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Karen’s Story: From ‘Nevermind’ to Tree Spiking

We catch up with one of the stars of the Government kit which linked alternative music and left-wing student politics to violent extremism.

A highlight of the Radicalisation Awareness Kit, launched on Friday by the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Terrorism Michael Keenan, was the story of a young woman named 'Karen' whose involvement in the "alternative music” scene lead her to student politics, left-wing activism and an arrest for sabotaging logging machinery.

While it’s well known that the music of Zack Dela Rocha has long been a gateway to monkey wrenching, Karen’s story in the 'Violent Extremism' section of the 32-page booklet surprised many.


The hash tag #freekaren emerged on Twitter and quickly began trending Australia-wide.

We managed to track down Karen (real name Taryn) who since dropping out of the alternative music and environmental activism scenes is now raising a young family and working at a NGO environmental agency.

Noisey: What was your childhood like?
Karen: I suppose it was pretty typical of an outer suburban Melbourne childhood. Dad worked. Mum worked. We’d go to the footy on the weekends.

What kind of music was in the house?
Again it was pretty typical of a suburban Melbourne family. My Mum had the Priscilla soundtrack and a couple of Cranberries records. My brother and I gave Dad a Twelfth Man CD for Father's Day one year. I remember my parents yelling at my older brother to turn down records like silverchair’s Frogstomp and Smash by Offspring.

Would you consider this 'alternative’ music?
Yes and no. I mean Dookie is a good record but those who chain themselves to trees do not consider it very punk.

Can you remember your first experience of ‘activism’?
It was probably Pink Ribbon Day. I was around five when my mother took me to Southland Shopping Centre and we bought a ribbon. It showed me how through mobilisation and social media change could be activated.

The case study mentions that you attended an environmental protest with some friends. It was "fun and exhilarating" and that you felt like you were doing the right thing by society.
It was an environmental rally at La Trobe University. There was a vegan BBQ and some speakers from the Green Left Weekly. I remember talking to a guy in a Dead Kennedy’s shirt and smoking some weed. Later we went to a party and some dudes were playing some Public Enemy. Some guy tried to play a cover of “I Was Only 19”. Everyone was really drunk but yeah we thought that attending a political rally and listening to weird music was doing the right thing by society.


How much alternative music were you listening to back then?
A fair bit. I'd listen to triple J and some of the music spoke to me at the time. Bands like Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. I really liked Spiderbait. Some older guys in the group tried to turn me onto Midnight Oil but I wasn’t really into it.

How do you feel when you listen to this now?

Wow, that brings back some heavy memories. It doesn’t make me want to make molotov cocktails anymore but it still triggers some intense flashbacks of six-hour wheat paste making sessions.

You lived in a forest camp for a while. How was that?
It was pretty rough. We had to bring in our own water and it would get pretty cold a night. You also had to deal with Israeli ‘travellers’ who’d wear their dreads up in the Marge Simpson beehive style and juggle crystal balls.

At what point did you drop out of the movement?
I had been drifting away from the group for a while. I remember feeling uneasy when they invited the John Butler Trio to come and play to us in the forest camp. We had been living up trees for 8 weeks and were then subjected to acoustic blues jam music. Even the Israelis were freaking out a bit during a five-minute finger picking guitar solo. Also my arrest had a lot to do with it.

What was your arrest like?
We had been listening to a lot of alternative music leading up to some direct action activity. Stuff like Beck, Blink, Weezer, The White Stripes. I think someone was even playing Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness at some point. It was all getting pretty intense. One guy used to work at JB HI FI so his CD wallet was full of staff discounted You Am I and Ween. If you listen to Modest Mouse continually it can make you do some crazy stuff. Anyway as part of an undercover sting our forest camp was raided and I was arrested for vandalism and trespassing.

Do you still listen to ‘alternative music’?
Obviously not as much as I used to. My kids keep me busy. I don’t think the Frozen soundtrack is considered very alternative. Is Lana Del Ray alternative? I like what I’ve heard of her.