IF you’ve eaten a Tassie oyster or wheel of cheese, you’ve no doubt heard of Bruny Island: a 50-kilometre stretch of land brimming with endangered wildlife, an Instagrammable lighthouse, and some of the best produce you could ever hope to put in your mouth.
Calling it an island is a bit of a misnomer though. It’s actually two islands – North and South Bruny – joined together by a thin strip appropriately called The Neck.
In South Bruny you’ll find the little township of Lunawanna and the island’s only winery, a family-owned business called Bruny Island Premium Wines. This is where the Maddy Jane story begins.
“Growing up on Bruny Island you have bushland and the contrast of that with beaches,” says the 22-year-old singer, who released her debut EP, Not Human At All, through Sony subsidiary Lemon Tree Music in early 2018. “If Tasmania is an island off an island, I grew up on Bruny Island, which is the island off the island off the island.”
Though hailing from a long line of south island fruit-growers – her mum’s family have been growing and selling produce on Bruny Island since 1878 – Maddy decided to follow her creative muse instead.
“I was a bit of a show-off toddler,” she admits. “I wanted to show my parents what I could do from the age of three.”
“I was a bit of a show-off toddler. I wanted to show my parents what I could do from the age of three.”
Her love of music was nurtured by her family (“My family loves music. I was the weird one that actually wanted to do it”); Bruny’s tight-knit creative community; and her primary school teacher, the late Robert Hewitt. As one of only three kids in her grade – “That’s Bruny Island,” she says, laughing – Maddy’s talents didn’t go unnoticed.
She was encouraged by Mr Hewitt, a retired musician himself, to pick up any instruments she could and sing. Her first guitar was a gift from her mum, a “shitty” acoustic which she decorated with sea shells. She’d regularly head out onto Alonnah jetty – a little boat ramp jutting out from The Neck – and play songs to no one in particular.
“It’s a classic Australian lifestyle down there [in Bruny],” she says, “but it also has a weird hippy community creative vibe. There were a lot of creative opportunities when I was growing up and that was obviously something I was interested in.”
“It’s a classic Australian lifestyle down there [in Bruny Island], but it also has a weird hippy community creative vibe. There were a lot of creative opportunities when I was growing up and that was obviously something I was interested in.”
Like Courtney Barnett – a fellow Taswegian – Maddy’s songs are perceptive, observational, and preoccupied with the social interactions we unconsciously engage in each day. “I dunno about you but I see the same people every day,” she sings on ‘No Other Way’, the opening track of Not Human At All. “And the only thing that’s not the same/Is that they’re dressed in a different way.”
“People are super inspiring,” Maddy says, “human interactions, the way we interact, the way we can’t really see what’s going on in front of us until after.”
Maddy had watched from the sidelines as they exported their emotive brand of punk rock from their home base of Hobart to the Mainland (and beyond), and was invited to support them on a national run of shows in June 2017.
“Those guys are super inspirational because they’ve managed to stay in Tasmania and be able to export themselves around the country,” she says. “They’ve got a really good following. There’s a lot of quality of musicians in Tasmania that are doing really well. It’s just about getting out and getting the exposure.”
THERE’S a long tradition of Tassie artists shifting over to Melbourne or Sydney for bigger opportunities. Maddy Jane isn’t one of them.
Her reasons for moving had more to do with the practicalities of touring from a remote island, than any sort of desire to be closer to the industry hubs of Melbourne or Sydney.
Maddy admittedly started 2017 off with a “huge bang”, locking in national tours with Kingswood and Polish Club, festivals slots at The Plot and BIGSOUND, and two enormous supports for
While in Auckland on the Harry Styles tour, she experienced the most amazing moment of her young life”, literally lighting up Spark Arena during ‘Not Human At All’, the slow-building title track of her debut 2018 EP.
“A few bars in, I noticed a few lights begin to appear,” she wrote in a tour diary published on themusic.com.au. “By halfway through the song, the room was full of this sea of lights and I’ve never seen anything like it. Me and my band mates were all stunned.”
Maddy made a triumphant return home, but the costs of basing herself in Bruny Island, or living temporarily in other cities, began mounting. After connecting with a group of musicians passing through Hobart, she decided to bypass the bright lights of Melbourne and Sydney for Wollongong – about 90 minutes from Sydney on the NSW coast.
Local legends Tumbleweed put the ‘Gong on the rock’n’roll map in the early-1990s, but the area has had a resurgence of late, primarily thanks to local collective Farmer & The Owl, who organise the annual Yours & Owls festival; put out records by the area’s buzziest rock prospect Hockey Dad; and book Rad Bar, which has quickly become Maddy’s local.
“Wollongong has similarities and huge differences to Tassie in all the good ways. I really like the people, the water, and I like its little music scene. Tassie has a small music scene. It’s got quality and it’s got its own thing – people who are in it know about it – but [Wollongong] is probably a bit more developed.”
She says she feels at home now among this small but growing music community – and they’ve embraced this Tassie transplant in turn.
“I’m known as the token Tasmanian up here,” she jokes. “I still have my Tasmanian tiger tote bag and my Blunnies that I will always wear everywhere. So yeah, I am well and truly Tasmania. Always will be.”