Wednesday 30 September 2020

Singabout - Journal of Australian Folksong, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959

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1.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 - All home made - three of the Manifolds with puplute, pan-pipes and 4-string bass. The family band also includes a mandora (tenor mandolin) which is likewise home-made

2.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - NEWS AND VIEWS.  REGIONALISM RAMPANT.  The Brisbane Federation of Bush Music Clubs ... Queensland Pocket Songbook to celebrate the State's centenary year ... it is interesting to note convict, bushranger and cane-cutter ballads which are present quite unknown outside Queensland. Many of the tunes are exceptionally beautiful. Edwards and Shaw of Sydney are the publishers ... (H.Z. Queensland) 
PHILLIP ISLAND SING-SONGS - Every January Scotch College runs camps for boys at Cowes, Phillip Island ... the boys have always enjoyed singing Botany Bay, Click go the Shears, Waltzing Matilda, and the Dying Stockman ... a new songbook was being compiled it was decided to include in it a number of bush songs which could be sung to the accompaniment of a bush band ... The Wild Colonial Boy, The Old Bark Hut, Mustering Song, Wild Rover No More, Stringybark and Greenhide, The Overlander and The Rowdy Mob. The band consisted of concertina, bush bass, lagerphone and bones. The latter three were manufactured at camp by the boys, who also played them. One hundred and twenty boys aged between 13 and 17 ... thoroughly enjoyed the songs and the bright music of the band.  (The Rowdy Mob  by Charles Thatcher - email from Reg Mundy Victorian Folk Music Club, Sept 20) 

3.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 - Fairwell Snowy Lamb by Merv Lilley, tune - The Dying Stockman 

4.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - Garrawilla collected from Jack Wright of Coogee, NSW,  whose father learnt it at Garrawilla from the shed hand who made up the song. 

5.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 - Garrawilla cont. Extra verses for The Goondawindi Song, from the singing of Lach Robertson, noted by Jamie Carlin.

6.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 - Remembering a song - The Dying Stockman, by Ian Mudie, a different version to Stewart-Keesing version, learned from his mother who learnt it in the 70s. He includes 2 lines from The Dying Bargehand.

7.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 -  The Dying Stockman, verses. 

8.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - The Body in the Bag, an old music hall evergreen supplied by Stan Wakefield. 

9.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - The Body in the Bag, cont. 
MORE ABOUT OLD T.I. Jean Devanny's book about North Queensland By Tropical  Sea and Jungle (A&R, Sydney, 1944) 

10.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - home made calabash instruments - 

11.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959 - Calabash instruments - fiddles & plucked - John Manifold

12.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - KELLY BALLADS - Two Fragments. Farewell Dan and Edward Kelly collected by John Meredith from Jack Luscombe ... in March 1953 ... learnt the song in Queensland during the 1890's. The second stanza appearing in "The Bulletin" of July 10th, 1982. 
The Kelly Gang sent to the Editor in 1956 by Mrs. H. McKenzie, aged 89, of Balfour Street, Launceston, Tasmania.

13.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - Playing the tin whistle by Allan Scott, cont. on p.16. 

14.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - Sixteen thousand Miles from Home. This version from Jack Wright, of Coogee who learned it from his father. Another version to the same tune sung very much slower, has been collected by the Editor from the late Edwin Goodwin who learned it near Nambucca, on the north coast of New South Wales.

15.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959
- Sixteen thousand Miles from Home. (cont)  The Little Fish. Jack Wright of Coogee NSW, has given us another two verses for The Little Fish which appeared in our last issue. The new verses come from Queensland and were learned by Jack Wright from Portugese seamen at Innisfail, N.Q. Playing the tin whistle by Allan Scott (cont)

16.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - Reciter's Corner. The Spider from the Gwydir.  From  an old MS notebook compiled by R. J. Blumer, in the possession of Eric Blumer, Vale of Clwydd, Lithgow, NSW.

17.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - The Shearer's Nightmare. Darey Burns, Monaro, NSW (via Fred Sloane)

18.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - Banks of Riverine. Recorded by John Meredith from the singing of Mrs. Smeed, aged 75, of Mudgee, NSW.  Mrs Smeed learned the ballad from her father, the late Tom Blackman Senior, who along with his sons and daughters, was and still is, noted for singing ballads and playing the concertina, melodeon and fiddle. The singer could only remember three stanzas. no. 1, 2 and 4; the other three are from Paterson's OLD BUSH SONGS collection.  N.B. Riverine is pronounced as though it is "River Rhine"

19.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - NEWS & VIEWS. (Contd. from p.2) The Bush Ain't What it Was. shearing today & yesterday (G.A. New South Wales) 
RARE BACK-NUMBER FOR EXCHANGE - Singabout 1(1) to swap for second-hand Australian books ( JP Carroll, Ararat, Vic) 
FOLK MUSIC STUDENT WANTS CORRESPONDENTS Dr Karel Lachout Prague wants to correspond with folk-lorists from any country.
GUMLEAVES AND BAMBOO verse by Len Fox, written before, during and after a two-year stay in Vietnam (J.M. New South Wales) 

20.  Singabout, Volume 3(2), Autumn 1959  - GUMLEAVES AND BAMBOO verse by Len Fox, written before, during and after a two-year stay in Vietnam (J.M. New South Wales) (cont)
SINGABOUT  Edited And produced by John Meredith & Alan Scott.  

Thursday 17 September 2020

Folk Songs of Australia and the men and women who sang them - Celebrating the centenary of John Meredith's birth. Script - Part 1

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Proposed Themed Presentation for 2020 National Folk Festival which was cancelled due to Covid19.  Part 1 by Dale Dengate

Link to  Part 2

FOLK SONGS OF AUSTRALIA and the men and women who sang them. This concert commemorates John Meredith, (1920-2001) who was a founder of the Bush Music Club. He was an innovative collector beginning his search for bush songs and traditional music of Australia In the 1950s; John continued collecting until the 1980s. John's friends Dale Dengate and Chris Woodland will present items collected from Duke Tritton, Sally Sloane and John Dengate with the assistance of Ralph Pride, Kerith Power & Molly Ellis.

Acknowledge the traditional owners of this land as did John Meredith in his book, written in 1988, about Moyengully, a tribal elder from Gundungurra, and about his people from the lands in the southern highlands acknowledging them as first peoples of this country.

Thanks to Helen, Tony Romeo, members of the BMC saplings and Youth Band who were to play two of Sally Sloane’s dance tunes: Jack’s Waltz and Annie Shaw’s Waltz. These were two of the hundreds of tunes collected by John Meredith from Sally Sloane. Sally learnt Jack’s Waltz from John Montford of Molong and Annie Shaw was a neighbor who played this tune on a piano when her boyfriend came to visit. He played the tune on his fiddle, but from early days, Sally always called it Annie Shaw’s Waltz.  Molly Jane Ellis, longtime folkie, led the waltzes, and had practised with Kerith and myself to sing Sally Sloane’s songs and support other singers.

The other musicians who were to perform in this Tribute to John Meredith, who was born a hundred years ago, in 1920 -

My old mate Chris Woodland whom I met in the 1960s at the BMC.

John Meredith, Virginia & Chris Woodland (Chris & Virginia Woodland Collection)

He will tell you about collecting with Merro, as John Meredith asked his friends to call him, and about Duke Tritton.    link to Chris's contributions 
Ralph Pride, who came into the BMC later in the 1960s after hearing Pete Seeger and Duke Tritton sing in 1963. At the BMC, he heard John Dengate singing a new song every week about current affairs, in traditional style, which later Merro recorded. Ralph created our Program/songbook and will sing a couple of Duke’s and John’s songs and share a few of his memories.

Ralph in his hut at Meadowbank Dam, Tas, 1966-67 (Pride family albums)

It was John D and my good fortune to share our slightly rebellious youth full of idealism, with Merro.

John & Dale, 1964 with Jamie Carlin & Frank Maher behind (Dale Dengate collection)

With my memory refreshed by Merro’s meticulous files in the NLA archives and a recording by Chris Woodland, who with his wife Virginia, shared our tradition of celebrating Merro’s birthdays in January, I am going to refer to the first and last stories he shared with us.

Page from the Meredith Collection, NLA (Dale Dengate)

Although most of you know of John Meredith’s contribution to Australian traditional music it would be true to say without his initiative today’s folk festivals would just be another music festival. When Merro started to look for and collect Australian folksongs, the impact of recorded music, much of it from USA, was having a strong impact on what was being listening to by the youth. Sally Sloane expressed this sentiment to Merro in the 1950s and 60s, saying most of her family were embarrassed by her songs and wanted to listen to what was on the wireless.

Collectors such as Meredith realized they were in a race against time and even death to find these people and their songs. There was little public awareness or money to fund these collecting and publishing ventures, but this did not deter him.

But let me share the story Merro told us on his 78th birthday, He read his biographical story called  'The Last Noel’ which I will share with you, so from now on the ‘I’ will refer to Merro.

I am no longer a Christian, but it was not always so. In my early days, I had a religious upbringing including becoming a Sunday school teacher and a leader in the young Anglican group. However, I enrolled in a correspondence course in chemistry and physics and became enthralled with scientific experiments such as Rutherford’s splitting the atom. I was able to increase my mathematical and science knowledge by borrowing books from the State library country lending service. As a result, I started to question the concept of a Christian god. Just before turning 21, I told my mother: I don’t believe in god,

She was horrified and lectured me non-stop. Eventually I agreed to accompany my mother to 6.30 AM Xmas church service. Then she said that I also had to play with my violin teacher at the Xmas eve carol service. When I arrived with my teacher we realized the organ was tuned a semi-tone lower, so had to hurriedly retune violins. As it was a hot night, the fans were tuned on which blew out the candles so we were unable to see the music. But we struggled steadfastly to the final hymn, which was ‘The First Noel’. I thought to myself: That is the Last Noel for me. As I came out of church my sister-in-law met me with ‘That was bloody awful! Take your fiddle home and get your squeeze box and come round to your brother’s place as he is putting on a nine gallon keg of beer.” It was a great night but I passed out on a bed covered by a white goat skin rug. It was not until a church bell awoke me that I realized I must hurry to join mother at church. She was not impressed with her disheveled son’s appearance at church, with white hairs over his navy herringbone suit She continued to lecture me over breakfast, and continued with dire warnings as I left on a long bike ride to explore Australia.

After pedaling over 100 miles, I had lunch with my other brother. Then I continued to an afternoon tea invitation.

Merro describes how he rode over the hills toward a lovely young school teacher who was staying at her mother’s place over the holidays. Margaret had a bowl of chilled water and towel ready to cool him after his long ride and a perfect afternoon tea set up. He even describes the little iced cup cakes and as he left the mother gave him a chaste hug and kiss on his cheek, but Margaret came out to the gate to see him on his way. She gave him a less chaste kiss. As he pedaled on his way with his romantic thoughts Margaret called: Take care and God bless.

Merro, as an atheist of twelve hours, realized he was head over heels in love with a devout Catholic girl. He ends with: I could see life ahead was going to have its problems. But that was another story…..

When Merro first set out in 1950s, with his heavy tape recorder there was no financial government support, but the wheels, of later support from NLA, had been put in motion.

In the late 1940s, the Assistant Librarian, Harold White began to lobby the PM Ben Chifley about oral history as a unique record which sustains a democratic purpose. In those days, Canberra was a small town and it was possible for White to meet the PM informally at Saturday afternoon teas and discuss the possibility of tape recording workers and other less official people about their experiences. Chifley warmed to this idea as a democratic way of recording history. In 1950s, when White became National Librarian, he was impressed by Oral history research projects in USA. However, it was not until 1963, that the National Library made the acquisition of Meredith’s folklore collection and White regarded it as the first great oral history formed collection that he ever bought for the National Library. It totaled more than 600 field recordings of poems, tales, customs, beliefs, forms of speech as well as music and songs all gathered from men and women around NSW. Although Merro retired for a while, in 1983, he decided to start a second phase and the Library started a new policy to fund long term folklore projects.

I am going to read an extract from a Report John Meredith wrote in 1955. It raised important issues to be addressed by the Bushwhackers Conference. This indicates Meredith’s philosophy at the time and the aims that influenced the BMC, and many arguments. Merro wrote:

During the first twelve months of their existence the Bushwhackers showed good development….and made good progress towards raising our work to a higher level such as performing to a very broad cross section of the community, broadcasting and recording.

During the past six months we have made no progress of any note… We have stagnated...we must decide today if we are going to be driven apart by the present weaknesses in the group/…

We must regard ourselves as in the spearhead of the battle for national cultural independence. Writers, playwrights all play a big role in this struggle, but we above all others must see that a song is a more powerful weapon and has a more lasting effect on the masses than a story, poem or play.

Some Bushwhackers don’t seem to realize this fully, the importance of the work they are doing and are inclined to treat performances as a bit of a joke – a chance to let off steam and to make big fellows of themselves before audiences/…

The aim of the Bushwhackers is not just to sing old songs for their own sake – a sort of sentimental dipping into the past, but are to:

1. Reclaim from oblivion Australian traditional songs as something national that can replace imported commercial music

2. To use these songs as basic material for folk music on a higher level such as classical composition, drama and ballet. Seamen, wharfies, factory workers and miners could be the focus of the songs.

3. To demonstrate to modern industrial workers how they can create their own folk culture, as part of the Aussie tradition with an extension into the city life of 1950s.

4. There is further instruction about the style of the traditional folk singers and to leave the harmonizing in choral arrangements to choirs such as the People’s choir.

 I thought Sally Sloane was an old lady when I first heard her singing and playing her fiddle or accordion – one of those Mezon Grand Organ models, at Bush Music Club Singabouts in 1960s.

But everything is relative. She had a very clear, high pitched voice. In fact, she had two singing voices depending whether the song might be considered an ‘old song’ which she had usually learnt from her mother, or a ‘stage song’ often learnt from her grand-mother, a trained singer who came as a free settler from Ireland, She learnt songs from others in her community and always gave acknowledgement to the singer, as did Merro.

The story of Merro collecting over 150 musical items from Sally is fascinating. Merro recalled his first meeting with Fred Sloane after the Bushwhackers had performed at Lithgow, NSW in 1954. Fred was a cocky fellow, who said: If you want old songs you ought to see my missus…she’ll sing them all night once she gets going. Merro was dubious, but Fred was not joking and Sally was able to sing and recall her repertoire over the many occasions that Merro visited with his heavy state-of-the-art for those days, tape recorder. Sally invariably sang as she washed up. When Merro asked her: What was that song? She couldn’t remember as like most women, she sang to accompany her work, but not about the work as shearers certainly have done.

Sally Sloan presiding over a birthday party, Lithgow c.1943. The photo was supplied by the guest at bottom right, next door neighbour Judy, who does not remember much about the day. (Judy O'Connor collection, 4/9/20)
The occasion was a birthday party for someone in Sally’s family. Our memories (and our parents comments) was that she was a cranky, difficult neighbour! I remember feeling pretty unhappy at being there and my sister was obviously not asked (which was not very neighbourly.)  As you can see from the photo – it was not a wildly festive affair! I think the older woman seated on the left was her mother. For some reason, I seem to remember that. I mention it because it is of more than passing interest because from what I gather, it was Sally’s mother who passed on all the Irish songs etc. that she has become famous for.

Photo of Granny Clegg, Sally's mother here apparently cropped from the same photo, one of the many photos in Valda Low's 2012 article Who is Sally Sloane? 

'It was like looking for a needle in a haystack’, I recall Merro saying when his book Frank, the Poet, co-researched with Rex Whalan, Librarian at State Library, came out, Well, it has been the opposite trying to edit all Merro’s material, the folk songs of Australia and the men and women who sang them.

John Meredith was a Renaissance man: a musician, writer, photographer, raconteur and a bon vivant.


Bookplate drawn by John Dengate (Dale, email 12/4/20)

He was interested in so much from propagating unusual plants to researching esoteric literature and folk lore from around the world. We can’t cover all this in our short hour, but hope to have whet your appetite to learn more.

Jan Fallding photos - gathering salad for lunch, & photographing wattle at Mount Annan

Viewing wattle bloom –
The hills, valleys and the roads,
All alight with gold!    
haiku written by Merro 17 August 1999 after the visit to Mount Annan,

R. Dale Dengate

Finale - 

The relevance of singing J.D’s Farewell and Adieu was that Merro enjoyed J.D’s protest songs and  anti-Joh with strong criticism, but No swearing, songs. He especially liked the use of traditional ‘Farewell’ songs including ‘Farewell and adieu to you Brisbane Ladies’ It is a fine example of parody and Ralph and I felt it had a great chorus to sing as the penultimate song.

Queensland Medley - Farewell to Joh.  Tune: Brisbane Ladies - Augathella Station

Farewell and adieu to the Premier of Queensland
Farewell and adieu and goodbye to Sir Joh
You useless old bastard, too long you have lasted
Now your mates have decided that you have to go.

Chorus - You ranted and roared at the reds and the greenies,
You ranted and roared at the black and the white;

You postured and strutted, just like Mussolini ...
Now your mates have betrayed you and that serves you right.

You pineapple vandal, they've snuffed out your candle,
Get back to your peanuts, you senile old sod;
Take Flo and her pumpkins, you great pair of bumpkins,
You can start playing lawn bowls and stop playing God.


You Lutheran pastor cum paw paw disaster
You Darling Downs despot, you Kingaroy clown
Get back to your tractor, you seventh rate actor
You pious, hypocritical, adjective noun.

Stick that up your jumper, you old Bible-thumper,
You second-rate Hitler, you goose-stepping goose;
The poisonous old cane toad's in gone-down-the-drain mode,
Like a dribble of Bundaberg sugar cane juice.


Tune changes to It's a Long Way to Tipperary

It's a long way to Cunnamulla, it's a long way to go.
It's a long way to Cunnamulla on the River Warrago.
I know there's been a gerrymander and I know it isn't fair.
But I have to rely on Cunnamulla, they vote for me there.
After some devastating serves to Joh B-J, John had just about run out of ‘Dengate expletives’ but ‘adjective noun’, with the innuendo of too terrible to say it, always gets a laugh. (email from Dale, 15/04/20)

to be followed by The Melbourne Medley

What does the Melbourne do on a cruise from Jervis Bay?
She sails on the briny blue with the Voyager in the way.
So it’s hard a-port for who’d’ve thought on a peaceful summer’s night.
A destroyer would sail and a carrier fail to give way on the right.

Oh, the weather was fair for a Boson’s chair so the Captain went for a ride.
He piped all hands to elastic bands as it loomed on the starboard side.
“A ship” cries he “It’s the enemy! Whatever shall I do?”
So they cut her in half just for a laugh, and drowned one third of the crew.

Box the compass, port the helm and all that nautical stuff.
The whistle blew and the Captain flew to the bridge in an awful huff,
Crying East by West is the course that’s best, so come on all you men.
There was great distress in the officer’s mess that night in the RAN.

So, sing with Pride of the suicide and cheer for the Commonwealth.
Who needs a war? There’s a wind off-shore, we’ll go and sink our-self.

HMAS Melbourne goes sailing the world,
With her radar antenna and her ensign unfurled.
Here is a fact that I’m sure will astound,
The Melbourne goes over what the others go ‘round.

And it’s duck for cover, quickly before she arrives,
Here comes the Melbourne my jolly brave tars,
So swim, swim for your lives.

There’s a man on the Melbourne and he gets double pay,
His job is to keep shouting “Out of the way”.
Sing ho for a carrier out on the blue,
If you get in their way they will cut you in two.

All you destroyers take warning by me,
Beware for the Melbourne is out on the sea.
Subs go below, planes above and it’s true,
Most ships go around but the Melbourne goes through.



Songbook cover 


Songbook contents


Folk Songs of Australia and the men and women who sang them - Celebrating the Centenary of John Meredith's birth. Script Part 2

Click images for larger size.

Proposed Themed Presentation for 2020 National Folk Festival which was cancelled due to Covid19.  Part 2 by Chris Woodland

Link to Part 1 

FOLK SONGS OF AUSTRALIA and the men and women who sang them. This concert commemorates John Meredith, (1920-2001) who was a founder of the Bush Music Club. He was an innovative collector beginning his search for bush songs and traditional music of Australia In the 1950s; John continued collecting until the 1980s. John's friends Dale Dengate and Chris Woodland will present items collected from Duke Tritton, Sally Sloane and John Dengate with the assistance of Kerith Power & Molly Ellis.


Merro at Donahoe cave, 1965 photo by Chris Woodland 

TRAVELLING and COLLECTING WITH MERRO, to be presented Easter Sunday 12 April 2020, National Folk Festival, EPIC Canberra.

I would prefer to deliver this casually in a lounge room or around a campfire, but time is very short. Far too short to discuss a multifaceted man such as Merro.

Before I say anything further, I would like to pay tribute to our mutual mate Rob Willis who travelled more kilometres collecting with Merro than anyone else.

So here we go!

My later travels with Merro began when I semi-retired in the early 1990s.

Places We Visited - See the Woodland collection for photos of some of these events

The Upper Deua River out from the picturesque old gold town of Araluen where we spent a few days in an old slab hut for a while. In the early ‘60s we had spent many times singing, reciting and playing in the old traditional Araluen Hotel.

Bourke Beyond. These are some of the places we camped and visited in this part of the world. Bourke, Milparinka, Tibooburra, Camerons Corner, up the Strzelecki Track to Innamincka where we camped near the Dig Tree. At that camp on the banks of Cooper Creek – near the Dig Tree - we celebrated Henry Lawson’s birthday in the colourful reflection of the coolabah-framed sunset in the Cooper Creek. While going up the Strzelecki Merro asked …

To continue: Noccundra, Thargomindah, Hungerford, where we photographed each other expectorating over the dog fence - the border - into first NSW then Queensland, as the whingeing oldtimer did in Lawson’s classic short story titled Hungerford. Down the Paroo to Wanaaring to stop over at Salt Lake Station. It was here that Merro, at the age of 73, did his first job in a shearing shed. For a few days he swept the board while I picked-up and penned the sheep. With only two shearers it was not too difficult a time. Merro was elated with the experience.

Overall, we had several visits to Salt Lake and Numbardi stations where I had once worked.

Will Ogilvie’s hut. Merro had tracked down where Ogilvie’s old hut had been moved to from its original site. This took us through floodwaters south of Bourke then to an isolated station on our last shared road trip up near the Queensland border between Enngonia and Yantabulla. That was his last collecting trip, though he had hung up his microphone a few years earlier.

People I introduced Merro to and whom we interviewed.

Ted Winter: - Poet, veteran cross-country skier.

Rafe Howard of the Hunter Valley: - Who started as a packhorse mailman to finish up as owner of a trucking company with 17 trucks. Rafe was also a prominent member of the Australian Stockhorse Association.

Alan Barton: - member of an outback pioneering family well known to me. We interviewed him before he completed his book Stranger on the Darling based on Henry Lawson’s experience at Bourke and beyond. Alan was very talkative – so much so that Merro went to sleep during my interview of Alan!

Jim Kiley: - Old time drover, who won the Heritage Award at Tamworth in 1985 with his song When the Big Mobs Came to Bourke. We didn’t tell Jim, but Merro and I didn’t think the tune suited the lyrics. I have always performed it as a poem. Jim and Merro died four days apart and I wrote a eulogy for both in the next edition of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame newspaper, for which Merro and I were constant contributors.

The First Australians I knew and we interviewed.

Billy Gray and his sister Joan: - Now deceased, were very dear friends of mine. I had previously interviewed Billy over three days when he was staying in Canberra with Virginia and me. Merro and I stayed with them at Orange where Joanie lived. Billy was also visiting his sister at the time when we did another short interview.

Jack Guttie: – Was born at a bore on Innamincka Station in about 1932. As a baby he was carried on camels as his mother was a pack camel drover. He told us of a fellow Aboriginal drover who had a largeish carpet python that wriggled up his trouser leg during a dinner camp. Also how he was with a droving plant that delivered cattle to Bourke from the Queensland channel country when he was only 12 years of age; and of his tactical escape from the police who tried to remove him from the plant – and his mother ‘s care – when getting back to the Queensland border.

Billy Reid: - A proud Kamilaroi man. He was probably the best egg carver in Australia, emu egg, that is. He was a renowned leaf player using the native fig leaf rather than the traditional gum leaf. His ability is beautifully demonstrated in the opening of the documentary Lousy Little Sixpence. Bill was also a singer and played Tex Morton style guitar when singing.

Evelyn Crawford - Billy Gray’s aunt, co-author of her fascinating book Over My Tracks. In our interview she detailed the pathetic plight of the First Nation peoples who were taken from their homes in the Corner Country in the 1930s and taken almost 600 km on trucks to Brewarrina. It was at Bree where we interviewed Aunty Evelyn in her home. Merro enjoyed her playing of the squeeze box.

Remember that all these stories, and more, are available from the Australian National Library’s Folklore and Oral History Department.

Chris Woodland, 5/3/20.


Memories of DUKE TRITTON,  for John Meredith's Centenary,  Easter Sunday 12 April 2020, National Folk Festival, EPIC Canberra. 
photo of Duke by John Meredith
One day in early 1955 folklorist John Meredith received an excited phone call from Nancy Keesing, author and poet with the Bulletin. Keesing said that she and Russell Ward were collecting the words of old bush songs and had received a letter from an old shearer of Cullenbone with the entire words to a song which had proved very elusive over the years – even in the 1890s Banjo Paterson could find no more than a few lines to this song, called Goorianawa. This old bushman also claimed to know the tune to the song. She sent John the words to Goorianawa and said that she had passed on details of John’s interest to this old shearer. Nancy Keesing told John the man’s name was Duke Tritton.

John was taking no chances with this “find” and decided to write to the Duke himself. The day he wrote the letter Duke appeared at his door. After preliminaries, Merro put the tape recorder on and recorded the Duke singing 18 songs, including Goorianawa, Travelling Down the Castlereagh, The Shores of Botany Bay, Harry Dale the Drover and others. Duke offered to sing some of his own compositions, but John Meredith was something of a purist at that stage and declined the offer. We have the late Alan Scott to thank for taking on that rewarding responsibility.

By the way, this is how Nancy Keesing described Duke when he walked into her office, “… all handsome, white-haired, sunbaked, six feet, sixty-seven years of him. His nickname was not for nothing.” [a crushing handshake!]

Before long the Duke was accompanying John on his field trips, often giving him valuable information regarding possible performers. He joined the Bush Music Club where he would perform at the workshop evenings and became active with the concert party of the club. Duke remained a member of the BMC until his death in 1965 in his 79th year, and that was 55 years ago.

Duke was born Harold Percy Croydon Tritton in 1886 at a farm in Five Dock, Sydney. As a child he was known as ‘Little Croy’. Like many families in those hard times the Trittons were battlers.

In 1905, at the age of 19, Duke and his mate Dutchy Bishop set out to become shearers. They crossed the Great Dividing Range and got some work burr cutting near Quirindi. Soon they were jumping the rattler and arrived at Gunnedah where he earned the hardest 34 bob ($3.40 cents) in his life in a boxing bout with an Aboriginal lad. The match was a draw. It was his boxing ability that gave young Croy the title of Duke. In the same town they went outside the Catholic church on the Sunday and sang Ave Maria and Mother Machree, then around to the Church of England where they sang Abide With Me and Lead Kindly Light. Duke was a multi-skilled person before the term was invented! He became an all-round bush worker.

They had many hardships on the track like being thrown off a rattler on the western plains and having to walk 24 miles before finding water.

They loaded wool bales onto a river boat at Walgett, composing songs like Send Her Down Hughie, singing outside churches, boxing and got their first shearing experience at a place called Charlton. It was in that vicinity that Duke wrote Shearing in a Bar.

We don’t have sufficient time to go through all Duke’s travels and experiences, so I will just say a couple of more incidents.

Duke married Dot in 1909 and he worked with her brothers in the Mudgee district fencing, clearing, rabbiting and ringbarking.

He met his idol Henry Lawson in Mudgee in 1912. There was a hiccup there as Lawson insisted that teetotal Duke have a beer. The bard seemed quite happy when Duke got a beer and sat there without touching it throughout their yarning.

When the First World War began Duke went to enlist and was rejected because he had “flat feet”. It was an insult to a man like Duke who had walked over much of New South Wales. When he attempted to enlist in World War Two he was told to “Go home and look after the grandkids Pop.”

During the so-called Great Depression in the ‘30s – after they had lost their house in Punchbowl, Sydney - he and Dot and his young family lived on a travelling stock reserve at Cullenbone.

[Details of this part of their lives here and their lives on the Sandy Hollow Line are detailed in Linda Mclean’s book “Pumpkin Pie and Faded Sandshoes”. Linda was one of Duke and Dot’s daughters; like her father a scribe and a rebel fighting for Democracy].

I first heard of Duke Tritton when I was on New Park station, just over the Queensland border from Barringun, in 1959. When the boss would finish reading the Bulletin (when it was still referred to as The Bushman’s Bible) he would give them to the two Aboriginal ringers to read. Billy Gray was only partially educated and old Murri Powell was born into a tribal community in about 1895, so they asked if I would read the serial that was running in the magazine which they were fascinated with.  I, too, became fascinated with this serialised story written by an old bushman by the name of Duke Tritton.

Just before Christmas that year the serial had run to its end and the publishers of the Bulletin made it available as a complete booklet with a soft cover. I was then on the Mole station on the Macquarie Marshes and sent away for a copy, which I received and still relish after all those years.

In 1963, along with a few others, we formed the Wild Colonial Days Society to re-enact the approaching centenary of several bushranger events. Our idea was to make Australian history better known as we felt our culture was being swamped by American films and television. 

Visiting artists would be invited to entertain our quickly growing membership at each monthly meeting. It was at one of these meetings when I first met the Duke when he came along with the Bush Music Club to provide us with some bush songs. 

Later that year I joined the BMC and had good talks with him, especially about the western stations that we were familiar with, either through experience or folklore. 

His book Time Means Tucker flows like honey and is a must-read for anyone interested in our earlier times. 

Chris Woodland 2020. This was never read at the tribute of course, as the National Folk Festival was cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. 


Tuesday 15 September 2020

From the Archives - BMC @ Gulgong - 1959, 1961, 1968, 1969 & 1970

Click images for larger size.

1.  1959
3 images from "P" series of photos mounted by Bob Bolton at unknown date. Photographer unknown

1.  P04, caption says 1960, but the same boy is in the 1959 photos. Concert Party left to right, Duke Tritton, Lorna Lovell (lagerphone), Peter Francis (spoons), Jack Barrie (bush bass), Gay Scott (bones), John Meredith (accordion), Jamie Carlin (concertina)  (BMC Archives) Duke's pan was used to collect contributions for the town swimming pool, and included a note that nuggets were acceptable! - conversation with Jamie Carlin 20/02/2021

2. caption on original -  P10  Mayne St Gulgong, Aust Day Weekend Jan 1959. "Back to Gulgong Weekend" 1959. (O/S Centennial Hotel?) This photo appears to have been taken outside the former Commercial Hotel not the Centennial Hotel     (BMC Archives)

3. Caption on original - Man in hat, hands in pocket is Ernie ('Son') James. (REFER: Folksongs of Australia, vol.2, pp.215-219)       (BMC Archives)

4. Singabout 3(1), p, 20. Summer 1958 - Sydney News re Gulgong visit.
2. 1961

1.  Newsletter, October 1961. p.4
3.  Gulgong Carnival 1968


1.  1968 - Members at Gulgong.  Front left to right - Harry Glendinning, John Dengate, Dale Dengate (seated, 8 months pregnant), unknown woman. Back - Eric Bolton behind Jamie Carlin, Ronda Carlin with lagerphone, standing far right  (Maher collection)

2.  Bullock Team, Gulgong Carnival - 27/1/68, supplied by Lysle Lomax  (BMC Archives)

3.  Section of crowd, Gulgong Carnival  27/1/68,  supplied by Lysle Lomax    (BMC Archives)

4. Letter from Lysle Lomax, President Australian National Gold Panners Association, Tuena, 25/2/68.

5. Sketch attached to Lysle Lomax's letter regarding suggested photograph of BMC players.

  6. 4-page leaflet attached to Lysle Lomax's letter - Rules for running gold panning competitions

7. 2nd page of leaflet - Rules for running gold panning competitions

8.  3rd page of leaflet - Rules for running gold panning competitions

9. 4th page of leaflet - Tuena Gold Rush, Easter Sat 13 Ap, Bullocks, Panning, Gold Dirt, Bush Music, Ball, Beards, Photo comp
Centenary Celebrations Friday, 10th April to Sunday, 19th April 1970

1.  AN INVITATION to live again the story of The Roaring Days. A prospector's guide to the Golden Days and Nights in the Town on the Ten Dollar Note.  Goldmines - Gold Panning - Cobb & Co Coach - Centenary Procession - Moonlight Shanty Town Diggings - Bullock Waggon - Bush Music Club - Street Corner Recitals - Pioneers' Museum - Prince of Wales Opera House - Historic Train - Bushrangers - Corroboree - Gold Diggers & Pioneers Display - Guns, Lapidary Club - Bands - Marching  Girls - Beard Mob - Centenary Ball - Art Exhibition - Pavement Painting - Puppet Show - 1970 Costumes - Centenary Queen pageant - Reunion - Ecumenical Service.

2.  Programme, Friday to Wednesday

3.  Shire President's Message



6.  January 1970 newsletter, p.1  ... Centenary Celebrations at Gulgong , April 17-18th when we shall have a chance to meet old friends again. (I hope Elaine Norris has now regained full strength and energy and is urging on the organisation.)

7.  March 1970 newsletter. p.1  ... Elaine Norris' letter reports a hive of activity in Gulgong involving Shanty Town Diggings, a Cobb & Co. coach, Vintage trains and of course Bush Music. If you are going to Gulgong don't forget your winter woollies as it is cold at night now.

April -September newsletters have not survived so we don't have a report on this weekend.