Activist and Radio Presenter Abby Butler On Making The Work You Want To See In The World

To celebrate Syrup’s launch, we profiled five young Australians who are doing their very best at being their best selves—throwing typical ideas of career paths, style norms and patriarchal status quos out the window. These interviews are our way of foregrounding the diverse voices that are shaping our communities and digging a little deeper into the things that shaped them.

While studying Media at the University of New South Wales, Newcastle native, guardian angel of emerging Australian musicians and just all ‘round angel Abby Butler started Sisterhood Of Soul (sadly on hiatus atm), a podcast and website that quickly blossomed into a platform for young wom*n to share and champion each other’s stories, particularly their creative endeavours.

Butler also became one of the most energetic volunteers at FBi Radio in Redfern, Sydney, Australia’s biggest independent radio station. She co-hosted The Bridge, an Australian iTunes chart-topping podcast, as well as presenting and producing a variety of shows, including Up For It with Ruby Miles.

A undeniably creative career kick-off—even for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative.

Now a community producer for Triple J Unearthed in Melbourne, Butler continues to be a tireless advocate for female and non-binary artists, and a talented musician in her own right. Syrup got to sit down with her and pick her brains.

You’re a prolific slashie… How do you feel about the “creative” label?

Can I be honest? I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself a creative before! When I was younger, I realised very quickly that maths and science didn’t click in my brain, and I was also never a great visual artist. I actually suck at drawing noses. It’s a real struggle. But I wrote a lot of songs and forced my younger sisters into making movies with me and was just drawn to making stuff. So, I guess you could call me a creative? I think I’m definitely a creative person but I don’t know whether I’d centre my identity around that. God, I’m getting so deep and it’s literally the first question!

Sisterhood Of Soul was a real labour of love for you. What was the most valuable thing you learnt from the experience of creating and maintaining that project?

Everyone has a story to tell. It’s the most basic response ever, but it’s bloody true! It might be because I’m a massive sticky beak, but I think a lot of us don’t realise we all have interesting stories because to us, they’re just our lives and our experiences. You could think you’re the most normal human being on the planet, but in reality we’re all huge weirdos walking around with bizarre/unbelievable/important stories to tell.

I also learnt how important a slow burn is with these sorts of projects. I’m the type of person who will launch into something because it’s a cool idea in the short term, but a lot of work in the long term. Sisterhood existed for about three years though, which I’m pretty proud of.

You’ve been a champion for wom*n in the Australian creative scenewhere do you think the scene needs to improve in making space for wom*n?

There are so many hard working and passionate women and non-binary folks who are making their mark at every level of the music industry—artists, managers, booking agents, photographers, producers… you name it, they’re there. There’s more work to do, for sure, but there’s no doubt that representation is growing.

But even with that diversity, I still see gigs and festivals with lineups of all-white, all-cis male bands and artists. It’s not good enough!

One way you can help as a punter is to be more open-minded with what live music you’re seeing and be more supportive of those who are booking diverse lineups for gigs and festivals by heading along. Take a look at the last few artists you’ve seen live—if there’s a pattern of non-diversity there, then you can change that.

Being a queer wom*n in what is often a real boy’s club, what experiences aren’t the media talking about that they should be?

The other night, I listened to a fucking incredible speech from Bhenji Ra (curator of Sydney’s Sissy Ball) about the importance of sharing platforms. Although I am a queer woman, I’m also white, able-bodied and come from a well-off family. All of those factors give me inherent privileges and access that many other queer folks don’t. We all need to do better at recognising those privileges (myself included!) and elevating others using the platforms we have. I’m working on a project at the moment that’s all about that!

You’re a child of many citiesNewcastle, Sydney and Melbourne. How do you maintain a sense of groundedness when you’re away from home?

Music is a huge part. I feel such a sense of pride when I see artists from Newy who are doing really well. It’s such a supportive community where everyone is wanting the best for everyone. There’s no competition or ego, everyone is just doing it for the love of it and that’s definitely helped stay grounded when I move to a new town.

Volunteering is something that’s very important to you. What’s been the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for you?

Hands down, it’d be my time at FBi Radio in Sydney. I wish I could put into words how grateful I am for my time there. I had been in Sydney for about a year when I applied to become a volunteer and I was so nervous. I had (and still do have!) so much respect for FBi and all of the volunteers and I was so worried that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to be there. But every single person I met and every single minute I spent there made me a better human being and taught me so much. Being surrounded by people who not only are insanely passionate, creative and hard working but are more than willing to help you out with learning new things or sharing their skills—it’s amazing! Plus, everyone there is doing it for the love of it, which is bloody refreshing.

Music is an obvious passion of yours. Why is music so special?

So many of the memories that are most special to me and the relationships I have with people are soundtracked by particular songs. Anytime I’m able to see Florence + the Machine (my all-time favourite artist) live, when my dad would drive me to school listening to the compilation CD of the 1997 Hottest 100, listening to ‘September’ by Earth, Wind and Fire at any possible moment with my mum, sweatily dancing along at festivals with my best mates… They’re all moments that don’t seem hugely significant at the time but end up being the memories that really stick with you.

Constructive self-care has been something you’ve covered a lot on Sisterhood Of Soul and elsewhere… What does good self-care mean to you?

Because we’re all living under capitalism, where everything is profitable and monetised, self-love became a weird type of commodity. We were sold this idea that you have to buy expensive bath bombs or have a Netflix subscription in order to undertake ‘self-care’. Good self-care is more simple than that. It’s thinking about what things genuinely make you happy and making sure those things are prioritised. For me, friendship is a massive part of that. If I’m feeling shit, hanging around my mates makes me feel worlds better.

What do you think people get wrong about your generation?

It’s always strange to generalise about an entire generation of people. But, I’d say the strangest comment is the laziness one. This generation is advocating and protesting like few others beforehand, all with the constant reminder that the world’s slowly burning to the ground. That’s a lot of pressure! It’s okay for us to take a break and go on TikTok for a little bit, alright?!

What do you think people get wrong about you?

This is such an interesting question! I’m fairly outspoken about different social issues and try to share people’s experiences and opinions on socials when I can, and so there’s been a few times where people will automatically assume I have a really concrete opinion on an issue when I don’t. It’s something I’ve definitely had to work on—admitting that you don’t actually know or have an opinion and giving yourself time and space to look into things a bit deeper rather than rushing to comment on things you don’t know enough about.

What do you think the biggest challenge facing your generation is?

My brain immediately went to climate change, but I think just as important as that will be making sure we have mental health resources and support in place to combat the eco-anxiety that comes along with climate change. Just one example is the recent bushfires. For those who have lost their homes, businesses and livelihoods, the impact is going to be felt for the rest of their lives and that trauma will be carried for potential generations. We need to make sure there are structures in place so that we can support those people long after the initial environmental catastrophe has occurred.

How do you want to be remembered (if at all)?

If my mates and my family think I’m a nice person when I’m dead, that’d be nice! But honestly, I don’t really care what people think of me when I’m alive and I probably won’t when I’m not either. Is that too dark?!

How are you loving yourself in 2020?

Actually committing to exercise! I’ve put it off for too long but 2020 is the year I do more exercise than running to the tram when I’m late. I’ve joined a footy team and I was actually disgusted in how good I felt after the first training. Who knew that exercise could make you feel good, ugh?!

Who are the three Aussie acts you’ve had on high rotation so far in 2020?

Egoism, Jess Day and ONEFOUR. Listen to ‘You You’, ‘Affection’ and ‘Welcome To Prison’ then thank me later.

Who’s your creative inspiration?

Catch me bein’ a shameless Gen Z-er and saying my Instagram feed. I save photos from my feed into mood boards and I love accounts like Paper Magazine (@papermagazine), I Scream Colour (@iscreamcolour) and Frances Cannon (@francescannon).

What’s your fav place on the internet?

RuPaul’s Drag Race highlights on YouTube. Obviously.

Does tomato sauce belong in the fridge or the pantry?

I pick Option 3—the bin. Aioli and tartare sauce all the way, baby!

Photography by Holly Gibson.

Jamie is a journalist, radio presenter, music nerd and shameless sneakerhead. When he's not writing, he's obsessing over the latest hip-hop and Nike releases. Is also baby.

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