Another of my personal favorites from Slim Dusty is “Australia’s on the Wallaby.”
“The Wallaby” in the title is short for the Wallaby Track–which really is no track at all, but refers to the roads and wilderness walked by itinerant works and dispossessed families in search of work. The term dates to the 1800s, and was even the title of a poignant painting –On the wallaby track — created in 1896 by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. The painting shows a young family alone in the bush, with the wife holding an infant and her husband boiling the billy can over a small fire. So the term predates the Great Depression — but during the Great Depression, people again took to the Wallaby Track, though in greater numbers than ever before.
During the Great Depression, 1 in 3 Australians became jobless, and so a stunningly large percentage of the population was wandering in search of any kind of work that paid. Australia was, indeed, on the Wallaby. A book titled On the wallaby: a true story about the Great Depression in Australia in the 1930s, by William Kidman, reinforces the identification of the term with this period.
The “cooee” in the song is a cry used in the Australian bush to connect with other wanderers, to attract attention, or to indicate one’s location.
This particular video is not in particularly good shape, but you can hear the song clearly. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. The song is, like most Australians, cheerful despite difficulties being faced.
Continuing the Slim-a-thon, here’s another Slim Dusty Classic. My dad was still alive when I first went to Australia, and this was one of his favorite songs, once I introduced him to Slim Dusty.
“Blue” is an Australian nickname for guys with red hair. The word can also refer to anything from being glum to a fight to a type of Australian cattle dog, but if you use “Blue” as a man’s name, it means he’s a redhead. (Because calling him “Red” would be too obvious.) If you’ve read my book, Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I encountered a couple of Blues on my travels, which probably also contributed to my enjoying this song.
In this song, Slim sings of the virtues of a man named Blue, saying he’s never on the bite and never a skite. On the bite means looking for loans, and a skite is a braggart. So, lacking these vices, Blue is a good bloke to have as a mate.
Now that I’m in Slim Dusty mode, I can’t resist posting another song.
I bought the album “Walk a Country Mile” during my first trip to Australia. This song in particular became a favorite over the years because it reflected for me what life was like. My favorite lines in the song are “you meet a friend or two along the highway, and you learn a lot you never knew before. And if the journey takes a lifetime when you thought a year or two, well you just don’t give up easy anymore.” It’s a great song to hear when the road feels long — and even when you feel like you’re getting somewhere but it took a while.
The song was written by Joy McKean, considered the “grand lady” of Australian country music — who also happened to be Slim Dusty’s wife. In this video, Joy joins Slim singing this classic.
Hope all my Aussie friends are enjoying a wonderful Australia Day. And for my non-Aussie friends, here is a bit of Australiana that is worth knowing, at least if you hope to travel Down Under.
I’m celebrating Australia Day up here in the frozen north by listening to Slim Dusty songs (and I may have a bit of Vegemite later — still have a jar from my last trip). It’s hard to pick a favorite Slim Dusty song to share, as there are so many I came to love during my travels in Australia — so maybe I’ll just have to post a few more songs this week.
With more than 100 albums released over a 6-decade career, Slim Dusty’s music has been called “the soundtrack of Australia.” His songs celebrate the most notable elements of Australia’s history, culture, and present. Dusty did a lot of songs about cowboys (known as ringers, drovers, or stockmen in Australia), and at least as many about truck drivers. He also sang of country pubs, old friends, family, food, traveling, life in the Outback, and how life was changing. He passed away in 2003, but his music lives on.
One of his earliest hits — a song that has itself become part of the Australian culture — was his recording of a humorous lament by Gordon Parsons titled “The Pub With No Beer.” I believe this may be almost as widely known in Australia as “Waltzing Matilda.”
I do narrated slide shows about, among other things, my travels in Australia. While people regularly ask about how long the flight from Chicago is or when is the best time to go, I often get questions about Australia’s Aborigines — specifically, “what do they do?” It always interests me that some people seem to believe that the entire group will have made the same choices and have the same fate. I explain that, while some of the choices are not ones open to the general public (most specifically, living a traditional life on Aboriginal land), their education and career choices range almost as far and wide as those of any other people group. There are painters and actors and lawyers and professional tennis players and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Not too surprisingly, given the importance of singing in Aboriginal culture, a number have become professionals in this arena. Among these is Deborah Cheetham, an Australian Aborigine opera singer. Her voice is spectacular and she is very much at home on the world stage. A few years ago, for one of Australia’s most important holidays, the National Day of Mourning, Cheetham performed Australia’s national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” and I think it is a good introduction to the talent of this gifted woman.
Most Americans, if they’ve heard of Rolf Harris at all, know him only for the upbeat, funny song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down,” which became an international hit back in the early 1960s. However, Harris has had a career of considerably greater extent than that one recording–significant enough, in fact, to have gotten him a long list of honors in both his native Australia and in Britain (OBE, CBE). He’s a singer, song writer, painter (commissioned to do a portrait of the Queen, so no amateur), and television personality.
I don’t expect every place to have the same success stories or admire the same characters as everyone else. That would be boring. But because I’ve traveled a bit, it sometimes surprises me when someone I know from one place isn’t so well known when I get home. And so it is with Mr. Harris. I recently, for some reason, found myself singing “Two Little Boys” to myself, and realized it was not something I knew from the U.S. — so I thought it was something I might share here. It wasn’t written by Harris — it dates back to the early 1900s, in fact — but Harris made it a huge hit in Australia and Britain in the late 1960s.
I’ve written enough, both in my book and in this blog, about Aussies and horses and Aussies and war and Aussies and horses and war that it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to find a similar mix in this sweet, charming little song. (I know — horses and war don’t sound like they go with sweet and charming — but trust me, here, they do.)
It has been a while since I posted. I’m still mighty busy, but I missed posting. So I’ve thought of a few things that won’t take up too much time, but that I think you might find interesting — things that couldn’t be included in my book–in this case, sound. In the book, I relate how didgeridoos are made, getting shown how to play the didgeridoo, and even buying my own didgeridoo. Here, I thought I’d post a video from YouTube of someone playing a didgeridoo. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
In the early days of Australian settlement, it was not very easy to convince skilled tradesmen to migrate. With the American colonies, promises of land and wealth and freedom, combined with the relative proximity of being only one ocean away, made it easier, but Australia was just too far from home and, in the early 1800s, the colony did not have a great reputation as a destination. So certain people responsible for finding the needed skills for the new colony hit on a plan. They would hire beautiful, young women to hang around bars and buy drinks for tradesmen with the requisite skills. When the tradesmen were adequately anesthetized, these girls would plant on them something stolen from someone else, and then immediately report to a conveniently placed constable that a crime had been witnessed. The targeted tradesmen would be caught “red handed” and still under the influence, and within days, he’d be on a ship bound for Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was originally called.
This practice was popularly memorialized in the song “The Black Velvet Band,” with the velvet band in question tying up the hair of the lovely young maiden employed in rounding up tradesmen. Most versions start with the story’s events in Belfast, but there are versions of the song that replace this with any number of locations in the British Isles, as Ireland was by no means the only target of the practice. Today, it’s hard to find an Irish or Australian folk band that doesn’t include this song in their repertoire.
There are many versions of the song on YouTube and other sites, but here’s one from The High Kings:
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