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Orana!

December 16, 2009

Just being silly. The Song Company kindly sent a weblink to a recording of the William James Christmas carol ‘Orana for Christmas Day’ (Carol of the Birds). Admittedly, it’s a new, slightly deconstructed arrangement by John Wheeler, but there’s something about this song that alters my digestive chemistry, in not a good way. Call me a Grumpy Old Fart but these carols… sheesh! Ever since I was first forced to sing them at church they have made me feel physically ill to hear or sing. Funny, isn’t it? The only other piece to do that is ‘Carmina Burana’. Happy Christmas to you too, the Song Company, and to all ye others of Goodwill.

Verily, a clarinet quintet has appeared, mostly written in the wee small hours, my habitual writing time, based on bush songs. Since obtaining a second hand copy of Meredith’s ‘Folk Music of Australia’ some years ago, I wanted for a long time to start using some of the British-derived folk songs popular among the colonists, and I always liked the idea of somehow placing them adjacent to indigenous tunes, to suggest the relationship(s) between the new and old Australians. Of course, it’s fraught with Issues and I’m probably a fool to go there but it’s done now. Anyway, being Australia, nobody will give a tinker’s so I should stop worrying. There is an indigenous song I came across that has captivated me. Sung by a nine year-old Walmadjeri girl and recorded in the 1960s, it bears a striking resemblance to the convict ballad ‘Sixteen Thousand Miles’ (from home). I confess that, in my ignorance, I know way too little about this music and this culture and I am trying to do something about that.

Elsewhere in Meredith’s collection are some wonderful anecdotes. The eighty-odd year-old miner Jack Luscombe, interviewed at his home in Ryde in the late 1950s, participated in the Miners’ Strike of ’91 at Longreach and vividly describes the events, including the murder of a scab. No doubt Windschuttle would have something dismissive to say about all that. One of the most fertile musical repositories was the mind of Sally Sloane, who lived just down the road from us at Teralba. She sang versions of some pretty bawdy little numbers. So, the Song Company, how would you feel about new versions of the ‘Warrego Lament’ and ‘Mary’s Ass’? The former concerns a whitefella who gets the clap and has his MP drop off; the latter would make even Mozart blush.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2011 3:39 pm

    Hello,
    My name is Katie and I would love to hear more about the indigenous song you mention…I have been interested in the Penguin Australia Songbook and particularly the (minor key version) song 16 Thousand Miles. (“There is an indigenous song I came across that has captivated me. Sung by a nine year-old Walmadjeri girl and recorded in the 1960s, it bears a striking resemblance to the convict ballad ‘Sixteen Thousand Miles’ (from home).”) It seems to me this is a very important thing to bring to light, that all traditions/cultures are intrinsically interlinked!
    I am a beginning Masters of Fine Art from Australia, studying at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, USA, and am working on making ceramic musical instruments and am very interested in narrative in my artwork, and folk traditions/mythologies of Australia. Have also recently enjoyed reading Charles White’s “Australian Bushranging History” vols 1 and 2. My blog is here: http://www.kateisonthemake.blogspot.com
    Hope to hear more about your clarinet quintet project…
    best regards, Katie Jacobs

    • October 26, 2011 3:24 am

      Hi Katy. Thanks for your email, and it prompted me to get in touch this morning with Jill Stubbington, who was very helpful in shedding some light on the background to this song. Collected by Alice Moyle in 1968, it was sung to her by a 9 year-old Walmadjeri (or Walmajarri) girl at La Grange. The girl said that she had recently heard it in the bush but could not say what it was called, and there is no accompanying translation. My previous efforts at researching the song, which included getting in touch with KALACC at Fitzroy Crossing, drew a blank, and it appears that the Walmajarri clan is now largely dispersed and the language is dwindling, which I find achingly sad. If you’d like to talk about this at some stage, my number is 0414 986390. All the best, Ian
      PS fun blog! Is it ok that I laughed out loud listening to ‘The Doldrums’?

  2. Jill Stubington permalink
    November 15, 2011 12:54 pm

    Hi Ian, just caught most of Songs from the Bush on the radio tonight. Congratulations! It’s a beautiful piece. Jill Stubington

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