AUSTRALIAN country music duo, O’Shea, may now live in the US, but they’ve made a strong statement on coal seam gas issues happening at home with their video, The Truth Walks Slowly (In The Countryside) with Midnight Oil member, Rob Hirst.
The film clip that accompanies the song tells the story of George Bender, a farmer from Chinchilla who fought CSG companies on his property for a decade before he took his own life.
Hirst, who is Jay O’Shea’s birth father, had already recorded the song, The Truth Walks Slowly, when the country music husband-and-wife duo heard his version and decided to rework it as a song of their own.
Jay O’Shea and Hirst found out about each other about five years ago, and Hirst has visited the couple at their home in Nashville many times.
“The last few years got to a great point where we all get on great and they help babysit the kids when we’re in Sydney,” Mark O’Shea said.
“He was over here, working on a solo project in the US and we’d talked about collaborating, but co-writing with such a sensitive dynamic, everyone was very open to it, but it had to feel right. He had just finished writing a whole solo album of stuff and said that if ‘any of these recordings tickles your fancy, feel free to further develop them’.”
O’Shea said The Truth Walks Slowly jumped out at them.
“Jay listened to the song and approached me and asked if we could do something with it,” Hirst said.
“We thought it was a great story, so we developed it, wrote the chorus, slowed it down and the two versions are very different. We wrote the song and sheepishly said to Rob, ‘we have done this with it, can you listen to it’,” Mark said.
He said he was “very nervous” when they first played it to Hirst.
“Jay and him were completely on the same page, I think I was probably more nervous than Jay,” Mark O’Shea said.
“Here I was in this weird dynamic with one of the most prolific Australian songwriters.”
Hirst loved it and played drums on the track. Pete Denahy was in Nashville, so he played fiddle.
“You can’t kick a bush in Nashville without a fiddle player falling out, but we were very fortunate Pete was in town because we wanted to have that Australian flavour,” Mark O’Shea said.
“In October we were in Australia for Cruisin’ Country and a few other things, and my mum called me from Dalby and said she’d heard this terrible story about George Bender and said ‘I can’t help but think your song would work perfectly’. I rarely take A&R advice from my mum, but we reached out to Pam, George’s wife, then to Helen (his daughter) and started to develop a relationship with them. Helen dug up a heap of personal photos and private photos, and we worked together on the clip for the video.”
Mark O’Shea said he played it for Helen, who was receptive to the clip, and since then it’s taken on a life of its own online.
“In the first two-and-a-half weeks, it created a whole new life of its own and had 15,000 shares and more than 500,000 views,” he said.
“The comments are really encouraging. It’s had a connection with people across the world.”
Mark O’Shea said it’s also shown that people did not realise this situation was happening in Australia.
“We have been fortunate that some folks have got on board, including Midnight Oil, Russell Crowe and Missy Higgins and Luke O’Shea,” he said.
“It makes you cry, and good, it should. It’s bloody appalling. There’s an argument to be made on the impacts and all the complex issues to do with CSG, and I’m logical enough to see how it can be interpreted a few different ways.”
O’Shea said the one point that stayed with him was that, as a land owner, in Australia, you don’t have a veto right over somebody exploiting a licence they’ve been given by the Crown.
“The one rule is, if you don’t want them to come on, you don’t have that right,” he said.
“If everything else is subjective, that one fact is enough to get people riled up. If you were to say I was on the fence, I believe we need to do some more research, I’m not sure on the repercussions, so I’m just going to think about it a bit more, maybe in five years or more, you can’t say no.”
O’Shea said they were not overly political, but it was important, and so shocking, that they had to make people aware of what was happening to farmers.
He said they were just helping the Benders and other affected farmers get the message out.