Friday, July 11, 2014

top ten songs about (or with a tenuous link to!) Australian literature

Although it has its pitfalls, the internet can be an amazing tool for everything from information, entertainment and communication. It allows you to connect with people all over the world, old friends, and even total strangers. A while ago a search for information on a song I was including in one of my lists led me to stumble across Rol Hirst’s blog -

I have never met Rol, probably never will, but via the internet have exchanged music list related banter and feel like I now know a lot of things about him. Its fun to check out his blog and talk about music, and in some kind of weird way, I feel that I have made a connection with someone on the other side of the world. And the best bit, he hasn’t asked me to deposit any money into a Nigerian bank account!!!

Anyway, Rol’s list site (which is much better than mine by the way, I encourage you check it out)  recently featured a list of song about American writers.  In the introduction to this post, Rol challenged me to compile a list about Australian writers in response.

Not one to back away from a challenge, I had to give it a go, but its harder to compile than the American list. Also I am not really a big reader and at one point I jokingly wondered if I even knew 10 Australian writers! I am of course friends in real life with one of them (, for all your horror genre needs). But Brett hasn’t had a song written about him, to my knowledge anyway, so that didn’t really help me.  As a result, I have had to widen the focus to Australian literature, and as you will see, there are some quite tenuous links indeed, which you are going to have to forgive me for.

So it’s a bit of a different list this week, with links to the songs, and also some links to information about the writer/work that is mentioned. I hope you enjoy it, but please help me improve the list, and don’t be afraid to make some more suggestions if there is something that would fit the topic better.

10 - Ita – Cold Chisel
Ok, so to start off with I am cheating a little bit. Ita Buttrose is of course well known in Australia for being a women’s magazine editor and media personality. She has written a number of books though, so that’s good enough for me to slip her into this list. Cold Chisel’s song is often mistakenly considered to be a tribute, but its actually not very complimentary about Ita at all.


Ita’s Wikipedia entry:

9 - A Town Called Malice – The Jam
What is an English 80’s new wave band doing on a list about Australian literature you may ask?  Well, the title is a bit of a play on Neville Shute’s novel “A Town Like Alice”. That is where the similarities between the two end (I believe, I haven’t read the book), but the song is great and would rate much higher on this list if there was a stronger relevance to the novel. Paul Weller has since stated that at the time of writing the song, he hadn’t read Shute’s novel.


A Town Like Alice Wikipedia entry:

8 - My Country – Midnight Oil
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains”

So wrote Dorothea Mackeller in her famous and beautiful poem “My Country”. The Midnight Oil song of the same name doesn’t really have much to do with Mackellar’s poem, but I suspect that it is more than just coincidence that they share the same title, as I think the Oils are making a point about patriotism and how it is used in modern society, and patriotism is a big theme running through Mackeller’s poem. I could be wrong of course.


My Country (the poem) Wikipedia entry:

7 - Mother Greer – Augie March
Augie March are a band that I really struggle with. Their songs are well crafted and interesting, but I just can’t get into them. Several of my mates are big fans and consider some of their albums to be the best of all time, and it was from these recommendations, I found myself with a copy of their breakthrough album “Moo, You Bloody Choir” which contains the track “Mother Greer.” Straight away, I found myself wondering if the Greer was in fact Germaine Greer, but I find Glenn Richards lyrics really hard to decipher meanings.

A google search later and yes, the Greer is Germaine, and no wonder I can’t understand the lyrics, even Richards himself admits in the article below that he doesn’t know what he wanted to say, but it sounds like it wasn’t too complimentary.

 As for Germaine Greer, of course her  most famous contribution to literature is the famous women’s liberation best seller, “The Female Eunuch”.



 Greer’s Wikipedia page
6 - Theme from Schindler’s List – John Williams
Did you know that the Oscar winning Spielberg film was actually based on a novel written by an Australian? Thomas Keneally wrote the book Schindler’s Ark, winning a Booker Prize in 1982. John Williams moving theme music won an Oscar, for Best Original Score.

 Link to music:

 Schindler’s Ark Wikipedia entry:
5 - Our Sunshine – Paul Kelly
Bushranger Ned Kelly is infamous in Australian history, and has been the subject of many books and songs over the years. Indeed, I was at one point even considering a top ten Ned Kelly songs, but haven’t quite got the list bedded down just yet.  Paul Kelly’s Ned Kelly song is “Our Sunshine”, which takes its name from Robert Drewe’s 1991 novel about Ned, which in turn inspired the Heath Ledger/Orlando Bloom film “Ned Kelly”. From Paul Kelly’s bluegrass album “Smoke”, this is great listen.

 And if you are not happy with me using the name of a novel as part of the list, you could virtually argue that Ned Kelly himself is an important writer in Australian history – see the Jerilderie letter.


 Link to the Our Sunshine Wikipedia entry:

 Link to the Jerilderie letter Wikipedia entry:

4 - Six Months in a Leaky Boat – Split Enz
Geoffrey Blainey is a prominent Australian historian and author, and one of his most well known works is “The Tyranny of Distance”. I found a copy of this book in the bookshelves at my Father in Law’s house. I borrowed it with every intention to read it, and still haven’t got around to it yet.  The book, I am led to believe, discusses how the geographic remoteness of Australia shaped our nation. Tim Finn was reading the book around about the time he wrote Six Months in a Leaky Boat and it inspired the nautical theme of the song. Indeed, he even used the book title in the lyric “The tyranny of distance, Didn't stop the cavalier, So why should it stop me.” (PS- and yes I am aware that Tim Finn is not Australian and the song even references Aotearoa, the indigenous name for New Zealand, but Blainey’s novel is about Australia)


 Blainey’s Wikipedia entry:

 3 - What’s a Few Men – Mark Seymour
My favourite Australian novel of all time would have to be A B Facey’s amazing memoirs “A Fortunate Life”.  A  cracking read, Facey led such an interesting life, enduring a hard childhood where he was forced to work from age eight and was the subjected to violent beatings by some of his employers. If that experience wasn’t interesting enough, he enlisted and served in world war one, became a professional boxer, local politician, tram driver amongst other things. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Anyway, in the section where he talks about the war, he describes a visiting English colonel  who expresses disgust at the smell from the dead bodies that lie near the trenches. The troops explain that if he seek to retrieve these bodies the enemies across in the other trench will shoot at them which would result in further casualties. The rather unhelpful response from the colonel is “what’s a few men”. This story inspired the Hunters and Collectors song, a powerful anti war story. As I have written before, I am much more a fan of lead singer Mark Seymour’s solo work than the H & C stuff, I think he really comes into his own as a solo artist. I couldn’t find a link to the Mark Seymour “Daytime and Dark” album version of this song, but enjoy this H & C version. Either way, its still a great song.


 A B Facey’s Wikipedia entry:

 2- Henry’s Men – The Bushwackers
I have mentioned this song before, in my top ten “Henry” songs. Some fine Australian folk and a tribute to the characters of Henry Lawson’s works. Lawson is considered by many to be one Australia’s best ever short story writers. His own story is quite colourful as well, battling through life with a hearing impairment, bouts of depression, drunkenness, jail terms and poor royalty deals.


Henry Lawson’s Wikipedia entry:

1 - Banjo’s Man – Slim Dusty
Any list of Australian literature should really include our most famous bush poet, the man whose image adorns our $10 note -  Banjo Paterson of course. Its probably fitting as well that one of greatest country music stars also takes today’s top spot. Slim actually recorded an album called Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson, where he put some of their works to music. I could have filled up this whole list with just this album. In this song, Slim hypothesises about the inspiration for one of Banjo’s most famous poems – The Man From Snowy River. Who was this brave and talented horserider? Was it Jack Riley from down near Corryong?


 Banjo’s Wikipedia entry:

 The Man From Snowy River – the poem:


 So Rol, what do you think? I gave it a good shot, I know some of the links are a bit tenuous, but I got there in the end.


Everyone - Please, help me improve this list – have I missed any more relevant direct links to Australian literature? Feel free to leave some comments, thoughts and suggestions below.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Deano - excellent work... and as you'll see, I had to cheat a bit on my Top Ten Songs About British Writers too so no worries about that.

    Surprised to see The Jam in there and I only recognise a couple of the other tracks but I'll be giving them more of a listen tonight.

    Well done on taking up the challenge - job done!