Australian Folk Songs

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To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald.
GENTLEMEN,--Perhaps what I am about to communicate may not be worth a corner in your
valuable paper--I leave that to your judgment.
About fifteen years since, we received a present of a Parrot of the Lowry tribe ; what age
the bird was then, I cannot say, but it was full grown ; to our very great astonishment,
within this last month, it has laid four eggs ; the bird is quite well, but it makes a sort
of chirping like a little chicken, not usual before it laid those eggs. I wish it distinctly
to be understood, the bird has never had a companion ; this may afford information to the
The bird was well known in Macquarie-place, Sydney, for whistling the (not very elegant) tune
of Tally High-ho the Grinder.

I am, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant.
Liverpool, February 15.

The Sheffield Grinder (1847)

The Sheffield grinder's a terrible blade.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
He sets his little 'uns down to trade
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
He turns his baby to grind in the hull
Till his body is stunted and his eyes are dull,
And the brains are dizzy and dazed in the skull.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.

He shortens his life and he hastens his death.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
Will drink steel dust in every breath.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
Won't use a fan as he turns his wheel.
Won't wash his hands ere he eats his meal.
But dies as he lives, as hard as steel.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.

These Sheffield grinders of whom we speak--
Tally hi-o, the grinder--
Are men who earn a pound a week.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
But of Sheffield grinders another sort
Methinks ought to be called in court,
And that is the grinding Government Board.
Tally hi-o, the grinder.

At whose door lies the blacker blame?
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
Where rests the heavier weight of shame?
Tally hi-o, the grinder.
On the famine-price contractor's head,
Or the workman's, under-taught and under-fed,
Who grinds his own bones and his child's for bread?
Tally hi-o, the grinder.

As sung by the Ian Campbell Folk Group


From the NSW newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald Friday 19 February 1847, p. 3.

This Industrial Ballad or Working Song is a classic example of the popular songs circulating in Britain in the early part of the Industrial Revolution. As we can see from the Sydney Morning Herald report, the tune that the parrot was famous for was well known in Sydney as early as 1847, if not entirely approved of. This kind of evidence encourages the view that what probably arrived in Australia in the heads of convicts and immigrants became part of the vernacular lyrical culture from colonisation onwards. This transplanted culture was often published in newspapers and songbooks and moved in and out of an oral culture affecting locally composed material.

Another example of the popularity of the tune comes from a report in the Sydney Mail Saturday 21 December 1867 p. 5.
Our skipper was awfully savage when he found out the character of the blade who had spoiled his merry Christmas; and he vowed that if he ever fell in with him again, that he would ' lash him down to' the ship's grindstone, and turn away at tbe handle to the tune of 'Tally hey O, the grinder,' till the wife stealing lubber sung out chicory, and blue sparks flew cut of his waistcoat pockets.'


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory