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The Wild Colonial Boy (1956)

BRISBANE New Theatre is proud to announce that on Friday, April 6th at All Saints Hall they
will stage the world premiere of another great Australian musical, "The Wild Colonial Boy."

The city performances of this play will be held on the Friday and Saturday nights of April 6,
7, 13, 14, 20 and 21.

"The Wild Colonial Boy" goes back to the very beginning of the Australian tradition of freedom.
There is no better example of this tradition than the rousing chorus of the play's theme song:-

"Then come away, my hearties, well roam the mountainside,
Together we will plunder, together we will ride,
We'll cross the wild Blue Mountains, and ride the Bathurst Plains,
For we scorn to live in slavery, bound down with iron chains."

THE authors of this fine play are John Meredith, the folklore enthusiast and leader of the Sydney
Bushwhackers Band, and Joan Clarke whose contemporary play "Home Brew" was produced by Sydney and
Adelaide New Theatres in 1954. The story of the play is based on the life of Jack Donahoe, a native
of Ireland, who was sentenced to transportation for life in 1825 at the age of 18 years for "intent
to commit a felony".

A wild impetuous lad, he declared that he was not cut out for a prisoner—that while he lived he would
be free—and soon afterwards he took to the bush along with two convict mates. He was the hero of the song

"Bold Jack Donahoe" which begins;

"There was a valiant highwayman, an outlaw of renown,
Who scorned to live in slavery or humble to the crown,
In Dublin city, fair and free, where his first breath he drew,
Twas there they christened him the brave and bold Jack Donahoe."

In 1828 he was recaptured, but after being sentenced to death he broke loose and made his escape,
although his legs were in heavy irons. He was determined never to be captured again.

DURING the years 1829, 1830 and 1831 over 500 convicts took to the bush choosing death by starvation
or a bullet from the mounted police rather than the misery and degradation that was the lot of a convict
in the iron gangs. Donahoe composed a song about himself, a parody of an old Irish song "Ireland Lies Groaning",
the last verse of Donahoe's song being as follows

"Then hurl me to crime and brand me with shame.
But think not to baulk me, my spirit to tame,
For I'll fight to the last in old Ireland's name,
Though I be a bushranger, You still are the stranger,
And I'm Donahoe."

This ballad is a most interesting one, indicating as it does how with in a few years Donahoe the outlaw came
to identify himself with the country of his exile. INVESTIGATIONS have failed to discover the original tune for
this song; however, for the Brisbane production a member of Brisbane New Theatre, Miss Marlene Stewart,
has composed a tune largely based on the music for a similar Irish ballad.

An inviting reward for information leading to Donahoe's capture was repeatedly offered in the Sydney Gazette.
Although this consisted of an absolute pardon and a free passage to England for a convict, and a grant of a
square mile of land for any freeman, Donahoe and his companions continued to come and go largely as they pleased.

The measure of support for the outlaws is evident in a popular song of the period, <

"Jim Jones at Botany Bay," which includes these lines;-
"But bye and bye I'll break my chains, into the bush I'll go,
And join the brave bushrangers there, Jack Donahoe and co.
And some dark night when every thing is silent in the town,
I'll kill the tyrants one and all, and shoot the floggers down,
I'll give the law a little shock, remember what I say,
They'll regret they sent Jim Jones in chains to Botany Bay,"

A modern touch was the use by the police of spies and pimps dressed in ordinary clothes in an endeavour to obtain
information about Donahoe and his associates.
ON September 1, 1830, he was shot in a pitched battle which lasted for half an hour during which Donahoe shouted
fragments of his song at the police together with many uncomplimentary remarks.

His covering fire allowed his two companions to escape, but Donahoe was killed by two balls from a soldier named Muggleston.

The death of Donahoe did not put a stop to bushranging. Songs about "Bold Jack Donahoe" were outlawed, and any
publican who allowed them to be sung on his premises lost his licence.

One school of research believes that the song "Wild Colonial Boy" originated as a substitute for an outlawed song.
Some early versions of "The Wild Colonial Boy" actually named the hero as Jack Donahoe instead of the usual Jack Doolan.

Frequently similar tunes are used for "Bold Jack Donahoe" and "Wild Colonial Boy." This play uses the same chorus
for both songs to emphasise their similar origin in the struggle for freedom.
Its this undoubted appeal for all Australians that can ensure the success of the musical play "Wild Colonial Boy."

But New Theatre needs the support of Tribune readers. Bring your friends. Come your selves.


From the NSW newspaper The Tribune 21 Mar 1956 p. 8.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory