Australian Folk Songs
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Origins of the Australian Folk Revival
A tribute to the pioneer field collectors of the 1950s by Keith McKenry(c)1997
From a concert at National Folk Festival, Canberra, Friday 10 April 1997
We are here this afternoon to celebrate the first decade of the Australian folk revival, and to honour the Revival's pioneers.
Our story commences in 1950, in the extended flush of relief, recovery and optimism that followed the end of the Second World War.
The Communist Party in Australia is riding high, especially in Queensland where, in 1944, and again in 1947, Fred Paterson, a communist lawyer from the State's North, has been elected to Parliament.
But it's the beginning of the Cold War, and Fred and his fellow travellers of the left (so welcome during the war against Hitler and Tojo) are soon to be frozen out of the corridors of power, and characterised by their opponents as menaces to society. But it is to this group that we owe most of our recorded heritage of folk song. Here is how it happened.
Prior to 1950, there are no published collections with music of Australian folk song. Sure, there are a number of publications with ballad texts, but the conventional wisdom is that the songs themselves have long died out. Indeed, even back in 1905 when Paterson first published Old Bush Songs he wrote of the songs in the past tense, as items belonging to an earlier era.
The first collection of Australian bush songs with music appears in 1950, courtesy of the writer Vance Palmer, native of Bundaberg (like Bill Scott) and leading advocate of the cause of Australian literary nationalism. Vance, now 65 years old, has garnered together some 13 old ballads from various sources, and publishes them in a song folio entitled Old Australian Bush Ballads.
Not being noted as a musical type, Vance calls on the classical composer Margaret Sutherland for assistance with arrangements. Margaret, in turn, calls upon her own instinct for appropriate melody when there was no-one who remembered the original tunes. Their aim, Vance writes, is "to make a songbook that could be used in a popular way, thus preserving contact with the simple, democratic tradition of campfire and track that is one part of our inheritance". Significantly, the folio cover notes the songs as "collected by Vance Palmer" with "music restored by Margaret Sutherland".
The songs in the Palmer-Sutherland folio are
Enter John Manifold, born in 1915 into the landed gentry of Victoria's Western District. An old boy of Geelong Grammar and Cambridge University, Manifold has returned from the War a recognised poet, his Selected Verse published in both England and the United States. He has returned, too, an active communist, much to the horror of his squattocratic family. Disowned by his family (or is it they by him?) Manifold has set up house in the outskirts of Brisbane at Wynnum North, his home quickly becoming a centre of intellectual and musical life in Brisbane.
- Ballad of Ben Hall
- Ballad of Jack Lefroy
- Banks of the Condamine
- Broken Down Squatter
- Flash Jack from Gundagai
- Old Bullock Dray
- Old Keg of Rum
- Road to Gundagai (Lazy Harry's)
- Song of Ballarat
- Song of the Free Selector
- Stockman's Last Bed
- Wild Colonial Boy
Manifold, recalling some old bush songs from his childhood in Victoria, is dismayed by Palmer's collection, and in particular their sometimes odd tunes, which Manifold attributes to Vance's "none-too-accurate" singing. Seeing Vance soon after the publication, he obtains his permission to reprint what he terms "more accurate" versions of several of these (The Overlander, which as a child he had heard his father sing, and The Banks of the Condamine.) Vance, ever generous, says "go ahead".
This leads directly to Manifold's collaboration with a 19 year old Victorian who, possessing a Diploma in Art from Swinburne Institute, has hitched up to Brisbane with a tenor recorder (which he can't play) and has been co-opted by Manifold into his home group of players. That young artist is Ronald George Edwards. Together they produce the highly successful ballad broadsheets, the Bandicoot Ballads, Manifold providing most of the songs, and Edwards the lino cut illustrations and production.
The first 4 Bandicoot Ballads are released in 1951. They are
Meanwhile, down in Sydney, there is action on other fronts. A music teacher, Doreen Jacobs, has established the People's Choir, and gives music classes in her spare time. She sets to music several pointed historical ballads by Vance and Nettie Palmer's daughter Helen, one about the Eureka rebellion and another about the 1890s shearer's strikes in Queensland, The Ballad of 1891.
- The Wild Colonial Boy
- The Banks of the Condamine
- The Death of Ned Kelly (a Manifold poem he set to a traditional tune)
- Van Dieman's Land (learned by Manifold before Second World War)
In one of Doreen's music classes is a 16 year old People's Choir member, Chris Kempster. Encouraged by Doreen, Chris sets to music several Australian poems and these find their way to the Third World Youth Festival for Peace, held in Berlin in 1951, where they are included in the Australian Delegation's souvenir song book of the Australian Delegation. One is a lovely setting of Louis Esson's Bush Lullaby, the other a setting of Lawson that is destined to become a classic of the folk revival. Indeed, and a few years hence will lend its name to the pioneering Australian musical play Reedy River.
In 1952 the Australian Youth Carnival for Peace and friendship takes place in Sydney. The People's Choir (now renamed the Sydney Singers), takes part. So does John Manifold, down from Brisbane for the occasion.
Together with a dozen or so volunteer singers and instrumentalists Manifold compiles and performs a program of bush songs, recitations and dances. This is the first time Australian bush songs have made it to the concert stage in living memory.
The Songbook for the Carnival, is entitled International Songs, and includes text and music for 21 songs (among them Pete Seeger and Lee Hays' Hammer Song, and Ed McCurdy's Strangest Dream, as well as songs from Korea, Viet Nam and elsewhere). It includes 7 Australian songs, 3 from Vance Palmer's 1950 folio and
The compliers of the Songbook note they wished to include Advance Australia Fair, commenting "permission was refused by the Properties Trust of the Presbyterian Church of Australia (NSW), who hold the copyright. No reasons were given". Presumably, the fact that the Carnival is regarded by many as a communist plot, and the participants as traitors to Australia, has something to do with it.
- Ballad of Eureka (Helen Palmer's words, Doreen Jacobs' tune)
- Reedy River (the young Chris Kempster's setting of Lawson's poem)
- Van Diemans Land (similar to the Bandicoot Ballads version)
- Freedom on the Wallaby (Doreen Jacobs' setting of Lawson).
One of those taking part as a member of the Sydney Singers is 37 year old John Meredith, who hails from Holbrook in rural NSW. A member of the Australian Soviet Friendship League and lacking one kidney, John has arrived in town by bicycle (via Melbourne, Mildura and Cairns). Having met up with members of the Eureka Youth League, he has joined the Communist Party, and become Treasurer of its Petersham Branch.
John works in the pharmaceutical industry and lives in a group house at Clovelly, run on strict (STRICT!!) communal lines. There is a piano in the house, and once a month the left-over monies from the housekeeping fund Party Night, where everyone gets around the piano and sings. Each person is permitted to bring one guest. Joy Durst, (then Joy Althorpe), one of the commune's inmates, plays the piano. Joy is later to become one of the revival's prime movers down in Melbourne.
Like many of his contemporaries of the Left, Meredith is interested in Australian ballads (he too has a much loved and battered copy of Paterson's Old Bush Songs), and sets about the arduous task of looking in libraries for tunes to match with them. This is frustrating work. John has however one notable success - a song known only from Charles Macalister's 1907 book Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South where the tune is noted as "Irish Mollie, Oh!". John locates a tune by this title in Old Irish Folk Music and Songs by P. Joyce and finds it fits perfectly.
The song, as fitted by Meredith, has become a folk standard. John makes the acquaintance of other folk song enthusiasts in Sydney, including Edgar Waters, who works at the NSW State Library, and through him Russell Ward who at that time is compiling material for his thesis which will appear six years later as The Australian Legend.
Later that year (we are still in 1952) the popular wisdom that old bush songs, having been lost to memory, must be researched in libraries is blown spectacularly out of the water at, of all places, North Sydney Railway station. This happens when Mrs Hilda Lane, a member of the Sydney Singers assists an old man, blind and tapping his way, into the Station. They talk for a while, and she finds the man, Jack Lee -"Hoopiron" to his friends - knows and sings old bush songs. He is 77 years old, and was born in Booligal in 1876.
Hilda introduces Hoopiron to Russell Ward, and shortly after invites fellow Choir members John Meredith and Chris Kempster to her flat one Sunday afternoon to listen to the old chap sing. They take the entire afternoon to write down the music of one verse of "The Backblock Shearer", and soon realise what a marathon task lies ahead of them if they wish to transcribe Hoopiron's songs.
Enter the age of technology. John thinks, what about recording Hoopiron on one of these amazing new tape recording machines? He arranges to borrow an AWA tape recorder from a neighbour, and in a few hours that Sunday he tapes Hoopiron's entire repertoire.
John is a convert to the new technology. He sells his beloved camera to raise a deposit and rushes out to buy a tape recorder of his own, an early 'Pecotape' machine that weighs 45 pounds. John later comments:
"My machine was the first to be designed and manufactured in Australia. "Pecotape" used tape, reel-to-reel, at seven and a half inches per second and gave really superb reproduction. This was obtained by the use of a one-quarter horsepower motor, such as is used in electric lawn mowers today, and a massive seven inch bronze flywheel. It was a valve job and had a five-watt amplifier. The whole machine was very advanced for the time."
The deposit is around 25 pounds and the balance is to be paid off over the next two years at 6 pounds per month, or thirty bob a week. This is about one-quarter of John's income. Further, John reckoned a roll of tape cost him half a week's wages - so every second of tape counted.
Unfortunately, in seeking to dub the Jack Lee tape from the borrowed AWA recording onto his new Pecotape, John - still unfamiliar with the working of these new technological marvels - switches both machines onto 'record', thereby inadvertently erasing his original recording.
So John goes back to Hoopiron Jack. The next weekend John again records him, together with Jack's younger brother Colin, who plays the button accordion, acting as MC, and several others including his sister and the reciter Charlie Griffith.
And, like a chain reaction, one thing leads rapidly to another. Hoopiron suggests Meredith call on Joe Cashmere, his old mate from Booligal, a singer of some renown as well as a fiddle player [and a bush poet]. So John visits Joe, then in his mid-80s but full of spark, and collects a number of songs and tunes from him.
Among songs collected by John Meredith and others from Joe Cashmere
John Meredith receives considerable help in his field collecting from both Nancy Keesing and Russel Ward. Both are collecting texts of bush ballads, Nancy for the books entitled Australian Bush Ballads (1955) and Old Bush Songs (1957) in which she collaborates with Douglas Stewart, and Russel for use in his doctoral thesis, published in 1958 as The Australian Legend. The two collectors frequently make contact with good performers and never fail to pass them on to John for recording, so that the tunes might be preserved.
- The Old Jig Jog (song)
- Ten Thousand Miles Away (fragment) (song) (First Aust. version)
- Wild Rover No More (song)
- Caledonia (collected by Edgar Waters and Jeff Way and later recorded by Meredith)
- Jog Along Till Shearing (collected by Russell Ward, Waters and Way and later recorded by Meredith)
In 1953 the next four Bandicoot Ballads broadsides appear. These are
Of these songs, Moreton Bay in particular has an interesting history. Manifold's text was collated by him partly from fragments recalled by several singers around Brisbane, but mainly from the text of a ballad by Frank the Poet, entitled The Convict's Arrival, which was known to Ned Kelly (who paraphrased it in his famous Jerilderie Letter). His final text is so shaped and crafted by him it should really read "Manifold, based on traditional texts". As no-one could recall the tune properly he set it to the Irish Youghal Harbour. The song, in its now classic form, dates from around 1952. A quite distinct version was collected in oral tradition in Victoria in 1960 from the singing of Simon McDonald.
- The Drover's Dream
- Andy's Gone with Cattle
- Bold Jack Donahue
- Moreton Bay
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the folksong collecting clan in Sydney, a collection of Australian folk songs with texts and music already exists in Melbourne. This collection, by the Rev. Dr Percy Jones, Vice Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, has been assembled over a number of years, since the early 1940s.
Jones' collection had its origins in his desire for Australian songs for choirs to sing. He was assisted in his quest by a journalist from the Melbourne Sun newspaper, who ran a column asking for old songs. Readers sent in many texts, but to get tunes Dr Jones had to visit the people and transcribe the tunes by hand. He didn't do this often, but over the years did assemble and arrange a folio of some dozen songs, including
There is no evidence the Reverend Doctor had any great affection for the songs. (He readily ceased collecting when he thought others were prepared to do so. Indeed in 1954 an article by Glen Hamilton attributes to Dr Jones the saying that you could always tell an original Australian folk song - it is so bad.) His collection might remain undiscovered if not for the visit to Australia in 1953 of the American entertainer Burl Ives.
- The Wild Colonial Boy
- Botany Bay
- Click Go the Shears
- The Dying Stockman
- Oh, the Springtime It Brings on the Shearing
- A Nautical Yarn
- The Old Bullock Dray
- The Stockman's Last Bed
- Wild Rover No More
- The Station Cook.
Ives wishes to include some Australian material in his repertoire, but is assured that, although some folk songs once existed, most had been lost except for a few collected by Vance Palmer and set to music by Margaret Sutherland. Percy Jones hears of this misinformation and makes his collection available to the American, who promptly adds a number of the songs to his repertoire.
To complete the cultural cringe, Dr Jones' folk song collection is published under the title Burl Ives Folio of Australian Folk Songs. Thus it is that when much of mainstream Australia is introduced on the wireless to Australian folk song in 1953, the accent is American. (Sadly, things haven't changed all that much.)
But there are Australian voices in the wings! In 1953, the same year as Burl Ives' visit, Dick Diamond's musical play, Reedy River is produced by the Melbourne New Theatre. It contains a dozen or so Australian songs, around which Diamond has shaped his story. The songs include Doreen Jacobs' setting of Helen Palmer's Ballad of 1891, and the title track, Chris Kempster's setting of Lawson's Reedy River.
Back in Sydney, interest in field collection - sustained by repeated discoveries in the suburban woodwork of marvellous old timers who remember old songs and tunes - is blossoming. On 16 January 1954 the Australian Folklore Society holds its inaugural meeting, at John Meredith's house at Heathcote. The announced aims of the Society are the recording, publishing and popularising of the folklore of Australia.
Early in 1954, Meredith has idea of forming a small ensemble to sing the songs he has collected. His neighbours Brian Loughlin and Jack Barrie readily agree to be in such a group and they go into rehearsal. John plays button accordion, Brian the lagerphone, which they had met with during a holiday trip to Holbrook earlier that year, and Jack the bush bass, a one-stringed tea-chest affair which had been described to John by one of his workmates. They give their first performance dressed up in false whiskers and nineteenth century clothes: it is a roaring success. After much deliberation they choose a name, the Bushwhackers, then invite Chris Kempster, guitar, and Harry Kay junior, a mouth organ player, to join them.
[Footnote: Some 15 years later the Bushwhackers name is itself bushwhacked by some LaTrobe Uni students, who perhaps characteristically enough for LaTrobe students, misspelt it. That misspelt band has continued on, with many membership changes, to the present day. While this later band has done much in recent decades to popularise bush music, and its performance style has been much imitated, it played no part in the collection of the songs themselves. That honour lies with the members of the original Bushwhackers Band and their contemporaries.]
Anyway, back to 1954. The Bushwhackers' style and repertoire makes them an immediate success. They secure radio engagements and go on weekend tours. It is during these tours that John makes many contacts for recording. When they perform at Newcastle, Lithgow and Mudgee they appeal to people who know old ballads to get in touch with them. Soon every weekend John can spare away from the band is spent in one of these towns with his tape recorder and accordion.
In 1954, too, Dick Diamond's Reedy River has its second production, by the New Theatre in Sydney. This production has instruments on stage, a major innovation (for in the earlier Melbourne production there was just a piano in the "pit"). Not only do the Bushwhackers play a major role in singing many of the songs, but also two songs collected by John Meredith are added to the program.
John describes one of the cast as a real "fig jam" man: Fuck I'm Good, Just Ask Me.
In the audience at one of the performances is a young Queenslander, Alan Scott. He makes Meredith's acquaintance backstage, and the two become lifelong friends. Alan soon joins both the Bushwhackers and the Australian Folklore Society. Within a year Alan is the Society's Chairman, and Meredith its Secretary.
The following month John Meredith, accompanied by the author Nancy Keesing, visits Mrs Ina Popplewell in the slum suburb of Darlington, South Sydney. John and Nancy find Mrs Popplewell (who admits to being 75 but looks older) in a tiny old brick cottage without electricity or running water in a back lane off a side street. The front gate is tied up with an old stocking - to keep out the local bandits, she says. Her sole source of power is a kerosene lamp. John needs electricity for his tape recorder. Eventually, Mrs Popplewell thinks of a neighbour who might have "the electricity". She does, and so the recording session is able to proceed.
That afternoon John and Nancy record a number of songs and recitations from Ina, including
Another bush singer John Meredith recorded around this time [in April 1954, according to Edwards] was Edwin (Ted) Goodwin. Dr Ces English had attended Ted at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, had several conversations with him on the subject of folk songs, and learned Dennis O'Reilly from him. He introduced John to him. When Ted, then aged 73, had recovered from his illness he called on Meredith at Lewisham, where an afternoon was spent recording songs and talking about old times.
- Frank Gardiner (First [only?] collected tune; words published earlier in Bradshaw)
- Willie Reilly (Only collected version, although it must have been well known as both Lawson and Paterson referred to it in their literary duel')
- As I Was A-walking (First Australian version, which John notes is a version of an Irish ballad usually known as 'The Mantle So Green'.)
- Battle Cry of Freedom (Not known previously)(a version of Marching Through Georgia?)
- Sydney Cup Day (fragment) (Only known version)
- Take Me Down the Harbour (Only collected tune; text in 1908 Imperial Songster and described as being very popular around Sydney in the early 1900s)
- Botany Bay (Three verses and chorus, very similar to the 5 verse version published the previous year in the Burl Ives Folio)
Goodwin [born c.1882] had for most of his working life been a timber-cutter in the Nambucca River district on the North Coast of NSW, and there he learned his songs, most of which had a distinct Irish flavour.
Songs collected by John Meredith from Edwin Goodwin
Dennis O'Reilly was published in Speewa Vol 1 (2) in September 1954. Ted died in 1955.
- Dennis O'Reilly (co-collector Dr Cecil English) (First [and best] collected version; a
- close relative of "With My Swag All on My Shoulder" included without a tune in Old Bush Songs)
- Bold Jack Donahoe [version sung by Alan Scott] (First [and a very fine]
- collected version, with one line forgotten in the third verse. When Meredith publishes the song in
- his 1957 collection, Songs From the Bush, he includes the following line, to make the verse complete:
- We'll fight but not surrender, our freedom to maintain'.)
- Old Bark Hut (words from Old Bush Songs) (version not published as such, but appears to be first time
- a tune for this much published text is collected. In 1954 [according to Edwards] the song appears as
- Bushwhacker Broadside No 2, with a tune arranged by John Meredith. Was this the Goodwin tune?)
Later that year (1954), Meredith makes contact with Sally and Fred Sloane, then living in Lithgow. John has regular two-monthly recording sessions with them until 1961, for Sally, who was born in Parkes in 1894, keeps remembering items. John wrote that "there seemed to be no end to the songs and tunes she knew. The bulk of these were learned from her mother, but several came from her step-father and other bush workers". Among the many songs collected from Sally were
Nov '54: Melbourne Cup Day. A fellow named "Duke" Tritton turns up at the Bulletin offices in Sydney, with information about ballads. He's responding to an article Doug Stewart had written that mentioned 'missing' verses and songs. Doug is too busy to see him (it must have been approaching 2.20pm). Could Nancy? Nancy does, and Duke sings Goorianawa, and a number of other bush songs. Nancy misses listening to the cup on the wireless.
- The Wee One
- Death of Ben Hall.
Duke was born on 3 October 1886 at Five Dock in Sydney. In 1905, aged 19, he set out from Sydney with his mate Dutchy, to try his luck in the shearing sheds out west. Shearing, droving, fencing, labouring, boxing, and singing, Duke tried making a living from them all.
Nancy Keesing introduces Duke to John Meredith, and through the Bushwhackers and the Bush Music Club Duke has a second career as a singer, on radio and in public.
The songs collected by Meredith from Duke include
Interestingly, John Meredith, focussing for cost reasons solely on traditional material, passes up Duke's offer to sing for him several songs he wrote himself in his early days on the track. As a result John does not collect from Duke his greatest song, Shearing in a Bar. This honour goes to Alan Scott. Alan also records from Duke the only collected sung version of Lawson's poem Cobb & Co, and another original composition by Duke, Goose Necked Spurs.
- Goorianawa (Only collected version)
- Travelling Down the Castlereagh
- Ballad of the Drover (fragment) (First collected version)
- Taking His Chance (Lawson) (First sung version)
- Ten Thousand Miles Away
- The Shores of Botany Bay (Only collected version)
- The Golden West (First collected version)
- The Great Northern Line (Only collected version)
- The Dying Stockman
- Shearing at Castlereagh (Only collected version)
- Ringbarking (Tritton)(Only collected version)
- The War Correspondent (Only collected version)
- Tambaroora Gold (First collected version)
- Old Bark Hut
- Wild Colonial Boy
- Drover's Dream
- Good For a Rush or a Rally (Only collected version)
In August 1955 the Bushwhackers play and sing at Dame Mary Gilmore's 90th birthday party, and are embarrassed when she laughingly says, after hearing "Click go the Shears", "How real you made it seem: Why, I could even smell the shearing shed!" The band is at the time wearing dirty old flannels that have seen out some 150 performances of Reedy River and unknown Bushwhackers recitals besides, and suddenly realises it has developed a pretty strong shearing shed aroma!
In 1955 the Wattle Recording Company is formed, giving a further impetus the to work of collecting and popularising folk song. Both the Bushwhackers' and Wattle's first disc is "The Drover's Dream" (and The Bullockies' Ball), sung by "Alan Scott and the Bushwhackers". It is an immediate success: initially some 200 discs are pressed - ultimately over 20 000 are sold.
On 19 May 1956 Duke Tritton introduces Meredith to Ted Gibbons, licensee of the Centennial Hotel at Gulgong. Meredith books in at the hotel for the weekend, having previously placed a notice in the local newspaper to say he is looking for traditional singers of bush songs. Five performers attend, backed up by interested spectators.
One of the locals recorded in Gulgong's Centennial Hotel this day was Bill Coughlin. He was seventy when recorded, but had learned "The Union Boy" at Cassilis during a shearers' strike in 1902, when he was 16 years old.
Also in 1956 an Englishman, A.L. Lloyd, records the first of what are to become a number of records of Australian bush songs. Lloyd draws largely for his material on the songs he learned as a youth in NSW Australia between 1925 and 1933. This first recording is an LP Australian Bush Songs, issued in USA on Riverside Records. This was followed in 1957 with a second album a 10' LP entitled Banks of the Condamine, and in 1958 with a 12" LP Across the Western Plains, both issued in Australia by Wattle Records.
While versions with music of most of Lloyd's Australian songs were already available at the time he recorded them, a number were not. The key additions by Lloyd were
Later on, Lloyd was to include further Australian songs in his British recordings, sometimes drawing from material collected by Meredith and others and published in Singabout. While Lloyd's recordings did not add greatly to the canon of known Australian folk song they did gain wide exposure and had a marked influence both on the repertoire and the singing style of folk revival singers.
- The Flash Stockman (First version with a tune)
- One of the Has-Beens (First version with a tune)
- Across the Western Plains (First version with a tune)
- Lime Juice Tub (First version with a tune)
- Maryborough Miner (Only collected version; closely related to 'Murrumbidgee Shearer' included in Old Bush Songs)
- Lachlan Tigers (First collected version)
- Euabalong Ball (Adapted by Lloyd from song 'Wooyeo Ball', and therefore sole source of song under this title)
In Queensland, too, there has been great activity on the collecting front. A Federation of Bush Music Groups has been established in Brisbane - these groups include John Manifold's Bandicoots, Bill Scott's Moreton Bay Bushwhackers, and Stan Arthur's Wayfarers.
In 1956 thirty old bush songs, collected and arranged by Group members are published in the Queensland Centenary Pocket Songbook, edited by John Manifold.
In 1956, too, the first issue of Singabout, the magazine of the Bush Music Club, appears. The Editor is John Meredith and it is 'published by Alan Scott for The Bush Music Club'. This pioneering magazine runs to 22 issues, between 1956 and 1967, providing a ready outlet for publication both of collected material and of newly-written material in the "folk" idiom.
- The songs include
- Augathella Station
- Bold Tommy Payne
- Wallaby Stew
- Waltzing Matilda (Qld version)
- The Reedy Lagoon
- Australia's on the Wallaby
- Old Black Alice
- The Convict Maid
Things also have been happening on the folklore front south of the Murray. Ron Edwards has returned from his sojourn in Brisbane, and has set up his Rams Skull Press on Melbourne's outskirts at Lower Ferntree Gully. In Feb 1954 he publishes The Dying Stockman, the first of seven Black Bull Chapbooks dealing with aspects of Australian folk song. A full listing of the chapbooks is
Then, in August 1955, the Folk Lore Society of Victoria is formed in Melbourne. The meeting, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ned Kelly's birth, includes among its participants Wendy Lowenstein, Ian Turner, a Mr Miles Maxwell (who sings Kelly ballads), and Ron Edwards and Glen Tomasetti (who sing "folk songs both Australian and European").
- Feb '54 The Dying Stockman, notes by Hugh Anderson.
- March '54 Two Songs of '57, with notes by Hugh Anderson
- 1956 Botany Bay Broadsides, with notes by Hugh Anderson
- 1956 Songs of Billy Barlow, with notes by Hugh Anderson
- 1957 Three Street Ballads, by Russel Ward
- 1957 The Violin, the Banjo and the Bones, by John Manifold
- 1957 Australian Song Index (to 1956), by Hugh Anderson.
Later that year the second folio of 8 Bandicoot Ballads appears, published by John Manifold in Queensland and printed by Ron Edwards' Rams Skull Press in Victoria. The ballads are:
Also in 1955, Colonial Ballads, edited by Hugh Anderson with music arranged by Ron Edwards, appears, again on Ron Edwards' Rams Skull Press. This is the first substantial book of Australian folk song to appear with music.
- Bound for South Australia (a capstan shanty, given in a version based on that published in London in 1888 in Music of the Waters)
- Farewell to the Ladies of Brisbane (text composed by Saul Mendelsohn around 1881; tune Spanish Ladies)
- Widgegoara Joe (essentially the version collected by Meredith and published in Speewa, but with some 'corrections' by Manifold)
- The Overlander (similar to Palmer version, but with tune 'corrected' by Manifold)
- The Old Bark Hut (This version, which post-dates Meredith's version with a tune, collected by Manifold from Russ Singleton)
- The Sheepwasher
- The Stockman's Last Bed (Many previously texts; source of tune not known to Edwards)
- Bill the Bullocky (words collected by Meredith; tune 'Camooweal Races' collected by Geoff Wills and seemingly fitted by Manifold)
Then, in 1956, the first edition of Ron Edwards' own Overlander Songbook appears.
In 1957 Members of the Folklore Society of Victoria (most notably Norm O'Connor and Maryjean Officer) commence field recording of traditional singers in Victoria. Just like their NSW counterparts, they find a wealth of performers, and material.
Norm O'Connor and Harry Pearce record Simon McDonald (1907-68) of Creswick. Simon is known locally as a knockabout character, fond of a drink. Certainly, in the eyes of Creswick he is not a pillar of society. He also is no folk song theorist (when asked at a concert to sing a "folk song" he launches into Davy Crockett, then popular on the wireless). But he is arguably the finest of all the traditional singers recorded in Australia. Certainly, Simon, Duke Tritton and Sally Sloan are a threesome which would delight collectors anywhere in the world.
In all, some 30 songs, and a number of tunes and recitations are recorded from Simon. They include
Ron Edwards meanwhile is getting Jack of the cold winters down south. In 1959 he chucks in his job at Swinburne Institute, packs his family and worldly goods into a Combi Van, and heads north, to tropical North Queensland, for a life in the sun.
- The Banks of Claudy
- Billy Brink
- Ginny on the Moor
- The Golden Vanity
- The Lost Sailor
- The Old Bark Hut
- Moreton Bay
Here is a song Ron Edwards collected in 1958, at Ringwood in Victoria, from Percy "Nobby" Norton, who had learned it around the turn of the century as a young man working in the fruit growing areas north-east of Melbourne.
The body of collected material was becoming extensive, and in an attempt to give the songs wide dissemination a number of song folios, books and recordings appeared in the late 1950s. These included
1957 Songs From the Bush published by Allan &Co. 10 songs, 'collected and edited by Meredith and others, arranged by Alfred Hill'.
1957 Old Bush Songs edited by Douglas Stewart and Nancy Keesing, published by Angus and Robertson.
1957 7" EP Australian Bush Songs, sung by The Bushwhackers Band, issued by Wattle Recordings. Songs are
1957 10' LP Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians, Wattle Archive Series No 1, issues. Field recordings by John Meredith and other members of the Australian Folklore Society. Sally Sloane occupies all of Side 1, and part of Side 2. Others on Side 2 are Herb Gimbert (tin whistle), Duke Tritton and Edwin Goodwin.
- The Hut That's Upside Down
- Australia's on the Wallaby
- Click Go the Shears
- Black Velvet Band
- Drover's Dream
1958 Russel Ward's The Australian Legend.
1959 12" LP Songs from the Shearing Sheds, sung by the Bush Music Club, issued by Festival Records. Members of band making recording: Jamie Carlin, Brian Loughlin, Jack Barrie, John Meredith, Alan Scott and Peter Francis.
1959 10" LP Queensland Centenary Record, sung by the Bandicoots Concert Party (John Manifold) and the Moreton Bay Bushwhackers (Bill Scott), issued by Wattle Records.
Around about this time (c.1959) Meredith, busy editing Singabout, performing and collecting, finds the Communist Party doesn't accept that collecting folklore is "party work", (unlike distributing leaflets, for example), and so John resigns from the Party.
By the end of the 1950s the great bulk of what are now the classic Australian folk songs have been collected. In a single decade a small body of dedicated Australians located mainly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, have secured for our nation a living heritage of song and music that few knew, and many denied, existed.
The 1960s saw their efforts, and those of new field collectors continue, but increasingly the focus was on taking the newly collected material and presenting it to Australians in song folios, magazines, books and sound recordings.
In 1960, for example, the first issue appears the Gumsuckers' Gazette, published jointly by Victorian Bush Music Club and the Folk Lore Society of Victoria. Four years later the magazine is renamed Australian Tradition, and under this name continues for 37 issues, the last being that of December 1975.
Like the Sydney Bush Music Club's Singabout, it is a publication of fundamental importance, and it its pages many scores of fine traditional songs (such as The Streets of Forbes), and songs newly written in the folk idiom, first appear. (The latter group includes my first published effort in 1973, The National Park Lament). The redoubtable and unquenchable Wendy Lowenstein is editor or joint editor throughout. But that's another story.
In 1962(?) John Meredith, receives his first government support, a grant of five hundred pounds from the Australian Literature Fund, to enable him to prepare a book based on his field recordings. The grant represents six months' pay for Meredith, and he is able to take six months leave of absence from work to do the transcribing for what becomes Folk Songs of Australia.
In June that year, while working hard on the book project, Meredith suffers a heart attack. He is obliged to resign as editor of Singabout and ceases for some 18 years to collect in the field. Instead John pursues research and writing interests in fields relating to Australian folklore and social history.
Having completed the work for Folk Songs of Australia, John's tapes lie idle, and he decides they should go to a library. Over twenty years later, in 1986, when I interviewed him and Ron Edwards together for the National Library, John put it this way:
...the tapes were just sitting there idle and I thought "Well, they're going to rot away to nothing", and I thought they should go to a library, and somebody suggested the National Library, and I was going to give them to them, and somebody said, "No, don't be silly, they've got money to buy things like that". So I wrote and asked them did they want to buy them and nothing happened for a while, then they asked me, "How much?" So I worked out what it cost me. There was seven years' work, so I reckoned I'd spent about a hundred pounds a year on fares and tapes, so that was the way I costed them, just the cost of fares and tapes, which worked out at seven hundred pounds. So I sold my thirty hours of recording to the National Library for seven hundred pounds.
1964 12" LP Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians of Victoria, Wattle Archive Series, issues. Contains tapes of Simon McDonald and others recorded by Norm O'Connor, Maryjean Officer and other members of the Victorian Folk Lore society.
1964, too, sees the culmination in two books of John Manifold's work on Australian folk song: Who wrote the Ballads? and the Penguin Australian Song Book.
The Penguin book, in particular, is of major significance. It contains many songs not available previously in book form (including some upon which Manifold exercised a heavy, but silent editorial hand). It remains to this day a key reference and source book for singers.
1965? 12' LP Dinkey Di! We Love Singing Fair Dinkum Australian Songs, sung by The Bush Music Club (10th Anniversary album), issued by Festival Records. Record review from Electronics Australia states "One is struck with the sincerity of the group as they are obviously trying to preserve an art form which they believe to have genuine merit. One may disagree with them in this regard either generally or in connection with some of the songs in particular (do they collect and preserve ALL Australian folk songs? Surely one must exercise some discrimination...), but one can hardly doubt their sincerity".
While all this was happening down South, Ron Edwards has been living the life of an artist up north, on the beaches outside Cairns. Much to his surprise, he finds among the locals a wealth of bush singers, yarnspinners and craftspersons. Before long he his mixing his work as an artist with that of a folklore collector. Over the next 30 years (and more, for he is still going strong!) Ron collects many hundreds of songs and yarns, and the material for 7 major books on bush craft. So prolific is his collecting of songs, for example, that single-handedly he makes North Queensland in a numerical sense the folk song capital of Australia.
In 1966 the first fruits of Ron's renewed collection appear, in the form of four further 'parts' to his Overlander Songbook, published by Rams Skull Press (now located in North Queensland).
The same year the first issue of Ron Edwards' Northern (later National) Folk, is published in Cairns. Following on in the tradition of Singabout and Australian Tradition, it runs to 45 issues between 1966 and 1971.
In 1967, after many years in the preparation, John Meredith's seminal publication, Folk Songs of Australia and the Men and Women Who Sang Them (co-author Hugh Anderson) published by Ure Smith. To this day this book remains the most important single volume to emerge from the Australian folk revival.
The publication in 1967 of Merro's Folk Songs of Australia seems a good point at which to end this concert. The folk revival continued, and indeed, John Meredith, Alan Scott, Ron Edwards, Wendy Lowenstein, Bill Scott and other pioneers of the folk revival continued to make major contributions to it.
We owe our pioneer collectors a profound debt of gratitude. There is only one way we can discharge that debt properly, and that is by taking the songs, the poems and the tunes "from all our cultures" out of the archives and into our consciousness, our shared sense of identity.
1967 Bill Scott's Complete Book of Australian Folklore
1969 Second (much enlarged) edition of Edwards' Overlander Songbook.
1970 Alan Scott's A Collector's Songbook, published by the Bush Music Club. Contains words and music of 31 traditional songs collected by Alan. Republished 1993.
1987 John Meredith's Folk Songs of Australia and the Men and Women Who Sang Them. Volume Two (co-authors Roger Covell and Patricia Brown) published by NSW University Press
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory