On 27 August 2009, Carmody was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame alongside The Dingoes, Little Pattie, Mental As Anything and John Paul Young.
In 2009, Carmody was a recipient of the Queensland Greats Awards.
Kev Carmody was born in 1946 in Cairns, Queensland. His father was a second-generation Irish descendant, his mother an Indigenous Australian. His younger brother, Laurie, was born three and a half years later. His family moved to southern Queensland in early 1950, and he grew up on a cattle station near Goranba, 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of Dalby in the Darling Downs area of south eastern Queensland. His parents worked as drovers, moving cattle along stock routes. At ten years of age, Carmody and his brother were taken from their parents under the assimilation policy as part of the Stolen Generations and sent to a Catholic school in Toowoomba. After schooling, he returned to his rural roots and worked for seventeen years as a country labourer, including droving, shearing, bag lumping, wool pressing and welding.
In 1967, he married Helen, with whom he has three sons; they later divorced but remain "good mates". In 1978, at the age of 33, Carmody enrolled in university, Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (now part of the University of Southern Queensland).
At the night time I was always just interested in music, so I started to study music (by himself) and got to a standard, when I moved to Toowoomba and got a proper music teacher. And she said to me, ‘you know, you're miles ahead of the standard they’d require to get into the music course at the University of Southern Queensland.
Due to his limited schooling, Carmody’s reading and writing skills were not up to required university standard. Undeterred, he suggested to the history tutor that until his writing was suitable he would present his research in a musical format accompanied by guitar. While this was a novel approach at university, it was in line with the far older indigenous tradition of oral history. Although Carmody had extensive historical knowledge, learnt by oral traditions, much of it could not be found in library history books and was attributed to 'unpublished works'. Carmody completed his Bachelor of Arts degree, then postgraduate studies and a Diploma of Education at the University of Queensland, followed by commencing a PhD in History, on the Darling Downs 1830–1860.
I was supposed to be studying history and music, but I'd be in the library with books on everything, geology, theorems of thermodynamics. I wished I'd had the time to take every course.
Whilst at university, Carmody had used music as a means of implementing oral history in tutorials, which led to his later career.
In the early 1980s, Carmody began his musical career. He signed a recording contract in 1987 and his first album, Pillars of Society, was released on the Rutabagas label (a label founded by artist Frances Mahony and technologist Joe Hayes); the rights were later transferred to Larrikin Records/EMI) in December 1988. It drew heavily upon country and folk styles with tracks such as "Black Deaths in Custody" and "Thou Shalt Not Steal" describing ignorance and oppression experienced by indigenous Australians. In the song "Thou Shalt Not Steal", Carmody draws attention to the hypocrisy of British settlers who brought Christianity to indigenous Australians, including the commandment prohibiting theft, and yet took the land that the Aboriginal people had inhabited for more than 60,000 years. He emphasises the importance of land to the indigenous people, "The land’s our heritage and spirit", and turns the Christian lesson given to indigenous people around: "We say to you yes, whiteman, thou shalt not steal". A Rolling Stone (Australia) journalist, Bruce Elder, described it as "the best album ever released by an Aboriginal musician and arguably the best protest album ever made in Australia". Pilllar of Society was nominated for a 1989 ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release. In subsequent recordings Carmody adopted a broad range of musical styles, from reggae to rock and roll.
That first album was acoustic because we didn't have enough money for anything else, but as I went on, I was always exploring sound. One of the things he [Carmody's grandfather] said to us was, you have to learn to listen to the wind. What he was saying was, use your imagination, widen it out, be aware of things around you. You learn to listen in another way. That's the key to my music. Just opening up to that sensory perception of sound.
Carmody's second album, Eulogy (For a Black Person), released in November 1990, was produced by Connolly, with musical support from the rest of the Messengers and members of pioneering Aboriginal rock band Mixed Relations. A review of the album noted that "Using a combination of folk and country music his hard-hitting lyrics deal with such potent material as the David Gundy slaying, black deaths in custody, land rights and Aboriginal pride and dignity. Carmody is deeply committed, powerfully intelligent and persuasively provocative. He uses images of revolutionaries... and challenges white Australia to stare unrelentingly at the despair which under pins Aboriginal society". The first single from the album, "Blood Red Rose", released in April 1992, was described by Carmody as "a comment on personal isolation. Late night, big city alienation", whilst the B-side, "Elly", is the moving story of a young woman attempting to escape the poverty and racism of western Queensland, who finds herself trapped in Surfers Paradise working in the sex industry. Eulogy (For a Black Person) was nominated for a 1992 ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release.
Early in 1991 Carmody co-wrote a song, "From Little Things Big Things Grow", with Paul Kelly; it was an historical account of the Gurindji tribe drovers' walkout led by Vincent Lingiari at Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory during the 1960s, the incident which sparked off the indigenous land rights movement. It was first recorded by Paul Kelly & the Messengers on Comedy in May and included Steve Connolly as guitarist of the Messengers.
Carmody's 1992 EP Street Beat was nominated for a 1993 ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release.
Carmody's third album, Bloodlines, was released in July 1993 and included his own version of "From Little Things Big Things Grow", with Kelly guesting on vocals, which was issued as a single. Bloodlines received a 1994 ARIA Award nomination for Best Indigenous Release, and the single "On the Wire" was nominated for this award in 1995.
Also in 1993 Carmody was the subject of a musical documentary, Blood Brothers - From Little Things Big Things Grow, by Rachel Perkins and directed by Trevor Graham, which explored Carmody's life, using music clips and historical footage.
After the release of his fourth album, Images And Illusions, in September 1995, produced by Steve Kilbey of The Church, The album was nominated for a 1996 ARIA Award for Best Indigenous Release. Carmody re-evaluated his life and career, reducing the demands placed on him by the mainstream recording industry. He continued performing, as a musician and public speaker, to audiences as diverse as the National Press Club and Aboriginal Australians in prison.
2000 saw the release of Messages a compilation of songs from Carmody's first four albums. In 2001, together with Kelly, Mairead Hannan, John Romeril, Deirdre Hannan and Alice Garner, Carmody assisted in writing the musical score for the Australian film One Night the Moon. The soundtrack won a Screen Music Award at the 2002 Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)/Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) Awards.
After a break of nearly ten years Carmody finally released a new album in 2004. The album, Mirrors, was completely self-financed and distributed. It was recorded at a friend's property "down the road" and was his first album recorded with computer technology. The songs on Mirrors cover a range of contemporary issues including refugee treatment and his thoughts on United States President George W. Bush, accompanied by the captured real life sounds of the Australian bush.
In 2007, Kelly organised the double CD, Cannot Buy My Soul - The Songs of Kev Carmody, with tribute songs by various artists on one disc and a second disc of songs by Carmody himself.
I first heard his music 20 years ago, and was drawn straight away to his blend of politics and prayer, poetry, anger and pride. His body of work is one of our great cultural treasures.
On 31 October, Carmody was a special guest at the TV music channel MAX's "The Max Sessions: Powderfinger, Concert For The Cure" singing alongside front man Bernard Fanning to the controversial "Black Tears" and also joined in with the encore of "These Days". The concert was a fundraiser and thank you to the "unsung heroes" of breast cancer with an invitation-only audience made up of a special group of people – those who have suffered and survived breast cancer and their support networks. The concert closed Breast Cancer Awareness Month and was the brainchild of 20-year-old Nick Vindin, who had lost his mother Kate to the disease a few years earlier.
In the aftermath of the Australian Labor Government's 2008 apology to indigenous Australians, Carmody and Kelly reprised their song "From Little Things Big Things Grow" by incorporating samples from speeches by Prime Ministers Paul Keating in 1992 and Kevin Rudd in 2008. Released under the name The GetUp Mob, part of the GetUp! advocacy group, the song peaked at #4 on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) singles charts. This version featured vocals by Carmody and Kelly, as well as other prominent Australian artists (including Urthboy, Missy Higgins, Mia Dyson, Radical Son, Jane Tyrrell, Dan Sultan, Joel Wenitong and Ozi Batla). Carmody has reduced his musical activities due to the effects of arthritis.
He lives with his partner Beryl on a 27-hectare (60-acres) bush block in south-east Queensland. On 22 October 2008, a live album from two Sydney performances by Carmody and various artists was released on DVD as Cannot Buy My Soul: Kev Carmody.
On 18 April 2009, SBS TV show, RocKwiz, Episode 36 featured country singers, Archie Roach and Sara Storer, who sang a duet with "From Little Things Big Things Grow".
On 27 August 2009, Carmody was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame alongside The Dingoes, Little Pattie, Mental As Anything and John Paul Young, Carmody's first reaction was to laugh and reply "I must be getting into the Hall of Fame with the lowest record sales in history". At the ceremony, Missy Higgins inducted Carmody, who accepted the induction,
I accepted this for the Koori culture, the community and the family [...] It's a recognition of the input we've had on music. My songs came from what my grandmother, my mother, father, aunty and uncles told me. I'm just a conduit of stories.
Carmody was joined onstage by Paul Kelly, Dan Kelly, Missy Higgins and John Butler to perform "From Little Things Big Things Grow".1993 Country Music Association of Australia Heritage Award for "From Little Things, Big Things Grow"
2001 Australian Film Industry’s Open Craft Award in a Non-Feature Film for an Original Score
2005 recipient of the Jimmy Little Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music (The Deadlys)
2008 Honorary Doctorate - University of Southern Queensland
2009 Great Queenslander, ARIA Hall of Fame inductee.
2013 The University of Queensland - Alumni Awards, Vice Chancellor's Excellence Award for Indigenous Community Impact
Pillars of Society - Rutabagas/Larrikin Records/Festival Records/Song Cycles (December 1988)
Eulogy (For A Black Person) - Festival (November 1990)
Bloodlines - Festival/Song Cycles (July 1993)
Images and Illusions - Festival/Song Cycles (September 1995)
Mirrors - Song Cycles (May 2003)
Messages (compilation) - Song Cycles (2000)
Cannot Buy My Soul - The Songs of Kev Carmody - EMI (2-CD, February 2007)
Recollections... Reflections... (A Journey) - (4-CD, 2016)
Cannot Buy My Soul: Kev Carmody (DVD) - (22 October 2008)
Street Beat (EP) - Festival (December 1992)
"Jack Deelin" (1988)
"Thou Shalt Not Steal" (February 1990)
"Eulogy" (November 1990)
"From Little Things Big Things Grow" (1991)
"Cannot Buy My Soul" (December 1991)
"Blood Red Rose" (April 1992)
"Living South of the Freeway" (October 1992)
"Freedom" (July 1993)
"On the Wire" (May 1994)
"The Young Dancer Is Dead" (1995)