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An interview with Phoebe O'Leary Rutherford - DIY Community Organiser

December 31, 2018


Tell us about yourself in your own words.

My name’s Phoebe. I work at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve where I look after native animals and breed Australian endangered species. It’s more glamorous than it sounds – its mostly cleaning up poo, but it’s a very rewarding job. I used to go to heaps and heaps of gigs and now it’s really hard to because my job takes up a lot of my life and finding a balance is pretty hard. I do like going to lots of gigs and I like putting on house shows with my friends in our houses. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I have moved around a lot when I was a kid. So I lived in Sydney, then Canberra, then Melbourne and then Canberra and then Sydney and then Melbourne and then Sydney and then Canberra. I moved around heaps and heaps and in all that time went to heaps of different schools and so I never really had continuous friends or community. I think that’s why I love Canberra now because I’m trying to build a community of friends and stay here and that’s become really important to me.


What can you tell us about Mulgara DIY?

So Cam, and my sister Bene and I started Mulgara because we wanted to start supporting musicians and artists in Canberra. We wanted to put on house shows and maybe start a record label. Mostly we just wanted to start a little community thing where we could support people and have some fun with our friends. It was just when I first moved to Canberra and we didn’t have that many friends yet. So we just kind of started putting on shows and made heaps of friends and then our friends got involved too so that’s really cool. 


You work with animals - did that inspire the name for Mulgara?

Cam came up with the name. I suppose we both really like hiking and bushwalking and being outdoors and I really like working with animals but I mostly just like being outside in nature and watching things and appreciating it and how beautiful it is. Mulgaras are a pretty unknown native marsupial carnivore and we wanted to give our thing a name that was uniquely Australian and kind of kick ass and cute. It’s related to a quoll but it’s only 10cm long and lives in the desert.


Tell us about No Front Fences (NFF) - the Canberra DIY festival Mulgara puts on.

No Front Fences is a weekend long festival in two houses and a venue in Canberra. It’s a combination of music, art, food and markets and we try to make it a celebration of great Canberra talent and some interstate friends too. It’s pretty low budget so we can keep tickets affordable, and we try to do every part of it ourselves, from printing merch to making food and drinks.

Planning No Front Fences was kind of the beginning of Mulgara going from me and Cam and Bene to expanding out and having more friends permanently involved in Mulgara. It was a good thing to learn that if you have more people involved then you get cooler stuff done. Our friends Amy, Jim and Dave and us decided to do No Front Fences just for fun and we just thought it would be a great time and we didn’t really think we could do it. We pulled it together really quickly, we started planning the first one 2 months out from it. We just threw everything together really fast and it was all really messy but actually I think we did a pretty good job. 


What do you think is the biggest obstacle you face when booking and organising shows like NFF?

I think the thing that went wrong most for me last year was that everyone got really excited about asking bands and so the lineup wasn’t super cohesive. We ended up with a really male fronted heavy lineup which some of us weren’t happy about. Some people didn’t seem to notice but I think for me and Amy and Bene that was a really big deal. So this year we’ve made a really huge effort not to let that happen and to make sure that we ask bands in a way that when a femme fronted band can’t do it, we find another femme fronted band to play. So we are staging our invites more carefully so it doesn’t happen again. I suppose we just learned that even if you have good intentions, you really actually do need to work a lot harder if you want to make sure that you’re getting what you want out of the festival.

I think one thing with putting on house shows in general that’s hard is getting sound right because you want awesome bands to play and then we have shitty sound equipment and none of us are super good at doing sound so sometimes our sound is a bit shit. But for No Front Fences we have Joel doing sound and he brings all the good gear and he’s really talented. I suppose that’s also a money thing - getting the gear is expensive, and even once you have it knowing how to use it is a whole other step. 

Something that’s come up recently is that at first our shows were always entry by donation so that anyone could afford to come in. But then we started having a few shows where could could barely give any money to interstate bands and we felt really bad about it because they couldn’t even cover petrol. So we’ve started having a door charge at our shows so that we can pay bands better. We spend more money putting on shows than we get back so don’t worry – if you pay for our shows the money isn’t going to us!


What’s been the most rewarding part of it for you?

Mostly seeing my friends come together to create something really beautiful and then seeing how the Canberra community has responded to that which is really positively mostly. Just seeing people come together and having a good time at our shows. It’s all either free or very cheap and accessible and everyone can come and hang out and it’s just really so rewarding to see that when you’re at a show and see all these people enjoying it and know that you put it on you’re not getting anything out of it except for that enjoyment.


Where to next?

We’ve got some sick gigs coming up which is really cool, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen with me and Mulgara in the next year, my life is about to change a lot because I’m pregnant. So half way through this year everything’s going to change a lot and so I need to rethink how I can be involved in these things when I might not be having house shows at my house and I won’t be able to go out as much. But that’s okay. What I’m thinking is if I’m going to be at home a lot in the beginning, I want to get more into booking shows and doing stuff and maybe actually starting the record label part so I can have some stuff that I can do at home and keep me occupied. I won’t be working for a while so it’s kind of a really good opportunity even though I won’t be able to go out and party much. I know that Mulgara will keep doing stuff because Bene and Amy and Jim will keep having shows at their houses and Cam and I can still always go to them. The beauty of DIY is that it is what you make it, so if we want to stay involved when we’re parents we can do that. So that’s a big change but I feel like with my friends around me and the way that Mulgara is it’s open to all kinds of people to be involved and so it’s totally still possible for Mulgara to be a big part of my life.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

I would say if you can’t see role models for you in the music or art that you’re accessing - keep looking because you will find those people out there. You can find people that are like you, just keep looking. When I was a teenager I was just into lots of bands with lots of guys in them and I really wanted to be in a band with my friends. We had a band name and we all knew what instruments we were going to play and we all played instruments but we never did it because we thought ‘oh that’s so daggy we can’t be in a girl band’. That’s literally what we thought. I didn’t listen to any bands that had really cool women in them. I listened to female singers but I didn’t listen to femme fronted bands. I listened to lots of emo guy bands and I didn’t believe there was a place for me in that world and that’s really sad. I always feel sad about that and so I’d say keep looking for the role models you need because I’m sure they’re out there. 

The other thing I’d say is start putting on your own shows, or your own exhibitions, start your own blogs. If you can’t find the space or community you want in the world start creating it yourself– you’ll find that there are other people out there who are looking for the same thing you are. If you have some friends to do it with it makes it all easier too. You don’t have to wait for these things to come to you, you have the power to create the world you want to live in.


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