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Peter Hamilton 1924-2008

Tribute to a pioneer by Mark Gregory
see also
Farewell to Peter Hamilton: Byron Shire Echo

Pioneer record and film producer Peter Hamilton died peacefully at his home on 23 October 2008.

Founder of the Wattle Records and Wattle Films (in the late 1940s he organised the first Sydney University Film Festival which was so successful it led to the formation of the Sydney Film Festival), Peter started the company in 1954 in Sydney, inviting his friend Edgar Waters to join as editor. The label released some of the first commercially available records of bush songs including recordings by The Bushwhackers Band made famous by their role in Reedy River and their 1956 hit 'The Drover's Dream'.

Two of Wattle's most important record releases were field recordings of bush singers and musicians like Sally Sloan of Lithgow NSW and Simon McDonald of Creswick Victoria, selections from the field work of collectors such as John Meredith, Norm O'Connor, Maryjean Officer, Bob Michel and the Lumsden family.

Wattle's last release was also based on field recordings ... Jeremy Beckett's recordings of Aboriginal stockman/singer/songwriter Dougie Young on a 1963 EP titled 'The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards'.

Peter Hamilton was one of the first to recognise the importance of capturing traditional Aboriginal culture on film. In the early 1960s he set up and ran the film archive of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies (AIATSIS). It was in the 60s that he and his anthropologist wife and their two small children lived in Central Australia, amongst Aboriginal people.

Peter Hamilton and Edgar Waters preparing material for Wattle Records

Peter was an extraordinary inventor in film and sound recording (see the Hindsight program link below)

I don't have a complete list of Wattle recordings but here is a start, and I'll update it as more information comes to hand. (I think they say a lot about the breadth of musical interest among the early folk revival enthusiasts)

The Green Bushes / Beth Schurr 1956
Drovers' Dream / The Bushwhackers 1956
Black Velvet Band / The Bushwhackers 1956
Botany Bay / The Bushwhackers 1956
The Bullockies Ball / The Bushwhackers 1956
The Old Bullock Dray / The Bushwhackers 1956
Travelling Down The Castlereagh / The Bushwhackers 1956
Nine Miles from Gundagai / The Bushwhackers 1957
Australian Bush Songs / The Bushwhackers 1957
American Songs of Protest / John Greenway 1957
Workin' on a Building / John Greenway 1957
Irish Songs of Resistance / Patrick Galvin 1957
Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians / 1957
Singing Sailors / Ewan MacCol and A L Lloyd 1957
Banks of the Condamine / A L Lloyd 1957
Music of New Guinea / 1958
Convicts and Currency Lads / Ewan MacColl and A L Lloyd 1958
Across the western Plains / A L Lloyd 1958
The Old Bark Hut / The Rambleers 1958
The Shearers Dream / The Rambleers 1958
The Waltzing Matilda / The Rambleers 1958
Songs from Queensland / Morton Bay Bushwackers and the Bandicoots
Billy Goat Overland / Stan Arthur and Bill Scott 1958
Traditional Singers & Musicians of Victoria Archive series no 2 /1962
The Art of the Digeridu / Trevor Jones 1963
The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards / Dougie Young 1963

Thanks to Keith McKenry here's a list of Wattle Films

Wattle Ballad Series No. 1 Old Black Billy The Rambleers 1961
Wattle Ballad Series No. 2 The Gold Diggers Ted Dunn, Arthur Greig and Jim Mills 1961
Wattle Ballad Series No. 3 Reedy River The Rambleers 1961
Wattle Ballad Series No. 4 The Old Bullock Dray The Bushwhackers 1961
Wattle Ballad Series No. 5 Click Go the Shears The Rambleers 1961

In 2004 there was an ABC Radio Hindsight program about Wattle


Peter Hamilton fought hard to get Australian folk songs taken seriously by the ABC and a poorly informed and disbelieving music establishment as this transcript from the Hindsight program illustrates:

"The chairman of the ABC at that time was Sir Charles(?) Boyer and I arranged a session with him and put to him that I thought it was an appropriate thing for Australian ABC to do what the BBC were doing in England and the Library of Congress were doing in America, that is that they had dedicated full time staff recording the folk music in England respectively and in America respectively and that was part of their charter to do that and they had a team of people and outdoor full facilities to go and visit old singers and collect material and subsequently have that aired. He was very interested in that and supportive of that as a concept but he had a music manager and he would need to consult him so he called him in to this meeting and he just said well in his view there was no Australian folk song and they were just popular songs that came from overseas and he then left the room and the chairman said well he would have to respect the views of his senior music authority and that was the end of that."

Wattle LP cover: Simon McDonald of Creswick, Victoria

Two of Wattle's releases, 'The Rambleers' and 'Australian and Traditional Musicians and Singers in Victoria' were re-released on CD by the National Library of Australia in 2003 and 2004.

Also a much larger selection of Dougie Young recordings, 'Songs of Dougie Young', was released on CD by AIATSIS in 1992.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory