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.
As I mentioned previously, Slim Dusty sang as often about those who drive trucks as he did about those who ride horses.
Slim Dusty’s songs about truckers range from the humorous to the romantic to the tragic. “Dieseline Dreams” falls into the romantic category (here meaning “romance of the road,” not “boy meets girl”). I love the sense of hope and joy conveyed by the song.
On the trip recounted in my book Waltzing Australia, I first encountered road trains in a local tourist magazine left in my motel room in Alice Springs. It advised that drivers should make sure they have lots of room if passing, as road trains average 150 feet in length, and then warned to never force one to swerve off the road, as the amount of rock and gravel its tires will throw up could shatter your windshield. I would, during my six months in Oz, see many road trains. This video offers several views of this outback monster, with their multiple trailers. They’re only found on long, straight roads with little traffic, as they’d be completely unmanageable otherwise. But they are mightily impressive, and I imagine driving one would be as exciting — and unnerving — as riding a dinosaur.
Oh — and dieseline is a diesel/gasoline blend that is cleaner/greener than standard diesel fuel.
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 on stage.
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.”
In Australia, this will be a long weekend, as Monday is Australia Day, the celebration of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, which initiated European settlement of the land Down Under.
In the spirit of that celebration, here is Australia’s legendary Slim Dusty (whom we lost in 2003, sad to say) performing Oz’s “unofficial national anthem” at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It’s fun to see everyone sing along so enthusiastically. If you watch the video, keep an eye out for a few other Aussie icons.
In my book, I mention that, during a final venture into the Outback, as the rain began to make travel increasingly difficult, our driver put on a Slim Dusty tape and played “Send ‘er Down, Hughie” — a splendidly funny song about a truck driver trapped on a muddy road during a torrential downpour, who decides he’ll just have to lighten the load to get the truck out of the mud. The load just happens to be beer, so lightening the load is no hardship.
I’m certain that Slim Dusty’s popularity is strongly anchored in shared experience, because his songs capture so much of what Australia is like. For those of us on that bus, it was being trapped by a flood that made this more than just an amusing song — it was what we were living (well, except for the truck full of beer part).
The rain had begun by the time we pulled out of Coober Pedy, but we continued north. As the rain came down harder and harder, our guide, Carl, turned on some music. He chose a song about a truck driver trapped in the mud because of an outback downpour. The song was titled “Send ‘er Down, Hughie,” and we all appreciated the sentiment, as the rain seemed to be gaining force.
But this wasn’t just an appropriate song, this was my introduction to a man I would come to really love, Slim Dusty, the iconic Australian country singer. He’s gone now, but he was a true mega-star and was still alive when I made that first trip to Australia. Now Country and Western music is not a genre I pursue in the U.S.—too many “he done me wrong” lyrics. But here was a man who was singing, usually with great good humor, about the realities of life in a country that is magnificent but not often easy. As the songs continued to play, I knew I’d have to buy recordings before going home, because this man’s music so perfectly captured both the history of Australia and what I had experienced of this land.
The album cover below, one of five albums I picked up on that first trip, pretty well sums it up: Australia is his Name.
And here, should you be interested, is Slim Dusty singing “Send ‘er Down, Hughie,” the song that introduced me to the man, even as we sped northward in our own torrential downpour. **Send ‘er Down, Hughie**