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Cover to Banjo Paterson's seminal 1905 collection of bush ballads, entitled The Old Bush Songs

Bush songs or bush ballads are a folk music and poetry tradition in Australia's outback. The rhyming songs, poems and tales often relate to the itinerant and rebellious spirit of Australia, a young country.[1] The lyrical tradition of bush songs was born of settlers and influenced by Aboriginal society in the geographical areas referred to as The Bush. The performers are sometimes referred to as bush bards.

Many of the songs were composed in the 19th century and passed on through the generations. Several collectors have catalogued some of the songs. John Meredith's collection, assembled in the 1950s when he bought himself a very large tape recorder and carted it around to record people who had memories of the old songs, became the basis of the collection in the National Library of Australia.[1] Earlier collections, such as Banjo Paterson's 1905 The Old Bush Songs, include only the lyrics and no musical notation; however, for some of the ballads a particular folk tune is suggested (see image of "The Dying Stockman" below).

The songs tell personal stories of life in the wide open country of Australia. Typical subjects include mining, raising and droving cattle, sheep shearing, wanderings, war stories, the 1891 Australian shearers' strike, class conflicts between the landless working class and the squatters (landowners), and outlaws such as Ned Kelly, as well as love interests and more modern fare such as trucking.

Although not technically bush ballads, there are also numerous sea shanties formerly sung by whalers and other sailors, as well as songs about the voyage made by convicts and other immigrants from England to Australia, which are sung in a similar style.

Contents

History

First page of "The Dying Stockman," a bush ballad published in Banjo Paterson's 1905 collection The Old Bush Songs

Australia's musical traditions include the English, Scottish, and Irish folk songs of the convicts, as well as the work of pastoral poets of the 1880s.[2][3] There was also a hymn singing tradition brought by missionaries in the 19th century.[1] and the convict songs of those incarcerated on the island. The represent attempts to European cultural forms to the Australian environment. [3]

The tradition includes classics like "Waltzing Matilda," whose lyrics were composed in 1895 by Banjo Paterson. The ballad genre continued in Australia after popular music took hold in Great Britain. "The oral ballad tradition centered on rural areas had been dying out in England for a generation as a consequence of the land clearances, industrialisation and urbanisation, found a new lease of life in the Australian bush, and one suspects that these traditional and reworked ballads were also sung in the early "free and easys." While popular music in England had begun to develop in the working-class music halls during the 1830s and 1840s, the spread of popular music in Australia was still in its infancy."[4]

The diversity in Australia has increased, but even in the 1920s Poncie Cubillo introduced the rondalla with their Filipino string band in Darwin.[1][5] The ballad tradition has grown to include some of these influences including Chinese and Filipino.[1] There were also the Italians growing tobacco, the de Bortoli family, in "Texas in Queensland", adding to the amalgam of folk tunes and Tex Morton hillbilly tunes.[1] Morton, a country music singer originally from New Zealand, released a number of Australian-themed 78s between 1936 and 1943 (including "Dying Duffer's Prayer," "Murrumbridgee Jack," "Billy Brink The Shearer," "Stockman's Last Bed," "Wrap Me Up In My Stockwhip and Blanket," "Rocky Ned (The Outlaw)," and "Ned Kelly Song"), which can be considered to have been inspired by the bush ballad tradition. However, Morton sang without an Australian accent and his yodeling style was closer to that of the American singer Jimmie Rodgers than earlier Australian folk singers.

Later influences from American cowboy and country songs and 1950s rock 'n' roll led to the performance of bush ballads being influenced by and combined with these forms.[2] With the advance of technology and mass communications, the bush ballads were joined on the modern Australian music scene by rockabilly, country music, blues, Texas swing, bluegrass, trail songs, and country pop.[2]

Public perceptions

The genre is sometimes represented as unsophisticated in contrast to the more popular and "important" rock music, partially due to cliched images and stereotypes.[6] It has also been marked by stereotypes of rural communities as aggressively monocultural and deeply sexist, encouraging intellectual and liberal hostility that intensified with the events of 1996, which saw the rise of the One Nation Party and the election of a Liberal-National Party coalition under the leadership of John Howard and the slogan 'For All of Us'. [7]

The genre has been influential and inspirational in theater and movies. [8][9] Since the mid-20th century, bush songs have often been performed by bush bands, such as The Bandicoots.[10] Female bush balladeers have also been studied.[11]

A number of awards have been set up to recognize bush balladeers.[12] Jeff Brown was nominated for a Golden Guitar Award in the Bush Ballad of the Year category for a song he recorded In the wings of the yard in 2008.[13] Past winners of the Country Music Awards Australia Bush Ballad of the Year include Anne Kirkpatrick and Joy McKean. The Stan Coster Memorial Bush Ballad Award is presented in several categories. 2007 winners included Reg Poole for male vocalist of the year for ‘A Tribute To Slim’ , Graham Rodger for Songwriter Of The Year ‘The Battle Of Long Tan’, and Dean Perrett[14] for Album Of The Year ‘New Tradition’[15] The publishers of the Balladeers Bulletin magazine also hold a "Bush Balladeer Starquest" competition. [16] At the 2008 36th Country Music Australia Awards held in Tamworth, Amos Morris became the youngest artist ever to win the Golden Guitar trophy for the Bush Ballad of the Year category with Sign Of The Times. [17]

Examples

The songs often discuss the hardscrabble life and struggles of the Aussie battler. The songs are often ironic and humorous as with Beautiful Land of Australia chorus:

Illawarra, Mittagong,
Parramatta, Wollongong.
If you wish to become an ourang-outang,
Then go to the bush of Australia.[18]

Ashley Cook, a contemporary balladeer, sings about topics relevant to life in agriculture and mining work in Australia's outback: Cattle, Dust and Leather and Blue Queenland Dogs. His song "Road to Kakadu" laments the slaughter of water buffalo in Northern Territory in the 1990s to control the Brucellosis disease.[19] Beneath the Queensland Moon covers the life and death as a drover.

Bush balladeers

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Collectors of bush songs

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Kerry O'Brien December 10, 2003 7:30 Report http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2003/s1007523.htm
  2. ^ a b c Heart of Country 19/2/2002 Australian Broadcasting Corporation http://www.abc.net.au/tv/documentaries/stories/s454792.htm
  3. ^ a b Sydney by Sally O'Brien page 24 Lonely planet guidebook http://books.google.com/books?id=dnUYVikeJwYC&pg=PA24&dq=bush+songs#PPA24,M1
  4. ^ Producing an Australian popular music: from Stephen Foster to Jack O'Hagan Stratton, Jon 01 January 2007 Journal of Australian Studies
  5. ^ "...he had established the first band of any note in Darwin the Cubillo Brothers...Mixed Relations By Regina Ganter, Julia Martinez, Martínez Fernández, p. 43 http://books.google.com/books?id=e2CEwLi684wC&pg=RA1-PA44&dq=Poncie+cubillo#PRA1-PA43,M1
  6. ^ The 'country' in contemporary Australian women's country music: gender, history, narrative.(Cultural narratives) 01-JAN-06 Journal of Australian Studies
  7. ^ The 'country' in contemporary Australian women's country music: gender, history, narrative.(Cultural narratives) 01-JAN-06 Journal of Australian Studies (Abstract available online) http://www.abc.net.au/rural/regions/content/2007/s2134561.htm
  8. ^ Keeping bush ballads alive and well By Rachel Wells May 17, 2005 http://www.theage.com.au/news/Arts/Keeping-bush-ballads-alive-and-well/2005/05/16/1116095902715.html
  9. ^ "The focus is on ballads, a poetic form which has had a distinctive and enduring relationship with country music in Australia." Manifold: Brisbane and the 'myth' of John Manifold Australian Literary Studies 01-OCT-03 http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-19874044_ITM
  10. ^ "Manifold's papers in the Fryer Library show the extent of his involvement with Brisbane-based political and cultural groups: the Brisbane Realist Writers Group; the Queensland branch of the CPA and its various cultural sub-groups (particularly the Communist Arts Group); his bush band, 'The Bandicoots'; the Federation of Bush-Music Groups; the indigenous support group ABSCHOL; 'fellow-traveller' organisations such as the Queensland division of the Australia-China Society; and various mainstream literary groups such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Queensland), of which he was president in 1964. " Some versions of Manifold: Brisbane and the 'myth' of John Manifold 01-OCT-03 Australian Literary Studies
  11. ^ "The discussion of Australian women performers will begin by noting the career of Shirley Thoms, who began her career in the mid-nineteen-thirties, will consider the work of a range of contemporary performers, and will conclude with a brief consideration of the work of Indigenous singer-songwriter Yvonne Bradley." The 'country' in contemporary Australian women's country music: gender, history, narrative.(Cultural narratives) 01-JAN-06 Journal of Australian Studies
  12. ^ http://www.bushballadeers.com.au/happening.htm
  13. ^ " Jeff says it's important to keep the old yarns alive through country music ballads. 'It's our heritage really and it needs to be kept alive somehow and the old bush ballads are the way to do it.'" Balladeer ready for a golden time at Tamworth By Scott Lamond 9 January 2008 Bundaberg Wide Bay Rural Report, ABC Rural Report
  14. ^ http://www.deanperrett.com/bio.html
  15. ^ http://www.rumentertainment.com/aanews%20archive%200207.htm
  16. ^ http://www.bushballadeers.com.au/starquest.htm
  17. ^ Country Music Australia Awards website http://www.country.com.au/index.cfm?page_id=1002&news_display_year_5608=2008&display_news_id_5608=2762
  18. ^ The Old Bush Songs By Andrew Barton Paterson page 20 http://books.google.com/books?id=g5EYAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=bush+songs#PPA19,M1
  19. ^ The Road to Kakadu Ashley Cook hosted by Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKP9t-thgnQ&feature=related
  20. ^ Banjo Patterson, song writer, 76; Australian, Author of Many Favorite Bush Ballads, Dies -Ex-Army Lieutenant WAS WAR CORRESPONDENT He Reported Bc;er Campaign, Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion February 6, 1941, Thursday Obituary New York Times, p. 21 http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10A11FF3E5E167B93C4A91789D85F458485F9
  21. ^ "Songs and stories by bush balladeer John Williamson from his time spent on Cape York won over a crowd of up to 1000 people at Cooktown's highway-opening party... the triple Golden Guitar-winning country star was in top form, chatting about the local content in songs from his Gunya in the Gully album." Bush ballads bless highway MON 10 APR 2006 The Cairns
  22. ^ "Another bush poet who died by his own hand on Brighton Beach near Melbourne some years earlier." The tragic exit for the poet of the stockwhip.(Barcroft Henry Boake) 01-JUL-06 Margin: life & letters in early Australia http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-17635121_ITM
  23. ^ "By now he started to write bush ballads of his own in the style of Adam Lindsay Gordon." The tragic exit for the poet of the stockwhip.(Barcroft Henry Boake) 01-JUL-06 Margin: life & letters in early Australia http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-17635121_ITM
  24. ^ "Francis McNamara, the convict balladist and satirist,... his work became widely known since 1979, and while specialists in early Australian writing do not agree that McNamara wrote all of the ballads that have been attributed to him, his authenticated "A Convict's Tour of Hell", is one of the great finds of recent years." http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-9774625_ITM
  25. ^ "His interest in collecting Australian bush ballads and songs resulted in several anthologies and essays, most notably The Penguin Australian Song Book (1964)" Some versions of Manifold: Brisbane and the 'myth' of John Manifold 01-OCT-03 Australian Literary Studies

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