Welcome to Verandah Music!

The songs behind the stories - the stories behind the songs

In 2003 Graham Seal and Rob Willis published Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition. With contributions from dozens of leading collectors and researchers, the illustrated book and its accompanying 2 CDs was hailed as a major contribution to understanding and appreciating Australia’s rich heritage of traditional music, dance and song. (see Contents and Reviews tab).

Verandah Music was featured on national prime time television, in national, state and regional newspapers, radio and a host of magazines and other media.

Since then, Graham and Rob have continued to work together and with others on a variety of collecting, research, publishing and performance projects, around the country and beyond. Below is some information about Australian traditional music ...

NSW goldfields band, maybe Hill End, c. 1860? (Courtesy Ross Wellington)

The Troppo Band. 5th Heavy AA Battery Darwin 1943. (Courtesy Rob Willis)
LTo R    Jim Ward conducting – Doug Cross Spoons – Les Harrison Comb and Paper – Don Grundy Petrol Drum – Bert Bisby Accordion - ?? Wilson home made flute - Keith Cartledge Tin Dixies.
Photo provided by Bert Bisby WA.  NLA interview recording ORAL TRC 5747/43
ONLINE interview   

Verandah music is handmade from peoples’ everyday experiences.

It is spontaneous, face-to-face, straightforward and borrows from all sorts of other musical forms and styles, including traditional folk, popular, sacred, media (TV, film, radio) and wherever else a good tune can be begged, borrowed or stolen to carry a new set of words.

Songs are usually public rather than private - about work, war, struggle, protest, lullabies, children’s ditties, and everyday events, tragedies, disasters and whatever else people feel the need to sing about.

The instruments of Verandah music are whatever is at hand, usually of the more basic kind including harmonica, whistle, jew’s (jaw) harp, button accordion, concertina, guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, etc. Instruments can also be improvised,  including banjos, violins, dulcimer and other stringed instruments made from tennis raquets, tin cans, percussion (spoons, bones, beer cartons, triangles, etc.), comb and paper, kazoo, gum leaves, Where there is one, a piano may be used, as can any other instrument. Other possibles are zithers (unfretted), autoharps and just about anything else that might be handy.

Verandah music happens when people come together, usually for a good time. It does not have stars and there is no difference or distance between performer and audience as in more elaborate or commercial music. Everyone can take part. 

 The Cowling family of Western Australia (courtesy Peter Ellis)

Here's some more ....

The late Biddy McLenehan, niece of Australian traditional musician Harry Schaefer, describes how Christmas was celebrated with little money but plenty of family spirit, hospitality, music and dance at their bush property near Forbes NSW in the 1920’s. Her memory of the preparations for Christmas and Mum and ‘Uncle Harry (Schaefer)’ playing for the dance after their Christmas meal is among the best oral history segments I have recorded.

We have used family images of Harry, the family band and Christmas day on the Verandah in about 1923 that were supplied by Biddy. Biddy, a wonderful bush woman herself is also there.

Many thanks to Illawarra band, ‘No Such Thing’, for permission to use two of Harry’s tunes in the video. More information on Harry Schaefer can be found in ‘Verandah Music: Roots of Australian Tradition’ Graham Seal and Rob Willis and ‘The Tunes of Harry Schaefer’, Graham McDonald and Rob Willis. 

The Schaefer musical manuscripts and relevant Oral History and Folklore recordings are housed in the National Library of Australia. Harry’s tunes are played Australia wide.

MORE ...!

Traditional music on Youtube

A selection from the Rob Willis collection

The Cowling Family, WA (courtesy Peter Ellis)

5-string (American) banjo on the 'Trans', 1917

‪Life on the Trans Australian Railway, 1917

Philipp Netz, zither player of Mulgildie with his ‘family’ band.
(From Germany Downunder, Mark Schuster)

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