Monday 3 December 2012

Pete Seeger and The Bush Music Club, 1963

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(updated 2020)

In 1963 Pete & Toshi Seeger & their children left America for a trip around the world, visiting 22 countries in 10 months.

While they were in Australia Pete visited the (Sydney) Bush Music Club where Pete was very impressed by traditional singer Harold "Duke" Tritton, source of many traditional songs & an outstanding songwriter & poet. He even called Duke on stage to join him at a concert, a call not appreciated by a teenage folkie who wanted to hear Pete, not an old Australian bloke. Soon after the teenage folkie became a convert to bush music & an admirer of Duke. (source - Ralph Pride)

(Weevils in the Flour) The song has an interesting history bound up with the folk song movement, Australian literature and Australian industrial history since the 1930s depression. A history so interesting that the song has accreted a fair amount of folklore itself. Sometimes it is published as an anonymous song written in Newcastle in the 1930s. It was one many new Australian songs that a small gathering of Sydney folkies in Barbara Lysiak's home sang to Pete Seeger during his visit in 1963.

Copies of the films taken by the Seegers during their visits to Sydney & Melbourne were given to the Sydney & Melbourne Bush Music Clubs at the time.

In 2009 a video Pete Seeger Live in Australia 1963 was published from recordings made on this tour.

Pete's interview with Duke This crackly video was made from a copy of the original film given to the Bush Music Club. 

Earlier contact with Pete

Minutes Friday 26th June, 1957
mention a letter from Pete Seeger, which unfortunately has not survived.

Minutes 1957-1978. This was to thank BMC for a donation to his legal expenses relating to his appearance at the House Un-American Activities Committee - conversation with Dale Dengate 5th June 2020

Extract from minutes 3/7/1957, page 1

Extract from More than a Life - John Meredith & the Fight for Australian Tradition by Keith McKenry, p.189


Conference Discussion  
Suggestion arising out of Discussion, undated, filed before AGM Minutes, Friday 14th February 1958 (pages 16A & 16E) (Archives, Minutes 1957-1978)

Suggestion made by Brian that nights at private homes be held to hear Pete's records before raffles are held.

General Meeting minutes 2nd May, 1961 - Correspondence The Secretary wrote to "Singout" of America to find out the facts of the Pete Seeger case which who was reported in a Sydney newspaper as having been jailed for a year for contempt of Congress.


General Meeting minutes 30.5.61 - Correspondence - letter from Irwin Silber Editor of SingOut - Pete Seeger is on bail - legal expenses will cost 20,000 dollars. Business arising - Social evening proposed to raise finance to assist Pete Seeger, Sat 1st July - club to write to Irwin Silber for concise account of the charges from 1956 to read out on the night.

General Meeting minutes 10.7.61 -  Pete Seeger night was successful, 50 people attended, Ramblers played a new song Hooker-Rex, £14 was collected on the night, £2.10.0 was added. Engineering Union, BWIU, Actors Equity & other organisations will be approached with the aim of raising finance to help Pete Seeger. Secty feels that more details from Irwin Sieber are needed before asking other organisations to help.

Visitors Book, 9 Mar 1963 to 5 May 1970

Signatures of Pete & Duke Tritton, Tuesday 3rd Sept 1963.  

Singabout 5(1), Oct 1964. (BMC Archives)
Foolscap leaflet sent out with Newsletter, Sept 1963 (Ken Fairey Collection)

The Sun, Sat Aug 31, 1963. Members Chris Kempster on guitar, Frank on tea-chest bass & Jan Jones on bones, none of them University students, though they might have been accompanied by members of the Sydney University Folk Music Society.   (Ann & Frank Maher Collection)


Invitation to Concert for Pete Seeger, Sat Sept 1, 1963 (Ann & Frank Maher Collection)


September 1971 Newsletter,  Article by Jamie Carlin about lagerphones -  Jamie built a lagerphone presented to Pete Seeger in 1963

Extract from Victorian Folk Music Club member David Lumsden's memories of Pete Seeger's visit
In 1961 my father was part of the organising committee of a concert to raise money to assist Pete Seeger during Pete's House of Un-American Activities trial. (Pete, of course, was only one of hundreds of people accused of being un-American during the McCarthy era.) At this concert I met fellow committee member, Wal Cherry, Director of the Emerald Hill Theatre Company 
...  early 1963. That same year, I recorded the LP Moreton Bay‚ with Martyn Wyndham-Read and Brian Mooney. (By this time I had taught myself to play guitar. Later I bought the 12string guitar that Trevor Lucas had bought from Peter Laycock. I still have that monster: it has a neck like a tree trunk!) I also traveled to Sydney with my parents to meet Pete Seeger and his family. I sang at a welcome concert with many Sydney performers, including Alec Hood and Chris Kempster. At Pete Seeger's Melbourne concert, held in the Town Hall, I sang one song with Pete, plus the (notorius!) National Anthem.

Song by BMC members Alan Scott & John Dengate


Singabout 5(3), 1965, p.12  Pete Seeger's 1963 donation of microfiche of Sing Out! & Broadside to BMC was later given to Sydney University's Fisher Library.

extracts from Fisher Library catalogue
Broadside (on microfiche!) see record

Australian Tradition, May 1964, p.12


Letter to Janet Wakefield from Pete Seeger 1966
Original found with Correspondence in 2016
enhanced image

Transcription by Chris Maltby 9th June 2020.

Aus Receipt No. 5     Sept 3 '66
Dear Janet Wakefield -
I've just been able to put time to go through Stan's songbook song by song, singing them through. Fine songs. Why didn't I hear any of them sung when I visited the Bush Music Club three years ago?
The club ought to get together and put out a record of the songs.
I enclose $5.00 with the request that you send copies to the following folk magazines.... I hope some of the songs will get picked up by singers here. The way things so often go, I suppose some Australians will have to hear them sung by outsiders before they realize they are good songs.

Broadside 215 West 98 St NYC USA
The Broadside PO Box 65, Cambridge Mass. USA
Sing Out, 165 W 46 St NYC USA
The Folklore Center 321 6th Ave NYC USA
Love to you all
Pete (plus banjo drawing)

Box 431
Beacon NY

PS tell 'em I sent it to 'em - it might help! (handwritten)
"The True Songs of Australia" should be a song known by every school kid in your country. (handwritten)
2009 -
In 2009 on the occasion of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday & the Bush Music Club's 55th, we sent him birthday greetings accompanied by copies of the articles in Singabout,1963, & Australian Tradition, 1964 & received the following reply, accompanied by a copy of his revised songbook, which Bob Bolton reviewed in the Singabout insert of Mulga Wire, Dec 2009.  


Where Have all the Flowers Gone – A Singalong Memoir

by Pete Seeger, Revised Edition, 2009 plus CD

A Sing Out! Publication with W.W. Norton & Co., New York & London

$?? From ???

This is a wondrous book … 320 pages of story, verse, reminiscences, music, photos and autobiographical tales from the long and fruitful life of Pete Seeger – all bound up in an American 11” x 8½” format song book.

This is the revised and expanded third edition of Pete’s book, originally published in 1993 and then revised and expanded in 1997 .. And a long way down the track from the little blue ‘Pete Seeger Song Book‘, the remnants of which, having survived my wanderings of the 1960s, are now held together which a bulldog clip so they don’t disintegrate all over my bookshelf.

This is much more than a song book. Pete gives the background, the sources of inspiration, the politics of the days of many seminal songs … the conscious (and, often unconscious) sources of tunes, rhythms and presentations that seem to many of us to have been around all our lives. As a consummate musician – growing up in a family of musicians and music educators – Pete’s knowledge of his sources shames most of us who seek to find and draw upon the traditional music forms of our own regions. As a man driven by moral awareness, he is often forced to admit to “stealing” tunes … either unconsciously (which is fine, within the “folk process”) - but also being aware of the appropriation – when the tune was just right for a noble purpose.

Whatever the sources (and they are all detailed in this magnificent volume!) Pete gives the music for every variant … from how he wrote it – to the versions developed in groups he sang with – to the inspired changes often made by other groups whose popular releases are often the ones we all know … and frequently adopted by Pete.
Anyone aiming to work through all the variants and developments detailed in the book will appreciate the included CD, which has musical examples from some 267 of the book’s songs. It is certainly a long way from my 1960s struggles trying to turn a rudimentary grasp of guitar into a convincing rendition of the “dots” on the crumpled pages of my little blue book.
I can’t find any evidence of a local distributor for this wonderful musical memoir. It is published for Sing Out! By W.W. Norton and can be ordered direct from <> … for US$24.95 + p/p. 
  Review in Mulga Wire, Dec 2009

Friday 30 November 2012

Jig Dolls, Mr & Mrs White of Blacktown, article by David Johnson,

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This article was written by David Johnson and originally published in Singabout #58, December 1986, p. S1. Photographs are by Bob Bolton.

Mr & Mrs White of Blacktown

The beautifully crafted dancing dolls in the photographs were made by a farmer by the name of Charles Mill, probably when he lived on the South Coast of NSW in the 1890s. They were made by carving solid cedar blocks and finished elaborately in the style of the Minstrel shows that regularly toured the country at that time. He referred to them as “Mr. and Mrs. White of Blacktown”.

Each doll is held over a sound-board by a curved steel rod and the whole structure is held on a wooden base. The base is strapped firmly to the player’s knee and then, as the foot is tapped in time with the music, the dolls “dance”, springing on the steel supports, with their feet making a rhythmic clacking on the resonant sound-board.

The dolls were shown to us by the maker’s daughter, Miss Pearl Mill. Miss Mill explained that her father played the concertina for the regular round of “house parties” that made up the social life of many of the small towns on the South Coast where the family lived, at the time. However the dolls were never used in public performances and only rarely shown to the family. Charles Mill played for the Lancers, the Waltz Cotillion and the Alberts, among other dances, and all without reading a note of music. The popular American tunes such as "Marching Through Georgia", "Battle of Gettysburg", "Old Black Joe" and "Take Me Back To Old Virginny" were all played in strict dance time.

Pearl remembers his playing for the send-off for World War I soldiers at the School of Arts Hall in Jilliby (near Wyong, north of Sydney).

I was surprised to learn that Pearl and her sister were not allowed to go to the dances at which her father played, nor were they allowed to touch the concertina, which is a Lachenal metal-ended two-row 'Anglo' (in Bb and F) and must have cost their father a lot of money to buy in the first place, but they were allowed to play the cheaper accordion and Pearl was quite proficient at "God Save The King" and several hymns.

The dancing dolls are a fine example of traditional woodcarving and toymaking. They and their costumes are a valuable historical record.

Thanks to our host David Harris and to Pearl Mill for showing us the dolls and telling us about them.


Etching signed AF


Bob Bolton added the following background commentary:

These dolls extend from the well-known British tradition of "Jig dolls", Incorporating a number of significant improvements. The "jig doll" is usually made of flat wood, with fairly limited articulation of limbs and with clothing and features merely painted in. The doll is fixed to a rod and played by jiggling it on a board (which is anchored by the player sitting on it).

These dolls are far more detailed, better dressed and have the great advantage of being able to be played by the movement of the knee, as the player taps his foot, in time with his concertina or accordion.

This illustration, from an old music shop cover for a 78 rpm record in the collection of Malcolm Clapp, shows an original (if ad hoc) approach to the problem of playing an accordion (in this case, a Flutina, an ancestral melodeon) at the same time as a pair of "jig dolls".

Bob Bolton

emails from Bob Bolton -

6/11/05, Miss Pearl Mill (daughter of the maker Charles Mill, a dairy farmer of the South and Central coasts of NSW), David Johnson (who bought Mr Mill's 'Boomerang' button accordion and Lachenal concertina from Miss Mill) and the young daughter of the Sefton (?) couple - Mr & Mrs David Harris, who cared for Miss Mill. The photographs were taken shortly before we published the story in Mulga Wire / Singabout # 158, December 1986.

23/05/2007 The reason that I am still so concerned to try to track down the set, made by Charles Mills on the NSW South Coast in the 1890s, and which I photographed, back in 1986, is that they were made to a far higher standard - indeed far higher than any set of dancing dolls of which I have knowledge. For a start, they were fully carved in the round from Australian red cedar, had fully carved faces, and were immaculately dressed in sewn cloth costume and headwear, with multicoloured silk windings to represent silk stockings. On top of this, they were very neatly cased in a custom-made box, also of local red cedar, which not only housed both dolls, their 'sprung' back wires and a large sounding board - but this all assembled into a single construction of:

kneeboard, strapped to the knee of the performer / concertinist (and/or accordionist), -

dancing / sounding board, raised up on a spacer: held with the same screws that affixed -

the sprung back wires to the back of each doll - plus

nicely proportioned arch of the 'back-wires' - neatly framing the space in which the performer played the concertina/accordion.

All this produced a far more complex and self-sufficient "show", whereby a single performer could entertain on concertina and/or accordion ... while the two dolls danced along in synchrony firmly controlled by the knee of the player.

I remember Miss Pearl Mills telling us that, when her Father visited friends in New Zealand, taking his dolls and concertina, the New Zealand customs / immigration / internal revenue authorities refused to believe that these were merely personal amusements and threatened to confiscate them. They only allowed him to enter the country after lodging a large bond, the sum of money that they assessed as the professional value of the ensemble. They only refunded this bond when he left the country with all the items ... and was determined not to have engaged in professional performances, which would have attracted imposition of New Zealand income taxes!

Charles Mills' dolls: "Mr & Mrs White of Blacktown" far surpassed anything I have seen or heard of in the field of jig dolls ... and I really believe they belong in a major Australian collection ... and that they deserve to be known world-wide as the pinnacle of their style. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other References

Project Gutenberg
has the following image of dancing dolls in an engraving from the book 'The Works of William Hogarth: In a Series of Engravings With Descriptions, and a Comment on Their Moral Tendency' by John Trusler The dolls are being operated by the piper in the lower left corner.


Tuesday 27 November 2012

The Bushwhackers (Some recollections - Chris Kempster, February 2002)

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This article was published in Cornstalk, (Folk Federation of NSW monthly magazine), in 3 parts in March, April & May 2002

Thanks to Alison Jones for permission to reproduce these articles

It was well into 1952 that John Meredith wrote saying he had these two new musical instruments that you could pick up and play almost instantly. He and some friends were having a party and I could come out and try them. This sounded wonderful. I'd been struggling, happily but slowly, with the guitar and John and I had spent some hilarious nights playing recorder together. And I've always reckoned it helps, whatever you're learning, if you can see someone else doing it, but so scarce were guitars, that, several times I'd heard blokes in road gangs yell out, "Hey, give us a tune on y' banjo, mate". I'd mutter (quietly), "It's not a bloody banjo, it's a bloody guitar". I'd had some help to get started from the wonderful Jeff Way and apart from him, and Barbara Lisyak from a distance, no other gut or nylon strung guitars had I seen.  

Jack Barrie on bush bass in Reedy River 1953/54 (BMC Archives)

So then - musical instruments you could play sooo easily - wow! The night came and there they were, the bush bass and the lagerphone - the "rabbiter's gift" John later called it. His brother had copied it from what he'd seen an old rabbiter playing at a Red Cross "Amateur Hour" concert in their home town of Holbrook. He also gave it the now famous name. John played the button accordion, Brian Loughlin had grabbed the lagerphone and wouldn't let go, Jack Barrie looked very much at home on the bush bass and I finally got my guitar in tune to accompany A Starry Night for a Ramble and many other tunes.

Brian Loughlin on lagerphone in Reedy River, 1953/54 (BMC Archives)
A memorable night, but not quite the start of the Bushwhackers, as John, Brian and Jack had already played a couple of times earlier that year. In the next year or less came Harry Kay, Alex Hood, Cecil Grivas and Alan Scott, to make the full eight, of which just five now remain.

Bushwhackers reunion, 2002 - Chris Kempster, Harry Kay Jr, Alex Hood, Jack Barrie, recorded by Rob Willis. Absent - Cecil Grivas    (Bob Bolton photo)
I'm sure we weren't anything special musically or technically, but we sang and played Aussie songs and music in a time when few knew anything of them and those who did declared them all "derivative". We must have been fulfilling some need as, from our first full performance at the Rivoli Hall, Hurstville, late '52, we got good receptions. We wore work boots and simple clothes to match, felt hats and a red handkerchief tied around the neck. When a British MP out here on a lecture tour wanted to hear Australian Folk music, the Dept of the Interior somehow got in touch with John and along we went to some very posh rooms above the Rural Bank in Market Place. Heads turned and I think I remember some audible gasps as we thumped in carrying our gear. 
 Bushwhackers, Lithgow, 1955  (John Meredith photo, BMC archives)
Brian introduced us, explaining that some people said there was no Australian Folk Music - only parodies, to imported tunes from Ireland or such. If so, said Brian, then we're all the same, everyone here, we're all from the same sources as the music and we're all parodies, the only Australians are the Aborigines. The audience hushed and listened and Cecil's voice rang good and true. I think what helped was that we didn't just sing songs, but sang of our culture, too long ignored. And a big part of this belief came from our Left wing backgrounds. The only place I'd heard Australian songs before this was at Eureka Youth League camps and meetings. I don't remember John singing at the camps, but even then he was known for his knowledge of Australia - few knew much about Aboriginal rock carvings, but John did. It was also at those camps that I first enjoyed The Irish Washerwoman and many other dances I was not to see again until the boom of the Bush Dances, over twenty years later.

The play Reedy River was put together by a similar bunch of Lefties in Melbourne New Theatre. They took a slab from Rigby's Romance and bits from Such is Life, gathered as many songs as they could find, nutted out a plot and Dick Diamond rounded the whole lot out and the finished play went on in early 1953.
Review of Melbourne production of Reedy River, The Age, Thursday 12th March, 1953. (TROVE)
 Included in the songs and central to the plot, set in the aftermath of the shearers' strike, were 1891, Helen Palmer's poem with Dee Jacobs (Doreen Bridges) music, and my 1949 setting of Lawson's Reedy River, (for the romantic lead), and which had "travelled" there as a folk song.

After the standard 6 to 8 weeks session the play was brought to the Sydney branch of New Theatre, and the Bushwhackers were invited to lend a hand with the songs. We, (John, Brian, Jack, Harry and myself), agreed to join the cast and, thoroughly entranced, I asked to be given a part. I've always suspected I was only accepted through being the composer of the title tune! Cecil was given the part of the swagman. At the first rehearsal I heard my line come up but, determined not to jump in too soon, gave it the dramatic pause it deserved. A voice from the back of the hall barged in wanting to know what happened to "What's that y' got there, Thomo - whose line is that"?

They ignored my wisdom and told me I had to jump in quick. They were bloody hard to satisfy, as next, despite my shouting, they reckoned they couldn't hear me! Still, with Stanislavski classes and hard work, I left a sort of "legacy" for later performances. I could still get both legs up behind my neck and balance on my hands, and, in the final Lazy Harries chorus, Brian and I did a sort of prance-bit where I used that flexible backbone to get up a fine bum waggle-walk - sometimes it even got applause and I have to say, was shamelessly copied in later performances.... nawww, I was honoured to have made at least some sort of contribution!

In the Melbourne production a small off-stage ensemble of concert instruments provided all the music. They played an overture, introduced and accompanied the songs, and played the dance tunes. In Sydney that format was modified, with us playing on-stage for some of the songs and the dances. With full houses for two and three nights a week, the play over-ran its time. Months went by and the off-stage ensemble, with other jobs beckoning that paid money, ceased to be and we played on-stage as a functional part of the play, for all of the songs and dances. The change remained. Would it have evolved that way anyway? - dunno!

The Bushwhackers, Feb 1954 - Chris Kempster, John Meredith, Harry Kay, Brian Loughlin, Jack Barrie  (page from A.M. for Feb 16, 1954, BMC archives)
New Theatre was branded, right or wrong, as a hot bed of Reds, and despite Reedy River being about the most successful amateur production of the time and breaking the record for the longest playing amateur show - continuous for nearly a year - only one brave reporter gave a, very scant, review of the play in the Press. The success was "underground". For months before opening, "Reedy River is coming", appeared in chalk and paint, rivalling the "Eternity" signs. People learnt the songs and came repeatedly to sing 'em. A woman wrote in to say she'd been twelve times and brought her dog to ten - we wondered if it sang too. We toured to far off places, there was a reception or two and there were Sunday afternoon parties that we'd travel to all herded into an open backed truck. It became a sub-culture for us and the original Reedy River Songbook featured our photographs. But New Theatre itself suffered as the play tied up just a few of its actors, leaving the bulk with no parts to play.

Reedy River (BMC Archives

The study of Australian History, was/is mostly centred on governors and explorers - the "folk" tended to be absent. Lloyd's opening lines in The Singing Englishman describe this, quoting Bertolt Brecht:

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates? In the books you will read the names of kings. Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock? In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live? Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Teachers increasingly have tackled this and the syllabus leads more to helping kids to picture the life of the ordinary people. I like to imagine the drama of the start of the shearing season, with, in today's numbers, over 100 000 men setting out with some sort of a swag, "on the wallaby", looking for work. Converting the 1891 numbers into today's figures that's how it comes out, but there was none of the flesh and blood of history in my school education.

Hughenden Strike Camp, Queensland, 1891. In early 1891, central Queensland shearers went on strike. From February through until May, central Queensland was on the brink of civil war. Striking shearers formed armed camps outside of towns. The culmination of the strike came at Barcaldine, when the colonial administration ordered the arrest of the shearers' leaders on charges of sedition and conspiracy.(Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

One of the legacies of Reedy River is that it opened many hearts and minds to our Folk History - well, white history at least! - the Black story is emerging.

After an encouraging first year, with growing interest and I think sparked by the continuing success of Reedy River, John and Alan, plus Brian, with Edgar Waters and others in 1954, found their organisational skills. With the enthusiasm of Rod Shaw, of Edwards & Shaw, Broadsides appeared. The Bush Music Club was formed with us as the steady core, the basis was laid for other folk organisations and also some of the material was developed for the first magazine, Singabout, Summer 1956. In the US, there were Sing Out nights - a great idea where singers, dancers and instrumentalists got together for an informal night of whatever happened. Through Jeff Way, we'd heard recordings of them and, in our version of it, we had some great Singabout nights with many more to follow.

For the first few years of the Bush Music Club nights we rented the same rooms as June Dally-Watkins (Deportment for young ladies). I was co-opted as M.C. and relentlessly dogged people to "do something" - sometimes we were a scant few! John Greenway's plea, (he was out here from the US on scholarship), that he'd "already sung last week" was ignored, "Well, you can sing again this week". Maybe this accounted for the adverse report he wrote when he got safely back! However, as I was saying about the problems of learning guitar in a near vacuum, he taught Alex Hood and me, just by demonstrating on his guitar, what we reckoned was about two years progress, in just a few nights. We saw and we did!

Merro was already involved in the hunt against time to find and record the Folk Artists and Keepers of Memories from past ages when no means of recording existed. He lugged about a big tape recorder and I was privileged to go with him to Mudgee a few times. Sadly I soon saw I wasn't cut out to be of value where fine details were involved such as a few words changed between one person's memory and another in pages of typing, but I helped with some transcriptions and got at least an insight into the mind of a collector. People trusted John and went out of their way to point him to new contacts - a special gift. He met people - many! He brought Duke Tritton to New Theatre to give the Reedy River cast a "feel" of what it was to be a shearer in 1892! I remember Hoop Iron Jack Lee and his brother singing songs and recording memories of the itinerant workers, when those massive numbers of men humped their blueys and followed the wallaby tracks in search of work, as in Time Means Tucker; memories all too soon to be lost.

The concert for the centenary of Eureka stands out. I was given a song about a bloke arriving off a boat at the Quay in the middle of the Gold Rush. In the crowd he recognised a friend named "Joe". #1 Unknowingly he called his friend by name only to be arrested and thrown into jail! Halfway through I forgot the start of the next verse, and John and the others played through the tune while I, searching for inspiration, took off my hat and pretended to peer into it. By next time round I'd remembered and all was well. Again, no mikes, but the Margaret St hall, (now deceased!), had special acoustics.

2 extracts from Tribune, Wed 24th November, 1954 (TROVE)

We met Doc Evatt who seemed pleased to meet us and spoke with passion of Eureka. We met him again for Dame Mary Gilmore's 90th birthday - she tried to get hold of a very big cake he was "presenting" to her. She didn't know, but The Doc knew it was far too heavy for her and kept repeating ".... and I am holding the cake ...", throughout his speech. There were Lawson memorials at the statue in Hyde Park, concerts at the Lithgow Workers Club, Harry Kay's wedding, Wool Promotion Weeks at David Jones - we got paid for these and had a microphone too, unlike the Smith Family job in the wide open Showground, with hundreds of kids!

  Dame Mary Gilmore's 90th birthday with The Bushwhackers (BMC Archives)

David Jones Wool Promotion Week, with the Shearers Band, aka Concert Party, 1958 (BMC Archives)

At Mudgee John had met a group in the Methodist church who were rejecting the old oppressive social strictures and welcomed us in our interest in Folk history. We took the train and gave a prepared thing on The Dog - just how many miles from Gundagai was it that the dog did "it" and, to cause so much strife, it must've been a bloody sight more than just sitting on a tucker box.

There were recording sessions, (10 inch 78s), with Edgar Waters and, in the stone dungeons of his house, Peter Hamilton. Alan's clear voice got The Drover's Dream onto the charts in Queensland - 50 000 sales, I'm told. We did a pilot show for ABC pre-TV, and several nights for Radio Australia, and then - there was the film 3 in 1. Cec Holmes had directed a film version of Frank Hardy's depression story, The Load of Wood. This was the show-piece to get money to add in two more segments, one in the 1890s mainly on Lawson's The Union Buries its Dead, with the Bushwhackers, and a "modern" segment in the late 50's - three stories of mateship in one show.

The film set sure was something: the rail tracks for the camera, a fireplace that looked as if it had a fire in it the night before, the actors who could switch into characters in some outback pub. Someone called on "Longun" to "Give us Lazy Harries" and our bit began. Lazy Harries finished and Brian threw himself into Click go the Shears as only he could. By the time the hearse came back we were all a bit "drunk". I confess, at age twenty one, I'd never really been that way and had to imagine how I'd behave. Boy, I sure rolled out of that pub in fine style, hitchin' up me pants and ... well, maybe you've seen the film at the National Folk Festival at Easter! I was O.K. in other parts and the clip in the ABC History of Australian Films, late 1990s, was of one of my few spoken parts! Trudging behind a hearse in the summer heat out Bourke way, a foppish Englishman turned to me with, "Bless my soul, it must be 110 in the shade". I had to give him a withering look and say, "I wouldn't know mate, I ain't IN the bloody shade". They made me say is about five different ways. I thought I'd fully exhausted every possible slant on it and, "OK, well, ..... keep that one"!

Though the film didn't have a slick commercial style, it was good and I've seen far lesser films get a prolonged showing where 3 in 1 didn't. The simple thing was/is that the theatres were, with only one or two exceptions, owned by a big few, and surprise! not Australian. We can all fill in the detail after that.

Time went on as it does, I heard Bert Lloyd's records of the songs he'd heard when he was here in the 1920s and 30s. They had such vitality in the presentation and accompaniment, (and I grew to really enjoy his singing). There were great new songs and Lloyd's versions of the words often had a better ring to them. We all looked for ways to enhance our presentation. I'd learnt a little of harmony at the League camps, Reedy River and the choir "Unity Singers" where Dee Jacobs, (Bridges), bashed us into shape, and I began to add some harmony in the chorus of our songs.

John had met the bushies who sang the songs and, for him, the ‘Bushwhackers’ was a medium to pass them on as near as possible to the way he'd heard them. But the singers he'd met were all solo and unaccompanied - there were no "groups" out Bush, as far as we could tell. Harmony and arrangement, I felt, mainly grew out of continued group presentation to an audience. In the life of an itinerant worker, this was not a likely number! Smaller instruments like violins and concertinas were about, but who would lug a lagerphone or bush bass over those long tramps, and how often would an organised group repeatedly "present" songs?

Our scene was already changed from the solo unaccompanied singer, we were possibly the first permanent bush band, and we had to reach a different audience. There were arguments, not fierce, but ultimately John decreed that all songs should be solo singer in the verse, all in unison on the choruses, and all the instruments playing ALL the time! Some formula, and silly, in hindsight. Maybe it was that we'd come to some sort of hiatus, maybe it was the desire of Alex, Harry, Cecil and myself, and Brian too, for more imagination in presentation, but, at a special meeting, (in 1957 by Alan's recollection), and out of the blue to me, John formally disbanded the group with the undertaking, which we all agreed to, that no other group should ever use the name "Bushwhackers".

Alex grabbed Harry and myself, and later with Barbara Lisyak and Denis Kevans, formed The Rambleers, Cecil, with his brothers, formed The Galahs, and, later, a re-constituted Bushwhackers did appear. I was a little surprised but felt, "Well, if anyone was entitled to, it's John!" - I could wear that, and I'm told the name wasn't kept for long.

There were judgements made and, though I felt I was treated with respect at Bush Music Club functions, there were dark mutterings, I'm told, of 'certain people who wanted to sing in harmony and destroy the Club'. In some of the later Singabouts there was a letterhead mentioning The Bushwhackers, but of a later group, as four of us were excluded from the drawing. No great shakes and all a long time ago, but when Cornstalk, April 2001, carried a cover photo of the "Original Bushwhackers" but showing a different group, I felt it worth a mention. True, Jack, Brian, Alan and John were there, and I guess the aim was to distinguish this group from the electronic "Bushwackers", but they certainly aren't the original group and I'm sure Cornstalk will sort it all out. #2

What about the name, then? We heard, and with some pleasure at the time, of groups being formed with names such as, "The Moreton Bay Bushwhackers" or the "something or other Bushwhackers", and as Bob Bolton muses, "I tend to think that the late 1950s came very close to moving the term 'Bushwhackers Band' into public domain". Maybe time will tell

There it is, something of our story. There's always more, of course - John's prodigious output of books, the collecting done by Alan and Alex, and I'm sure most groups have similar tales to tell. But thanks to John's insight and contacts and the energy and enthusiasm of its members, we were the first, and I believe we had at least a catalytic effect in the stimulation of so much that followed. Maybe also, like Reedy River, we happened along at the right time.

Chris Kempster, February, 2002, With thanks to Bob Bolton for helpful suggestions and archival material.

Bob Bolton photo



"Joe", after the Victorian governor Charles Joseph La Trobe, was the call on the goldfields warning that the police or traps were on a licence hunt. Illegal on the goldfields - it's perhaps stretching it a bit to be arrested at the Quay in Sydney for calling out "Joe", but the call was well-known and this was part of the humour of the song.


In May 2002 Cornstalk editor issued a correction for using a 1958 photo of the Shearers Band (aka Bush Music Club Concert Party) labeled as the original Bushwhackers (1952-1857)


Tuesday 20 November 2012

Bush Music Club Newsletter Vol.1, no.1, October 1955

Click images for larger size.
Bob Bolton has been searching through our Archives & gathering items of interest. It is amazing what our founders & founding members accomplished in the first 12 months.

The newsletter was not illustrated but pictures of relevant items have been added.



Vol. 1. No, 1 ___________ October, 1955.__
The Bush Music Club is one year old this month. in that time we have helped set up several singing groups and folk music ensembles; we have published a dozen “BUSHWHACKER BROADSIDES”, and. our affiliated groups have performed at many functions. To celebrate our birthday we have decided to bring out two new regular publications. “SINGABOUT” will be our new club magazine. It will appear quarterly, beginning in January. In between issues of “SINGABOUT”, our “BUSH MUSIC CLUB NEWSLETTER” will keep you informed of all our activities.
Our series of illustrated songsheets with music has proved so popular with our audiences and subscribers, that we have difficulty in keeping up supplies.
Those published so far are:
1) The Old Man. Kangaroo; (2) The Old Bark Hut; (3) Jim Jones at Botany Bay;
4) The Rabbiter's Song; (5) Ho, Give a Fair Go; (6) Hungry Jim the Miner;
7) Wally the Weatherman; (8) The Black Velvet Band; (9) The Bold Kelly Gang;
10) Bound for Darling Harbour; (11) Farewell to Greta.
Numbers 1, 4. and 5 are out of print. Numbers 2, 3, 6 and 7 are in their second edition. Others in preparation are:- Australia on the Wallaby, The Bullockies Ball, Cane Killed Abel, Ye Sons of Australia, The Kellys, Byrne and Hart, Stringybark Creek, Kelly was their Captain etc.. “BUSHWHACKER BROADSIDES” cost 3d. each, or 2/6 a dozen, They are obtainable from Alex Hood, 19 Hughes Street, Potts Point, N.S.W,

More and more people are finding that it is more fun to sing and play as a team than to give solo items, “Bushwhacker” type groups are flourishing in Brisbane, Melbourne and Newcastle. The Lithgow ‘WOMBATS”, with their imaginative style and live wombat mascot, are achieving fame on the western coalfields, and a new group has just started on the south coast. In Sydney, the “ROUSEABOUTS” beginning to steal the show from the “BUSHWHACKERS”. For those who like choral singing, the PEOPLES’ CHOIR, led by Paul Wi1liams and the WEST SYDNEY SINGERS, led by Ken Hansen are providing a good field to work in. Some of the groups have already affiliated with the BUSH MUSIC CLUB. Has yours? The Affi1iation fee is 10/- per year per 50 members. Send your application to the Club
Secretary: Alan Scott, 57 Crown Street, Woolloomooloo, N.S.W.
Our first song book was such a success that it sold out in a few weeks.
We have decided to produce them regularly, and the next one will be six “SONGS FROM THE KELLY COUNTRY. It will consist of six special “BUSHWHACKER BROADSIDES” of traditional Ned Kelly songs, with foreword, bound in a colourful illustrated cover. It will be issued. in an edition of 250 copies on November 11th, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of our national folk hero. The price is 2/6 and advance orders may be placed with our broadside distributor.

Every Friday night Sydney members of the Club gather at Video Studios, 149 Castlereagh Street, for the purpose of learning and trying out new songs and rehearsing old ones. There is usually an unusual collection of musical instruments, and informality is the key-note. In addition to the musical items there are always plenty of volunteers with recitations and yarns, Traditional bush songs are interspersed with modern topical and work songs, and we learn at least one new song a week, Visitors are always welcome.

Twenty pages of songs, old and new, complete with music - articles, features, parodies, photos, folk and square dance tunes and calls, competitions and news! It’s all yours for two bob • SINGABOUT is your club magazine, Send news, articles, songs and photos of your group or yourself, to the editor:-
John Meredith, 5 Henry Street, Lewisham, N.S.W.

Send your cash donations, subscriptions and bulk orders to the manageress:-
Karin Winter, 15 Chelmsford Ave., Lindfield, N.S.W.

The deadline for material for the first issue is November 30th.
SINGABOUT” will be on sale the first week in January. Prices: - Single copies, 2/-; per year 7/6. Bulk orders 18/- per doz.
The first five hundred subscribers will receive a free copy for each one ordered - one for you and one for a friend,
On page two you will find the words of a ballad by Mick Lawson, popular coalminer poet. We want to print it in the first issue of “SINGABOUT”, as a song. All you have to do is write a tune, or set it to a traditional tune. The prize? £5/5/-. Closing date November 30th.

“IT’S LOVELY DOWN THE PIT, LAD” - by Mick Lawson,

The miner is a happy lad, he lives a lovely life.
He dearly loves the owners so he never gets in strife.
The miner is a 1ucky lad, he lives a life so free
And now each morning, with his crib, he gets a pot of tea.

So hasten to the pit-head lads, and let’s go down the mine.
For a miner’s life is a lovely life, oh a miner’s life is fine.
So drop us down the pit winder, drop us down below

We’ll pick and drill and shoot and fill then homewards we will go.
It’s lovely down the pit my lad, there’s nowt so much to do
Save drill a hole and shoot the coal and shovel all day through.
And if tha’s feeling tired lad, why don’t get in a rage.
Just think that in a few hours more you’ll ride up in the cage.
So give three cheers for the Coal Board and the men who own the mine.

For a miner’s life is a lovely life, the job is really fine.
He drops down in a lovely cage and when he’s in his bord
He just fills twenty ton or so and rides up like a lord.

Of course, at times, we have a ‘fall’, we don’t care much for that
For several tons of rock or coal will smash you rather flat,
But on the other hand. lad, it’s really only fair
To say we’re safe from hailstones, so we’ve got something there.

It’s lovely down the pit lad, but in spots it’s rather dark,
But if we fall flat on our face we treat that as a lark.
It’s lovely down the pit lad, a really bonzer show.
Oh a miner’s life is a lovely life - why don’t you have a go?

Last Chorus:
So hasten to the pit-head lads, and let’s go down the mine
For a miner’s life is a lovely life, oh a miner’s life is fine.
So drop us down the pit winder, drop us down below
We’ll pick and drill and shoot and fill then homewards we will go.
Then homewards we will go lads - at least we’re hoping so.

Melody line only of one verse and chorus, plus last line of last chorus is required. The tune may be original or an arrangement of a non-copyright traditional tunes. The executive of the Bush Music Club shall be the judges and their decision will be final. The winning tune will become the property of the BUSH MUSIC CLUB. There is no entry fee. Fill in this form and enclose it in a sealed envelope, bearing your pen name,
Attach to MS which must only bear the pen name of the entrant.

Send entries to: Editor, “SINGABOUT”, 5 Henry Street, Lewisham, N.S.W.
Name ……………………………… Address ………………………………………………….
Pen Name ………………………………………………………………………………………
I agree to abide by the above rules,
Entrant’s signature ……………………………………………………
CLOSING- DATE: November 30th, 1955.

Published for THE BUSH MUSIC CLUB by A. Scott, 57 Crown St., E. Sydney,

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