Kokatha and Gunditjmara musician David Arden is set to headline the Victorian Seniors Festival.

The 2021 festival theme is Keep’n On. It brings together a wide variety of loved and celebrated performers and aims to encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity in seniors.

“The festival is a multi-cultural Elders and senior festival,” explained Arden.

“The greatest thing about it is that you’re connecting with your own community, but you’re also connecting with the wider community.

“Multiculturalism is so important, we’re all from here. Some of us aren’t First Nations People but those who are here now, make this country their country.”

The festival will appear online again, after it was changed to a virtual format in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The festival seeks to create a connection for communities and individuals who have experienced isolation through COVID-19 lockdowns.

Arden has spent the time creating and finding new ways to connect to those he loves.

“These days are just about trying to survive, there are a lot of setbacks but in the setbacks, there are opportunities for creation,” he said.

“New stories come up, and new things to write. Creating is exciting but living can be hard!

“My family, some of them live far away but the message stick is a phone now! All that technology and Facetime. You have to keep in contact in those ways to keep your head above water.”

The festival has been reimagined this year to suit both an online and radio audience, and will see Arden perform songs from his recent release Red Desert Man. 

Red Desert Man sees Arden share experiences of his childhood being raised by four mothers and pays homage to his grandfather.

“The songs write themselves. I try to be as empowered as I can to regain what assimilation took away,” he said.

“It’s about stepping back sometimes and letting the story write itself.

“I feels really good, this is a story I wanted to share, it’s the story of my grandparent.”

Arden notes that the album also weaves together his journey and his wife’s journey, acknowledging her family and her cultural identity.

“It also talks about my wife, [she is from the] Arrernte people. My Kokatha side and my wife’s side – it brings them together.

“Her father was a Stolen Generation who was taken from his mother, never had the chance to speak his language. He came home to his family; I wrote a song to show what it could have been if they didn’t take him.”

With almost four decades of experience on the Australian music scene, Arden is one of the greats.

He’s worked alongside Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Bart Willoughby, Mixed Relations, Dan Sultan, Shane Howard, Paul Kelly, Not Drowning and Hunters and Collectors.

For Arden, storytelling through music was a natural instinct. Growing up listening to Country music, Arden fell in love and spent a lot of time findings his feet and his own style.

“I grew up with the country and western storytellers, you start understanding and learning that music, you fall in love with it,” he said.

“It’s an ancient old traditional for First Nations people, and it feels right … Forty years ago when I started, I was just trying to find out who I was.”

Arden recalls his days working with No Fixed Address and the influence of rock and roll on his music.

“I remember back in the day with No Fixed Address, they were called political, but the reality is life is political,” he said.

“Music is based on life stories, and for me, that what music is.”

The festival will see Arden perform alongside esteemed artists, musicians, and playwrights.

Ian Braybrook from Castlemaine’s Radio 88 will also produce 4 radio documentaries which presents performances and interviews with great Australian artists from the 1960s and onwards.

The 2021 Victorian Seniors Festival is an annual event funded by the Victorian Government.

By Rachael Knowles