Tuesday 30 April 2019

Report on Saplings sessions at 2019 National Folk Festival

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Report by Saplings Coordinator, Helen Romeo

We had at least 20 musicians and singers turn up during our Easter Sapling Sessions at the National.  It was a great weekend and we had a wonderful group of young people, mostly new to Saplings, to learn some of our Australian Traditional songs and tunes. On the Monday, those who were still at the festival, performed 8 tunes and 3 songs .... a sterling performance, enjoyed by all.  Well done!

Thank you to all parents who encourage their children with their music and thank you to the tutors who have a love of our Australian tradition and are willing to pass it on to the young. Our tutors at the National were: Samantha O'Brien on flute, Tony Romeo on percussion, Steve Lockwood on banjo, Vanessa Lockwood and Dave Johnson on fiddle, Chris Poleson on uke, guitar and mouthorgan, and Beck Richmond and myself (Helen Romeo) on English concertina with our BMC Secretary, Sandra Nixon taking photos and talking to parents!

Photos © Sandra Nixon

1.  Sam & Beck


3.  Helen

4.  Vanessa

5.  Real bones supplied by Tony's butcher!

6.   Tony


8.    Dave

9. Beck & Dave








17.Vanessa & Helen

18.  Beck



21.  Tony

22.  Chris



25. Steve


27.  Sam





32.  Dave

33.  Tony

34. Steve, Beck, Dave




38. The traditional group photo

39. The traditional silly photo!


Monday 8 April 2019

The Music of Strange Bands, by Graham Seal

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Reprinted from Verandah Music with Graham's permissio 

extract from  Articles

The Music of Strange Bands

In 1945 the Adelaide Advertiser published an article titled ‘The Music of Strange Bands’. It was a knowledgeable account of ‘bush’ bands using mainly home made and instruments like gum leaves, spoons, cigar box fiddles, kerosene tin drums and banjos made from old tennis racquets. These ‘found’ and hand made instruments were often played in combination with ‘proper’ commercially produced instruments, mainly the button accordion, harmonica, tin whistle, concertina (usually Anglo-German) and triangle, among others. One of the bands mentioned was the Wallaga Lake Band, a famous Aboriginal ensemble around the eastern states [i] as well as at least one another South coast group and players in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

The author, using the pseudonym ‘Eureka’ and obviously well travelled also described a large family band of teenage children and parents

‘…It had two concertinas, two accordians [sic], a cigarcione (a bush violin made from a cigar box, wallaby sinews and bits of timber), a tin whistle, a bush-made flute, a drum, gumleaves and several mouth organs.  All instruments, except the accordians, concertinas and mouth organs, were home-made. The drum was a section of a hollow log with wallaby skins stretched over the ends.’

The point of this article was to draw attention to the invisibility of these ensembles and to advocate the formation of an Australian ‘bush band’ using these instruments: ‘If these novel bush instruments were gathered together to form an Australian bush band I believe that we would see and hear something outstanding.’

The article did not discuss the repertoires of these groups, but emphasised their Aboriginality [ii] and implicitly theorised a unique Australian sound.

Such instruments, of course, were also played by other than Aboriginal musicians and were once fairly common in rural Australia in the era when people had to make do for most things, including their entertainment. But apart from the odd recording [iii] we now have hardly any record of the sound that these – or any other ensembles of the pre-recorded past – actually made. They have become ‘ghost music.’ The ignoring of this powerful and authentically Australian musical tradition, as Eureka complained, [iv] meant that we have little idea today of what this music might have sounded like. 

The Wallaga Gum Leaf Band c. 1920s

Have a look at some more on Youtube....

[i]   They had the distinction of playing at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 and had been in existence from at least the early 1920s.

[ii]   In the condescending racism of the period.

[iii]  An Aboriginal gumleaf band featured in Ken G Hall’s 1933 sound movie The Squatter’s Daughter.

[iv]  The article accurately observed that ‘Had these bands been in America they would have been featured in films and on the radio. ‘
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The Earliest Bush Bands, by Graham Seal

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Reprinted from Verandah Music with Graham's permission 

The first mention of a ‘bush band’ seems to be in the surprising context of a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868. The Sydney Mail of 15 February that reported a reception for his Royal Highness at which a Volunteer band – a military style brass band – played in the usual manner for such events. After the Duke had departed, guests danced quadrilles to the music of this band, but a ‘bush band’ was also playing, quite a lot, it seems:

‘There was another band upon the ground - what was called "The bush band" - which also favoured the public with much melody. Its harmonies, however, were more of a lugubrious and sentimental character than those of its rival, and it was consequently less popular. It was, however, the centre of a small knot of applauding amateurs de musique who seemed to appreciate "Ah che la morte" and "The heart bowed down," &c. ’

The following year, His Excellency Governor Weld was received at the Roman Catholic Mission at Victoria Plains, Western Australia.

‘While His Excellency was at supper, a bush band was got up consisting of a violin, concertina, triangle, and a large tin dish which answered instead of a drum; several popular airs were played; and His Excellency was very much pleased, for he knew that every one was doing their very best, and with the best intentions.’ (
The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 19 November 1869, 2-3)
It is likely that some, or all, of the members of this bush band were Aboriginal inmates of the Mission.

By the 1880s, bush bands seem to have been an accepted element of the colonial music scene. As reported in the 18 January edition of the Warwick Argusin 1886:

‘The new year was ushered in in this part of the world in the usual fashion. The stirring strains of the bush band - composed of first and second kerosene tins, an asthmatic concertina, a wheezy comb, and a couple of broken-voiced tin whistles - burst upon the stilly night as the clock struck 12. The atmospheric disturbance was something terrific - and the wonder is that we have had a day's fine weather since. The roisterers made the usual round of the pubs. At the first - host Holmes' - the 'cute landlord warned his visitors that it being after midnight, and consequently 1886, the new Licensing Act was in force and he dare not open his house or sell liquor between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. "We don't want you to sell it, shouted the tin whistle. But the landlord was obdurate, and the thirsty ones had at last to go empty away. They were more successful elsewhere. Having gathered plenty of eatables and drinkables, they returned to the Royal and made things lively for a short time; then, leaving their instruments in pledge for what they did not get, adjourned to the recreation reserve and disposed of the "wine and wittles." Most of them have quite recovered.’

The essential connection between bush music and booze seems to have been well established by this time and spontaneous ensembles of this kind remained a small but important element of community music-making. When the folk revival produced the original Bushwhackers band of the Sydney Bush Music Club in the 1950s, the only changes were the addition of the bush bass, probably derived from the brief skiffle craze of that era, and the lagerphone. 

The spirit of handmade music remained the same. From the 1970s, the ‘second’ Bushwackers [sic] band (originally Bushwackers and Bullockies), took the style to a new level of electrified volume and professional performance standards. Many other ‘bush bands’ also formed in this period and one or two remain today, though the bush dance fad that largely supported these groups has long gone.

Time for a revival, perhaps?

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The historical research on which this article is based was mostly undertaken by Dr Graeme Skinner of the University of Sydney, used with his kind permission - see his excellent site, Australharmony.

Graham Seal Monday 14th May, 2018
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Songsters in the Bush Music Club Library

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First article on highlights of the Bush Music Club Reference Library which will be available for use later in the year.

1.  John Dengate Bequest. Socialist Songs was published in 1963 according to this site

2.  John Dengate Bequest. Broadsheet King was a publisher in London which put out a series of small songbooks.

3.  Rod & Fran Shaw Bequest.
November 1956 edition.
 it includes songs that were previously published in BMC's Singabout - 
 Cane Killed Abel (words - Merv Lilley /music Chris Kempster)
Lament for the Gordons (David Martin/John Arcott)

4.  Brian Dunnett Bequest. Eureka Youth League songbook with an Introduction by Katherine Susannah Pritchard.

Eureka Youth League songbook, 2nd edition, 1950s, owned by Bushwhacker & founder Brian Loughlin & donated by his daughter Jenny Loughlin  

6. Finnigan's Wake Song Book by John Chaplin - Chris Ringstad and the S.R.C. Sydney University, undated.

7. In the 60s BMC offered Oak Publications to members. Songs of Joe Hill, published 1955, reprinted 1960

8.  2 copies, one from Rod & Fran Shaw Bequest and the other was owned by Bushwhacker & founder Brian Loughlin &
donated by his daughter Jenny Loughlin
Report on the Youth Carnival for Peace & Friendship in The Biz (Fairfield NSW) Thu 17 Jan 1952. p.6

9. Record notes for 1957 Wattle record

10. British & American songs, no Australian songs!

11.  John Dengate bequest.
2nd edition 1966

12. Reprinted March 1968
  Bob Bolton's parents were involved in the Scouting movement from the late 40s, & he & his brothers were members. Bush Music Club members, including Bob's father Ken were also involved in introducing traditional Australian music to the Scouts, with Ken introducing Scouts to the lagerphone.

13.  The Shuttle and the Cage. Industrial Folk Ballads, ed. by Ewen McColl. Workers Music Association, March 1954.

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