The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing

1
Album Notes by Edgar Waters (1965)

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NOTES 1:
Introduction
The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing
Flash Jack From Gundagai
Bluey Brink
The Murrumbidgee Shearer

 The first recording Gary Shearston made was called Folk Songs and Ballads of Australia. Most of the songs on it really are old bush folk songs. But later he became known best as a singer of new songs, which are not really folk songs though they are written in folk-song style. Songs, for example, by writers like the Americans Bob Dylan and Peter Seeger, or the Scotsman Ewan MacColl; and songs that he wrote himself.

But a while back he decided that the most important thing for him to do, just then and for some time to come, was to learn more about authentic folk songs; and especially about the folk songs of the bush; and above all about the way that the old bush singers sang the bush folk songs.

So he sat down to listen carefully to every field recording of traditional bush singers that he could lay his hands on. He has listened to recordings of the best of our traditional singers, especially Sally Sloane and Simon McDonald, over and over again. He has also been listening very carefully to the recordings of bush songs made by A. L. Lloyd: a pommy, no less! But Lloyd began learning bush songs during the nine years he spent working as a station hand in western New South Wales, before he went back to England to become a distinguished folk-song singer and scholar.

This collection of shearers' songs is the first result of all this. Wherever possible, Gary Shearston has learnt the version of the song which he uses from a recording or tape rather than from print. Many he learnt from the singing of A. L. Lloyd, some from field recordings made by the Folk Lore Society of Victoria; one from an old shearer, 'Duke' Tritton, with whom he sang many times at folk-song concerts.

None of the songs come out as a mechanical copy of the recording from which Garv Shearston learnt it. Far from it. But if you wonder whether all that listening to field recordings was worth the trouble, whether it could really make all that much difference, then just compare the style of singing on this record with the style on that early record of Folk Songs and Ballads of Australia!

 

THE SPRINGTIME IT BRINGS ON THE SHEARING

This was collected in Victoria by Dr. Percy Jones. John Meredith found a rather different version in New South Wales, and most of Dr. Jones' words turn up in some verses called The Wallaby Track, which were published by a bush poet called E. J. Overbury in 1865. Maybe some bush singer read Overbury's words and set some of them to a tune; that was a common habit with bush singers. Maybe Overbury heard a bush song, and took some of the words into one of his own poems; that was a common habit with bush poets.

coves - station managers or owners.
billy quart-pot - an indispensable item of the bush nomads, gear; a can - here of quart capacity - in which water could be boiled and food cooked.
new-chums - newly arrived immigrants.
flash shearers making johnny-cakes round in the bend - a contrast in the lot of the shearer at different seasons of the year is implied; during the shearing season he is flash (shows an exaggerated sense of his own importance), because he is earning good wages and respect for his skill; when the shearing season is over, and he is unemployed, he is reduced to camping out in the open by some river bend, and living on a diet consisting mainly of camp-made bread (a johnny cake is, roughly speaking, a kind of small damper).

 

FLASH JACK FROM GUNDAGAI

Gundagai figures in a lot of Australian folklore. The best-known piece of folklore about Gundagai concerns the famous dog that sat (some people use a different word) in the tucker box nine miles (but some people say it was five miles) from the town. But Gundagai gets a mention in a lot of shearers' songs, too.

This version of the song about Flash Jack - who seems to have done most of his shearing at stations in the Riverina - comes from A. L. Lloyd. But Banjo Paterson printed the words in very much the same form in his Old Bush Songs in 1905. And a Brisbane singer, Bill Scott, learnt the song in the Queensland bush only a few years ago, with practically the same tune as Lloyd learnt in the Riverina, as well as with practically the same words.


... Flash Jack From Gundagai (continued)

Burrabogie - this, and most of the other regional names which occur in this song, refer to south-western New South Wales; most of them (like Burrabogie) are the names of particular sheep stations.
Barcoo - a river - usually dry - which runs through south-western Queensland into South Australia; along part of its length it is known as Cooper's Creek.
pinked 'em - shorn the wool off so closely that the pink skin shows through.
Wolseleys - the earliest brand of machine shears.
B-bows - a brand of hand shears.
shaved 'em in the grease - shorn sheep with unwashed, greasy wool.
slummed a pen - shorn the sheep carelessly and hurriedly.
whaling up the Lachlan - this implies more than can be explained adequately in a few words; travelled up the Lachlan River, camping out in the open, living on food received free from the stations along the river, and on fish caught from it; be Murray cod found in the rivers of the Murray-Darling system grow to a considerable size, which suggested a facetious comparison with whales.
rung Cudjingie shed - was the fastest shearer in the shed, the shearer who shore most sheep.
blued it in a week - spent all the money earned at the shed in a spree which lasted a week

 

BLUEY BRINK

There are a lot of hard drinkers in frontier folklore, and it is only in folklore that a shearer could drink straight sulphuric acid with never a wink, and come back howling for more. But shearers sometimes did in fact get sulphuric acid mixed in with their rum or whisky in outback shanties, where publicans were much given to doctoring the grog they sold with all kinds of poisons. Bluey Brink is one of the few old bush songs which seems to be known to a lot of young singers in the bush. This version comes from A. L. Lloyd, who learnt it from an old singer called 'Dad' Adams of Cowra, in New South Wales. The tune has been a great favourite with folk singers for a long time now. It seems to have been spread far and wide through being used with the tune for a popular English music-hall song called Villikins and his Dinah.

shear his two hundred a day - this would put Bluey Brink in the ranks of the very best shearers.

 

THE MURRUMBIDGEE SHEARER

Banjo Paterson published the words of this song in his Old Bush Songs, but no folk-song collector since has found a bush singer who knew the words or a tune for them. But, somewhere in western New South Wales about thirty-five years ago, A. L. Lloyd heard a song called The Maryborough Miner, which seems to be an earlier version of The Murrumbidgee Shearer. This version uses Paterson's words to Lloyd's tune.

natives - the Australian-born; this song probably dates from the 1860s or 1870s, a period when nearly half the white-skinned inhabitants of Australia had been born in other parts of the world (mostly in the British Isles).
Barwon, Darling, Murrumbidgee - rivers in western New South Wales.
the Paroo - a region of south-western Queensland.
diggings - gold fields.
Ballarat - most famous of the Victorian gold fields, and centre of the first great Australian gold rush, in the 1850s.
Lachlan - river in western New South Wales.
fossicked - prospected for gold.
Lambing Flat - a New South Wales gold field, close by the present town of Young.
touched the shepherd's hut, of sugar, tea and flour - got these things from a shepherd living in a hut away from the station homestead, without any payment; in the bush during the nineteenth century this was not thought of as begging.
plunged in the store, and hooked it, with a very tidy lob - robbed be station store, and made off with worthwhile loot.
done it on the cross - been a criminal.
carry bluey - this implies that he has travelled about be bush on foot, carrying all his belongings in a blanket slung over his shoulder.
the escort - be police troopers who escorted the coaches carrying gold from the diggings down to the capital cities.
traps - policemen.
flipper - hand.
patent pill machine - revolver.
planted - hidden.
Cockatoo - Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, at one time the site of a prison.

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