He may live in a sumptuous house in the NSW Southern Highlands and enjoy the trappings of a successful rock career, but veteran rocker Jimmy Barnes has never forgotten his blue-collar roots.
Born in Glasgow, the 63-year-old Barnes - the frontman of iconic 1970s blues rock band Cold Chisel – emigrated from Scotland with his family to Elizabeth in South Australia, the same suburb where - until October 2017 - Holden’s last production line stood as a shaky vanguard for car manufacturing in Australia.
“We grew up in a tight-knit Scottish community; all immigrants,” Barnes told radio station Hope1032. “Elizabeth in South Australia was built around the Holden factory, a flat, desolate horrible piece of land… and they decided to bring all the immigrants and stick them there so they’d have someone to work at Holden, basically.”
Barnes has long identified with the Holden brand, once claiming that even with all the money in the world, he’d just buy another Commodore. His latest single, 'Shutting Down Our Town', documents the closure of the Adelaide plant, while the accompanying not only documents the last day of operations at the plant, but it provides a fascinating look back at the company through the decades.
But why now? Why, as some observers have pointed out, go back to the corpse to pick at the bones? The answer, it seems, is in the timing.
It’s patently unfair, for a start, to ever accuse Barnes of exploiting a sordid moment of Australian working class history; after all, he’s responsible for 'Working Class Man', a genuine blue-collar anthem set amongst the backdrop of Wollongong’s steelworks in the mid-1980s.
Few would know, too, that Barnes played at the private party thrown by Holden on the afternoon of that fateful October day that would prove to be the catalyst for the end of large-scale vehicle manufacturing in this country.
Barnsey plays for the Holden troops (credit: Jimmy Barnes)
The song, which has been released ahead of the May 31 release of Barnes’s nineteenth studio album My Criminal Record, was written for Barnes by his friend and renowned country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley, who penned the track after reading the first half of Barnes’s poignant and best-selling biography, Working Class Boy – itself set in the grimy streets of the industrialised North Adelaide suburb.
“This song has a lot of personal meaning,” said Barnes. “It’s about growing up in Elizabeth and the closing down of the Holden factory where I once worked as a young working-class boy in North Adelaide.
“I changed a couple of words just because of local knowledge, but it was 99.999 percent Troy’s song, and he played it to me and I immediately felt the connection. I drove through Elizabeth not long after I heard the song, and I felt a pain in my heart for the people there who are battling, trying to make a living when everything is stacked up against them.”
Barnes said that the key difference between 'Working Class Man' and 'Shutting Down Our Town' is the fact that the new track is written by an Australian.
“It’s sort of a heartland 'Working Class Man' anthem, but 'Working Class Man' was written by an American [Jonathan Cain],” he said. “This was written by somebody who feels the pain, and who’s writing about the darker side of Australia which I never wanted to face before. So it’s like the bookend to 'Working Class Man', but for me, it’s the real story.”
The tribute might be a couple of years late, but it doesn't lessen its sincerity.