Eppur si muove

Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

Australian Songs for Australia Day

What better way is there to celebrate Australia Day than by listening to Australian music?


And what better song to start than this? A radio station ran a poll where people could vote for the best Australian rock song ever. I wanted to vote for this but I was told that it was too old. 1982 was so long ago! I no longer bother listening to that station.


This has been described as the most beautiful song ever written. It makes people cry even when they don’t understand the words. And yes, that is a blind man playing a right-hand strung guitar left-handed. That’s the way he learnt to play.


Following a long tradition of music awards shows with inadequate sound systems, this doesn’t capture the true essence of the song. But how often do you get to see a federal Minister for Education joining in to sing a protest song? And it’s got Paul Kelly too.

[Embedding of this particular video is not allowed, but you can go here to see it.]
Here’s another version.


I was two seconds too late to get a seat at Gough Whitlam’s memorial service (by that I mean that all seats were booked in the first second) so I didn’t get to see this live. Luckily the ABC made a really good recording.


No list of Australian songs is complete without this. And a pox on the cretins who claimed copyright on some flute notes that sounded like a song that the composer had given to the Girl Guides decades before.


While we’re on the subject of Australian songs that were big international hits …


On Australia Day we need to sing the National Anthem.


Speaking of the National Anthem …


That is the fourth song I’ve featured in which one of the performers has died (plus one that was recorded at a memorial service). Something to think about.


We celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of a colony today. Some say we are still colonials. (People who want to whinge about the quality of the recording can keep quiet.)


In 1965 one of the biggest hit records in Australia was written by George and Ira Gershwin. It launched the career of this young man who later received much publicity by being conscripted into the army. Religious fruitcakes had a meltdown because of the inflammatory words, apparently unaware that the song was over 30 years old at the time and had been performed countless times before. Maybe they didn’t know this because of the colour of the people who usually sang it.


The Gershwins weren’t the only people writing songs about Porgy. Well, Porgi is near enough. One day I hope to be famous enough to have a dessert named after me.


Until John Howard dragged us into Iraq Australia had never been involved in starting a war. The country has a tradition of anti-war songs. Here is one of them.


And as the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

I found a video of this song which had been made by a Canadian schoolteacher who had put it together because his class wanted to perform the song and asked him to make a visual accompaniment. He was attacked for hijacking an Australian song. This song (written by an Irish immigrant) is universal, which is why it has been and can be performed by anyone from Joan Baez to Dublin pub bands.


For those who don’t remember, you could be conscripted and sent to Vietnam when you were 20 but you couldn’t vote until you were 21.

Yes, I know that “mankind kicked the moon” in July, so Frankie couldn’t have been going home in June. It’s called poetic licence.


Three Australian classics for the price of one. John Farnham can work an audience like nobody else I’ve seen, and how many people who, singing someone else’s song and seeing the originator in the audience, would invite the other singer on stage?

Side note: John Farnham (with Little River Band) actually had a bigger hit with this song than Cold Chisel did. Life’s weird like that.


In Melbourne! On a truck! With bagpipes!

And here’s another version. Unfortunately the sound isn’t too good.


I think this is my favourite Cold Chisel song. We share some history, this town (at 3:07) and I. And “young local factory out-of-worker” – brilliant.


This is actually a song about Elcho, a small island off the coast of northern Australia, but it’s been adopted by all the inhabitants of this large island home.


The title of this song says just about all that needs to be said.


I usually try to resist songs which require that words be mispronounced to fit the melody, but I’ll make an exception for this song. I can’t see cane fields from my patio, but the rest is very familiar.


Oh, all right …


I wanted to finish with the song that is supposed to make any Australian out of the country cry when they hear it – “I Still Call Australia Home”. I specifically wanted to find a version by Peter Allen, but all I could find on YouTube were Qantas advertisements, other people singing it (sometimes very well, but they weren’t Peter) and a couple of very dodgy and badly recorded performances by the composer himself. You will just have to sing it to yourself.

Ready? With a 1 and a 2 and a 3 – “I’ve been to cities that never close down …”.


That’s it for today. There will be another music festival in a week or two.

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