by Graham Seal

In 1961 the historian Lloyd Robson visited St John’s Home for the Aged in New Town, Hobart. Like a few other historians and folklorists of the period, including  Russel Ward and John Meredith, Robson was seeking out old Australian folk songs. In the retirement home he interviewed and recorded Mr J H Davies, a veteran of the Tasmanian whaling industry, then aged 88 (born 1873). Davies went whaling as a teenager and over the course of his adult life learned a small but highly important stock of songs including ‘The Waterwitch’, ‘The Cyprus Brig’ and a version of the Sydney larrikin song, ‘The Woolloomooloo Lair’. He also knew a whaling ballad about a tragedy that took place off the Tasmanian coast more than a century before Lloyd Robson turned on his tape recorder.

The Tasmanian whaling trade was established with shore based operations in 1805 and expanded rapidly in the 1820s. From 1828 to 1838 it is thought that almost 3000 southern right whales were harpooned by Tasmanian whalers. From the 1840s whale numbers declined and it was necessary to change to deep sea whaling. By 1849 the Hobart whaling fleet boasted 34 ships and whalemen from around the world worked in the industry. The fishery declined from the late 1870s due partly to overfishing and the last deep sea whaler out of Tasmania, the Helen, returned home in 1900.

Whaling was a dirty and dangerous business with many disasters and high fatalities. On 5 November 1853 the brig Grecian sighted whales off the SW Cape. Mate R (Robert, Bob) Marney and ‘his boat’s crew’ of five men were lowered into the sea. They gave chase and harpooned the whale. The small boat was dragged by the whale until nightfall when the Grecian lost sight of it. For some unknown reason MArney and his men did not cut themselves free. They were never seen again. The mother of the boat steerer, a man named named Macfarlane, chartered a private search vessel but nothing was ever found.

The loss of six men from a small community was a deep shock that resulted in a ballad documenting the incident. ‘The Loss of Marney’ is based closely on a broadside usually known as ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament’ or just ‘Lord Franklin’, probably first published in 1852. It commemorates the loss of Franklin and his crew in their famously ill-fated attempt to find the North West Passage from 1845. Franklin had been Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania from 1837-1843 and his commemorative song would have been popular there, providing a model for the ballad Mr Davies sang for Robson so many years later. Although Marney was lost a generation before Mr Davies was born, he knew some of the men who had served with him on the Grecian and from whom he presumably learnt the song, which seems to have been quite popular in Tasmania. Robson also collected another version from Captain Harry O’May of Hobart (which gives the name of Marney’s ship).

The Loss of Marney

Far out-ward bound, far o'er the deep
Slung in my hammock I fell asleep,
I had a dream which I thought was true,
Concerning Marney and his boat's crew.

With all his crew he sailed away
Lost in the darkness one stormy day *
Off yon green island out far from here,
Where we lost Marney and his boat's gear.

There's Captain Kennedy of Hobart-town,
There's Captain Reynolds of high renown,
There's Captain Robertson and many, many more,
They've long been cruising Macquarie shore.

They cruised east and they cruised west,
Round the sou'-west cape where they thought best.
No tale or tiding could they see or hear,
Concerning Marney or his boat's gear.

In Research Bay where the black whale blow,
The sad tale of Marney they all do know,
They say he's gone like a many many more,
He left his home to return no more.

As we draw nearer to Hobart shore,
I saw a fair maid in deep replore,
She was sobbing, sighing, saying pity me,
I've lost my brother, poor Bob Marney.

(2 lines missing)
I've lost my brother, no more to see,
I've lost my brother, poor Bob Marney.

·      hypothetical reconstruction of part lines missing from original recording.

The ‘Captain Reynolds of high renown’ is probably Michael Reynolds, born in Hobart in 1830. Reynolds went whaling in the Pacific at the age of 16. He became captain of a whaler, though if the song is accurate he would have been a very young captain in 1853. It seems likely that folk memory has inserted his name into the song long after the originating events had faded into the past.

‘The Loss of Marney’ is an example of a local occupational commemorative ballad produced by ‘piggy-backing’ on a more widely distributed broadside original that had passed into oral tradition. The notion of loss resonates through the two songs, aided by the Tasmanian connections and the chronological coincidence of the Lord Franklin broadside and the loss of the six whalemen. The song is still occasionally sung by Australian folk revival performers.


Australian Folksongs
L L Robson ‘Some Tasmanian Songs’, Australian Tradition July 1965, 9. And see for a recording and some details of the original interview).
C H Ringrose in The Age, Sept 21 1935, 4. (In this interesting reminiscence, Ringrose uses the phrase ‘his boat’s crew’, suggesting that he was also familiar with the song. He also gives information on ‘The Waterwitch’, another of Mr Davies’ songs, and on Tasmanian whaling generally).,1969890&hl=en
S Chamberlain, ‘The Hobart Whaling Industry’, PhD Thesis, La Trobe University, 1988.
M Nash, The Bay Whalers, Canberra, 2003.


Likely broadside source of ‘The Loss of Marney’




Graham Seal

The earliest Australian references I have found to this instrument are in advertisements for sale of goods in the early nineteenth century, the earliest at 1806.[i] There are a few other occurrences in newspaper advertisements up to 1824 when guitars seem to be in abundance, along with other musical instruments being made available in the colony, presumably as merchants developed a market in the growing population. In 1826 we also find advertisements seeking to employ teachers of guitar beginning to appear, a sign that there is some demand for learning to play. The advertisements appeared for some weeks, suggesting there might have been a shortage of guitar teachers. By 1828, guitar instruction books are beginning to be advertised,

The instruments themselves are generally described as ‘beautiful’ or ‘fine’ or ‘handsome’ and often identified as ‘Spanish.’ By 1830 it was possible to buy guitars ‘of a very superior kind.’[ii] Sellers seem cagey about naming a price for them, usually saying that the items can be viewed at such and such an address or premises. The maker of the instrument was sometimes named in advertisements, though this was unusual at this time.

The description of the guitars as of Spanish derivation suggest they were strung with gut rather than wire[iii], though an interesting description of the Sydney Markets in 1826 refers to Portuguese barbers playing, or, rather strumming a wire-strung guitar …’[iv] Guitar strings are also advertised for sale, suggesting a reasonably brisk trade. But whatever they were strung with, it is safe to say that the guitar was firmly established in Australia, or that bit of it that was operating in the mid-1820s, by that time. By 1831 guitars were being sold in Van Diemen’s Land and the following year a Mrs Davis appeared on a Hobart stage accompanying herself on the guitar.[v]

But who else played it? And where and for what occasions? Most commentary on these questions suggests that the guitar was restricted to parlours and more intimate, mostly private venues and was used to play music of a more genteel and refined kind than that usually associated with colonial folk music.

Another reason often given for the apparent absence of the guitar from colonial folk music making is its delicate construction (thin woods, glues likely to fail in the climate). This, and the instrument’s relative lack of easy portability mitigated against it travelling ‘up the country’ as settlers pioneered the new land.  And, as always, there were economic considerations. The gut strings in use at the time were extremely expensive.

But in October 1832 we catch a glimpse of a lower social level of guitar playing. Samuel Hamel was commanded to keep the peace after ‘twanging on an old guitar in his master’s yard in the middle of the night, to the great disturbance of the poultry …’[vi]

Another incident the following year involved a very drunk Frederick Dawson serenading a young lady of his affections by ‘twanging on an old guitar, and growling out in a fine mezzo soprano, the following travestie [sic] of that popular air "Alice Gray":

"She's all my fancy painted her,    
She's forty, fat, and fine;
But her heart it is a butchers,  
And never can be mine.
He swears she's fatter than his beef,
So sleekly fed on hay;
Oh! My liver's all consuming,
For a kiss from Dolly Day."[vii]

How this might have endeared the beloved to Frederick must remain one of history’s mysteries. A few months later ‘A Lover of Music’ wrote to the editor of another Sydney newspaper:

On passing a house in Pitt-street, the other evening, not a hundred miles from Mr. Terry's, my ears were arrested by a burst of very delightful music, seemingly produced by two or three flutes, a guitar, and violin which together realised the most delightful harmony. On enquiry, I found the performers all young men, who were passing the evening luxuriating in sweet sounds. I contrasted the effects of this music with that I had heard at the theatre, and thought the latter suffered by the comparison. Now, Mr. Editor, when we have so many Amateur musicians in Sydney, why have we not public concerts, &c, ?[viii]

It seems reasonable to argue that the guitar, in one or more forms, was fairly firmly established in the music-making of both ends of the social spectrum by the 1830s. From concerts for the discerning to caterwauling by the inebriated[ix], the guitar had arrived. In Sydney and Hobart, at least. The rest of the country barely existed.

[i] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Oct 5, 1806, p. 1
[ii] The Australian, each week through February to April 1830.
[iii] Steel strung guitars are usually said to have evolved in America around the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries, becoming standard by the 1920s. However, metal strings of brass or bronze are known to have been used on instruments as early as the medieval era and almost certainly much earlier.
[iv] The Australian 16 Dec 1826, p. 3
[v]  The Hobart Town Courier, 3 Aug 1832, p. 1
[vi] The Sydney Herald 1 Oct 1832 p. 1S
[vii] The Sydney Herald Aug 29 1833, p. 2.  Also indicating the early existence  of a healthy tradition of parodying popular songs of the day.
[viii] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 14 Dec 1833, p. 2.
[ix] Several similar incidents appear in newspaper reports, suggesting that the guitar was a fairly common instrument. By the 1830s, in the hands of the lower as well as the upper classes.

Tex Morton sings an Australian song

Graham Seal 
(Originally published as ‘From Texas to Tamworth via New Zealand: Tex Morton Sings an Australian Song' in Telling Stories Australian Life and Literature 1935–2012, Edited by Tanya Dalziell and Paul Genoni. Monash University Publishing, 2013.

Robert Lane (TexMorton) and an early New Zealand band, c 1930?

August 20 1936, Columbia Recording Studios, Homebush, Sydney.

New Zealander Robert Lane records ‘Wrap Me up in My Stockwhip and Blanket’ for the Regal Zonophone label. It is his fourth recording session but the first time he has performed a traditional Australian song rather than one from the American country and western repertoire or his own compositions in that style. Twenty year-old Lane, in the persona of ‘Tex Morton’, has just become the unlikely godfather of a new vernacular music genre.

Robert Lane was born in 1916. About 1932, after a few precocious years in local New Zealand music making, he left for Australia and turned himself into ‘Tex Morton’. This was the start of an astounding half-century career as a country music pioneer, showman, entrepreneur, actor and, eventually, legendary character in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, parts of Asia and Europe. But it was in Australia during the years between 1936 and 1941 that he produced a large number of seminal recordings, many of them being hits of the time. 

In those early works, Morton’s song making produced a new musical genre that was an extension of a grassroots Australian tradition hybridised with American country music. What is now usually called ‘Australian country music’ is typified by 4/4 or ¾ rhythms and simple tunes carrying down-to-earth stories. The steel-string acoustic guitar was the favoured instrument for balladeers of this school and, in Morton’s case at least, employing harmonic accompaniments that rarely moved far from the three basic chords. These were delivered in a rhythmic strumming style occasionally punctuated with staccato bass runs played close to the bridge with a thumb pick worn on the knuckle rather than the end of his thumb. Stylistic elements were drawn mostly from American traditional music genres, mainly country and western, cowboy or hillbilly, as they were variously known, together with the yodel, of which Morton was a noted exponent. There were also some elements of mainly white country blues, including occasional spoken lines of expression and/or commentary. 

These appealing capsules of music and narrative formed a rudimentary but powerful imaginary and quickly became a popular way to share those things that mattered in the lives of many Australians, mainly but not solely, in the bush. It remains so today.


Morton’s recorded work has been estimated to number possibly 1000 songs. These include what are now considered country standards from American singers such as Gene Autry and Goebel Reeves, among others, Morton’s own compositions and some traditional Australian songs, such as ‘Billy Brink the Shearer’ (1939) and ‘The Stockman’s Last Bed’ (1940). There were also sentimental tearjerkers like ‘There Are Tear-Stains on Your Letter, Mother Dear’ (1937), original songs based on aspects of bush life and labour, such as ‘The Wandering Stockman’ (at the same session as ‘Wrap Me Up in My Stockwhip and Blanket’ in 1936 also recorded subsequently in 1960 and 1961/2) and his popular horse songs ‘Mandrake’ (1941), ‘Aristocrat’ (1940), ‘Rocky Ned’ (1939), as well as his later surprise hit ‘The Goondiwindi Grey’ (1973). 

Morton also wrote and recorded a number of songs based on his and others’ experience of life on the track and popular attitudes during the depression years of the 1930s. These songs, such as ‘Fanny Bay Blues’ (1937) about Darwin gaol, ‘Sergeant Small’ (1938) and ‘The Ned Kelly Song’ (1939) include some pointed social commentary. ‘The Ned Kelly Song’ treats the Kelly story in tongue-in-cheek style, not unlike many of the earlier Kelly folk ballads and songs. But it ends with a reference to the economic difficulties of the depression and directly invokes Kelly’s bush Robin Hood image, notably in the final verse:

‘Cos when I look round at some people I know
And the prices of things that we buy
I think to myself, well perhaps after all
Poor Old Ned wasn’t such a bad guy. 

The depiction of Sergeant Small, a Queensland policeman notorious among itinerants for treating them especially roughly, caused that song to be banned from the airwaves, perhaps the earliest incidence of such a thing in Australian popular music history. Morton’s depiction of being trapped by the Sergeant disguised as a bagman, taken to the cells and beaten up by a number of policemen was too close to the actual experience of many who travelled on the ‘rattlers’ to be allowed public airing. He sang:

Riding down from Queensland on a dirty timber train,
We stopped to take on water in the early morning rain,

I saw a hobo coming by, he didn't show much fear,
He walked along the line of trucks, saying any room in here.

Then I pulled the cover back saying throw your blankets in,
He dropped his billy and his roll and he socked me on the chin.

I wish that I was fourteen stone and I was six feet tall,
I'd take a special trip up north, to beat up Sergeant Small.

He took me to the gaolhouse, he got me in the cells,
I realised then who he was, it was not hard to tell.

I've worked for Jimmy Sharman, and at fighting I'm no dunce,
But let me see the fellow who can take on five at once.

Such sentiments and the possibility that they might incite illegal behaviour against the police were not the usual content of the popular songs of the era – or of any other. This handful of what were effectively ‘protest songs’, though the term was not then in use, contrasted with the primarily sentimental ballads that Morton mostly churned out, including hokey send-ups of ‘hillbillies’ like ‘The Martins and the Coys’, recorded on the same session as ‘Sergeant Small’. 

Morton drew on the Great Depression era reservoirs of popular disaffection. His songs expressed his knowledge of, and empathy with, the common lot of average Australians at the time. His legacy in this respect has been recorded by folklorists and others who have documented musicians and non-musicians. Many of these individuals, particularly indigenous Australians, refer back to Morton’s music, his travelling shows and his visits to their homes and camps as an inspiration for their own work. This often provided them with a means of developing self-respect and the ability to express their problems, and those of their people, in songs of their own framed in similar musical and narrative styles. 

Part of this process of cultural transference involved selected Morton songs being adapted by many of those who heard them. ‘Sergeant Small’ and ‘The Ned Kelly Song’ have passed into Australian folk tradition, as has Morton’s reworking of the American ‘Beautiful Texas’ into ‘Beautiful Queensland’, a song that also lived on in Lord Howe Island tradition. The survival and adaptation of commercially produced songs in oral tradition is a strong indication that they hit a popular chord at the time of their recording and original performances by Morton in his travelling shows, and that they continue to have meaning for their singers and their listeners.

Morton’s own compositions also link with important themes and issues of Australian folksong tradition. The convict ballads, with their antagonism to the penal system are a reference for ‘Fanny Bay Blues’. The free and easy, if hard, itinerant lives of the overlanders, swagmen and other bush labourers of the nineteenth century is the basis of songs about the bagmen of the 1930s who travelled by train (illegally) rather than by horse, but whose ethos and experiences were very similar. Morton used terms derived from American country music, such as ‘hobo’ and ‘bum’ and ‘durn’. But he early perceived an interest in his audiences for recognisably Australian story songs that used Australian terms and told Australian stories. From that momentous fourth Regal Zonophone recording session in 1936 he sang Australian traditional songs and his own compositions in that style, such as ‘Wandering Stockman’ (as opposed to the American approximation: ‘cowboy’). According to his later recorded reminiscences, Morton also began to sing in a consciously Australian rather than American accent around this time. At the next session, two months later, he recorded his own ‘The Yodelling Bagman’ together with ‘On the Gundagai Line’ and in July 1937 recorded his ‘Fanny Bay Blues’.

‘Fanny Bay Blues’ hybridised an Australian locale (Darwin and Alice Springs) and attitudes towards uniformed authority, with American country music-derived terms like ‘doggone’ and ‘dame’. But these borrowed words appear as part of a very local narrative about being gaoled for ‘ridin’ on the rails’. The lyrics fuse the imported and the local in a musical narrative that is a combination of country, blues and the masculine itinerancy of the bush tradition:

I’m living at the jailhouse ‘cause I can’t get no bail
Got twenty days in Fanny Bay for ridin’ on the rails
The doggone beds are lousy, the walls are made of tin
If I had a durned can-opener no dirty cop would keep me in.

I’ve got them Fanny Bay Blues
But it ‘s not much use escaping from this here Fanny Bay
Cause a man can’t walk the desert and there ain’t no freight for days


I once had a woman, a good one it is true
But she left me for a rich guy, just shows you what a dame will do
So I left my home next morning to come out and look for gold
But it don’t grow round on bushes or trees? [inaudible] like I was told


Now I used to live in comfort, life went without a hitch
But now I ain’t got nothing 'cept that doggone Queensland itch
And them Fanny Bay blues

When I leave this jailhouse I’m gonna pack up all my things (Yes, Mr man – spoken)
And you bet I won’t quit runnin’ till I reach Alice Springs


Spoken – Man, man, ? (inaudible).

Morton drew on his experiences of bumming around the east coast of Australia busking, doing casual work and riding ‘rattlers’ like thousands of other men of the time. His close friendship with Lance Skuthorpe the younger, son of bush legend Lance Skuthorpe (1870-1958) - crack horseman, yarn spinner and writer - provided Morton with a direct connection to the bush tradition that included the ballads and legends of pioneering, itinerancy, bushranging and convictism. Through these experiences he devotedly collected songs and scraps of bush song and verse that he often refashioned in his genre of Australian country. In later life Morton often said he had been inspired by the activities of A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941) who, a generation earlier, had located a number of such songs that he included in the various editions of his Old Bush Songs from 1906. 


It has been suggested that, as Morton’s mainspring was American country music, this somehow excludes him from the Australian vernacular music tradition. This is a misunderstanding of that tradition based on the view that its main musical influences are British. While Irish, English and some Scots influences are certainly important, a now considerable body of fieldwork and research confirms that many other musical genres have been adapted into a variety of Australian musical traditions. Many of these genres came here from the United States of America. Musical influences from that country are a strong part of the Australian bush song tradition, with such classics as ‘Click Go the Shears’, ‘Gentle Annie’ and ‘Waiting for the Rain’, among many others, having tunes that are of nineteenth century American popular music origin.  Many of these were channelled by blackface minstrel and other American entertainments that passed frequently through Australia at the time. Other American items derive from Australian trade union connections, particularly through the Industrial Workers of the World who brought union songwriter and martyr Joe Hill’s ‘Where the Fraser River Flows’ (c. 1912) to Australia, where it was adapted to local needs.

The genre of Australian country music, long despised by the mainstream recording and radio industries as ‘hillbilly’ music, shared the cultural underdog status that ‘folk’ music also had, apart from its brief commodification in the 1960s. While the aesthetic and philosophy of country embraced the recording and radio industries, by and large the folk revival set itself against such ‘commercial’ channels of production and distribution, preferring to develop an active backyard industry of festivals, concerts, folk clubs and home-grown recordings sold at gigs and heard, if at all, on community radio. This attitude stems from the broadly leftist origins of the British, American and Australian folk revivals and the 1950s identification of anything American, including country music, as capitalist and so ideologically suspect. This led to a doctrinal rejection of popular culture, construed then as commercial, imported American culture. From this point of view, Australian country, with its American cowboy hats, fake American accents and often sentimentalised songs about relationships gone wrong, dogs and utes instead of political and social comment was seen as reactionary and alien to the Australian ethos.

On the other hand, to the country music crowd, the folk scene looked like a crowd of longhaired, bearded, pot smoking hippies and lefties. This image was furthered by the determination of mainstream media to represent ‘folkies’ as shaggy-bearded droners of monotonous ballads, performed with finger in ear and disdain for the professional production and performance values of the commercial music industry.  The ironies are that both folk and country musicians drew upon the same aspects of the bush tradition of song, verse and attitude for their material and their aesthetic and both saw themselves - and represented themselves - as keepers and purveyors of Australian national identity. Despite an increased level of musical interactions between musical styles since the 1980s, the two camps have generally remained apart from each other, with the country music scene focussed on the Tamworth Festival and the folk scene on the National Folk Festival in Canberra.


Tex Morton’s brilliant early career occurred a generation before the folk revival got underway here and before the Australian country music scene became a self-conscious socio-cultural movement. He linked into and extended an existing bush (or ‘country’) tradition and added an up-to-date dimension that resonated with the troubles of the times and spoke to those people who suffered most from their consequences.

Morton’s empathy and engagement with people in their everyday lives, attested in recorded and other evidence, shows him consciously adapting and reworking the Australian components of his repertoire. In his many travels throughout the country he actively sought out songs from bagmen, indigenous communities and anywhere else they might be found, incorporating at least some of these into his performing and recording repertoire. His understanding of this material, as well as its value as performance, was that it related closely to the lived experience of many Australians. It made his shows and recordings especially appealing to a substantial sector of the population. While his motivation may have been mixed between commercial popularity and an apparently deep interest in everyday life, Morton’s contribution was to ensure the continuity of the Australian bush song tradition into and through the early era of the electronic media of radio and sound recording.

Beyond the musical stylistics and genre conventions of country music lyrics, Tex Morton’s early work established an enduring strand in Australian vernacular song making. That strand insists on a notion of ‘authenticity’ as expressed in use of vernacular speech, the evocation of everyday experience, often with a note of social – though rarely overtly political – criticism or complaint, all sung in at least an approximation of what is generally considered a ‘standard’ Australian accent. In one variation or another, this legacy of Tex Morton can still be heard in country and folk performances, sound recordings and YouTube performances.

The brief moment in which Tex Morton blazed his early career passed rapidly from economic depression to World War 2 and a host of new social, political and economic concerns and different popular musical forms. But his influence on Australian language, sensibility and vernacular authenticity, both in commercial popular music and in the buried traditions of grassroots music, provided an example that was followed by many, either through hearing his recordings or using his songbooks, by enrolling in his teach yourself country music guitar courses, by picking up his songs through oral transmission and/or by simply having his example as a balladeer in folk memory where it can still be retrieved today. The many obscure and less-so songwriters and singers who were influenced by one or more of Tex Morton’s vernacular incarnations include Buddy Williams, Aboriginal performers Dougie Young and Herb Laughton, as well as Mick Thomas and the band ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’. There were, and are, many more, of course. Most famous of all, David Gordon Kirkpatrick, better known in his musical persona of ‘Slim Dusty’. 


Allan, Monika ‘Country Music in Australia’ in Davey, Gwenda and Seal Graham (eds) The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, OUP, Melbourne, 1993. Hayward, Phillip, Hearing the Call: Music and Social History on Lord Howe Island, Lord Howe Island Arts Council, 2002. Meredith, John & Anderson, Hugh (eds) Folk Songs of Australia and the men and women who sang them, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1979. Seal, Graham & Willis, Rob (eds), Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition, Curtin University Books Fremantle, 2003. Smith, Graeme, Singing Australian, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2005. Walker, Clinton, Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2000. Watson, Eric, Country Music in Australia, Rodeo Publications, Kensington, 1976, 2nd rev edn Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982.

Graham Seal


Graham Seal

The appearance of a book about Cape Barren songman Ronnie Summers, prompts some reflections on Australian music traditions.

Ronnie’s music combines blues, Cajun, Irish and country influences into a distinctive Cape Barren style that embraces such apparent diversities as nineteenth century schottische tunes, the Carter Family, the Cape Barren Island Football Song and his own compositions. Ronnie – and the community of Cape Barren musicians of which he is a part – take these various influences and meld them into a distinctive regional style and repertoire.

A number of other books, articles and recordings have also revealed strong and distinctive musical fusions in places like Lord Howe, Pitcairn and Norfolk islands, the music of Torres Strait recorded by Ron Edwards, Karl Neuenfeldt and Nigel Pegrum and Darwin string bands  researched by Jeff Corfield, to mention only some. Ongoing fieldwork by Rob and Olya Willis has identified a strong fusion of British (Irish and English) indigenous and country music in the Nulla Nulla region of NSW, an area that produced, among other country performers, Slim Dusty. There are no doubt plenty more known to probably only a few collectors and many more yet to be discovered.

This work combines to give us a broader understanding of Australian folk music as being almost entirely the ‘bush ballad’. Bush song and music is a vitally important element of our musical heritage, derived from mainly British oral and broadside ballad traditions, heavily influenced by the Kiplingesque adaptations of writers like Lawson and Paterson, among many others. It was also heavily influenced by American popular music of the nineteenth century, probably transmitted largely through travelling minstrel shows and similar USA-based or inspired entertainments that toured extensively here. It is an important musical genre of the past that may even still be important among some agricultural and pastoral communities.

But it is clear now bush music is very far from being our only folk musical genre. (And even within that field, broadly defined, there are many still-to-be fully researched elements, such as the role of women’s music-making, particularly with the piano, as demonstrated in Jennifer Gall’s recently completed PhD thesis).

We can now appreciate Australian traditional music and song as a probably very great number of regional styles and repertoires characterised by at least three identifiable elements:

·      Ethnic – in the sense of deriving from a variety of cultural traditions. Often these styles are kept alive within the relevant migrant groups. Irish fiddling and singing styles, for instance; Greek rebetika; Maltese Ghana, and so on.

·      Regional – evolve from and through the historical experience and environmental and occupational aspects (pearl diving, tobacco growing, mutton birding, farming) of particular  places – islands; locales with a distinctive sense of identity often created by natural features such as mountains, valleys, forests, etc.

·      displaying multiple influences from other traditions and styles, including but not necessarily restricted to blues, country, Cajun, some religious music, twentieth century pop, as well as the often already multicultural musical mixtures of the earlier tradition, which included European social dance music, popular music of the period/s.

Many of these influences have not come directly from the many migrant groups who have arrived here since 1947, but from advances in technology, including recording, radio, TV, film and the internet. You no longer need to be Irish to play any particular style of Irish fiddle (probably you never needed to be, but being brought up in such a musical tradition was a very strong factor in learning that style. Now anyone can learn it and sound just as ‘authentic’). The global recording industry invention of ‘world music’ has been another important influence, particularly through the burgeoning music festival scene that includes such eclectic events as Womad and the Woodford Festival, among others.

The overall picture that emerges from this is of a diverse, rich and frequently interacting cornucopia of musical styles and genres that go to make up what we might reasonably call an Australian folk music tradition. The second important point here is that, as with all healthy folk traditions, music is continually changing. While tradition is often thought of and described as ‘hidebound’ or conservative it is also a mechanism that allows for gradual change, if within relatively constrained parameters. This is how musical traditions have always evolved and adapted, and how they always will as long as human beings are doing the playing.

SELECT REFERENCES (many of the following have accompanying CDs, either attached to the book or available separately.

Edwards, R (comp), Some Songs from Torres Strait Rams Skull Press, 2001
Gall, J., ‘Pianos in the Bush: The historical role of regional music-making in developing Australia’s cultural identity’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2009
Hayward, P 2002, Hearing the call: music and social history on Lord Howe Island, Lord Howe Island Arts Council, Lord Howe Island, NSW.
Hayward, P 2006, Bounty chords: music, culture and cultural heritage on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands, John Libbey & Co, Eastleigh, UK.
Neuenfeldt, K & Magowan F (eds) Landscapes of Indigenous Performance: Music and Dance from Torres Strait and Arnhem Land, Aboriginal Studies Press Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra 2005
Seal, G & Willis, R (eds), Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition, Curtin University Books, Fremantle, 2004.
Smith, Graeme Singing Australian: A History of Folk & Country Music, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2005

Summers, R and Gee, H., Ronnie: Tasmanian Songman, Magabala Books, Broome, 2009.

Forbes (NSW) Tin Can Band, 1918 (courtesy Rob Willis)


Graham Seal

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. ‘


A. L. Lloyd in Australia: Some Conclusions[1]


Graham Seal

(Published in Folk Music Journal 9:l 2006)

In some quarters the English folklorist Albert Lancaster Lloyd (1908-1982) was regarded as an expert on Australian folksong. He certainly portrayed himself as such in his various recorded works, BBC radio programs, publications and during his Australian lecture tour in 1970. But his expertise, editorial practices and interpretations were, and have continued to be, seriously questioned by many Australian folksong collectors, most notably the leading collector of Australian folksong, the late John Meredith.[2] This article examines the ongoing controversy over A.L. Lloyd’s uses or abuses of Australian folksong and assesses Lloyd’s contribution to the study of Australian folksong up to the present, contrasting this with the oddly fruitless search for Australian folksongs undertaken by an English folksong collector who visited Australia during some of the same period Lloyd resided there, c. 1924/5 to c. 1934. This issue is worth revisiting as the allegations made against Lloyd’s practice go firstly to the professional and scholarly obligation of veracity and also involve the accurate representation of the character of an important aspect of Australian folk tradition.

In the early-mid 1920s, by one of his own accounts,[3] Albert Lancaster Lloyd came to Australia as a fifteen year-old 'assisted immigrant'. He found work as a rouseabout (general hand) and labourer in rural New South Wales, particularly around Forbes, Cowra and the Western districts, where he worked mainly in the wool industry. During this period he heard many traditional songs sung by shearers and other bush workers and being interested in singing them himself, wrote down the lyrics in 'exercise books' - 'not to 'collect', just to learn them', as he wrote regarding his album First Person. Lloyd says much the same thing in the longest extant account of his Australian experience:

… Indeed, wherever I was, in the relatively densely populated parts of the bush like the country round Cootamundra, or in the less populated country like that round Condobolin, or in the parts barely populated at all, like the back country around White Cliffs, I found that station hands and shearers did a lot of singing. A great many of the songs caught my fancy, and I wanted to learn them. They amused me; some of them struck me by their poetry, some struck me by their tune, and I began to write them down. Not at all as a collecting thing - at that time, I'd never heard of the business of folk song collecting. That was a piece of sophisticated information that I only acquired later. So it was entirely to suit myself that I used to write the songs down in exercise books.[4]

After a period of possibly as long as nine years[5] he spent some time in Africa and returned to England in the early 1930s. Here he continued on a remarkable process of self-education and study, begun in the Australian bush, that eventually made him a leading authority on folk music, song and dance, not only that of Britain but also of Eastern Europe.

From around 1956 Lloyd had contact with Australian folklorists Edgar Waters and John Meredith through the enterprise known as Wattle Recordings, established to make recordings of Australian traditional music available to the public. Lloyd was to record a long playing (LP) album of Australian material for Wattle, some of which was from his own collecting in Australia and some of which was to be from the collections of Australian folklorists, particularly those of John Meredith.[6] Also at this time, Lloyd planned to write a book on Australian folksong (tentatively titled 'Tales and Songs of the Australian Bush') and had made considerable progress on this though the project was, perhaps wisely given his distance from Australia, abandoned. However, throughout this period and indeed throughout his life, Lloyd continued an active interest in Australian folklore, particularly bush songs, an interest that resulted in a number of sound recordings, radio programs and a lecture tour of parts of Australia.

But it was in this earlier period that the ongoing controversy over Lloyd’s treatment of Australian folksong began. Lloyd provided notes to five songs collected from Harry Cox by Peter Kennedy in the 1958 edition of the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. John Meredith took issue with Lloyd particularly in relation to Lloyd’s views on the song ‘The Maid of Australia’. Lloyd observed that the song ‘does not seem to have persisted in Australia’ and that ‘Miscegenation is a theme that Australian folklore inclines to avoid’.[7]  Meredith provided evidence that miscegenation was indeed a feature of Australian bush folk expression, and a fairly common one at that, the strong implication being that Lloyd was not as well informed about Australian folklore as he purported to be. The debate spread from the specific issue of the frequency of miscegenation as a theme of Australian bush lore to a more general suspicion that Lloyd was polishing especially the lyrics of Australian songs and so presenting a false impression of the character of the traditions[8]. The debate has meandered unresolved, with occasional eruptions, over the years since.

In 1971 Lloyd made an LP recording for England’s Topic Records titled The Great Australian Legend. (12TS203). This included a variety of material, and notes, from various sources. Responses by Australian folklorists to the versions of the songs presented and the notes to them were largely negative. The main complaint was that the versions of the songs sung by Lloyd were so complete, coherent and generally fine that they must have had considerable lyrical and musical massaging, presumably by Lloyd. This was felt to be a misrepresentation of the Australian tradition and Lloyd's notes to the songs were, therefore, misleading, if not dishonest. These views were aired publicly and privately and Lloyd defended himself by saying (as he had in his notes), that he was not a folklorist at the time he collected the songs and that he admitted to amending the songs to make them more 'singable' and, presumably, more acceptable to the ears of a general audience unaccustomed to the styles and techniques of traditional singers and their repertoires. Despite this, the controversy pursued Lloyd, even after his death in 1982, shortly after which John Meredith again published his views on Lloyd’s editorial practices.

Meredith did not mince his words. ‘In my opinion, the best memorial A L Lloyd could have would be a bonfire of all the phony concoctions he has passed off as Australian folk songs over the last 25 years or so, the bulk of which has little in common with Australian material collected in the field’. He went on to say that most of Lloyd’s texts had been acquired from the work of other folklorists, including Meredith himself, and that he had fitted to these songs ‘whatever British tune Lloyd considered suitable – in other words, concoctions.’ Meredith referred to correspondence between himself and Lloyd after the release of Australian Bush Songs (Riverside RLP12-606) in 1956 in which he claims Lloyd ‘admitted making ‘settings’ of the texts to other tunes, and further, stated that he had made so many alterations and additions to, and arrangements of, his original field notes that he no longer knew what was genuine and what was concocted.’

Meredith raised a number of other matters in this piece, including what he called Lloyd’s ‘whining, gutless singing style’ his deliberate alterations of place names and his statement that Australian songs tended to avoid bawdiness, a claim that Meredith had also demolished in an article in the journal Meanjin in December 1958. [9]

While less blunt, another noted Australian folksong collector, Alan Scott, weighed in with doubts about Lloyd’s material.[10] Others defended Lloyd, including Brad Tate – though he also quoted the negative opinion of Lloyd’s work by Ron Edwards, another leading collector of bush folksong:

‘His [Lloyd’s] collection is far more than unique, it is almost miraculous. Every song and every tune is exactly what we would wish for; soppy lines found in earlier versions have gone and all is sun-tanned, sardonic and bushy, exactly as we like to imagine ourselves …’.[11]

These opinions from the leading collectors of Australian English-language folksong raise serious issues about Lloyd’s professional practice and his representation of the Australian folksong tradition.

In 1993, assisted by the Australian Folk Trust, I was able to examine the Lloyd papers held in Goldsmith's College Library, London, with a view to (a) finding the original exercise books in which Lloyd wrote down songs in the 1920s and 30s; (b) to examine the papers for any other relevant material and (c) to determine, if possible, the extent to which Lloyd may have reworked his material, or that of others. This provided an opportunity to determine the extent to which the criticisms of Lloyd’s practice made by a number of Australian folklorists were justified.


Goldsmith's College Library purchased Lloyd's papers from his widow soon after his death, the college having had a connection with Lloyd through its teaching and research programs in ethnomusicology, popular and folk music. The collection is extensive (over 30 notebooks of various kinds; nearly 60 box files and numerous diaries and related miscellaneous items) and contains a good deal of Australian-related material. While I was unable in the time available to examine the entire collection, the notebooks were definitely not part of the Australian materials.[12] It is just possible that they may be elsewhere in the collection, though this is thought unlikely by Dave Arthur who has used the collection extensively for his own work and has also been particularly interested to find the notebooks.[13] Despite this disappointing absence there is a good deal of other material that allows some definite conclusions in regard to Lloyd’s treatment of his, and others’, collected materials.

The collection is in a miscellaneous group of folders, boxes and books, all of which were only rudimentarily arranged. It contains a considerable amount of correspondence to Lloyd from Australian folklorists and interested individuals (including one informant). Unfortunately there are no copies of Lloyd's replies. There are also a considerable number of handwritten and typewritten songs and musical transcriptions, as well as radio scripts, drafts of articles, etc. related to Lloyd's extensive folkloric interests and writings, scholarly and journalistic. Despite the variety and the piecemeal nature of this material it was possible to assemble an accurate idea of Lloyd's work habits and the effect of these on the Australian materials in contention.

Copies and versions of the following songs were found in the collection with notes or other indications that Lloyd collected them during his Australian stay. Basic informant details were also usually appended to Lloyd's notes and these are reproduced here. A ? denotes where it is unclear whether Lloyd collected a song himself, obtained both lyrics and music or obtained either from subsequent correspondence. All place names are in New South Wales unless otherwise noted.

'The Buckjumper' - Ernie Pope, Roma (QLD), 1932 (music & lyrics).

'The Wild Rover' - E. Barratt, Forbes, 1929 (music & lyrics).

'Lime Juice Tub' (Tar Boy's Tub) - Robert (Bob) Turnbull, Bethungra (music & lyrics).

'Bluey Brink' - 'Dad' Adams, Cowra, 1930. (music & v.1 only).

'1174' - Beach Lewis, (railway ganger, Frampton, NSW) 'Ferndale', Bethungra, 1933 (lyrics, tune 'Knickerbocker Line').[14]

'The Hungry Man from Queensland' - Lyrics only sent by mail from J. Finn, Forbes, 1955. Lyrics coll. A.L.L?

'Shickered as He Could Be' - coll. A.L.L? (not clear from available information).

'The Castlereagh River' - Bob Bell, Condoblin, 1931 (music & lyrics?).

'The Wild Colonial Boy' - James Harrison, Bethungra, nd. (music & lyrics?).

'Bold Jack Donahue' - Bob Bell, Condoblin, 1930 (music only).

'The Black Velvet Band' - Bob Bell, Condoblin, May 3, 1930 (music & lyrics).

'The Moonlight Ride' - Bogandillon, 1933 (This information from English Dance & Song 45:3, 1983 where the song is printed under the title 'The Midnight Ride'). Two tunes for this item in Lloyd Collection but no source information. See discussion below).

'Take it Off!' - Robert Turnbull, Ferndale, Bethungra, 1927 (Shearing time).

In addition to these relatively complete songs there are references to a number of others scattered throughout the collection:

'Across the Western Plains' - Lloyd notes that he heard it sung by a shearer named White 'on a station near Bethungra...’

'The Cockies of Bungaree' - H. Burgess, Yarrawong. This is crossed out and replaced with James Hamilton, Albury. Lloyd also had a version of this song from the late Rev. Dr Percy Jones[15] of Melbourne, who had collected it from 'One Spud Cock'.

'Banks of the Condamine' - tune from Jack Lyons, Dubbo.

Other Australian materials contained in the collection, though of generally unidentified origin, include:

'On the Road with Liddy'

'The Death of Morgan'

'Rocking the Cradle'

'The Bulls of the Speewah'

'The Maryborough Miner' ('The Murrumbidgee Miner' – see below)

'Johnny Troy' (USA)[16]


While there was insufficient detail in the collection to allow any useful observations about these items, there is enough information about other songs to allow some general conclusions to be drawn about Lloyd’s folksong editing practices. Although the original manuscript notebooks are not to be found in the Lloyd collection, it seems from Lloyd's annotations to the music and lyrics that he was particularly conscientious in acknowledging the sources of his own material. This is also true of his annotations to items collected by others (for instance, items transcribed from a tape of John Meredith field recordings sent to Lloyd by Edgar Waters in 1957, consisting, it seems, of a good deal of material collected from Sally Sloane, the famous traditional singer of Lithgow (NSW).[17]

It is important to understand Lloyd's purposes for the use of this material. In most cases the songs were used in BBC radio documentary and feature broadcasts during the 1950s and 1960s[18] and also on recordings such as First Person and The Great Australian Legend. In the case of the BBC programs it was essential to acknowledge the copyright owners of items used. As evidenced by the program credits information included in the collection, this was generally done in a proper and professional manner. In the case of the sound recordings, there does not seem to have been the same institutionalised imperative for crediting of copyright holders (a result, perhaps, of the folk revivalist attitude that folksongs belong to everybody[19]), though Lloyd is always particularly careful to acknowledge his and others' sources in the drafts of the cover notes. These drafts, of course, did not always appear complete on the limited space available for notes on the back of commercially produced LP record covers. On the issue of Lloyd's professionalism and conscientiousness with regard to acknowledging sources it seems fair to conclude, from the evidence in the collection, that his practice was of the highest ethical standard.

The related issue of Lloyd's editing is more complex. It is clear from the material in the collection that Lloyd altered lyrics and tunes[20] to make the songs more singable, more interesting or more understandable to audiences other than those traditional communities from which the songs were originally collected. These alterations typically took the form of substituting one or two new lines, usually with a sharper image or a better rhyme, as well as cutting and/or amalgamating verses - processes that most performers of such material apply to their performing versions of songs. The main point of contention in regard to this is whether or not Lloyd properly indicated the nature and extent of his editorialising.[21] As Lloyd was, at the time he made these recordings, a folklorist as well as a singer he clearly had an ethical responsibility to reveal the extent and nature of any changes he had made to tunes and text for the purpose of performance.


In the case of one particular occupational song, 'The Moonlight (Midnight) Ride', Lloyd appears not to have done this. In the Lloyd collection are a number of typescript versions of this song, which Lloyd claims to have collected in Bogandillon (NSW) in 1933[22]. There is also a published text (and tune, though discussion here relates only to the lyrics) that appears to have been the result of Lloyd's editorialising. We can, in this case and that given later, make direct and detailed comparisons.

In the case of the earliest version, Text 1, the typescript original has a number of handwritten alterations by Lloyd, mainly to verses 2, 6, 9 and 11. These appear between square brackets.

TEXT 1[23]

The moonlight ride

Come lads, round the camp-fire draw near and sit down
And I’ll tell you my latest since leaving the town.
I’d drunk all my money and felt pretty bad,
So I thought I’d ride out, see what work’s to be had.

Well, it came to my mind as along I did push
That the work’s flamin’ scarce in this part of the bush,
But while passing a station, I saw with delight [about nine in the night]
A woman as fair as e’er came in my sight [I saw a handsome young woman all in the moonlight]

Her eyes they was blue and her hair it was fair,
And her figure and form was like Venus, I swear,
And: ‘Well ma’am,’ say I, ‘I’m bound for the bush,
But if you’ll pardon my rudeness, I’m not in a rush.’

I’ve come down from Queensland and Bourke I’ve passed through.
I’m looking for work, have you any to do?’
I follow up stock –work, can shear a bit too,
And I never saw scrub that I couldn’t race through.

Show me a wild filly, I’ll jump on her back
And have her broke in, ma’am, in ten minutes flat;
Or if it’s an outlaw that bucks in midair,
I just in with my spurs, I’m a gluepot up there.’

‘Well, young man’, says she, ‘I think I might take yer.
I can see by your style you might be a horse-breaker.
[line obscured by typewritten xxxs]
If you’re looking for work, well that just suits me,
For my regular stockman’s away on a spree.
My stock is neglected, my work is undone [‘work is’ struck out, ‘fences’ substituted]
Let’s get mounted up and I’ll show you my run.’

She climbed in the horse-yard, and close to my gaze
Two pretty white calves so peacefully grazed,
Then she leaned down towards me [comma deleted] and the sliprail undone,
And [‘she’ inserted] let out two milkers, half creamy each one.

Well boys, I unhitched my mettlesome steed.
He’s only a pony, but still he’s no weed.
As she stroked down his mane, well he neighed with delight,
And he put up his head, he was ready for flight.

Between two fair hillocks there ran a sweet lane,
And I cantered right down [‘right down’ replaced with ‘along’] it and out on the plain,
And the pony he quivered and pulled at the bit,
[So] And I gave him his head for he felt pretty fit.

Then down a slight incline into maidenhair brush,
He started and went though the scrub with a rush,
And he galloped away and no spur did he need;
He had bone and condition and came of good breed.

But after a while boys the pace it did tell,
So I reined him in gently to give him a spell.
We stopped for ten minutes, I’m sure it’s no more,
And we started again, boys, as fresh as before.

It was glorious over that country to race
With a sweet breath of wind blowing straight in your face
And two stars in the north shining brilliant and strong,
And the whispering breeze [‘whispering breeze’ replaced with ‘little night winds’] saying: ‘Sock it along.’

‘Well’, she says, ‘my young fellow that’ll do for tonight.
Just pull up your pony and you can alight.
I’m sure you are weary and your pony is blown,
But you can work here till my stockman comes home.’

So pulled off my pony and wiped him down well,
Put him back in the stable, for he needed a spell.
And I left for her stockman, when he musters this land,
A colt in her yard with a strange-looking brand.

These alterations are incorporated into the typescript of text 2, which also bears a number of further handwritten amendments as well as some further minor changes probably inserted while typing.


The moonlight ride

Come lads, round the camp-fire draw near and sit down
And I’ll tell you my latest since leaving the town.
I’d drunk all my money and felt pretty bad,
So I thought I’d ride out, see what work’s to be had.

Well, it came to my mind as along I did push
That the work’s flamin’ scarce in this part of the bush,
But while passing a station about nine in the night
I saw a young woman all in the moonlight.

Her eyes they was blue and her hair it was fair,
And her figure and form was like Venus, I swear,
And “well ma’am”, say I, “I’m bound for the bush,
But if you’ll pardon my rudeness, I’m not in a rush.

I’ve come down from Queensland, and Bourke I’ve passed through.
I’m looking for work, have you any to do?
I follow up stockwork, can shear a bit too,
And I never saw scrub that I couldn’t race through.

Show me a wild filly, I’d jump on her back
And have her broke in, ma’am, in ten minutes flat;
Or if it’s an outlaw that bucks in midair,
I just in with my spurs, I’m a gluepot up there.” (last two lines square-bracketed lh side by hand)

“Well, young man”, says she, “I think I might take yer.
I can see by your style you might be a horse-breaker.
If you’re looking for work here, well, that just suits me,
For my regular stockman’s away on a spree.
My stock is neglected, my fences undone,
Let’s get mounted up and I’ll show you my run.” (last four lines square-bracketed on lh side by hand)

She climbed in the horse-yard, and close to my gaze
Two pretty white calves so peacefully grazed
Then she leaned down towards me and the sliprail undone,
And let out two milkers, half creamy each one.

Well boys, I soon unhitched my mettlesome steed.
He’s only a pony, but still he’s no weed.
As she stroked down his mane, he fair neighed with delight,
And he put up his head, he was ready for flight.

Between two fair hillocks [‘fair hillocks’ replaced with sweet rises] there ran a sweet lane, [‘sweet lane’ replaced with ‘smooth track’]
And I cantered along it and out on the plain, [‘out on the plain’ replaced with ‘never worked back’]
And the pony he quivered and pulled at the bit,
So I gave him his head, for he felt pretty fit.

Then down a slight incline into maidenhair brush,
He started and went though the scrub in a rush,
And he galloped away and no spur did he need;
He had bone and condition and came of good breed.

But after a while, boys, the pace it did tell,
So I reined him in gently to give him a spell.
We stopped for ten minutes, it can’t have been more,
And we started again, boys, as fresh as before.

It was glorious over that country to race
With a sweet breath of wind blowing straight in your face
And two stars in the north shining brilliant and strong,
And the little night winds calling: “ Sock it along.”

She says: “Well’, my young man that’ll do for tonight.
Just pull up your pony and you can alight.
I’m sure you are weary and your pony is blown,
But you can work here [‘here’ replaced with ‘for me’] till my stockman comes home.”

So pulled off my pony and wiped him down well,
Put him back in the stable, for he needed a spell.
And I left for her stockman, when he musters this land,
A colt in her yard with a strange-lookin brand.

Almost all of the amendments square-bracketed in Text 2 are incorporated in this version printed in English Dance and Song, 45:3, 1983, p.9, contributed by Martyn Wyndham-Read who had it from Lloyd. The scansion is also regularized as indicated in Text 2, and the phrase ‘never worked back’ became ‘never looked back’. The details of collection and informant are given, but there is no indication of Lloyd's significant editorialising changes. The title has also been changed (presumably by Lloyd, Wyndham-Read or the magazine editor) to 'The Midnight Ride'.[24]

One of Lloyd's amendments to Text 2 was to regularise the irregular 6-line verse 6 of Text 1 into a 4-line pattern. The end result of this is the loss in the published version of the lines:

Or if it's an outlaw that bucks in midair,
I just in with my spurs, I'm a glue-pot up there.

While this undoubtedly makes for better scansion and singing, etc. – as do many of Lloyd’s other amendments - it also has the effect of making the song rather more sophisticated than it was in Text 1. This may have been a case of making the song better suited to a British audience, as the occupational term 'outlaw' for a difficult horse is unknown there, but it also makes the song rather more refined than in the earliest collected (presumably) version. It also slightly weakens the sexual double entendre.

In the case of this particular song we are also able to make a comparison with another version collected by Ron Edwards from Steve Lewis in Chillagoe (QLD), in 1970.[25] This version, 'The Moonlight Ride', is a recitation and reduces the story to six verses, of which 3 and 6 are irregular. While this is of less concern to a reciter than to a singer, it is interesting to note that the irregular verse 2 of Steve Lewis's version was also irregular in Lloyd's Text 1.

The Moonlight Ride

Come lads around the campfire sit down,
And I’ll give you my latest experience of town,
I’d been down a fortnight and felt rather blue,
So I strolled round one evening to find something to do.

As I passed through a garden I saw with delight,
As pretty a maid as blessed any man’s sight,
So black were her eyes, raven black was her hair,
Her figure and beauty you could not compare.

“Pray maiden”, I said “ I am stock-riding through,
And I never saw a scrub that I couldn’t dash through”,
“Young fellow”, she said “The time that you called just suits me you see,
For my latest stock-rider is out on the spree,
My work’s all neglected, all things are undone,
If you follow me slowly I’ll show you my run”.

So I followed her slowly, the slip-panel she raised,
And close to her knee-lands two pretty calves grazed,
A little higher I saw, where her stays were undone,
Two handsome young milkers, half creamy, half dun.

So I took from my stable my mettlesome steed,
He may be a pony but he isn’t a weed,
And I felt my way gently down bosom lane,
And gave him his head when he reached belly plain.

So he rattled away with excitement and tense,
And didn’t stop till we reached on a backline a fence.
And that ended the best bits night of fun,
Of the greatest stock-riding that ever was done.
And I left for the next stockman that came to the land,
A young calf yarded that needed a brand.

The Lewis version is rougher and more direct than any of the Lloyd versions, even virtually abandoning the double entendre in verse 5 in favour of a more direct expression of sexual activity. To most people familiar with Australian folksongs, this variant would seem to be more typical than Text 2 or the version ultimately published in English Dance and Song.[26]

From this one example it seems that Lloyd was indeed guilty of misleading publication of material, as alleged by John Meredith and others[27]. An extenuating circumstance, however, is that the published version was contributed by someone who had been given it by Lloyd at some unspecified earlier time. That person, the well-known interpreter of Australian folksong, Martyn Wyndham-Read, might conceivably have made some singerly alterations. An editor may also have made alterations (though in this case, it seems not). Lloyd may not then, in these circumstances, have had the opportunity to provide more detail. Similar comparisons regarding other disputed songs could be made, though they would, of course, require extensive further research.[28]

There are numerous other examples in the collection of Lloyd applying similar techniques to song texts, particularly with regard to 'Bungaree/The Cockies of Bungaree'' and The Murrumbidgee/Maryborough Miner'.[29] The latter has been the subject of particular contention in this controversy and it is possible to throw some light on it from the evidence in Lloyd’s papers.


Responding in the Australian folk magazine Stringybark & Greenhide to John Meredith’s ‘Depreciation’ of Lloyd, Brad Tate also appended the text of a letter received from Lloyd in 1972 in which he said he had ‘added one or two bits to the song, [‘The Maryborough Miner’] based on a printed set of ‘The ‘Murrumbidgee Shearer’. However, on the subject of the ‘Maryborough Miner’ Lloyd unequivocally states ‘I heard The Maryborough Miner from Bob Bell, of Condoblin, NSW, in 1934.’ There are a number of problems with this statement and with what appears to be the history of Lloyd’s involvement with this song.

In the Lloyd papers there are various copies of a song titled ‘the Murrumbidgee Miner’ that look to be a halfway point between the transformation of ‘The Murrumbidgee Shearer’ to ‘The Maryborough Miner’. There are also several copies of a song titled ‘the Maryborough Miner’. Some of the copies of both songs have Lloyd’s handwritten and typed amendments to line 3 of what is usually the second-last verse of both songs. In what seems to be the earliest version in the Lloyd papers, almost certainly derived from that in Paterson’s Old Bush Songs[30], first published in 1905 and republished in several editions in the 1920s and early 1930s, this line begins as ‘I’ve puddled the clay at Bendigo, and I’ve eaten kangaroo’. On subsequent sheets (mostly titled with the telling conflation ‘The Murrumbidgee Miner’) this becomes: ‘and out on the paroo’, then ‘out on stony Cue’ and finally, in the version titled ‘The Maryborough Miner’ becomes ‘and chanced my arm at Cue’, as finally recorded.

There are a number of further points. In addition to this creative reprocessing, the final version is also chronologically and geographically problematic as the Cue (Western Australia) goldfield did not open up until 1892/3, forty years after the eastern Australian goldfields strike at Maryborough (VIC) in 1852.  And, by the 1890s, Cockatoo Island (NSW) had not operated as a penal establishment for over twenty years.[31] Once again, there is a problem with the date given by Lloyd in his letter to Brad Tate regarding the year in which he had ‘The Maryborough Miner’ from Bob Bell. Lloyd says 1934 by which time, according to some of his other accounts and most subsequent estimates, he had left Australia. Also, the other items from Bob Bell that appear in Lloyd’s papers were all collected in 1931, according to Lloyd’s handwritten annotations on the typescript texts. Even allowing for failing memory over so many years it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Lloyd was mistaken in his recollections of the song he collected from Bob Bell. There is no reason to doubt that Lloyd collected a song from this man, just as he said. The question is which song did he collect?

On the evidence in the Lloyd papers, Lloyd clearly adapted a song titled ‘The Murrumbidgee Shearer’, first into one titled ‘The Murrumbidgee Miner’ and, finally, into ‘The Maryborough Miner’. ‘The Maryborough Miner’ as recorded by Lloyd and subsequently popularised through the Australian folk revival, is the end-result of a creative adaptation process that begins with a text very close to one published by Paterson. It cannot be the other way around. If a song called ‘The Maryborough Miner’ already existed there would then have been no need for Lloyd to create a new song of the same name and content. He clearly did this. We must conclude, then, that Lloyd did not collect ‘The Maryborough Miner’ from the singing of Bob Bell (or from anyone else) but may have collected a version of ‘The Murrumbidgee Shearer’. He subsequently reworked this song, with reference to the version of the ‘Murrumbidgee Shearer’ in Paterson’s Old Bush Songs, firstly into a transitional text that he called ‘The Murrumbidgee Miner’ and finally into one he called ‘The Maryborough Miner’. The passing of time may well have played tricks with his recollection, but it seems that there never was an Australian bush song called ‘The Maryborough Miner’ and the song now known by that name was the creation of A L Lloyd in England during the 1950s.

Despite these conclusions, my overall impression is that Lloyd was generally careful to indicate that he had amended a song, even if he does not provide full details.[32] As most of Lloyd's Australian material was promulgated in non-scholarly formats and for general audiences, this is usual practice. Further investigation, involving the sort of comparisons undertaken above, would need to be carried out to determine the full extent of Lloyd's editorialising.
What can also be productively concluded, even from this brief examination and in the absence of the original notebooks, is that Lloyd’s work does provide evidence of the strong continuation of the tradition of bush song making in NSW during the 1920 and early 1930s. As this is a period in which there seems to be very little known about such activities,[33] even the limited and controversial information we have from Lloyd is useful in establishing the repertoires in circulation at the time.[34] When some future folklorists come to assemble a comprehensive survey or history of rural traditions (a task that should soon be possible, given the amount of collecting and research that has now been done[35]), the information contained in the Lloyd collection will be of considerable value.[36] Whatever the rights and wrongs of the controversy over his handling of songs (and on the evidence presented here, there are both) we must conclude that A.L. Lloyd is owed at least this acknowledgement in the history of Australian folksong scholarship.


[1]This article has its origins in a report by the author commissioned by the Australian Folk Trust in 1992. Many other people and organisations made this research possible or contributed to its execution, including the Western Australian Folklore Archive, Curtin University of Technology; Dr Ian Russell; Mr Dave Arthur; Mr Warren Fahey, Mr Robert Senecal and other Art and Music staff at Goldsmith's College Library, London. I would also like to acknowledge the often robust suggestions of at least seven members of the FMJ Board in the two drafts that resulted in the final form of this article. Any interpretations or opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.
[2] Of the numerous acknowledgements of Meredith’s status as the leading collector of Australian folksong see Edgar Waters, ‘Folksong’ in Gwenda Beed Davey, and Graham Seal, (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore. (Melbourne: Oxford University Press 1993) and the entry on Meredith in the same volume; also John Ryan and Keith McKenry, ‘Select Bibliography of the Writings, Songs and Music of John Meredith’, Australian Folklore 15, (August 2000), 16-27 and much of the remainder of this volume which is dedicated entirely to the ‘unparalleled achievement of John Meredith (b. 1920 in the collecting and recording of traditional Australian music, folklore and bush life’, cover and title page. Meredith was awarded the Order of Australia and also the Companion to the Order of Australia for his folksong collecting and related activities. Meredith’s work is most accessible in John Meredith, and Hugh Anderson (eds), Folksongs of Australia and the men and women who sang them, (Sydney: Ure Smith, 1967) and volume 2 of the same title edited by John Meredith, Roger Covell and Patricia Brown, (University of NSW Press, 1985).
[3] First Person cover notes, (LP 12T118, Topic 1966).
[4] Mark Gregory ‘Folklore and Australia’ (Overland 45, Autumn 1970), an interview with A.L. Lloyd, available at
[5] There are some doubts about the date Lloyd usually gave for his return to England. He may have left Australia about 1930, rather than in 1932. See Mark Gregory at where Lloyd gives ‘1924 or ’25 thereabouts’ as the date of his arrival and Gregory, E. David, ‘A.L. Lloyd and the English Folk Song Revival, 1934-44’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, (1997), especially endnote 3, who gives the date as 1924 and says he spent ‘9 or 10 years in Australia, mainly in New South Wales’, giving as the source for this information Lloyd’s sleeve notes for his LP The Best of A.L. Lloyd (LP XTRA 5023, 1966, Transatlantic). This seems to be the only place Lloyd mentions that he left NSW. See also note 13.
[6] This was presumably the Wattle recording released under the title Across the Western Plains (No. D 1).
[7] See John Meredith,  ‘Miscegenation in Australian Folklore’, Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 8: 4 (1959) referring to A L Lloyd ‘Notes to 5 Songs Collected by Peter Kennedy from Harry Cox, in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 8:3 (1958). Lloyd responded to Meredith’s criticism in the same edition, 220. Meredith again referred to this disagreement and refuted Lloyd’s position in an article titled ‘Study in Black and White’, published in Quadrant, 4:1, (1959-60) 59-62.
[8] On Lloyd’s editorial practices see Stephen D. Winick, ‘A. L. Lloyd and Reynardine: Authenticity and Authorship in the Afterlife of a British Broadside Ballad’, Folklore 115 (Dec. 2004), 286-308. Winick states: ‘…, there is a fairly general consensus that Lloyd’s desire to claim the authenticity of tradition for folksongs overcame his memory (or his honesty) on some occasions.’,  290. In the Australian context see Dave Arthur, ‘A L Lloyd in Australia’, Root and Branch 1 (1999), 10-13, noting that in Lloyd’s manuscripts he found ‘ … informants’ names crossed out and changed, unverifiable dates and places credited …’, 12.
[9] John Meredith, ‘A Depreciation of A.L. Lloyd’, Stringybark & Greenhide, 4:3 (1983) 14.
[10] Allan Scott, Stringybark & Greenhide 4: 4 (1983) 3.
[11] Tate, B in Stringybark & Greenhide, 4: 4 (1983) 1-2, quoted from Ron Edwards ‘The Cult of Lloyd’ in Northern Folk 6 (September 1966), 7-8, which also voices doubts about all 25 of Lloyd’s Australian songs, as published and recorded to that time.
[12] Correspondence between Graham Seal and Robert Senecal (Art and Music Librarian, Goldsmith’s College, 4 and 13 August 1992, also ‘RS’, ‘Lloyd Collection: Provisional list of Non-Printed Materials’, (August 1992).
[13] See Gregory, E. David, ‘A.L. Lloyd and the English Folk Song Revival, 1934-44’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, (1997) for further substantiation of the disappearance of the notebooks.
[14] If the date here is correct (though we have no verification of this), it would provide evidence that Lloyd was still in Australia in 1933. As Lloyd provided the dates on the items in the collection, these cannot be considered reliable given his various conflicting recollections of the dates of his Australian experience.
[15] Jones made an important collection of mainly bush songs that was unfortunately destroyed by bushfire in 1983, thus making Lloyd’s Australian collection even more significant as a record of what was and was not being sung in the bush between the 1890s when A. B Paterson began collecting for his Old Bush Songs (1905, and subsequent editions) and the beginning of serious folksong collection in the late 1940s and early 1950s. See entry ‘Jones, Percy’ in Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore 217-218.
[16] At this time ‘Johnny Troy’ was known only in American versions, but see Stephan Williams, Johnny Troy (Poppinjay Publications), 2001, for evidence of the song in Australian tradition.
[17] This appears to have come from a tape that Edgar Waters dubbed from John Meredith’s work, Waters to Lloyd 6 November 1956, Lloyd papers; see also reference to this tape in John Meredith, ‘A Depreciation of A.L. Lloyd’, Stringybark & Greenhide 4: 4 (1983), 14. The late Sally Sloane is widely considered to be one of the finest Australian traditional singers yet collected, see her entry in Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, 348 and ‘Sally Sloane – A River of Tradition’ in Graham Seal and Rob Willis (eds), Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition, (Curtin University Books, 2003) 142-3.
[18] Mainly the six-part ‘Folksongs of Australia’, broadcast on the BBC Home Service in Oct-Nov 1963, as noted by Gregory, E. David, ‘A.L. Lloyd and the English Folk Song Revival, 1934-44’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, (1997) at though Lloyd’s papers suggest that there may also have been other radio uses of the Australian material.
[19] See Graham Seal,‘Who Owns Folklore?’, in Transmissions 12 (March 2004) at
[20] The music of the songs has not been treated in this article as debate has centred mainly on lyrics.
[21] See the discussion on Lloyd’s editorial practices in relation to A. L. Lloyd, Corn on the Cob: Popular and Traditional Poetry of the USA (London: Fore Publications 1945), in Gregory, E. David, ‘Starting Over: A.L. Lloyd and the Search for a New Folk Music, 1945-49’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, (1999/2000) at
[22] See notes 5 and 14.
[23] I have tried, as far as possible with a word processor, to reproduce the features of the original typescript here.
[24] English Dance and Song 45:3 (1983), 9 (which refers to the version collected by Ron Edwards – see note below - as a song rather than a recitation).
[25] Ron Edwards, Australian Folk Songs (Holloways Beach: Rams Skull Press, 1972), 125.
[26] The melody published with this text is one of two for this song in Lloyd's papers, though it is not clear from where these came.
[27] In addition to the sources already quoted, the following writers have expressed reservations about Lloyd’s editorial practices: Vic Gammon, ‘A. L. Lloyd and History: A Reconsideration of Some Aspects of Folk Song in England and Vic Gammon, ‘Some of His Other Writings’ in Ian Russell (ed), Singer, Song and Scholar, (Sheffield: 1986) 147-165; Roy Palmer, 'A. L. Lloyd and Industrial Song' in Ian Russell, I. (ed), Singer, Song and Scholar (Sheffield: 1986) 133-147; Keith Gregson, ‘The Cumberland Bard: An Anniversary Reflection’, Folk Music Journal 4:4 (1983), 333-367.
[28] Materials towards such work are contained in Australian Tradition: Aug. 1963, Sept. 1964, Nov. 1965, Oct 1966, April, 1967, Sept. 1967, March 1969, May 1970, Oct. 1971, Dec 1974. See also Australian Tradition March, 1964 for Edgar Waters' article about Lloyd. There is also relevant information in Stringybark & Greenhide, mainly between 1982-83.
[29] Photocopies of the other items mentioned are also provided in the Australian Folk Trust report as examples of Lloyd's editing methods.
[30] A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson (comp. and ed.), Old Bush Songs Composed and Sung in the Bushranging, Digging and Overlanding Days, (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1905) and numerous reprints and editions into the 1930s) contained ‘The Murrumbidgee Shearer’. On the relationship between Lloyd’s texts for a number of his Australian songs and those in Old Bush Songs see Ron Edwards, ‘The Cult of Lloyd’ in Northern Folk 6 (September 1966), 7-8.
[31] It was subsequently a reformatory for women and, later, for petty offenders.
[32] Lloyd adopted much the same practices for the American material in Corn on the Cob as he did for the Australian material, and defended them in the same terms, see Gregory, E. David, ‘Starting Over: A.L. Lloyd and the Search for a New Folk Music, 1945-49’, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, (1999/2000) who puts the situation thus: ‘On these occasions, the mental tussle between Lloyd the singer and Lloyd the scholar, the singer won out.’
[33] Relevant scholarship on this aspect includes Hugh Anderson. and Dawn Anderson., On the Track With Bill Bowyang, (Ascot Vale: Red Rooster Press, 1991).
[34] When Lloyd undertook a lecture tour of some eastern Australian states in 1970, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (as it was then) made a film for television broadcast in which Lloyd revisited the areas where he had worked during his youthful Australian sojourn. It is thought that the documentary, screened on the series ‘A Big Country’, was titled ‘Ten Thousand Miles Away'. Despite extensive enquiries by Dave Arthur, the author and others, the ABC has to date been unable to locate the film in its archives. Dr Edgar Waters accompanied Lloyd and the film crew on the making of this film (Personal communication).
[35] In addition to the extensive work of Meredith, a considerable number of other individuals and organisations have been involved in collecting and archiving Australian folksong. For some indication of this work, a good deal of which is archived in the National Library of Australia, see Edgard Waters, ‘Folksong’ in Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, G (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian Folklore, Graham Seal and Rob Willis (eds), Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition, (Curtin University Books, 2003) and the National Register of Folklore Collections at
[36] This is particularly so when we consider that another English visitor traveling through Australia partly at the same time as Lloyd with an ear out for Australian folksongs, failed to find any, with the controversial exception of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, see Thomas Wood, Cobbers: A Personal Record of a Journey from Essex, in England, to Australia, Tasmania and some of the Reefs and Islands in the Coral Sea, Made in the Years 1930, 1931 and 1932, (London: Oxford University Press, 1934).

1 comment:

  1. I have a fascination for the way people in remote areas or without access to tuition teach themselves to play an instrument. Aboriginal guitarist, Cyril Green, is an example of the ingenuity and perseverance sometimes used to learn the guitar. Raised in Walcha, NSW, Cyril and his brothers had a communal guitar and no knowledge of how to play it. Cyril explains how the group finally got it together without knowing the names of chords and communicated by looking – up, straight ahead or down for chord changes. Cyril was well-known Aboriginal singer, Jimmy Little's guitarist for nigh on 50 years and despite having suffered a mild stroke some time ago is still one of the finest guitarists we have recorded for the National Library collection. We will be visiting Cyril, a true gentleman and his lovely wife Hazel again soon to record more of their stories.

    Made this short video of Cecil during our National Library recording session at his home in Armidale, NSW.

    We have also recorded stories from The Nulla near Kempsey about how they would listen to 78 records to try and work out guitar chords and had no idea how to tune the instrument. Other fascinating tales are from our Indigenous mates on Cape Barren Island and how they figured out the chords but had no names for them – so the names became “over the top” for G, “the flat one” for A and Hank’s chord for C (learnt from a Hank Snow record).

    Anyone have any stories about learning an instrument?