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Fri 24 May

Music as a mirror: charting Tracee Hutchison's four-decades in the arts

Tracee reflects on her journey from the anarchic days of early triple j to her advocacy for social change and sustainability in music.

By Always Live

"Music has that ability to hold a mirror up and show us who we are."

This belief has driven Tracee Hutchison throughout her storied career. 

As a broadcaster, journalist, producer, author, and “proud Melbournian”, Hutchison’s career is a testament to the transformative power of music. From breaking barriers as the host of triple j's first national program, to discovering the iconic band Silverchair, Hutchison has profoundly shaped Australian music. In a candid conversation with ALWAYS LIVE, Hutchison reflects on her four-decade career in the arts.

Music for Change

Hutchison's journey began with a belief in music's revolutionary power.

"I started broadcasting because I was convinced that music could change the world," she recalls. 

This conviction was rooted in her early activism during the environmental campaigns of the 1980s, with the Franklin River blockade and the nuclear disarmament campaign ‘Stop The Drop’. It was here that she first saw music’s ability to mobilise people and shape public policy, most notably through bands like Midnight Oil and the Goanna Band.

Breaking Barriers at triple j

In October 1989, Hutchison made history hosting the first program of the national roll out of ABC’s youth station triple j, championing local talent.

triple j in the late 1980s was a very different place—anarchic, anti-establishment, and fiercely independent. “We were proudly on the outside,” Hutchison notes. She felt a compelling duty to share music that would shape the world.  

This pre-national period of triple j was characterised by a rebellious spirit and a commitment to giving a platform to Australian voices, a mission that Hutchison passionately supported. triple j’s programming was eclectic and free-spirited, with presenters having the autonomy to choose the music they played, fostering an environment where Australian music could thrive.

Hutchison’s unwavering commitment to her principles often put her at odds with industry norms. “I was very uncompromising about what I felt was right and wrong, and it guided my career,” she says. 

Her activism eventually led to her departure from triple j, following a protest over the right to play N.W.A’s controversial song, “F**k the Police.” This bold move underscored a commitment to music as a tool for social change that would come to characterise her career.

From Nomad to Stardom: Discovering Silverchair

Hutchisons ethos of uncompromised artist support would show up again as a producer for SBS’s music show Nomad. 

One of her most significant contributions was launching the career of Silverchair – known then as Innocent Criminals.

The band won a competition conceived by Hutchison, which offered a day’s recording at triple j and a film clip sponsored by Kodak as the prize. “I really wanted to give a band an opportunity to start their career without any debt,” she explains. The competition aimed to challenge the traditional music industry norms and give independent artists a fair chance. 

“Three 14-year-olds from Merewether who sounded like Nirvana probably weren't what I was looking for to keep a music show on-air at multicultural SBS TV. But they had the best song,” she recalls. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sparking Magic on Rockwiz

This eye for talent came to mark Hutchison’s later involvement with Rockwiz. Here she was instrumental in producing some of the show’s most memorable duets. One standout performance was the duet between Chris Cheney of The Living End and Chrissy Amphlett of Divinyls.

Hutchison recalls how she managed to convince Amphlett, who was coming back from New York to star in The Boy from Oz, to participate in Rockwiz. “I suggested a couple of people she might like to duet with, and she picked Chris Cheney,” she says.

“I remember Chris arriving, looking like a little schoolboy, overwhelmed but thrilled,” Hutchison recounts. The pair performed “Stray Cat Blues,” a song that perfectly reflected Cheney’s influences and Amphlett’s edgy persona. “Chrissy was really worried that no one in Australia would remember her,” Hutchison reveals. But Amphlett was recognised from the first clue, 'born in Geelong,' proving her fears unfounded.

Other notable duets produced by Hutchison include Martha Wainwright and Dan Kelly, and the late Uncle Archie Roach and Sara Storer. “The one that got away was Judith Durham and Nick Cave,” she laments. Although it never came to fruition, the idea of pairing these two iconic artists remains a tantalising what-if in Australian music history.

The Spiritual Home of Community Radio

Community radio holds a special place in Hutchison’s heart, and 3RRR is her "spiritual home." “I started my career 40 years ago in community radio, and I've spent the past 20 years in various roles at 3RRR,” she says, reminiscing about her time as 3RRR Program Manager and host of the weekly show on politics, environment, and social justice called ‘The Word’.

Hutchison emphasises the crucial role of community radio in championing Australian music. “It continues to be critical to the survival of so many artists, venues, and festivals,” she asserts. For her, 3RRR is an integral part of Victoria’s cultural fabric. “There really is no other station like it anywhere else in Australia,” she proudly states. “In many ways Melbourne is the city it is because of the strength of community radio.”

Even today, Hutchison occasionally hosts shows, finding joy and fulfilment in her community radio heartland, which she describes as “the happiest place in town.”

Championing Social Progress

In recent years, Hutchison has continued to champion equitable and sustainable practices within the industry. As a co-producer of the inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards, Hutchison is a staunch advocate for women and gender-diverse people. “Winning awards makes a difference, and we need to ensure that women and gender-diverse people feel celebrated in the music industry,” she emphasises. The awards and the honour roll created under her guidance have been pivotal in addressing the lack of women in the ARIA Hall of Fame.

As the chair of Green Music Australia, she continues to advocate for social change through sustainable practices within the music industry. “It brings together every part of why I got into broadcasting and media 40 years ago,” she says, highlighting the organisation’s work in reducing waste and promoting sustainability at music festivals and venues.

Navigating a Changing Industry

Hutchison’s vision for a sustainable future extends to her involvement with The Push, a Victoria-based youth music organisation. “I love supporting young people in identifying a career path that works for them,” she says. Hutchison’s mentorship helps aspiring musicians navigate the complex and ever-changing music industry, providing them with the tools and confidence to succeed. 

In the digital age, Hutchison acknowledges the shifts in how younger generations engage with music and media. Despite these changes, she remains optimistic about the enduring power of a good story and great music to find their audience. “If you’re making stuff that you believe in and resonate on a really powerful level, people will find it.”

Hutchison marks this adaptability as key to her success. “I started off as a radio broadcaster, then moved to writing for the street press, and eventually to television,” she says. Today, she uses her iPhone for most of her content creation. “The platforms keep changing, but the essence of storytelling remains the same.”

An Enduring Legacy

Hutchison’s career is a testament to the power of music and media to reflect, challenge, and inspire. Her story reminds us that while the mediums may change, the impact of great music and compelling stories endures. 

But in order to sustain a vibrant scene, Hutchison says we must continue to support artists through policies and active engagement. “Buy the merch, go see the music, and ensure artists have a viable career,” she urges.

Victoria is indebted to stewards like Tracee Hutchison, who have committed their lives to holding a torch to the powerful mirror that is music.

Words by Oliver Hall

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