Extend a Hand

Song credits: 
Words & music by John McCutcheon

In May of 2000 nearly 400,000 people marched across the Sydney Harbor Bridge in support of the Reconciliation Movement, a call for dealing with the historic treatment of Aboriginal people by the white-majority population. Relative to Australia’s population this was one of the largest demonstrations in world history. (It would be comparable to 5 million people demonstrating in the US.) Cathy Freeman, the Aboriginal Olympic champion, was one of the lead marchers.

Later, when Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic torch at the start of the 2000 Summer Games the symbolism of the two opposing, mutually existing elements of fire and water in the Opening Ceremony was not lost on those of us following the Reconciliation Movement. The day Freeman won the gold medal in the women’s 400 meters a group of black and white Australian women were visiting my town. I was asked to join in welcoming them and composed this song in their honor. Kerrianne Cox was one of the women in that party and I asked her to join me on this recording. (www.kerriannecox.com)

I met the Stiff Gins, a trio of young Aboriginal women, at the Illawara Folk Festival in March of 2001, south of Sydney. We became friends and, when they toured the US and Canada the following July they, too, joined me here. (www.stiffgins.com)

John: vocal & guitar
JT: fretless bass
Ian: didgeridoo & clap sticks
Kerrianne Cox: dreamtime chant
The Stiff Gins (Nadia Simpson, Kaleena Briggs & Vanessa Fisher): harmony vocals

In a ring of fire and water
She raised the ancient flame
Freedom was her birthright
Freedom was her name
As all the world was watching
Without a single word
She spoke for generations
And every voice was heard

200 years and more have past
Since Cooke saw Botany Bay
Still the choices that we make
Create our history every day
The things that we remember
The races that we start
Have brought us to the water’s edge
With a fire in our heart


As we walk across the Harbor Bridge
We reach across the years
We reach across our differences
We reach across our fears
We reach into the mystery
As we seek to understand
The meaning of our history
We each extend a hand

A stolen generation
Children taken from their home
Taken from the bush to town
Taken from their blood and bone
Still the Dreamtime called to them
The songlines shone the way
Led them safely back to home
Led us to this day


Everyday I wonder why
“I’m sorry” is in short supply
Still we try and try and try
And try and try and try and try and try

In a ring of fire and water
She raised the ancient flame
Freedom was her birthright
Freedom was her name
She raced into the future
With both banners of our nation
The fire and the water danced
In reconciliation


©2000 John McCutcheon/Appalsongs (ASCAP)
Charlottesville, VA September 2000

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