be patient."
Today, I am in the last place you would expect a professional music recording studio to be situated, in an industrial complex with trucks reversing down one-way streets to deliver automobile parts to surrounding mechanics. Yet, behind a blank, unassuming red brick wall, and beside an overgrown fig tree in a terracotta plant pot strapped to the pavement, sits Scott’s home away from home, his very own music studio: Riversong.
There are no signs to suggest this place is anything special. The only sign visible is fixed loosely to the wall: ‘Unit 4’. After pushing on the dusty brown flyscreen and faded front door, a single step forward reveals a space unlike that of the outside. Shelves support three sets of drums, with one filled with shredded newspaper.
Forty-six guitars each meticulously labelled some with names, two banjos, seven didgeridoos, a box of harmonicas, one double bass and a keyboard fill the walls and floors.
I can see Scott, sitting slouched on his custom-built stage in front of a hand-painted canvas of tree silhouettes, the same canvas he had commissioned for his band Pale Riders in '94. Scott hand-rolls a cigarette before looking up briefly. He calmly asks, "Owz-it-al-goin?", before lifting his body off the stage and walking across the wooden floorboards to welcome me. "Welcome to Riversong. It means the songs of the river. Our purpose is to connect, protect, conserve and create."
There is no evidence to show that this same studio was shut down 6 years ago because an adjoining unit went up in flames, or that Scott had to remove 30 instruments in 10 minutes, let alone the numerous amplifiers. At least one every twenty seconds. Yet, a fire in a property can result in a rebuild, and instruments can be bought again. Scott states that the Tarkine / takayna, Indigenous artefacts and endangered animals, can’t be replaced. Once they are lost, they’re gone.
Scott says, 'To us, the Tarkine / takayna and all the wild places ARE valued."
To learn more about the Tarkine / takayna, the Bob Brown Foundation does some brilliant work: click here To listen to Scott Bird's music, or to learn more about Riversong: click here