Thursday 17th November 2011: US President Barack Obama commenced his day at Parliament House in Canberra, as Gurrumul started his morning in the remote northeast Arnhem community of Elcho Island. Both men were preparing to fly to Darwin for only a few hours: Obama to address Australian and US defence troupes; and Gurrumul to perform for them and to meet the President himself.
In a specially decked out, bomb-swept hanger on the RAAF base, the voice of Gurrumul kicked off celebrations as he sang to 1500 military personnel, 300 invited guests (including political, business and sporting identities) and international media, all of whom were shuttled into the coveted location via special transport, through top level security clearance. After Gurrumul performed, fellow NT indigenous singer-songwriter Jessica Mauboy took to the stage.
The military band keep the audience entertained as Gurrumul and Jessica were escorted to the highest-level security zone known as ‘the clutch’. Here, only a dozen people were invited by the White House to meet and be photographed with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Accompanying Gurrumul into this area was bass player, collaborator and close friend Michael Hohnen whosaid “Gurrumul was struck by the sensitive, personable and caring nature of the President in his brief meeting today”. The President's warmth and moments to pause and make Gurrumul feel special, resounded with the silent but communicative indigenous singer.
Gurrumul joined his Skinnyfish Music team back in the VIP seating area with the wider audience who were by now, bubbling in anticipation of seeing this enigmatic world leader. The Prime Minister & President literally bounded onto the stage where Gurrumul had just performed, to deliver their speeches before a personal farewell and a hand shake to those lucky enough to be seated upfront (including Gurrumul’s girlfriend Bronwyn Gurruwiwi).
All guests were required to stay in the hangar (where specially installed air-conditioning brought the temperature down from forty to thirty degrees Celsius) until the President had boarded his plane. During this time Gurrumul connected with many people including fellow countryman Gullarwuy Yunupingu.
Just at the moment Gurrumul and Jessica Mauboy departed the hangar, the Air Force One jet taxied past scores of military personnel who were able to wave and cheer for both the President of the Unites States and two of Australia’s most celebrated performers, as they all departed Darwin having shared centre stage on this very special occasion.
Photo by Mr Howard Moffat, AUSPIC