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The Bush Music Club
A Brief History by Bob Bolton(c)1999

In the early 1950s, a few young blokes, who had followed the post-war slide towards the cities, found themselves working in Sydney. They missed the friendly, informal social life they remembered from the country towns where they grew up.

Remembering some of the old songs and playing such simple instruments as the (button) accordion, they sang (with an initial repertoire of some three songs!) at concerts, socials and literary nights around the southern parts of Sydney, where they lived.

They formed a small group, which they called the Heathcote Bushwhackers and, becoming involved with the New Theatre, they tackled the musical side of Dick Diamond's new Australian musical play 'Reedy River'. Musically inclined theatricals joined the band (now just called the Bushwhackers) and membership rose to seven. The band now played accordion, guitar, banjo, mouth organ, tin whistle and those distinctive home-made instruments; bush bass, bones and particularly the lagerphone - which the Bushwhackers first introduced to the public.

Seeking more songs and Australian histrorical background, they became involved in the Australian Folklore Society and John Meredith started using the new-fangled tape recorder (twenty kilograms of mains driven bulk in those days) to get down authentic items from old performers. The material collected was translated into the Bushwhackers' repertoire as fast as they could learn it. The shape, size and style of the Bushwhackers provided a model for every revival bush band since.

They became more and more popular and others wanted to join the band. Daunted by the prospect of a monstrous, mushrooming bush band they decided to form a social, teaching club instead. The club, founded at a meeting on 14th October 1954, was called the Bush Music Club in honour of the survival in bush areas of that style of self reliant entertainment and sociability that seemed so scarce in the city.

At the Club, people could learn the newly collected traditional songs, get tips on play-ing the bush instruments of the Bushwhackers and form their own bands (collectively known as Bushwhacker bands in those heady days). Eventually, similar clubs started in other states, complete with bands such as the 'Moreton Bay Bushwhackers' and the 'Port Phillip Bushwhackers'.

The Folklore Society petered out and in 1955 the Bush Music Club itself started publishing the collected songs and music in its own magazine, called 'Singabout'. To raise money for the printing of each (originally quarterly) issue, they ran a quarterly concert and dance social night, called a 'Singabout Night'. Singabout magazine ran in its own right until 1966 but 'Singabout Nights' remained a regular quarterly event until the end of the 1970s and still provide a format for many of the Club's social nights.

The Club's present magazine 'Mulga Wire' deals with the social aspects of the present-day organisation, reviews and events but 'Singabout' continues as a folklore section within the magazine. The Club, through its publications, its bands and its development of a regular Sydney Bush Dance circuit, has been a major force behind the current popularity of Bush Dancing.

Today the Bush Music Club runs two suburban bush dances a month; two annual colonial balls; weekly bush dance workshops and music workshops and a booking agency for Australian traditional music.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory