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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #24: Courtney Barnett

Sarah Thompson of Camp Cope looks at how Courtney Barnett changed everything for independent musicians in Australia.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Courtney Barnett

Pooneh Ghana*; Matt Walter*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #24: Courtney Barnett (by Sarah Thompson of Camp Cope)

When I first moved to Melbourne, I used to go to The Old Bar a lot on my way home from work to sit by the fire and hang out with friends who worked there. Two years in, I was still in awe that you could go to a venue on a freezing Tuesday night and see a band play.

In 2011 I happened to be there when I saw Courtney play for the first time, alongside Bob Harrow from Immigrant Union. I didn’t know who she was, but I ended up missing my tram home to stay and watch their whole set. 

Courtney and I had a lot of mutual friends, so in turn, we started seeing each other around the place and became friends over the next couple of years. I’d see her play everywhere from backyard house shows in the pouring rain, to tiny bars with a capacity of around 40. Seeing her then move on to play giant theatres globally, on US talk shows, and playing to mass crowds at some of the world’s biggest festivals was so mind-blowing to watch.

“She brought women playing guitar music back to the mainstream.”

The impact she’s had on young Australian artists (women and non-binary people in particular) is huge, and something that we’ll continue to see for many years to come. She brought women playing guitar music back to the mainstream, without having to be dressed up in a certain way or compromising her art. 

Courtney and her band are some of the most hard-working people I’ve had the privilege to know, and deserve every success that has come their way. The fact that she is as humble today as she was playing to three people at The Old Bar is a testament to her, and I couldn’t be prouder of someone’s success.