Come filk with us – “Special Treatment” for PWD

Paul Kelly, if you’re not familiar with him, is a bloody marvellous Australian singer-songwriter. Some consider him the “poet laureate of Australian music”. He writes everything from fun-but-pointy ballads – Every Fucking City is one of my favourite anti-hero pieces – to political protest music.

You can read a little about him here at Debbie Kruger’s:

But there are songs that have specific intent – the ones for which he is known as “political commentator.” Songs such as “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” which he wrote with Kev Carmody about Aboriginal Land Rights, “Treaty” with Yothu Yindi on Land Rights and Reconciliation and “Little Kings,” from a more recent album Words and Music, about dissatisfaction with the Government. “Those songs are the exceptions,” Kelly concedes. “’Special Treatment’ is another one like that, a specific situation and write to it.”

Check out the song:

Lyrics are here. For those who can’t access the Youtube, it’s performed in a folky acoustic-guitar sort of way.

“Special Treatment” is a great example, in my opinion, of a piece of protest music written in first-person, using the point of view of members of a marginalised group of which the singer is not a member (I think, and please correct me if I’m wrong). Kelly is deeply respectful of the history, takes his subject seriously while introducing elements of dry humour, and has collaborated extensively with artists in the group in question. The piece targets authority sharply and with bite; its impact does not on stereotypes, mocking, fetishisation, or Othering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

I’m acutely aware that I run the risk of ‘splaining here, and I suspect that similar grievance-politics dynamics apply elsewhere in the world: but just to dip both toes in and take that risk for a moment: a common complaint among white middle-class Australians (WMCAs) is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia get “special treatment” from government. WMCAs complain when there are funded Aboriginal health services attempting to make tiny inroads into the appalling longevity statistics, the 20-year Gap, the rates of trachoma and hookworm and pneumonia and STDs and nutritional deficiencies. WMCAs complain when there are tutoring and bridging programs assisting Aboriginal people from remote areas to go to university, attempting to address the massive gulf between educational opportunities, entrenched discrimination, and difficulties of transitioning from remote areas to urban universities with a completely different cultural milieu.

WMCAs complain when Aboriginal people who are out of work are offered barely enough support to not starve their families; when there are programs to assist the Aboriginal prisoners who survive prison to transition back to the community; when mental health support programs are offered in an effort to reduce the 8x suicide rate among young Aboriginal people; when STD and contraception services are funded for young Aboriginal women who are raped at extraordinary rates; when funding for domestic violence and violence reduction programs are offered to women who live in fear. All this and more is dismissed as unfair “special treatment”.

In response to a post I wrote responding to a post by CarrieP at Big Fat Blog – in which Carrie wished that fat people were offered the same level of “special treatment” and respect that people with disabilities are – megpie wrote a touching filk to the tune of Kelly’s “Special Treatment”. (OK, verse three is the same – and applies pretty precisely to the situation of forcibly-institutionalised PWD.) Check it out (while listening to the Kelly original, if you can) – and add your own verses in comments.

I can’t enter my child’s classroom
Although the door’s right there
I’m stuck outside my child’s classroom
Blocked by a single stair

I get special treatment
Special treatment
Very special treatment

I’d like to work an eight hour day
In an office on main street
But they won’t offer me the same pay
Or add a ramp my chair needs

Say it’s “special treatment”
Special treatment
Very special treatment

Mother and father loved each other well
But together they could not stay
They were split up against their will
Until their dying day

They got special treatment
Special treatment
Very special treatment

Mama gave birth to a healthy child
A child she called her own
Strangers came and took away that child
To a stranger’s home

She got special treatment
Special treatment
Very special treatment

I’m not allowed to cry out loud
I’m not allowed to scream
I’m not allowed to show my rage
I’m not allowed to dream

After all, I get special treatment
Special treatment
Very special treatment


  1. I get told to deal with it
    we’ve all got problems, they say
    I’m too much trouble, should just shut up
    And hide myself away

    How dare I ask for special treatment
    Special treatment
    Very special treatment

    (I’m not entirely sure it scans, but…)

  2. ugh. that was just a mess. thanks for the link

  3. Lovely. Asking for first and last names is way out of line, even if they aren’t posted, but I went over and commented, becuase the writer needs to read this.

  4. That is to say, I’m attempting to comment, if I get approved.

  5. Both the original Special Treatment and the PWD filk variant have me in tears. Really evocative, really heartbreaking. I think the PWD variant hits me harder because I have a mobility impairment myself, and it’s all too painful to think of things I may not be able to do with my kids, once I have kids.

    I’m rather flummoxed by the idea of a blog requiring a full RL name for commenting. And frankly, I’m flummoxed and offended by that post suggesting that being fat is like being a wheelchair user or other disabled person, especially considering how ignorant the author is of the reality of disabled life. Being disabled has always been defined as “bad”, it’s always been wrapped up in horrific mistreatment by society with little to no recourse. I feel fetishized and objectified by the phrasing in the Big Fat Blog post, like the author is coveting access to accommodations that I don’t even get – even though I legally am due them.

  6. I was a kid, I went to school,
    I learned a lot of things in there.
    Learned crying was against the rules,
    if I got beat up no one cared.

    They claimed it wasn’t special treatment
    Special treatment
    Very special treatment

    (This one could apply to a lot of people, sadly, disabled or not…)

  7. I have to edit verse 1 of the filk – it doesn’t quite scan on line three. So here’s the rewrite:

    I can’t enter my child’s classroom
    Although the door’s right there
    I’m stuck outside my child’s classroom
    Blocked by a single stair

    (*grin* Told you it was a first draft.)

  8. I got stopped by the nice policeman
    Although I couldn’t hear
    ‘Twas a lovely gunshot wound
    I never knew the charges

    I got special treatment
    Special treatment
    Very special treatment

  9. So disability is not your analogy, but racism is? Or do you feel like you need to erase ATSI people from music in order to make space for (white) PWD?
    .-= Fire Fly´s last blog ..Request: STFU =-.

  10. Fire Fly…good point.

  11. Something I realise I perhaps should have explained for readers unfamiliar with disability 101 and anti-PWD conversations: “Special Treatment” is very, very commonly used against PWD who are requesting or demanding accommodations. It’s not specific to conversations about Aboriginal people, nor to racist/antiracist discourse in general. I had that pegged in my mind as a SotBO* for regulars, but it might not be one for everyone.

    * SotBO: “Statement of the Bleeding Obvious”

    I’ll leave it to readers to have a look at the link Fire Fly posted, which is about trivialising metaphors, and decide for themselves whether it is analogous to this situation.

  12. Chally’s post didn’t say anything about trivialisation, it talked about appropriation, which then goes on to delegitimise the ability of PWD to assert their experiences as unique. I read the post as being mostly about appropriation, and mentioning delegitimation as one of the possible outcomes of appropriation of disability as an analogy for repression and/or oppression.

    I’m aware that PWD are resented by TAB people for reasonable accommodations made for PWD. No need for whitesplaining on that account.

    Since you seem to have missed it, I’ll repeat my original question, which you still haven’t answered: do you feel like you need to erase ATSI people from music in order to make space for (white) PWD?
    .-= Fire Fly´s last blog ..Request: STFU =-.

  13. “do you feel like you need to erase ATSI people from music in order to make space for (white) PWD?”

    definitely a question id like to see thoughts on here. thanks for repeating it.
    personally, i dont need or want to be doing that, and if i find myself doing it or am called out as doing it, i want to check my shit quicklike.

  14. In that case, why are you doing it?