“It was out of the blue – and every other colour imaginable,” says Saunders. “To think that in a decade, you can make an impact almost 20 years after the fact, that’s pretty amazing in itself. We just like to sing. We didn’t know that energy that we were carrying and what we were creating.”
Their voices came together in a harmony that was reminiscent of sisters, fittingly, given that’s an Indigenous meaning of the band’s name. When they formed, they were singing in Richard Frankland’s band, Djaambi (Brother), but aspired to do their own thing. Ruby Hunter famously said, ‘You’re my sisters, so I’ll call you Tiddas.’
We had no idea that it was so much bigger than three young women having a crack.
Bennett says she has to text Dastey and Bennett when she listens to their music now and “literally swear”, saying “Look how freakin good we were!”
“Our harmonies and our musical arrangements and instrumentation, our chord structures and progressions, I’m blown away. I say that without bragging, humbly. We really did have something quite special. People know that we disbanded in 2000 but we still ring each other or text each other on August 10 each year, because that’s our birthday.”
“Tiddas has become an entity in her own right, she has agency in her own right … so she sort of stands by herself, even when we’re not together, she still lives on.
“It’s about honouring her and that spirit of womanhood, sisterhood, our indigeneity, our friendship, our love, our kinship. It is a strength that nothing can knock, nothing can break.”
Dastey gets quite emotional listening to the band’s music now and says she can see its power clearly. Songs including Into My Kitchen, Anthem and Koori Woman are just a few notables among their back catalogue.
When they were writing and playing, it was a passion, but the focus was on the present, not a potential legacy or broader significance. “We had no idea that it was so much bigger than three young women having a crack,” Dastey says.
In the early 1990s, there weren’t a lot of women doing their own thing, says Saunders. “They were playing in men’s bands; it was tricky.”
“We carried ourselves with respect and love. There was a goodness about the five of us and what we took out on the road. We were growing up on the road,” she says.
“Of course, there were times when we had to stand up for ourselves, because sometimes people were jerks. But that was something really unique. I’m still puzzled thinking [who else had] a whole women crew. [We were] pretty lucky for that. There was an understanding from [manager] Jill [Shelton] and [sound engineer] Janine [Temme].”
Interviewed ahead of last year’s tour, Roach said he was thrilled to have Tiddas perform. “They were the original backing vocals of Dancing with My Spirit, and they add a layer of depth and energy to the music. They take it to another level.”
Bennett describes the experience of singing and playing together again as “wonderful, really beautiful”. “When we sang those first notes of Into My Kitchen, you could just see people crying in the audience who knew our work,” she says. “It was a lovely revisiting of how we affected people and how we affected each other.”
Back in the day, though, not everyone was a fan, Saunders says. It was bold and brave music – and unwelcome in some parts.
“Because people didn’t like it. There were people who were shitty with us. We copped it from everybody, yeah. Because we were brave enough to do whatever we wanted to do. It wasn’t a competitive thing, it was finding our strength. It wasn’t about white Australia or black Australia or men or women – every one of those groups had issues with us.”
“People may have taken umbridge with the colour of my skin, to [challenge] me about being a white-skinned blackfella. Issues like that I’ve carried all my life,” she says.
That extended to heckling when they performed, which was common. “Peter Garrett called security to get one guy out. I remember a gig at Victor Harbour, he was saying ‘Show us your tiddas’. Which is what we called our final album.”
Tiddas supported Midnight Oil several times and although Garrett and the band were keen supporters, that wasn’t universal. One gig in particular, at Sydney Harbour, sticks in Dastey’s mind. “The audience would go, ‘Oils, Oils’ – chanting all the way through the support act. We did it back at them in a three-part harmony.”
“I love your memory,” says Saunders, with a laugh.
Listening back to their archive now, it’s clear why people assumed they were related. The idea makes them smile – it’s a comment they’ve heard many times before. Dastey remembers watching the Moir Sisters, on television in the 1970s and ’80s aspiring to do something similar. “It was the happiest accident,” she says. “All my life I wanted to do that.”
Next year will mark Tiddas’ 30th birthday. So is there any chance they will reunite for a birthday tour? Bennett says there is nothing planned, but when pushed, leaves the door open. “I wouldn’t say never. Never say never! You never know what’s around the corner.”
Kerrie is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald