We owe Thelma Plum, and other victims of abuse in Aus' music, a big apology

We owe Thelma Plum, and other victims of abuse in Aus' music, a big apology

It’s time we in the music media put our hands up and become more accountable.

Yesterday the Australian music industry went into a tailspin around the news that Sticky Fingers were going on a hiatus (or completely breaking up, depending on who you rely on for music news).

What started out as the old cliché of “internal issues”, was pretty quickly called out as some deeply serious problems with the band’s frontman, Dylan Frost, by Thelma Plum after an incident over the weekend between the two of them.

This resulted in a second update from Sticky Fingers, from Frost personally, saying he’s been battling with alcoholism and drug abuse, along with being diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia.

The problem is – and this is something the Australian music industry is very much implicit in – that this incident was avoidable. For the past couple of years now, most people with a passing interest in the behind the scenes of Australian music will have heard a story about “Diz”*.

Whether it’s allegations of racism, verbal abuse, actual physical abuse, or something else, the evidence has been there for some time of a troubled individual who needs help.

Only we, and those around him, sat by and said nothing, did nothing, and let it get to the point where it took someone with actual balls – Thelma Plum – to say something.

Make no mistake, Sticky Fingers upcoming “hiatus” would not be happening if she didn’t speak up. The fact that they’re still going to try and finish their remaining shows is evidence of this - an insane notion if things are as dire as they appear to be.

And we, the Australian music industry and music media, were happy to go along with it. We’ll still put them on festival lineups, even with their “colourful” history. We – and I’m talking about Pilerats directly here – still post articles about their new singles, still ran interviews with the band (which Frost is always almost never present for), still support festival lineups they’re playing…

We'll post an article about some crazy drunken antics from Sticky Fingers' lead singer because it's great #banter, or #rock'n'roll!

And I’m ashamed that we let it go on for so long. And I’m using this article to offer my deepest apologies for letting this happen.

You say in your head, "Well you know, there’s no concrete evidence here, so we kinda still have to report on their latest single, because you know, clicks."

And it takes someone with actual guts, actual integrity, someone like a Thelma Plum to stand up and say "Hey, this isn’t good enough".

All I can think about the quote - and I’m paraphrasing here because there’s a million different iterations – about evil thriving when good people do nothing.

Evil is a strong word, to be sure. But for Sticky Fingers to go along for the past couple of years, getting away with “indiscretions” here and there, thus normalizing that kind of behavior and making it seem okay, all it took was for us to do nothing. To just let it go by until there was “something more concrete”.

I remember a conversation only a month or two ago with a colleague about Sticky Fingers, at the time saying it’s not a matter of if Sticky Fingers get caught out, it’s simply a matter of when.

That time has come, and in all honesty I wish Frost the best in his recovery – if indeed it is being taken seriously. A recovery that starts with not blaming a diagnosed mental illness on his behavior - something so damaging to everyone battling mental illness and further stigmatising it.

But we need to take this opportunity to look inwards at ourselves. For all the talk about making gigs and Australian music in general a more safe and inclusive space, it’s painfully obvious there is so much more to be done.

Why do we have to wait for Thelma Plum to speak up before we do? Why do we throw her under the bus to say something we’ve known about for so long?

"Ah. Finally! We’ve known Diz has a bit of a history with this stuff, but now Thelma Plum has come out and said something so we can just make her the spokesperson for it. That way fans of Sticky Fingers aren’t gonna turn on us, because we’re not saying it, she is." 

That’s so unfair not only to Plum (screenshotting private status updates - come on), but for every victim of abuse who’s had the courage to stand up and say that something isn’t okay.

The music media isn’t judge and jury. We obviously can’t just come out and take unsubstantiated rumours as gospel and report it to the masses. We couldn’t afford the defamation proceedings that would follow.

But there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough.

And that’s why there’s going to be certain bands in Australian music you won’t be hearing about on our website anymore. We’d rather give that space to emerging artists from all different walks of life, doing exciting things and doing them right. Sure, we’re a small fish in a big pond, but we’ve gotta start somewhere.

We have to create an environment where people who’ve been wronged, abused, or worse in Australian music can feel like they’re able to communicate these things and feel like it actually makes a difference. Like someone is actually listening. Instead of being punished for it, which is so often tragically the case.

We’ve been guilty of ignoring this in the past. Horribly so. I’ve been guilty of it. Not just with Sticky Fingers. But with bands much closer to home. And that is my greatest shame.

We can’t keep celebrating artists and acts with a known history of abuse in the industry. And we can’t keep relying on the Thelma Plums of the world to actually have the guts to stand up and do our work for us.

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*Or actually been there to experience them:

- Like the time he jumped off a stage at Rottofest, which wasn't funny, it was dangerous, and put all future events on Rottnest Island in jeopardy.

- Or the time he became so abusive in my own backyard following a show it ended in my girlfriend feeling so threatened she lashed out and hit him, while a bunch of "good men" sat around and let it happen.

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