Nancy Bates – Still Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, A Reflection

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By Tabitha Lean


CW: PTSD, Carceral Trauma, Carceral Violence



The past few months have been hard.

I have been in a trauma fog. A little world within a world. A world that only I can see, and one I desperately need to be freed from.

When the PTSD attacks come (my psych calls them dissociative episodes) I don’t know where I am. My ears start ringing and I think I am back in prison. I can see the bars and hear the guard’s keys. The air is thick, and my heart feels heavy, and my chest feels like a size 14 boot is standing on it. My nostrils fill with the scent of my attacker, and I can feel my core temperature rising. The pit of my stomach rolls into knots and my legs feel like they can no longer hold my body weight, and the world begins to spin. 

Sometimes, the things I see in my mind’s eye have me so scared that I lose control of my bladder. The other day it happened in Aldi. Standing in the aisle next to the potatoes and carrots, I zoned out and saw him. I saw him coming for me. He had his cuffs out and this smirk on his vile face. A knowing look. A look that said I was his. Not in a loving way, or a caring way, but in a possessive way. In a way that told me I could never fight back – that resistance was futile. And as he stepped toward me, my bladder gave out. As I came to, I realised that I was standing in a puddle of urine, my jeans were wet, and my shoes soaked. My hand instinctively flew to my mouth to stifle the startled gasp threatening to emerge, and in my shame, I grabbed the closest thing to me (which was a giant jar of pickles) and raced to the check out, paid and got out of there, and back home to my nest of care.

I’ve spent days and days feeling unsafe, despite being cocooned in love and care. Night after night of nightmares and terrors. My skin has crawled. I’ve felt dirty. I’ve felt violated, yet not even touched. I’ve felt seen and so fucking visible that I have longed to shrink into anonymity to the point of begging my partner to pack me away and move me to the country where I never have to see another living soul again.

So, I’ve been in a bad place, trying to get better. And in the middle of all of this, my sista Nancy sent me a message with a link to her latest show…and it felt like a lifeline. 

Many of you will know Nancy Bates the musician. Nancy the Barkindji woman. Nancy the songwriter. But not all of you will know the Nancy I know. The Nancy I know is the freedom maker. Now, I know that sounds dramatic, right? Yep, it sounds dramatic, because it is.

The Nancy I know is the woman who walks into places others dare not to. The Nancy I know is the woman who remembers the forgotten and makes friends with the disposed. The Nancy I know is the woman who walks into the women’s prison to meet with the women to bring us hope. To bring us music. To bring us laughter. To bring us peace. To bring us stories. To bring us a little piece of home. 

Nancy brings a little bit of freedom in a place where we have absolutely none.

Nancy Bates is a candle in the darkness.

You see prison is one of the darkest places that exists on Earth. It’s the devil’s playground and it singes the feet of anyone who is sent there so you can never dance the same again. 

I remember the day Nancy came into the Adelaide Women’s Prison. I was in a pretty bad way. I had been in ten months at that stage. I was sad. I was grieving the loss of my children, my life, my freedom. I thought my life was over. I had given up, like really given up. That day though, I remember, it was stinking hot (like hades). The prison was unveiling this bloody stupid gathering space. They had designed it to reflect an Aboriginal gathering space (circular in design – because apparently that’s all it takes to make it Blak) and it incorporated the women’s mosaic artwork. I thought the whole thing was pretty useless. I hate the co-opting of our culture into these spaces. However, I’m going to be straight with you, I went to the unveiling because they were having a barbeque and I wanted some cooked meat. Anyway, that day I went along and sat with the girls under the one tiny spindly tree fighting for shade in the 38-degree day. At the end of the formalities, in walks Nancy, with her huge smile and guitar, and she sits down with us all (like actually sits among us) and breaks into song. By the time she got to the song about the headlice, I can absolutely say it was the first time I had smiled in ten months. Ten whole months, and Nancy made me smile. Not just a little grin or smirk, but a mouth open, full teeth smile – you know the one, the kind that reaches your eyes. I remember forgetting for those fifteen minutes of her singing where I was. I remember feeling like I was around the campfire with my people, singing, yarning, telling stories, being free. Nancy brought me freedom – if for just a moment.

So, we booked tickets to her new show “Still talkin’ about a revolution” where Nancy celebrates the songs of Tracey Chapman and reflects on the relevance of this body of work to race relations in this country and to the lives of First Nations people in (so called) Australia. We were not disappointed. Nancy walked on stage at the Port Noarlunga Arts Centre with an ethereal quality. She has a stage presence like no one else I know. Nancy has a way of making the whole gig feel so relaxed (yet professional) that you could be in her lounge room watching her casually strum a tune. Nancy went from song to song, strength to strength and joy to joy. It was brilliant. It was strong and it was staunch. Nancy talked a lot about growing up Blak, growing up poor and growing up as a kid in care. She talked about the disparities between the rich and poor and the rates of homelessness and domestic violence in this country. Nancy made us laugh, she made us sad, she lit a fire in our bellies. But, when Nancy said she could relate to Chapman’s lyric: “I had a feeling I could be someone”, my heart surged. I knew that line intimately. It was a line and a song that I too had sung over and over when I was 12 years old. Then, ironically (and sadly) it was the last line of that same song “leave tonight or live and die this way” that would dominate my mind in my later years. 

Nancy’s show is not just a celebration of musical brilliance, but a social commentary that is both visionary and revolutionary. And from the response of the crowd at her first show, they were all totally here for every bit of political disruption Nancy brought to the show.

They say music is tonic for the soul, and its true. Good music, great company and a few laughs can free your mind. So, it was again, that Nancy brought a little freedom to me.  She brought light into darkness and lit a wee candle of hope in my heart, and I went home humming Fast Car and dreaming about revolutions. Because, frankly, if Nancy Bates was leading the revolution with her guitar in one hand and her fist raised on the other, I would happily follow her into the trenches because that woman has vision, she has soul and she has heart – and we need leaders with beauty, grace and soul who can pave us all a liberatory path to freedom.

Nancy Bates will be performing this show at the Adelaide Fringe. Be sure to get along and see it. You will not regret it!

Tickets available here:

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