The Big Issue : Edition 456
IN HER WORK AND MUSIC, SIETTA’S CAITI BAKER LETS LIFE’S CURRENTS CARRY HER ALONG. PHOTOCREDIT GOING with flow the 34 THEBIGISSUE18APR–1MAY2014 CAITI BAKER IS in Perth, but not on a tour stop. Nor is she recording, either with her Sietta bandmate and producer, James Mangohig, or any of the many West Australian musicians the duo collaborate with and call friends. “I’m out near the airport,” says the 28-year-old singer. “I’m here as an emergency support worker for an organisation that supports young refugees who come into care and have no other family or parents. They’re called unaccompanied minors, or UAMs.” Baker is careful to point out that she’s not a carer or advocate. Rather, she provides support to teenage and child refugees who, for one reason or another, have been separated from their parents. She helps to answer questions or address the kind of situations they might be confronted with in their new living arrangements. “It really depends on the person,” she says. “Sometimes it can be assisting a teenager who is already well versed in life. Or it can be assisting a six year old who hasn’t had much parental input. It’s hard because I can’t talk about it a lot, due to confidentiality reasons.” The now Melbourne-based duo Sietta (they call Darwin their spiritual home) have just released their second album, The Invisible River, to strong reviews and have announced a national tour. It would seem that now is the time to be packing instruments and stretching the vocal cords, not attending to day jobs. But Baker’s contract in Perth says more about her keen sense of vocational multi-tasking than the modern music business. “This job, because of its nature of it being emergency [work], we’re often given notice about a contract and sometimes within four hours we’ll be on a flight,” Baker explains. “There have been times when I’ve said, ‘I can’t this weekend because I have a gig, but after that I’m good for two or three weeks.’ And my boss will say, ‘Okay.’ It’s all very touch-and-go and can end just as quickly as it begins. I think it’s [rewarding work]. And it’s challenging. It’s challenging morally. It’s challenging emotionally... You just have to have empathy, really. And you have to understand that you have boundaries and keep those boundaries – for the sake of your clients and your own mental health.” Baker should know about mental health. In 2008, a move to Melbourne with Mangohig to concentrate on their music compounded eight years of high-pressure work as a graphic designer, culminating in a mental and physical breakdown. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with a type of bipolar disorder.