About the Songs for Social Justice Award

Following the untimely death of Alistair Hulett on 28 January 2010, two memorial funds were established in his name; one in the UK and one in Australia. Both funds were established with the aim of honouring and upholding Alistair’s legacy of actively campaigning through his music and his songwriting on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged.

The Australian Fund was launched at the 2011 National Folk Festival in Canberra during a tribute concert to Alistair where we announced our intention to organise a songwriting event to continue Alistair’s legacy by encouraging the writing of songs with social justice themes.

The Fund invites songwriters and musicians based in Australia to enter the 2023 Songs for Social Justice Award with a song focused on promoting equality and social justice broadly defined.

The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund has official listing on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations (ROCO). In applying for recognition The Fund defined social justice broadly as being “anti-discriminatory and egalitarian in seeking to achieve equal rights and opportunities for all people including the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised and excluded”.

The closing date for entries to be considered is 31 December of each year, with the winner to be announced at the National Folk Festival in Canberra (Easter weekend) in the following year.

How to Apply

Entries should include a recording of the song in MP3 format, and an accompanying lyrics sheet, and should be submitted via any file transfer site (we recommend https://www.wetransfer.com) to ahmf@me.com. If you have any issues in transferring your files please email ahmf@me.com for further instructions.

The entrant(s) should own the intellectual property in both words and music (unless the music is traditional/non-copyright) and the song should not yet have been recorded for commercial release.

The Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund will appoint a select panel of judges from among accomplished songwriters and singers. The Trustees will decide the award based on the panel’s advice.

The Award will include: performance of the song at the National Folk Festival, held in Canberra over the Easter long weekend, to give the song profile; summary feedback from the judges for short-listed entries; a monetary grant to a maximum of $1000 to the award-winner(s) for use in further disseminating the song, such as recording expenses; and a plaque to mark the award.

Terms and Condititions
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2022 – Bob Wilson/The Goodwills for ‘When Whitlam took his turn at the wheel’.

2021 – SNEZ for ‘No Points for Me’.

2020 (joint) – John Sutton/Tripple Effect for ‘Makarata’.

2020 (joint) – Karen Law for ‘Wildflower Woman’.

2019 – Penelope Swales for ‘Cambridge Analytica’.

2018 – Teri Young for ‘Fishing at Okehampton Bay’.

2017 – Miguel Heatwole for ‘Better Times’.

2016 – Tony Eardley for ‘Sally Cross the Water’.

2015 – Paddy McHugh for ‘The Snowmen’.

2014 – Miriam Jones for ‘Post Post Feminist Revolution’.

2013 – The Lurkers for ‘Mining Man’.

2012 – Steph Miller for ‘The Riverside’.

Born in the NSW country town of Goulburn, Steph Miller is a Sydney based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Best known nationally and internationally for his work in the bands Roaring Jack and Eva Trout, Steph has been performing his own songs, solo and in bands, for many years. An in-demand session player, Steph is once again fronting his own band, The Winter Station. Bringing together top players from Sydney and regional NSW, The Winter Station started as a fluid studio collaboration. Now a solid and passionate live band, they are currently performing material from Steph’s albums, Strange Sea and Brickwork.

Download ‘The Riverside’ and view the lyrics for free on Steph’s Bandcamp page.
Visit Steph’s MySpace and Facebook pages.

Steph sent the following message after the presentation:

Thanks so much for your well wishes everyone. It was truly an honour and very unexpected. I also got to go to the National for a day and night and saw some incredible players. Huge thanks to a few good friends who reminded and supported me in submitting a song. Also to my good friend Greg Ryan, who quickly recorded my entry in his small studio. I think there was two days before the entry cut-off! Also to the Alistair Hulett Foundation and the judges who were Judy Small, Kate Fagan and Eric Bogle. Cheers! My band, The Winter Station, were rehearsing the song called ‘The Riverside’ prior to the competition and will record it later in the year for our next record. The entry version will be up soon on our facebook page. I was quite overwhelmed at the final concert and stuffed up the last verse (well it was the first time I’d played it live and to such a huge crowd!) Only human after all. Again cheers, love and justice for all.


The following interview captures Steph’s thoughts on winning the Award:

Steph, congratulations of winning the first Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund Award for the Song of Social Justice in Australia. How did it feel win and perform at the National Folk Festival?
Thank you. It was a real honour and most unexpected to win the Songs For Social Justice Award. As part of the award, I was asked to play at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip and quite overwhelming. Very exciting. I’d never been to a National before and was most impressed with the organisation and production of the whole event. I played at the final concert on the Budawang stage to a packed pavilion. It’s the first time I’d played the song to a live audience.

My band, the Winter Station, had been rehearsing and arranging the song prior to the competition for inclusion on our next record. Very much a highlight of my musical life, I’m very appreciative and quite humbled. I got to see some brilliant performers (even though I was only there for an afternoon and a night) from Flamenco to Cajun. Big thumbs up to the sound production crews in each venue. And thankyou so much to the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund for the opportunity. In the words of the great bards..’well chuffed!

Tell us about your winning song and what motivated you to write it.
The song ‘The Riverside’ started after seeing the disastrous ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010 unfold. The subsequent loss of lives and untold damage to our natural environment. With catastrophic events events such as this there tends to be a feeling of helplessness ie how do we as a world community make sure this never happens again and why did it happen in the first place. As the song progressed I got to thinking about how to alleviate that helpless feeling and my mind drifted to the powerful Civil Rights movement of the 60s, a film called ‘ Soundtrack For a Revolution’ and the role music and songs play in the greater picture. The Riverside has an element of an old-styled protest song to it. It was never a direct decision for it to go this way but as with a lot of songs, they take on their own personalities. The idea of combined voices, through music, for positive change has always appealed to me.

The use of the ‘river’ as a central image is a powerful one. Cleansing, healing. It has been used over many years by many songwriters. The song is poetic in its intent and I tried to use a driving, shuffle rhythm to hammer home the lyrics, lyrics that in the words of the judges (Kate Fagan, Judy Small and Eric Bogle..thankyou) “show a positive commitment to social justice and change and could apply to many different causes” It is a simple song of the importance of our living environment and the way we treat one and other within that environment.

You have been involved in and supported various campaigns for social justice over the years. How does you music fit with your support for these causes?
From a very young age I have been aware of injustice on our planet. Starting as a child with a real concern about our natural world. This progressed over the many years through involvement with like-minded bands and musicians writing and performing songs concerning everything from the wrongful incarceration of individuals to communities searching for freedom and identity. One of my biggest concerns of late deals with depression and anxiety, largely caused by impossible economic structures, a feeling of futility and hopelessness. Again, it’s the idea of feeling helpless in what seems like the runaway train of life.

I have been directly involved with benefit concerts concerning these issues, the most recent being A Concert 4 Life in Sydney for depression and suicide prevention. As a sufferer myself (and having lost a good friend to suicide) I realise the importance of such events and the necessity for communication and combined energies. Songs have always played a huge role in this for me, be it from an observational perspective, offering direct solutions or from the sheer joy and release of being lost in the sounds. All helpful I hope.

Do you have any tips for budding songwriters out there?
I think the best tip I can give a budding songwriter is to be true to yourself. I’ve always found songs written for purely economic reasons to be hollow, puerile and very unfulfilling to listen to. Listen to a vast array of different songwriters and musicians, from different cultures and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to try different ideas. Listen to what those close to you think of your songs (but not to a debilitating degree) play the songs in front of people as much as possible, have fun with it! Surround yourself with good musicians who are willing to help you realise the arrangements. Always carry a pen, paper or small recording device with you. You never know when a great idea will jump into your head. Observe. But most importantly…….have fun with it!!

On Easter Monday, 2013, the 2013 ‘Songs for Social Justice’ Award was presented at the final concert of the National Folk Festival in Canberra. The winning song, ‘Mining Man’ was performed by its composers, The Lurkers – Sydney-based proponents of “subversive homespun bluegrass”. The following letter from the judges (written when the identity of each of entrants was still unknown to them) provides an eloquent and fitting tribute to both The Lurkers and to Alistair Hulett, whose songwriting and political activism are commemorated by this Award.

The Judges’ Report as delivered at the National Folk Festival on Monday 1 April, 2013.

The Songs for Social Justice Award is a powerful reminder of three things. It continues to respect and honour the legacy of Alistair Hulett, who became during his lifetime a leading political songwriter in Australia and Scotland. Secondly, the Award provides a vital opportunity for emerging and established political artists to be heard and supported. And thirdly, the entries collectively are a window onto contemporary grass roots communities, and the issues that inspire and unite them.

We were delighted to agree without hesitation upon ‘Mining Man’ as the winner of the 2013 Songs for Social Justice Award. This song buzzes with the energy of activism and resistance, and brings to our attention the pressing issue of coal seam gas mining across Australia and further afield. The lyrics are poetic, and the melody shows both a knowledge and love of folk music traditions. Perhaps most importantly, like the best folk music, the song is transportable: it could be sung by any number of people anywhere and retain the power and punch of its message.

We would like to congratulate all entrants in this year’s award, and to extend an open invitation for submissions to next year’s award. Once again, all the best to the writers of ‘Mining Man’. Judy Small, Kate Fagan, Peter Hicks.

This song was written out of frustration at the idea that feminism was a thing of the past, an outdated and unnecessary mode of engagement with the world. Post Post Feminist Revolution was recorded with my band The Lurkers, who were the winners of last year’s Songs for Social Justice Award.
(Miriam Jones)
The story behind the song…
I was at a NYE party in 2012/13 and bumped into a dear old friend I had not seen in many years. I asked about his family and his response was not good. His father was dying a slow and painful death from Mesothelioma, a cancer that he had developed from years working at the James Hardie factory in Parramatta – the same factory where Bernie Banton and his brother had worked. He described in detail the horror that death by Mesothelioma delivers and I left the party feeling sickened and incredibly sad.

It was not the first time I had been moved by the stories of suffering that comes with asbestos related disease (ARD). Many years before (2006 I think?) I was at an Alistair Hulett gig in Sydney and saw him perform ‘He Fades Away’. This song really got to me and it was the highlight of what was a very memorable show for a young songwriter like myself. Much to my delight shortly after this gig I was lucky enough to perform with Alistair.

My band at the time ‘Sydney City Trash’ filled in as his backing band on a tour he did the following year. Having first the chance to see Alistair perform and then being able to play alongside him burnt Alistair’s song into my conscience and I have carried them with me ever since. It also gave me the chance to get to know Alistair shortly before his death, something for which I am incredibly grateful.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Mesothelioma deaths are still happening. In fact now is the peak period for deaths from asbestos-related disease. The sadness I had when I first heard Alistair’s song was still with me but I found from talking to those I met that people’s knowledge of, and interest in ARD had waned. All these poor bastards were still fading away, often in silence. So I thought I would pick up where Alistair left off. Write a song that will get people thinking about the issue and hopefully provide some comfort to those people living in the hell of death by Mesothelioma.  So here it is. Named after my mate’s Dad ‘Snowy’ who got his nickname from the dust that killed him. He died this April… We’ll sing to our last breath, James Hardie caused our deaths.
(Paddy McHugh)

Lyric Sheet for The Snowman by Paddy McHugh (Right click link to download)

Tony’s accompanying notes provide the background to his winning entry:

“Violence against women is as much of a social justice issue as any – which is at last beginning to achieve some public recognition. I was thinking about the reasons women facing domestic violence find it so hard to leave and how the isolation they often feel in these situations contributes to this. The metaphor I use in the song of being trapped on an island is linked with the root of the word ‘isolation’ and that seemed to fit well with the folk genre.”

Lyric Sheet for Sally Cross the Water by Tony Eardley (Right click link to download)

Congratulations to Miguel Heatwole for winning the 2017 Songs for Social Justice competition.

Miguel introduces the song at his performance of “Better Times” at the 2017 National Folk Festival.

Congratulations to Tasmanian singer-songwriter Teri Young for her 2018 winning entry “Fishing At Okehampton Bay”.

Teri has a Bandcamp page and is also on SoundCloud.

Award-winning singer/songwriter Penelope Swales has been articulating the human condition for over 30 years. Her subject matter ranges from politics via the environment, through to love, sex, the profound bond between people and dogs to the impact of the Internet on our society and relationships. She won the 2019 Alistair Hulett Songs for Social Justice Award with her song “Cambridge Analytica” which explores the impact on democracy of disinformation spread via social media.

Karen Law is a contemporary folk singer-songwriter from Australia whose songs contain honest comfort and life-affirming insight.
Karen sings of journeys, both outer and inner, of healing, recovery and the eternal spirit.

“Wildflower Woman” is the story of Sunshine Coast woman Kathleen McArthur, a wildflower painter, who became an environmental activist. Together with poet Judith Wright, she successfully campaigned to save Cooloola Coast from sand mining in the early 1970s and had it declared a national park. Her legacy lives on in the song which calls for today’s activists to take heart from Kathleen’s success.

“This excellent song tells a story in a very skilful and engaging way about someone who gave her life to a social justice struggle. This very singable song has a great tune, wonderful chorus and leaves us feeling positive.”

Tripple Effect is an acoustic folk trio (Carrie Jacobi, Len McCarthy and Lynden Jacobi). The “Makarata – Straight from the Heart” song was written by John Sutton.

Tripple Effect first performed Straight From the Heart at the protest event to mark the first anniversary of the Uluru Statement, held in Sydney in May 2018. It was the band’s first public performance. The photo near the end of the video of Tripple Effect with Thomas Mayor holding the Uluru Statement canvass was taken at that event.

Tripple Effect has since performed the song many times at festivals, concerts, and campaign and commemorative events, always to keenly receptive and sympathetic audiences. It’s clear that the politicians who rejected the Statement are radically out of step with ordinary Australians on this issue.

The band looks forward to the day when the Uluru Statement’s invitation has been fully heard and accepted, when Australia finally becomes a mature nation, and the song’s message is of purely historical interest.

SNEZ has never been afraid to put her heart on her sleeve. Celebrating 3 months of success off the back of her critically acclaimed fourth album ‘Fisher on the Sea’; Snez has spent the last 12 years touring Australia, squeezing her world into a van for months at a time….and loving every minute of it.

Rich with contemplative storytelling of people you feel you have broken bread with as an ally or an enemy, taking you on a journey of life’s rollercoaster ride.
Boldly stepping into the spotlight with her latest offering, Fisher on the Sea, Australian Singer/songwriter, Snez delves deep into her centre to deliver her best statement to date. Intensely honest and introspective, sometimes plaintive, sometimes fierce, her songs have a way of settling into your heart and making a home, subtly weaving their magic into your soul.

Bob and Laurel Wilson have been singing together since the late 1970s. Bob Wilson’s songs have struck a chord with Australia all Over listeners, so you may recognise them.

They affectionately refer to the song as “Whitlam”, a summary of the many social policies and new laws enacted by Gough Whitlam in the first months of his election on December 2, 1972.

Whitlam introduced free healthcare and free tertiary education, abolished conscription and took the last of our troops out of Vietnam. Whitlam introduced a new Family Law act; no-fault divorce and an associated single parent’s pension which made it possible for people to leave bad marriages. He abolished capital punishment, started drafting land rights for indigenous Australians and, as the song says, was the first PM to lavish money on the arts.

Bob wrote the song in late 2021 after realising there is a whole generation in Australia who probably take these social initiatives for granted.

Entry Submission

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