At Home with Marlene Cummins

Local artist, radio host, Blues singer and saxophonist Marlene Cummins is preparing to tour her album ‘Koori Woman Blues’. She was the subject of Rachel Perkins’ 2014 film, ‘Black Panther Woman’.

You are very respected as a musician and an activist. How does music achieve social justice?
Music and social justice are inextricably linked for me. I was the first female member of the Brisbane chapter of the US civil rights movement, the Black Panther Party. So my political activism has been very grass roots. However, over the years I have found my natural voice for this is in my art. Whether it’s concerned with aboriginal women’s incarceration rate, which is the highest in the world per capita, or violence, people listen to you. I see it as a positive vehicle to bring about change. Great singers of the past have proven this.

Are there any foods that bring back particularly good memories for you?
Food for me was spare as we grew up poverty stricken. Flour and sugar was introduced into the Aboriginal diet as wages and we grew up on it. I’ve actually had to try and shake the effects of this refined flour and sugar off, as in Archie Roach’s ‘Mission Ration Blues’ which points out the detrimental impact that flour, tea and sugar has had on my people’s health. I’m only one generation away from my ancestor’s healthy way of life but this is why we’re dying like flies from diabetes and heart disease. Our mortality rate is above per capita any other in the world from diet as well as incarceration.

I used to love oranges when I was a kid. I rarely saw them but when they came it was heavenly. My family lived a semi traditional life and I had access to good bush tucker. We’d have witchetty grubs, bush turkey and kangaroo meat.

What do you like to cook at home?
I try to eat like my ancestors did. I eat salads, protein, no lashings of anything that would have flour and sugar in it. I just love a good old lamb roast with lots of garlic and roast veggies.

You have written some songs specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to feel good, strong and to dance to. What artists make you feel this?
Etta James, Koko Taylor, Trudy Lynn and Big Mama Thornton are my favourites. Their bluesy outpourings represent so much that is reminiscent of being an aboriginal woman and I find  identification and solace in their abilities to express what I feel as an aboriginal women, for myself and my sisters of this country.

Are there any musicians that you hope to see performing at Sydney venues in the future?
I’d like to see Vic Sims. Good musicians are a dime a dozen but there are some great musicians who have been overlooked and neglected despite their commitment to music. Vic Sims is one of the finest.

Marlene Cummins and the Blues Experience Band are performing at Venue 505, July 15th. For tickets go to:

Marlene’s Bully Beef Blackfella Bush Curry & Rice


Keens Curry Powder

1 diced onion

1 can of Corned Beef

2 diced tomatoes

Chilli and garlic to your liking


Saute onion and garlic and chilli together.

Add tomato for five minutes.

Add the corned beef and a teaspoon of good old Aussie Keen’s Curry.

Serve with boiled rice and Ashes Damper.

Ashes Damper


6 cups of flour

Water (can add a dash of warm beer)

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp baking powder

Drop of oil


Mix and knead well with flour on your hands so it doesn’t stick.

Leave 10 minutes to rise.

Knead again and flatten.

After you make your fire, create a mould in the ground of ashes and place the damper (you can wrap it in foil).

Place white ash and coals above it.

Cook for 45 minutes. Tap with fingers.

If cooked, it will sound hollow.

Brush off any excess ash.