91. Johnathan Binge

3 Mar

Johnathan Binge, aka Caution, is a proud Gamilaraay, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr rapper. He was born in Moree, New South Wales and grew up on Wurundjeri land in Heidelberg West. As most of his family, excluding his younger brothers, remain in Moree, he takes regular trips to return home to family and Country.

Living so far from his Country is “semi-dissociative”, as he feels simultaneously there and not there. “It’s different when you’re on Country, that feeling of the fresh air and you jump out and you know where you are, it feels like home.”

Whilst Melbourne has perks, such as the music scene and his youngest brothers, Johnathan admits it is difficult “tryna keep up with the stuff that’s going on”. Family has always been incredibly important to Johnathan, as he realised at a young age the fragility of family.

“I’ve just lost so many people throughout the years, so it is something that I kept close to me just because I know how quick a life can be lost.” These lost people include his mother, “one of the most significant people in anyone’s life”, his cousin, “[who] helped me gain confidence, and really stand up for myself”, and his uncle, “who was my mentor, my father figure”.

“I just want to hold onto my family for as long as I have them. And I hope I don’t have to visit any more cemeteries ever again.”

Johnathan’s story isn’t unique, “it’s not unique at all. In a way for my community, it is almost uniform. There’s so much of these stories, just downtrodden stories, that we all come from that are shared so widely across different mob.”

Johnathan now shares his story and feelings through his music, which he started writing in 2014 to express and process his anxieties and traumas.  

“The moment that I had that anxiety attack, it pushed the fear back into me and it sent me on a real bad downward spiral. I locked myself in my room for a couple months. And almost every night after I had that first panic attack, [I had another panic attack]. And writing music was a way to put those thoughts that I was having in my head onto a page and making it a physical thing that I could let go of and put out into the world.”

Johnathan is very careful about finding the right time to release and share his music. The songs from his yet unreleased EP were formed in the years spanning 2014 to 2018, a formative, transitional period in Johnathan’s life. “Looking back, and listening to that music, it’s like it’s not me anymore. It was someone who didn’t have money, someone who was in a lot of pain and didn’t know how to deal with those emotions in the most healthy way.”

“So, the fact that I kept those [songs] as almost a time capsule, I just wanted to dress [the songs] up, make it as authentic as it was back then when I wrote it. I wanted to make it have that effect and have that feeling for any people who went through those similar things, and there’s a lot of people in my community that have. I just want the audience to understand that what I’m saying and what I’m speaking at any given moment are what I was feeling and might still be feeling.”

Johnathan is working hard “so that when I see my family, I am not projecting myself and my fears and my anxieties onto them. I try to put a strong foot forward, and show that to my brothers, and my nieces and nephews.”

Subsequently, when asked what his proudest moment is, Johnathan does not tell me of coming second in the National Indigenous Story Awards, but rather watching his youngest brother graduate from primary school. “Seeing him graduate, and just be up there and have fun with his class, is [so] cool to see… ‘cause I didn’t get a lot of moments like that, when I got to be a kid.”

Johnathan was involved with Banyule through Jets and New Hope, even giving New Hope its’ name. (Did you know New Hope is a Star Wars reference?) “I’m grateful for it all cause that’s really where I got my start and my confidence on stage. [Banyule] are still doing some deadly stuff and I’ll always be able to put my hand up and go work with them, and they know that.”

Aside from his family and his booming music career, in 2022 Johnathan is working with the Foundation for Young Australians in their first dedicated First Nations Team as First Nations Program Officer. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do for mob.” His main goal for the year is “to give myself to people as openly as I can. That’s all I know what to do.”

“My advice for young people is knowing what you have at your disposal, always go out into your community.” To musicians, he recommends looking for “any programs that can get you cheaper or free recording, and to know when to release your stuff, and when to hold off”. Take time to “develop yourself, develop your craft, know your way around what you want to do, set up a plan, give yourself a timeframe…But most importantly, give yourself time to grow.”

“If you’re a young blakfella, you know what your community is, you know your strength, play to your strengths. Keep yourself and your chin up, because your family needs you around. Keep strong…try to keep yourself out of harm, keep yourself out of trouble. Avoid the police, man.”

“For everyone else that doesn’t fit those two categories, be yourself man, don’t try to replicate anyone else. You’ve got your swag from your mum and your dad…You’ll find yourself one day.”

There’s a lot that we all can learn from Johnathan, his commitment to his family and community, and his generosity with his time and experiences.

Find his released music here, and follow him on social media to find out about upcoming gigs and his soon-to-be released EP.

Music link is Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3o5PFiBDtwOWQeog0H48f7?si=Tkn2JqITQSqsqT8SDxLrsQ

Social media: Instagram.com/MOBCaution

Words: Lucy Olsen

Photo: Grace Herbert

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