Jes­sica Mauboy opens up about be­ing an In­dige­nous role model and tells Stel­lar of her “up­set and anger” over the na­tional an­them con­tro­versy.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­pher PIERRE TOUSSAINT Styling MA­RINA AFONINA Creative di­rec­tion ALEK­SAN­DRA BEARE Words KATHY MCCABE

Jes­sica Mauboy is silent for a minute, her eyes welling with tears as she looks at her­self. It is a strik­ing im­age – the Jess no one has re­ally seen be­fore: the beau­ti­ful pop star fierce with pride as she cel­e­brates her In­dige­nous iden­tity for Stel­lar’s cover shoot.

What does she think of the wo­man in the photo? “She’s ev­ery­thing to me. I love her, I’m re­ally proud of her,” she says.

The 27-year-old singer, song­writer and actor has al­ways tried to rep­re­sent her mob and ful­fil the role-model obli­ga­tions so­ci­ety de­mands of suc­cess­ful young peo­ple. She’s trod­den cau­tiously when en­ter­ing public de­bate about the myr­iad is­sues af­fect­ing In­dige­nous Aus­tralians, ea­ger to be ed­u­cated, to re­spect the opin­ions of el­ders and make sure she is con­fi­dent in the ex­pres­sion of her own view­point.

Mauboy shows her val­ues through ac­tion, as a com­mit­ted am­bas­sador for In­dige­nous lit­er­acy groups and schools. With her mother, Therese, and four sis­ters, she is un­der­tak­ing cul­tural in­struc­tion from fe­male tribal el­ders, a process she be­gan last year when she won the role of Bil­lie in The Se­cret Daugh­ter, and one she will con­tinue in Dar­win when­ever she is back home.

Mostly, she has used her tal­ents to make her point: rais­ing her voice in song. All of her act­ing roles, in movies Bran Nue Dae and The Sap­phires, as well as TV se­ries The Se­cret Daugh­ter, have been Abo­rig­i­nal char­ac­ters. Yet some­times she doubts she is get­ting it right or do­ing enough, and as she looks at her­self wear­ing black, red and yel­low – and a cus­tom-made Lit­tle Dan­de­lion knit – she is quiet as the tears fill her eyes.

Fi­nally, she speaks. “The shoot was in­ter­est­ing as it felt fash­iony but, at the same time, I felt proud I was rep­re­sent­ing. When I was do­ing that par­tic­u­lar shot, I thought about all the doubts and ques­tions I’ve ever had about what I do and how I do it, and then I just thought, ‘Why did you ever ques­tion it? How dare you ques­tion that you can do it?’”

It is a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment for the young en­ter­tainer, be­cause only a few weeks ago Mauboy’s con­fi­dence about rep­re­sent­ing her In­dige­nous com­mu­nity, and her con­nec­tion with Aus­tralia at large, was rocked to its core.

She be­came col­lat­eral dam­age in the na­tional an­them con­tro­versy that pre­ceded the block­buster re­match be­tween box­ers An­thony Mundine and Danny Green. As one of the faces of the new Fox Footy chan­nel, Mauboy had been con­tracted to per­form be­fore the Fe­bru­ary 3 bout and sing the na­tional an­them. Mundine an­nounced he would not stand in the ring dur­ing the singing of the an­them be­cause he be­lieves it is racist. He said Mauboy, who has sung “Ad­vance Aus­tralia Fair” dozens of times at big gigs, in­clud­ing in an In­dige­nous lan­guage, had been booked be­cause “she is black”. In fact, she was asked be­cause she was al­ready due to per­form her own songs at the event in Ade­laide.

She weath­ered the ini­tial storm that fol­lowed Mundine’s com­ment, but her heart sank when he was asked again later in the week for his opin­ion about her singing the na­tional an­them.

“That sur­prised me... but I can’t talk for Jess,” Mundine said. “She might not have re­searched or know the ac­tual facts around the an­them. If she wants to do that, that’s on her, but I want to ed­u­cate black and white peo­ple.”

His words hurt her deeply. She knows Mundine, they have crossed paths many times and she looks up to him as a leader. She says she has “so much love and re­spect” for him, but felt “dis­owned” by his com­ments. “Of course I was an­gry and up­set,” she tells Stel­lar.

Mauboy main­tained a dig­ni­fied si­lence, steeled her­self to do her best on the night af­ter agree­ing to go ahead with the gig and, gra­cious as al­ways, shouted “Go Mundine!” as she left the stage to cheers from the crowd.

The an­them con­tro­versy abated, but she bris­tles now when asked about his char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of her. “Like I was dumb and didn’t care – of course I care! I have sung that [an­them] so many times, I’ve sung it in [an In­dige­nous] lan­guage, so how come only now a leader says I’m wrong? Now, for some rea­son, I’m the bad per­son?” she asks.

“That’s his story. I’m still grow­ing, I’m still mak­ing my path­way and try­ing to be a phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion of my iden­tity. Get­ting up and hav­ing the courage to share with peo­ple, all

``in the end, singing the na­tional an­them was a uni­fy­ing mo­ment for me´´

peo­ple, and even just be­ing asked to sing, first of all, that’s all part of how I ex­press my iden­tity.”

Mauboy ad­mits to be­ing “sh*t scared” be­fore she sang the an­them. She didn’t fear a re­cur­rence of the panic at­tack that stopped her from singing “Ad­vance Aus­tralia Fair” at the Mel­bourne Cup in 2015, thanks to the in­fa­mous ker­fuf­fle over the brand of shoes she was wear­ing. But she was mind­ful of her mob and that there would be box­ing fans in the au­di­ence who would sup­port Mundine’s po­si­tion about the an­them.

“In the end, it was more of a uni­fy­ing mo­ment for me. Maybe singing [the an­them] isn’t right ac­cord­ing to some peo­ple’s be­liefs... I hoped ev­ery­one watch­ing would con­nect with me and there would be some­thing in their hearts that would feel this was the right thing for me to do, to sing,” she says.

It is go­ing to be a very big year for Mauboy, the cul­mi­na­tion of more than a decade of hard work since she won hearts on Aus­tralian Idol in 2006. Her big­gest na­tional tour yet kicks off in March. She then be­gins film­ing the sec­ond se­ries of The Se­cret Daugh­ter and has to write and record a new al­bum.

The All The Hits Live tour will test all the ex­pe­ri­ence she has amassed from her Young Di­vas ap­pren­tice­ship, through to be­com­ing an award-win­ning and chart-top­ping pop star with five al­bums un­der her belt. When plan­ning the tour, her blank slate started with a list of 47 songs to whit­tle down to a show that rep­re­sents her im­pres­sive ca­reer and the ex­pec­ta­tions of her ador­ing au­di­ence.

In a bar housed in the head­quar­ters of her la­bel, Sony Music Aus­tralia, she be­comes animated when dis­cussing the tour. Her face lights up when she talks about the videos that will com­ple­ment the live ac­tion and help to tell her story. “You’ll get to see me when I was a kid singing coun­try music, wear­ing tas­sels,” she re­veals with a laugh.

Music will al­ways be her first love, but act­ing was also a child­hood dream. Lit­tle Jess loved Broad­way mu­si­cals and would sing them to calm her­self when she was up­set. She erupts into laugh­ter when re­call­ing one of her star roles in a pri­mary school play, per­form­ing to a packed house in the “dry area” dur­ing the mid­dle of Dar­win’s wet sea­son.

“I did a play, Snow White, with three of my friends. And they made me Snow White be­cause she sang,” she says. “So I was the black ver­sion. The beauty of grow­ing up in Dar­win, grow­ing up in a place of such di­ver­sity of cul­tures and com­mu­nity, was no one saw colour.”

Dur­ing the shoot she re­veals she is mak­ing wed­ding plans with her part­ner of eight years, Themeli Ma­grip­ilis. He fi­nally moved from Dar­win last year and, while they jok­ingly bat­tle over his fair share of the wardrobe, the tran­si­tion from long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship to liv­ing to­gether in Syd­ney has ended the empti­ness she felt when they were apart: “Sit­ting on my own, on the phone, be­cause there was no phys­i­cal­ity… it felt like noth­ing. And it hurt me a lot as I am meant to feel love, I am meant to feel happy and I [wasn’t]. I felt ter­ri­ble.

“Look­ing at it now… some­times at night I look at him and I want to cry be­cause this is ac­tu­ally work­ing,” she says. “We’re mak­ing it work. I love it.”

As she con­tem­plates see­ing her masses of fans when she hits the road, Mauboy again gets teary. She makes no apolo­gies for be­ing a crier; she is a sen­si­tive soul, and con­nect­ing with fans – whether from the stage, in the surf or jog­ging in the park – is one of her rea­sons for be­ing. Their sup­port over this past decade con­tin­ues to fuel her.

“It sur­prises me that peo­ple do be­lieve in me. What gets me ev­ery sin­gle time is I get up and share some­thing with peo­ple, and maybe it’s just a phys­i­cal thing of here I am and I’m singing. But there’s some­thing so great about the fact they never let me down. My fire is singing and when I get out into the public, they throw that ball of fire back into my gut and that keeps me go­ing.”

For All The Hits Live dates and tick­ets, visit jes­si­ca­mauboy.com.au.

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