Q&A with Composer and Pianist Emili Rackemann about her upbringing
in the Australian Outback
From Cattle Raising to Veganism
What was your typical day like as a child?
Due to the excessive heat, we often went to bed at 8p.m. and woke at 3a.m. to head down to the cattle yards before dawn. I remember waking to the subtle light of the campfire flickering through the slab hut. There was something incredibly comforting knowing Dad was sitting outside by the fire. We used to sit for at least an hour and watch the stars disappear as the sun gently took their place. Talking about the universe was a regular topic while drinking black tea from the billy (slang in Australia—a lightweight cooking pot in the form of a metal bucket).
By 5 a.m., we would either be riding out to another cattle muster or drafting cattle ready to load onto the road trains. Other days were spent checking fence lines on horseback or looking for drought-stricken cattle or lost poddy calves left behind from the muster.
On quieter days, my best friend and I often jumped on the horses to fossick for quartz crystals and different rocks, and when the boys went camping of an evening, I would often write stories in Dad’s old brown diary while he counted how many steers and heifers we drafted for the day. Every night we propped ourselves up in bed and asked each other our ‘good and bad day’. Feeling tired, us kids often squabbled about who’s turn it was to blow out the lantern which hung on a piece of fencing wire from the rafters of the roof. Wow, I miss those days.
How did nature inspire you then? How does it today?
Because I was so immersed in the rural environment, it wasn’t until our family sold the station that I realized how much the outback taught me resilience and deep compassion for the Earth. I never really enjoyed being around too many people as a child; the frequency of others really effected my energy and often I found it difficult as to why people were so blunt or scared of finding their inner truth. I frequently internalized my perspectives and for this reason I took comfort in playing piano and taking long horse rides.
Nature always gave me the opportunity to be in the moment, to never look forward nor behind. It inspired me to dream and to reflect on my human frailties. I remember riding to the top of a large hill in Giant Rhodes paddock and sitting on my horse Jimmy. While gazing across the land, I said to myself ‘when I fall down, all I have to do is close my eyes and visualize this moment’. Although a small experience, it has made an impact to this day.
What things did you experience as a child that other children probably didn’t?
Living the rural life was always a bag full of surprises. Experiences such as shooting, branding cattle, drafting, mustering and driving land rovers without brakes was normal in my world. At the time, I couldn’t quite work out why my friends were so overwhelmed when they came out to visit. It is only when we sold the station that I realized the uniqueness of my childhood.
Did you ever want to live a different life?
Not at all. I thought living in the Australian outback was going to be it! I was enveloped in its beauty and simplicity. Still today I feel an overwhelming love for the land.
How old were you when music started to change your life?
Music changed my life in subtle ways since early childhood, although when we sold the cattle station I was sixteen. Leaving the land was when I stepped away from everything that grounded me. I became lost and confused and my family felt the same, although in the midst of grief, music was the connecting force to everything I loved; the piano became a living entity during the struggles my family endured with letting go of what carved our inner spirit.
You have said you composed pieces and played them of an evening with your family. Can you talk more about that?
My mother loved singing, and my father equally immersed himself in the beauty of classical music. Often while Mum was busy preparing meals for a busy week, my father sat beside the piano and joined in on my small melodic creations. Stories I had written of an evening were often translated into short piano works. I often noticed Dad wind down and reflect on his day while I played his favorite piece, Consolation No. 3 by Liszt.
My brothers were always supportive of the piano emanating through walls, although tended to enjoy their solitude of an evening. That said, a new composition didn’t go unnoticed.
What are the wildest things you saw growing up in the country?
Those imprinted in my memory vary, although one which comes to mind is the day I stared in the eyes of a western brown snake after picking up my saddle off the water trough; although thankfully Dad saved the day! We also have an unknown phenomenon in outback Australia called ‘min min lights’. On the rare occasion we witnessed sightings and were constantly curious as to why they existed. Wild although treasured memories!
How does your veganism come into play as you grew up on a cattle station? Did you take care of other animals?
My father was not the average stockmen who wore a cowboy hat and a belt buckle. He always showed a deep compassion for animals in the best way he could, and often felt somewhat subdued when branding the young poddy calves. I remember watching as he gently pat every calf on the forehead while in the cradle before de-horning. To see this man trapped between his heart and the daily expectations of rural life wasn’t easy at times; I am grateful I had parents who never conformed to the stereotype 'toughness' which often surrounded us as kids.
Due to long-term heavy drought, beef prices collapsed therefore times were challenging which forced us into situations we preferred not to encounter. Although I often witnessed the culling of kangaroos and wild dingoes, I still felt a deep connection to the animal kingdom. Through experiencing such confronting experiences, I feel this is what gave me the opportunity to dig deeper and embrace a sensitivity towards all living beings later in life.
I would have to say these childhood memories gradually propelled me into donating to charities such as Animals Australia and Edgar’s Mission. In truth, my brutal awakening as a child lead me to the path of a plant-based lifestyle not long after I met my husband in 2005.
Upon moving to the Alpine Region in North-East Victoria Australia, we opened a vegan/vegetarian cafe called ‘What You Eat’. Our beautiful space gave people the opportunity to explore different foods, while at the same time they were becoming informed and educated through various vegan cookbooks we made available to read on our community table. We also donated our tips to Animals Australia and were actively supportive of their work with our customer base, sharing information packs and chatting about our personal journey and transition into veganism. We weren't a fan of labeling, so we said 'we simply don't eat animals!' This enabled all customers to feel welcome and open towards to trying our plant based options, regardless of their personal beliefs surrounding the meat diet.
We have recently sold the cafe, although I plan to continue supporting Animals Australia and Edgar's Mission through donating a portion of ticket sales from my performances.
About Emili Rackemann:
Modern composer, pianist, and visual artist, Emili Rackemann comes from a famous lineage of pianists who toured Europe and America frequently. Her ancestors Professor Frederic Rackemann and brother Ludwig of Germany were highly renowned for their exquisite performances in the United States and Germany during the mid-nineteenth century. Emili Rackemann grew up between the Australian outback on a cattle ranch and high political society in Canberra, Australia, and studied at the Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane, Australia. She has recorded seven albums and composed over 140 original compositions ranging from classical to contemporary in genre. Rackemann’s music is not easily categorized, although words used to describe it include meditative, contemplative, melancholy, wistful and elegiac—she views her role as a composer as a storyteller.