Australian Broadside

Album Notes by Edgar Waters (1965)

Back to Australian Broadside Go to Album Notes Parts 1 2

(Songs on Side Two of the original LP)
Ballad Of Edgar Cooke
Weevils In The Flour
The Sailor Home From The Sea
The Conscription Ramp
The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards
Sydney Town


In most parts of Australia, governments have abandoned capital punishment, in practice if not in legal theory. Many, reading the reports of the trial of Edgar Cooke in Perth, felt that it was quite obvious that Cooke was not sane. But he was sane by the legal tests, and in Perth they still hang men for murder, so Edgar Cooke was hanged. Someone told Michael Thomas that in prison language they talk of bringing a man condemned to death 'down the line'. Many meanings cluster that phrase. The man is brought down past the line of cells, to the deathtrap, down which he falls to the end of the line that cracks his neck. The melody for Thomas's words is by Shearston.



Some of the older generations of Australians complain that young Australians who have grown up in the affluent post-war years do not appreciate the hardships which their elders endured during the depression. Probably they do not. But this song - the words are by Dorothy Hewett, the melody by Mike Leyden - seems to have made a considerable impression on many young Australians in the folk-song audience.



Like Weevils in the Flour, the words of this song are by Dorothy Hewett, and they have been set to a melody by Chris Kempster. Dorothy Hewitt lives in Perth, and her husband is a sailor who works in the ships that run around the coast from Perth to Darwin.



This is Shearston's own comment on conscription. The words owe something to an Irish song, The Recruiting Sergeant, which he first heard from Declan Affley, another of the Sydney folk-song singers. The tune owes a great deal to one of the fairly numerous Australian versions of an English folk song, The Derby Ram. Marriage brings exemption from conscription. So it is quite likely that a lot of nineteen-year-old Australians will be winking at ladies passing by, and thinking of marrying and raising a family rather earlier than they would have done otherwise.


Dougie Young is an Aboriginal, like Kath Walker, and like her he grew up in Queensland. In almost every other way, the two are unlike. Dougie Young is what the anthropologists call a "fringe dweller"; he lives today in the "blackfellows' camp" outside Wilcannia in western New South Wales.

He does not want to be assimilated into white Australian society; he just wants white Australians to stop pushing him around, and leave him and his people to live their own lives in their own way. He does not wish to be known to a white audience as a poet; he just makes up songs to amuse his black friends in the hill-billy style which today is common musical idiom of bush workers, white or black.

By a lucky chance, some of his songs have been recorded by an anthropologist friend, Jeremy Beckett. Like this one, they show that Dougie Young can view his position with both dignity and humour.

"Where the pelican builds his nest" is a phrase which derives from the belief of nineteenth-century Australians that the centre of the continent was a land of green grass and great inland rivers where the pelicans nested. In fact it is a land which is seldom green but often very dusty; the crow flies backwards to keep the dust out of his eyes.



A friend gave Australian author Frank Hardy a recording by a calypso singer, about the white "aristocrats" who tried to keep him down where he belonged - in the slums of Kingston Town. Hardy wrote a new set of words to the calypso tune, and showed them to Gary Shearston.

Shearston liked the song. But he changed the tune a bit here, and a bit more there. He discarded some of Hardy's verses, and wrote new ones of his own. Some of the new verses were entirely his own; some were based on ideas suggested by friends; some were adapted from verses in other people's songs. One person walked up to him after a concert and presented him with a whole new verse, already written down (the one about a visit to King's Cross).

Sydney Town, in its present form, is very much a collective effort. It is full of local and topical Sydney references, too numerous to explain to those who are not Sydneysiders; people who live in other cities can amuse themselves by making up new verses to replace the ones they cannot understand.

Richard Brooks and Les Miller desert their respective instruments at one point to join in a singing - or chanting? - commercial.

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