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‘It's a real blessing to come to Dja Dja Wurrung Country and learn about the land.’

Gems in this

Photo>>>Toby Burrows


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Gems in
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Feature by Marley Ng

Fresh off the heels of wins at the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards and GQ Men of the Year Awards, followed by a performance at First & Forever festival, singer Budjerah spent time with Exceptional ALIEN to share some of his travel gems in Regional Victoria.

Raised in the small town of Fingal Head on Australia’s northeast coast, the Coodjinburra musician grew up singing in church, before releasing his debut single (produced by Aussie music heavyweight Matt Corby) in 2020. Budjerah’s meteoric rise included signing with Warner Music; releasing two EPs; performing headline shows and supporting Vance Joy internationally; featuring on an Ed Sheeran single; and winning two ARIA Awards and a National Indigenous Music Award. For this Regional Victoria special, made in partnership with Visit Victoria, Budjerah chats with us about the power of highlighting First Nations’ culture at First & Forever festival, the experience of being on Dja Dja Wurrung Country, and what makes a great sausage roll.


On playing at First & Forever

I just played at First & Forever festival at The Gathering Place, Hanging Rock. It's really beautiful — you could see Hanging Rock in the background behind the stage. First & Forever is the first all-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music festival run by Blak people. It was a beautiful day. It was a bit cloudy, but the sun was coming out every now and then, and the crowd was so engaged the whole time. The energy was so positive and joyful. A lot of people came out. I didn't know that the support for Aboriginal artists was so big, and it made me feel really warm and encouraged. I’m very proud of my heritage and my creativity as an Aboriginal person. It was history in the making, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.

On the meaning behind your name

My full name is Budjerah Julum. It's my Aboriginal name in my Bundjalung language. Where I'm from our names tell our stories. Budjerah translates to first light — I was born just before the sunrise in the morning, at the break of dawn, so that's why they call me Budjerah. Julum means fish. My uncle happened to be at the beach and caught a lot of fish that morning, so they call me fish.

On your start in music

Church was where I got all my training. All my family are musicians, and they played in the church. My Dad taught me how to sing and play. We lived right on the beach, so I was either in the water or singing songs. That's all I did, and that's pretty much all I still do! Church training proves very helpful, like for a recent performance I had problems with my in-ears, the little headphones that a lot of artists use. I didn't have any sound, so I just took them out. In church, you learn how to roll with that kind of stuff.

Video by Rah Dakota (DP) and Shannon Madden (AC/Second Camera) for Exceptional ALIEN and Visit Victoria. ‘Ready For The Sky’ by Budjerah, courtesy of Warner Music Australia, Sony Music Australia and Mushroom Music Publishing. Edited by The Editors.

On your home in Fingal Head

Fingal is one way in, one way out: you’ve got a river on one side, beach on the other. It's very peaceful. Time stops and when people come, they go onto island time. We’re locals and that’s my traditional land, so we say people get Fingal-itis, because they don't want to leave and they forget about work. They get sluggish and slow because they're just so relaxed and at peace.

‘Travel inspires me a lot. It's adding to my experiences and my own personal story. Travelling is part of my creative process.’

On how travel inspires you

Travel inspires me a lot. It's adding to my experiences and my own personal story. The way I tell my story is through my songs, so I always think about what I've seen when I sit down to write lyrics. When you have so much time to sit and think, you come up with so many different ideas. Travelling is part of my creative process.

On the importance of respecting cultures

Understanding culture is super important when you travel. You want to be able to respect the people when you’re going to their land, whether it's France or England or here in Australia. It's really important to make sure you're doing the right thing for the people. My family always taught me to show respect when you go to someone else's land — respect is a big part of my culture. Even if you learn just a little bit of the etiquette, it's all about respecting the people, because they're the ones welcoming you and taking care of you. So you want to treat them as kindly as you can. One thing we do at home is if you go to someone else's house or land, you do as they do. If you go into someone else's house and they take their shoes off, you’re meant to do that as well. That's what we do where I'm from.

All images of Budjerah and Uncle Rick Nelson on Dja Dja Wurrung Country by Toby Burrows for Exceptional ALIEN.

On how travel makes you feel

It makes me feel very calm. I did a lot of travelling when I was younger, with my family and with church, so it reminds me of when I was a kid. I didn't have a phone or anything, so I would just listen to country music. Randy Travis was my favourite. Sometimes it felt long, but now, sitting in the car and travelling is the most peaceful time that I get, so I learned to appreciate it. I grew up in a small town, and I remember we all used to just pack up and travel in this little bus, and everyone would switch around to hang out with their favourite cousins. 

‘Being on Country is a part of who I am and part of my culture, and I take a lot of pride in making sure I'm being respectful.’

On travelling through Regional Victoria

I love seeing the scenery and the country. Australia's a very beautiful country, so I just like to take it in. I like to look at the land and imagine what kind of stories happened here. When I see the countryside, I just think, ‘What’s the story of this place? What's happened here?’ When I was 10, we did one really long road trip from my home near the Gold Coast all the way down here. The one thing that I noticed was how green everything was — it's something I’ll always remember about this place.Green is my favourite colour. 

On going to Vaughan Mineral Springs and being on Country

I don't get to come out this way often, so I thought I'd just come and take it all in. It feels amazing. It's a real blessing to be able to come here to Dja Dja Wurrung Country, and learn about the land and the place. We went to Vaughan Mineral Springs to get a traditional welcome from the Dja Dja Wurrung Elders. It's really beautiful and green, and I feel very privileged to come here. Being on Country is super important to me, and it's very important for a lot of Indigenous people all over the country. It's a part of who I am and part of my culture, and I take a lot of pride in making sure I'm being respectful. I'm proud of it.


All images of Budjerah and RedBeard Historic Bakery by Toby Burrows for Exceptional ALIEN.

On your favourite bakery snack

My favourite bakery snack is a sausage roll. I think they're good for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The pastry needs to be flaky and a bit crispy. Some sausage rolls are oily and that's kind of gross; sometimes it's gluggy. Most of the time you can find a bakery in any town that does a really good sausage roll. That's one of my go-to things if I'm travelling. I did a lot of travelling as a kid with my family, and sausage rolls were a good quick breakfast or lunch — good for anytime of the day, really. No sauce. I like to get the flavour so the sauce taints it — I want to taste the sausage roll, not tomatoes. When I won my first ARIA, the record label Warner sent me a metre-long sausage roll, I'm not even kidding. I got home and it was just the best. It lasted me about a week. 

‘It's really important to support local artists. These are the people that tell our communities’ stories through art and song and dance. It's a part of our history.’

On where to get a cracking sausage roll in Regional Victoria

RedBeard Bakery is a really nice little cosy place that's been around since the 1890s. They've kept it the same the whole way through, so you're getting proper old-style baked goods, and they are very delicious. RedBeard has really good pork sausage rolls. I’d give it a good nine; that's my opinion. It's very chunky, which is good, but I can't fit it all in my mouth in one go. It's so good that I want to eat it all at once, but I can't, so that's why I gave it a nine. 

On where to see live music

Major Tom’s is a cool little burger joint and music venue. I reckon it’s some of the best burgers around this area. It's really important to have music in the community and venues in small towns, because music is something that brings everyone together. I mean, who doesn't love to hear music? Even back in my town, Fingal Head, everyone would come together for Food Truck Friday at the corner store. We'd have music and a food truck. It gets the community together and encourages people to have fun. Coming here and seeing it makes me feel like I'm at home.


All images of Major Tom’s and The Old Auction House by Toby Burrows for Exceptional ALIEN.

On supporting local art

I really love going to galleries and looking at different kinds of art. I feel like it helps to keep me inspired when I work on my art in music. The Old Auction Art House is a really good place to check out some local art. Another place I recommend is the Stockroom art gallery. It's really important to support local artists. These are the people that tell our communities’ stories through art and song and dance. It's a part of our history. Whatever town you're from, you should be proud of your story, and art is a really good way to do that. When I'm travelling, I always look for museums and galleries. My parents taught me how to have a good appreciation for that stuff. I love a lot of art and literature. I've written a lot of songs that are directly linked to certain books and art pieces, because they all tell stories. 


‘Regional Victoria is such a beautiful part of the world. It's very peaceful, and very green. The people are really beautiful as well — they’re very kind.’

On what you love most about the region

I have to say the people. All the people I've met in the last two days have been so kind. Small country towns have the kindest people. I come from a small town, and my Mum is from Western New South Wales. I noticed that everyone in small towns are just super kind and caring. That's what I loved the most.

On a window or aisle seat

It really depends on if I'm going to be getting up or not. Most of the time, I do prefer a window seat, because I love looking at the clouds and the scenery. But if I need to get up and go to the bathroom, I would try and change to an aisle seat. It's a lot of planning.

On a song that reminds you of Regional Victoria

When I travel through Regional Victoria, it reminds me of country and folk music. Just looking at all the surroundings and the space makes me think of all the stories that are told, especially in country music — that’s all around storytelling.

On Regional Victoria in one word


Regional Victoria is such a beautiful part of the world. It's very peaceful, and very green. The trees are beautiful and the people are really beautiful as well — they’re very kind.


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‘It's a real blessing to come to Dja Dja Wurrung Country and learn about the land.’