How Good Is 2019!


Each November/December we do a show that sends up the politics of the year just gone, and we take it on a little tour. We write and rehearse the show as close to the time as possible to give it a feeling of immediacy, as if the ink were drying on the page.

The manager of The Carrington Inn at Bungendore always advertises earlier than the other venues, and, in September, we received an email from him asking for a title and a media release. We were in the French Alps at the time, (Moya was leading the singing part of a walking and singing tour), and Australian politics was far from our minds. So we recalled our short list of titles, ran them past some of the people on the tour, and the popular choice was How Good Is 2019!

The blurb I wrote in the midst of snow-covered peaks went:

In a year when the Prime Minister is writing their titles for them, Bungendore’s own musical satirists, Shortis and Simpson, confirm what a stunning year this has been as they take you on a roller coaster ride through the stories and characters that have made 2019 so memorable.

2019- the year when the unwinnable election was won, Abbott fell off his bike, the polls were up the pole, and Shorten fell short. When Greenland was almost sold, journalists were raided by the AFP, a Cardinal lost his appeal, and Aldi shopping bags became the new method of making political donations.

Yes, in the year when the election gave us ScoMo, the ALP gave us Albo, and Brexit gave us BoJo, Shortis and Simpson (JoSho and Simmo) reckon that all you can do is laugh. So join them as they go Morrison dancing, and find out, in the words of The Titanium Man himself- ‘How Good Is 2019!’

When we arrived home in late September I got writing, but nothing was forthcoming. I rarely experience writer’s block, but that’s exactly what was happening. Days went by when I would sit at the piano to no avail.

One day I told myself I wasn’t going to bed until I had a title song written. So with that deadline in mind I remembered that back in 2015, on the day Turnbull knifed Abbott, I’d recorded his press conference, and isolated the words:

We had lost 30 Newspolls.

I copied the phrase and replayed it over and over. There was a tune that came through.

I thought that, if I applied the same process to the eloquent orations of ScoMo in full flight, I might find a tune. And I did.

It was there inside his victory speech. When I isolated ‘how good is Australia, and how good are Australians!’, there was a tune. This became the chorus of the song, and the rest poured out in no time at all.

Interestingly, Malcolm’s recording was at a press conference after he knifed Tony Abbott, so he was low-key, in baritone range, in the key of C minor. ScoMo was in full evangelical mode, so his notes were clearly tenor range in the key of D minor. I reckon if I can find a politician who speaks in E minor, possibly a counter tenor, I may be able to predict the next Australian Prime Minister.

A lot of my songs start when I’m walking, or in bed, or driving, so I decided that I’d write one on a two-hour drive I had to undertake- one on the forward trip and another on the return trip. The first was I’m a Mosquito, and when the tune came to mind, I stopped by the side of the road, found an old Shortis and Simpson flier, roughly drew a musical stave and scrawled out the tune. The second was the song about how to pronounce Albo’s name, which was to the tune of Funiculi Funicula.

With writer’s block unblocked, the writing and rehearsing could begin.

It wasn’t the best of years (though with the benefit of hindsight it was a breeze compared to 2020). It was hard to strike the right tone and find comedy. We changed the set list a million times, threw out songs and replaced them with new ones.

By November we had a show, which we toured to Jamberoo, Tanja, Wagga Wagga, Bungendore, Canberra, Peel and Sydney.

When we were about to perform our last show, which was at Tritton Hall in Marrickville, Wayne Richmond who runs a folk venue in Collaroy, turned up unannounced with recording equipment, and his video ended up on YouTube.

Here it is- the essay, lyrics, scores, and a link to YouTube. I hope you enjoy it.


How good! How good! How good is Australia!
How good! How good! How good is Australia!

How good’s the climate
And how good is coal!
How good’s the surplus
And how good’s the dole!
How good’s a protest
In the hands of a Swedish teen!
How good is 2019!

How good’s the Donald
And his fake campaign!
How good’s impeachment
And how good’s Ukraine!
How good is Boris
Now that he reigns supreme!
How good is 2019!

The Year of the Porky
The Year of the Pig
The Year of the Dorky
The Year of the Bigwig
Though you’d hardly give it
A ten out of ten
Tonight we’ll relive it
Again and again
And again and again and again

How good is ScoMo
And how good the team!
How good his promos
And how good the dream!
How good’s a catch phrase

From the marketing man he’s been
(Where the bloody hell are ya?)
How good is 2019!

How good! How good! How good is Australia!
How good! How good! How good is Australia!
How good is 2019!


2019- a time when:

Tony Abbott lost his appeal (and so did Cardinal George Pell)

Clive Palmer spent $80 million and failed to get one seat (money well spent)

The Minister for Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, better known as Angus Horribilis, didn’t reduce any emissions, but he did manage to accuse Sydney City Council of increasing its carbon footprint by spending 16 million dollars on air travel (the only problem being that the actual figure was $6,000)

Prince Andrew was put on light duties (that’s what you call a right royal stuff-up)

Westpac was taken to the cleaners for laundering money (not once, not twice, but 23 million times)

The government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill had so much integrity that not even Pauline Hanson could vote for it.


We looked through the names of the parliamentarians in this 46th parliament, and found that amongst them there were:

Two Smiths, one Jones, and one Brown
Two Kellys, two Kings, and two Butlers
A Waters and a Fawcett
A Bird, a Hawke, a Swanson, and a Gosling
A Shorten, a Broadbent, and a Broad
A Littleproud and a Goodenough
A Laming, a Lambie, and a Marino
A Leigh, a Ley, and a Liu
A Wyatt and a Wong
A Hanson-Young and a Hanson Old
A Price and a Cash
One Payne, one Burke and one Dick (actually there’s more than one dick).
Proof that our current parliament may contain traces of nuts.


At our show last year, I confidently predicted that in our 2019 show we’d be taking the piss out of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister. How wrong could one man be! And how wrong were the polls! By taxing like crazy, not explaining the cost of his climate change policy, alienating half the population, and not communicating to the voters, it was goodbye to Our Boy Bill.

Just as well he didn’t win, because I pretty well exhausted rhymes with ‘Bill’ in the Rhyming Dictionary in this one song.

You have an obvious skill, Bill
For going in for the kill, Bill
Just like a pterodactyl, Bill
Who’s in a leadership spill
But when you switch to vaudeville, Bill
You’re not exactly Churchill, Bill
I’d say you’re pretty Dullsville, Bill
No longer our boy Bill

Your campaign manager’s bill, Bill
The cost to you it was nil, Bill
You say it’s run of the mill, Bill
A case of simple goodwill
But then you slid us downhill, Bill
You were on the nostril, Bill
You tried overkill, Bill
No longer our boy Bill (Our boy Bill)

Lost the unlosable (Lost the plot)
No longer reusable (Lost the lot)
Now refusable (Lost to Scott)
So let-loosable, but always will
Be our boy Bill

You were not happy until, Bill
You dowsed the light on the hill, Bill
Fell off the top of the bill, Bill
You were no Cecil De Mille
Now you’re off the treadmill, Bill
Your dreaming never fulfilled, Bill
Your mountain was a molehill, Bill
No longer our boy Bill (Our boy Bill)

Queensland pro-coal (Adani yes)
Melbourne, no coal (What a bloody mess!)
Climate change policy (Anybody’s guess)
There’s so many reasons we’ve had our fill
Of our boy, Bill (Our boy Bill).


In September 2019, the New York headquarters of the United Nations was home to the annual UN General Assembly, opening with a special climate change summit, giving world leaders a chance to show the world what they were doing in the name of reduction of carbon emissions. Jacinda Ardern was there, along with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, and many more.

16-year-old Greta Thunberg, leader of the worldwide School Climate Strike movement, had travelled from Sweden by zero-emissions yacht, and delivered an angry passionate address that caught the world’s attention.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you!

Even Donald Trump made an appearance with Greta looking on disdainfully.

And where was Scott Morrison? He was in the USA, but instead of being at this important event, he was inspecting a smart Drive-Thru at a Chicago McDonald’s. He came there from Ohio where he’d been at the opening of Anthony Pratt’s cardboard box factory, then at a Trump rally where they loved him even though they didn’t know who he was.

The United Nations had officially declared 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table. We wondered what element best described our Prime Minister. Howgoodium? Mediocrium? Hardly Einsteinium.

John Howard had previously been endowed with the title of ‘Man of Steel’. Trump christened our Prime Minister in a similarly metallic fashion, calling on something stronger than steel, but more lightweight- titanium. Look up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Titanium Man.

Faster than a Sharks’ prop forward
More powerful than a Man of Steel
His leadership is so straightforward
Just listen to his adman spiel
Our very own Cronulla pollie
Our happy clappy family man
Mild-mannered suburban wally
That’s our Titanium Man

(Titanium Man) He’s burning for us every day
(Titanium Man) For the entire population
(Titanium Man) Except for when he stays away
From the United Nations

The Donald and his team of backers
They found a thing for Scott to do
They sent him to the local Maccas
To drive through a Smart Drive-Thru
But it’s hard to eat a quarter-pounder
When your head’s buried in the sand
Harder still to be a good all-rounder
Like our Titanium Man

(Titanium Man) He says that he is on our side
(Titanium Man) That’s his famous proclamation
(Titanium Man) Except for when he runs and hides
From the United Nations

But cardboard boxes and Anthony Pratt
And a Trump-like rally, well that’s where it’s at
Not the rising sea levels or melting icecaps
No, a Swedish teenager took care of that

(Titanium Man) He has no time for anxious kids
(Titanium Man) He wants to save us from damnation
(Titanium Man) Except for when slams the lid
On the United Nations

Titanium Man
Titanium Man
Titanium Man
Mediocrium, ScoModium.


In the wake of its devastating election loss, the job of clawing the Labor Party back to being competitive again was placed in the hands of its new leader, a man known simply by one little word- ‘Albo’. But, Albo was given little Albo room by his party as they spent months soul-searching, asking the difficult questions. But after all that, there was still one vitally important question that remained unanswered.

Albo__ your party lost the last election
Your stakes are low (Your stakes are low)
And so__ I have a little list of questions
For you Albo (For you Albo)
Your name__ oh if you could, would you announce it?
To make it plain (To make it plain)
Then we__ could do our darndest to pronounce it
What is a-your name? (What is a-your name?)

Albo, Albo, will you help us please?
Albaneasey, or is it Al-ban-ease?
Or Albanaise or Albanaisey, Albaneasy, Albanease
We think we’re going crazy, Albo
Will you help us please?

Albo__ your party’s doing rather badly
But you won’t crash (No, you won’t crash)
As long__ as you get plastic bags from Aldi
Replete with cash (Replete with cash)
Albo__ you could improve your poll position
Get good reviews (Get good reviews)
If you__ could clear up your name recognition
But we’re confused (We’re so confused)

Albo, Albo, will you help us please?
Albaneasey, or is it Al-ban-ease?
Or Albanaise or Albanaisey, Albaneasy, Albanease
Can you make it easy, Albo
Will you help us please?


 Israel Folau- great footballer, Christian fundamentalist- upset the apple cart in 2019, when he posted this on Instagram:

Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent. Only Jesus saves.

It was Mark Twain who once said:

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

Based on that list I tend to agree with him.

Atheists and liars
And those who fornicate
You may not be the highest
On the list at the Pearly Gates
Non-believers, drunkards
All who gaily copulate
Don’t you look cute
In your asbestos suit

Adulterers and robbers
Lesbians and gays
Israel and his cobbers say
‘If you don’t change your ways’
You and all your wicked types
Old Satan will flambé
You’ll be hellbent
Less you repent’

Which only goes to prove the words we know so well
Go to Heaven for the climate, but for the company
Go to Hell

Idolaters and fibbers, you who are not devout
The misguided and the sinners
You’ll all be missing out
The permissive and promiscuous
Your future’s not in doubt
You’re in the shite
‘Less you see the light

Which only goes to prove the words we know so well
Go to Heaven for the climate, but for the company
Go to Hell

Jesus saves with the Commonwealth
Westpac, NAB and ANZ
With every dollar, every cent
He says repent, repent, repent
Or will find yourself in the red

Which only goes to prove the words we know so well
Go to Heaven for the climate, but for the company
Go to Hell
Go to Heaven for the climate, but for the company
Go to Hell.



And now some Trumpisms of 2019. On describing himself:

I am a man of great and unmatched wisdom.

On his vision for the future:

I love the concept of buying Greenland.

On the conflict with Iran:

I never called the strike against Iran off, I just stopped it from going forward.

On the Turkish invasion of Syria:

They gotta lot o’ sand over there.

Then, in a visit to Britain this year, after being cornered by Prince Charles on the dangers of global warning, he tweeted:

I just met with the Queen of England and the Prince of Whales.

Yes, that’s how he spelled it- W-H-A-L-E-S.

Mister Trump, he came to Britain
With him we were hardly smitten
Came to London, but he didn’t
Come to visit Wales

Met the Queen and met Teresa
Talked of Brexit, tried to please her
Since he could not meet with Caesar,
He met with the Prince of Wales

But when I saw his tweeting
The Prince that he was meeting
Was a hundred feet long, and 10 feet wide
With a layer of blubber for his heating
And a blowhole for his respiration
A dorsal fin for stabilisation
Warm-blooded was his conversation
With the Prince of Whales

The themes the prince spoke of were ranging
From greenhouse gas to climate changing
So Trump tried seating rearranging
To avoid the Prince of Whales
The prince he made a small commotion
About the warming of the ocean
‘If you don’t act’ said he with emotion
‘There’ll be no Prince of Whales’.


The Horse Racing Spring Carnival went ahead as usual this year, but with something of a cloud over it after the ABC’s 7.30 program reported about the wholesale slaughter of retired racehorses. Celebrities like Megan Gale and Taylor Swift boycotted events, and there were protests outside racecourse gates, and at the Melbourne Cup parade.

7.30 on the ABC
Is haunting me
Is haunting me
7.30 on the Thursday night
Full colour scenes
That are black and white

Race horses
Players in the sport of kings
Big business bucks
That’s what pull the strings

Saw the pictures
Heard the cries
Saw the pain
In the horse’s eyes
Read the stories
‘Bout a welfare fund
While the cup is run

Spring fashions
And a glass of French champagne
Go place a bet
And feel no pain

So may years
So many weeks
So many wakes
So many sleeps
So many hours
So many days
When the truth was known
In a dollar haze

7.30 on the ABC
Is haunting me
Still haunting me
Haunting me
Still haunting me.


Moya and I run a choir in Canberra called Worldly Goods, and every now and then we spend money they’ve earned from gigs on visiting tutors. Stuart Davis gave the choir a workshop in 2019, at which he taught us Bring Me Little Water Sylvie, a song associated with Leadbelly. Stuart taught us a body percussion routine that had been created by American banjo player/dancer Evie Ladin. We decide to borrow the song and the actions to sing of some of ScoMo’s accomplishments.

When the last budget was handed down, Mr Morrison promised tax cuts, the first of which, for people earning up to $126 000, took effect in July. It seems that most of it went into people’s savings or paid down debt, and did not show up significantly in retail figures.

Bring me little tax cut, ScoMo
Bring me little tax cut now
Bring me little tax cut, ScoMo
It’s good for me but I can’t see how.

In the aftermath of the gay marriage debate in 2017, there were those in the community who thought that the new laws would restrict the right to practise their religion fully. There was an inquiry led by Philip Ruddock, and then, in the wake of the Israel Folau case, a draft religious freedom bill that makes it unlawful to discriminate against Australians on the basis of their religion.

Bring religious freedom, ScoMo
Bring religious freedom now
Bring religious freedom, ScoMo
To please the fans of Israel Folau.

After the Australian Federal Police raided the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist, and the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters, media organisations of all stripes came together and, on one day, the front pages of newspapers showed stories severely redacted. The on-going Right To Know campaign argued for press freedom.

Bring me media freedom, ScoMo
Bring me media freedom time
Bring me media freedom, ScoMo
Journalism is not a crime

ScoMo came a running
Front page in his hand
Every word had been redacted
Whistle blowers blown from the land

Redacted version
Bring me ……. ScoMo
Bring me ….. time
Bring me …… ScoMo
Journalism ….. crime

Give me little tax cut, ScoMo
Bring religious freedom, ScoMo
Give the media freedom, ScoMo
Every little once in a while.


At the third stroke it will be


The Talking Clock Phone Service began in Britain in 1936. It took a while before we in the Antipodes adopted it in 1953.

Fast forward to 2109 and the service still exists in the UK, with 30 million annual callers. But here in Australia, Telstra stopped the service in October.


It seems that for Telstra, time had run out.

As it had for 11,258 climate scientists from 153 countries, who supported a paper that declared that

at the third stroke there will be a climate emergency. BEEP BEEP BEEEEEP (SIREN).

Since that declaration in November there seems to have been an increase in this mantra:

Australia is responsible for only 1.3% of global emissions so anything we do will not make a difference.

Well, Mr Morrison, heed the words of the Dali Lama:

Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never spent the night in a room with a mosquito.

This is the song I wrote in the car. 

I’m a mosquito
Where you go, I go
I’m a mosquito
And I’m a parasite

I am a nuisance
When I pounce
You wince
I am a menace
And I cut like a knife

And if you think that you’re too small
To make a difference
Try spending a night in a room with me
You’ll soon change your terms of reference

I’ll have you scratching
And searching for Pea Beu
I’m a mosquito
And I am a delight
I might be weeny
But I am a meanie
Yes I might be teeny
But I pack quite a bite

And if you think that you’re too small
To make a difference
Try spending a night in a room with me
You’ll soon change your terms of reference

I’ll go incognito
I’m biting you, ScoMo
I’m a mosquito
I’ll buzz you through the night
Yes I’m a mosquito
I may be petite-o
I’ll turn up the heat-o
And I can change your life

Just a tiny mosquito
But I can change your life



In May 2019, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke died, days before the election, sparing him the devastation of Labor’s loss. The nation as a whole mourned the loss of its favourite larrikin PM, the silver bodgie himself.

Hawke came from a religious family, his father being a Congregational minister. The Hawke family folklore has it that his mother said that the Bible would often fall open at Isaiah, chapter 9 verse 6:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder.’ It became family lore that RH would one day become PM. Bob shared this sense of destiny.

I’ve written songs about all 30 of our Prime Ministers, so I called on one that I’d written about Mr Hawke.

Unto us a boy is born
A baby boy who’s heaven sent
The bible says it’s so
He will lead the government
And so his destiny
Is as clear as baby poo
He knows what he has to be, oh Lord
And he knows what he has to do

Well, he must do
Like a bodgie do
He must give up
The grog for you
Even leave
The A-C-T-U,
To do___
Like a bodgie do

Unto us a boy is born
A boy who’s born to run the show
In a larrikin kind of way
Oh the bible tells us so
His path it is writ large
And as loud as a baby’s cry
He knows what he has to do, oh Lord
When a tear comes to his eye

Well, he must sob
Like a bodgie sob
He must bark
Like a drover’s dog
Spout the gospel
According to Bob
And sob___
Like a bodgie sob

With each shed of a tear
With each blink of an eye
With each pull of an ear
Watch the polls go high, high, high
High, high, high
High, high, high, high___

I wanna be Bob
I wanna be
I wanna be Bob
I wanna be
Now can I be Bob?
Please answer me

You just gotta do
Like a bodgie do
Even screw
Like a bodgie screw
Impress those widgies
With your bodgie hairdo
And do___
Like a bodgie do
Like a bodgie do
Like a bodgie do
(Bob, Bob, Bob).


At a time of the government’s policy aimed at reducing electricity prices by taking a big stick to the energy companies, we couldn’t resist a dance that makes good use of big sticks- Morrison Dancing.

Voters all, it’s party time
Follow the leader, fall in line
Feel the power down the mine
And do some Morrison Dancing

Be a good suburbanite
Swing your partner to the right
Be a happy Vegemite
And do some Morrison Dancing

Spin with ScoMo
Hop step with Albo
Sidestep with BoJo
Have a go, get a go

Have a Newstart holiday
Live on 40 bucks a day
Have a drug test anyway
And do some Morrison Dancing

Go to Paris, steal the show
In a canter, heel and toe
Praise the lord and dosido
And do some Morrison Dancing.


From Morrison Dancing to Pauline Hanson, the woman who dyed her hair to match the colour of her neck. In 2019 she was in the headlines yet again when two of her colleagues, James Ashby and Steve Dickson, were in America, a little tired and emotional. In a set-up, they were caught on camera by Al Jazeera, happy to receive donations from the National Rifle Association, the NRA. But, Pauline thrilled us all when she assured us that she would never accept donations from the NRMA.

Oh I say to all Australians
Let me make it very clear
About the Al Jazeera doco on TV
It’s a film made by aliens
The stitch up of the year
Yes, they put the ‘con’ into conspiracy

James and Steve were as pissed as parrots
Don’t believe a word you heard them say
I’m so distraught
‘Cause I’ve never ever sought
Donations from the NRMA

The media doesn’t like me
Well, except for Alan Jones
And Bolt and all his mates on Sky TV
Q&A get spiky
When they hear my dulcet tones
Which proves that we should sell the ABC

Someone’s out to destroy One Nation
In this last disgusting exposé
An Islamic plot
‘Cause I never ever got
Donations from the NRMA

On the open road, I always keep my distance
And I’ll not be towed by roadside assistance
No battery flat, or faulty indicator
Dodgy thermostat, or boiling radiator
There’ll be no green slip, or insurance claim
No reason I should please explain
Go away, NRMA

In fact I won’t be taking money from the biggish end of town

Big business it will pass my party by
Unless it is Adani, generosity abounds
My support for fossil fuels they can buy

On burkas, greenies and immigration
I’ll stay firm forever and a day
But as I speak
I will never ever seek
Donations from the NRMA.


 Membership of the EU, or its equivalent, has been contentious for a long time in the UK. The left used to oppose it, now the right does. There have been two referendums, one in 1975 that had Britain join the Common Market, the other in 2016 that gave us Brexit.

It has seen off two Prime Ministers- Cameron and May. It has caused two general elections. The withdrawal agreement has been rejected by parliament three times. The deadline has been extended a couple of times. And now Boris Johnson says he’ll ‘get Brexit done.’

The whole thing is nothing but a dog’s Brexit.

Come, BoJo, come. Sit. Good dog. Now eat your breakfast.

So you’re feeling a little peckish
Need a brekkie, or maybe brunch
Don’t you order the Continental
It’ll only spoil your lunch
No, go for the full English
Keep it undignified
‘Cause it’s a dog’s Brexit
Scrambled, fried

Two small items on the menu
One of them is take away
If you don’t like that, then you
Can stay in the café
Whatever your decision
To go, or stay inside
It’s still a dog’s Brexit
Scrambled, fried

Sit, BoJo, heel
Shit, no deal
Run, BoJo run
Come, BoJo, come

Time for obedience class, BoJo. And no humping that French poodle or that Dachshund. And stay right away from that Irish Setter who stole your balls last week. You shouldn’t have sniffed his backstop.

When you’ve knocked back your German sausage
And refused your baguette
All you’re left with are your kippers
And a cuppa to keep your nose wet
Now you’re back for a second helping
One thing that cannot be denied
It’s still a dog’s Brexit
Scrambled, fried

It’s still a dog’s Brexit
With an election
On the side.


During the election campaign we kept hearing Scott Morrison describe Bill Shorten as:

The Bill you can’t afford.

Also, he never stopped telling us how the coalition were the only ones well placed to manage the economy. This, despite the fact they spent $180 million re-opening Christmas Island when the only ones to have been housed there have been a Tamil family of four.

But, all is OK because the Treasurer has managed to sneak in a surplus budget- another budget smuggler.

Jobs and growth slowing, interest rates down, roll up, roll up, the surplus is coming to town.

Excitement, and anticipation
Wondrous, what a thrill!
The Big Top it has been erected
Up on Capital Hill
The murmur is electric
As the word is spread around
That the surplus is coming to town

See Frydenberg the Treasurer
Complete with rubber neck
One hand quickly deals the cards
The other rigs the deck
A master of the sleight of hand
He knows how to astound
Yes, the surplus is coming to town

His budget has not a spot of red
In fact his budget is blacker than the night
To fudge it, he simply flicks his head
And the lack of any stimulus
Is just an oversight

Next he walks the tightrope
With a blindfold on his eyes
He cuts away the deficit
The clamour starts to rise
And then, the books he juggles
With the timing of a clown
Oh, the surplus is coming to town

In his budget, there’s nothing he has missed
In fact his budget he rests his laurels on
To fudge it, he simply flicks his wrist
And the NDIS underspend
Magic! Gone!

Everything is balanced
Now how daring can he get?
Watch him on the high trapeze
Without a safety net
His hands are freely flying
And his feet have left the ground
Yes, the surplus is coming to town
Yes, the surplus is coming to town.


I often get an idea for a song from a cartoon published in one of our daily papers. Matt Golding, who appears in the letters pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, drew one in response to the drought that had the simple caption, ‘the farmer needs a life’.

I’m no fan of Alan Jones, but I’ll have to say he didn’t let Scott Morrison off the hook when it came to the government’s inadequate drought relief programs. He played the Prime Minister a recording of a farmer bursting into tears in desperation as he spoke of his plight.

I recalled Golding’s cartoon and wrote this.

The farmer checks the well
The farmer checks the well
Hi-ho the derry-o
The farmer checks the well

The well is running dry
The well is running dry
Hi-ho add-i-o
The well is running dry

Hi-o, hi-o
The dry is in the air
Hi-o, hi-o,
The dry is in the air

On air is where they cry
On air is where they cry
Hi-o the derry-o
On air is where they cry

The cry is clearly heard
The cry is clearly heard
Hi-o the add-i-o
The cry is clearly heard

Hi-o, hi-o
The herd is fed by hand
Hi-o, hi-o
The herd is fed by hand

The hand is reaching out
The hand is reaching out
Hi-o the derry-o
The hand is reaching out

The farmer needs a life
The farmer needs a life
Hi-o the add-i-o
The farmer needs a life.


One of the big stories of the year was the ban on climbing the sacred site of Uluru. On the day the ban was enforced, there was a major event to mark the occasion. Neither the PM, nor the Opposition leader, nor the Minister for Indigenous Australians was present. But representing the government was Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, who gave a speech, but didn’t mention the reason she was there- the walk to the top of the rock. I wonder if she was told ‘Don’t mention the walk’.

When asked about his absence, Mr Morrison replied that his itinerary was full and he couldn’t be everywhere. And where was he? At a basketball match in Perth.

Oh give me a Prime Minister
Who’s at the basketball-o
Instead of being at Uluru
To represent us all-o
Who loves to don the green and gold
Whose itinerary’s chock-a-block-o,
Who supports the insignificance
Of a sacred dreamtime rock-o

Oh give me a Prime Minister
Who loves a bit of sport-0
Rugby union, rugby league
They all get his support-o
Who picks up and runs with the ball
While praising aspirations-o
As long as they don’t give a voice
To the people of First Nations-0

Oh give me a Prime Minister
Who cultivates the art-o
Of shutting down discussion
On the statement from the heart-o
Who wants all quiet Australians
To make a contribution-o
As long as it won’t end up
In the Aussie constitution-o.


We live in a time when we question why young people are not engaged with politics.

No wonder when you consider that the Minister for Youth is 61 years old, that there are hardly any politicians under the age of 35, and that no Australian under 30 has ever voted for a PM who has lasted a full term.

Each year around 75 000 school-age kids make the pilgrimage to Parliament House from all over Australia to see our democracy at work. If Parliament’s in session, they go to Question Time, along with tragics like me, and when I see them looking down on the Bear Pit, I often think ‘no wonder they’re not convinced.’

But, thankfully, they also visit the Parliamentary Education Office where they role-play positions like the PM, the Speaker, Opposition Leader etc. That’s when they experience first-hand the real job of parliament- turning a thought bubble into a law.

We have a friend who works at the Parliamentary Education Office, so Moya quizzed her, and came up with this song, a nod to the future in the hands of our youth, and to the school excursions to Canberra.

Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Canberra?
A beautiful day we went the wrong way
But all us kids enjoyed the ride
Do you recall the thrill of it all
As we walked across the forecourt
We’re here to see how Democracy’s
Wheels go round

Wasn’t it grand when we had to stand
In line with all our schoolbags?
Have to confess
Felt a little depressed
With all those fellows in black with guns
But nobody died, we all got inside
Security was scary
We’re here to see how Democracy’s
Wheels go round

Then we stood in line for Question Time
And there was lots of shouting
Some of them left
And some of them slept
And some were sent outside the door
It sounded the same
As one of our games
But no-one blew a whistle
We’re here to see how Democracy’s
Wheels go round

Wasn’t it great when me and my mate
Were dressed just like the Speaker?
Pollies went by
And some of them tried to talk to future voters like us
One or two did acknowledge the kid
Who threw up in the Senate
We’re here to see how Democracy’s
Wheels go round

We’re here to see if Democracy


But young people do seem to get involved when there’s an issue that touches them. Take same sex marriage for example- 65 000 of them registered to vote at the plebiscite in 2017.

And climate change- 300 000 school children on strike, marching in the streets. After all, they’re the ones who have to live with the consequences.

So, young people, get out there, there are only three demo days left before Christmas.

Tis the night before Christmas in Parliament House
Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse
The stockings are hung by the backbencher’s chair
Now that our Tony is no longer there

The pollies are nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of focus groups dance in their heads
Albo’s in a nightie that’s lost all its colour
And ScoMo’s in PJs he bought in Cronulla

When out on the lawns there arises a clatter
They spring from their beds to see what is the matter
There before their wondering eyes a display
300 000 squashed into a sleigh

With Dasher and Dancer and Vixen and Prancer
They’ve written a question and they want an answer
So to Capital Hill, to the top of the flag
Down the pole old St Nicholas slides down with his bag

To ScoMo and Albo, says ‘how do you do?’
Then, as quickly as you can say ‘Vanuatu’
He gives them a note from the crowd in the sleigh
Then back up the pole- ‘gotta be on my way’

Leaving them both to read as he flies out of sight
‘How dare you, how dare you!
Merry Christmas, good night.’


Spoonerisms have lent themselves to some memorable comedy segments like the Two Ronnies doing Rindercella, and an American political satire group, Capitol Steps, who end every show in this way. Inspired by Capitol Steps, we started doing our own Spoonerism segment in 2009, and now it’s a regular component in our satire shows. We call ours Learless Feeders, and the best way to include it here is to give you the script.

In case you’ve forgotten, I’m John Shortis
And I’m Moya Simpson

Or rather, I’m Shon Jortis
And I’m Soya Mimpson

This is the story of our fearless leaders
No, this is the story of our learless feeders

First learless feeder– a former Mime Prinister, Ony Tabbott- Mr Smudgie Buggler himself. Also known as One Prick Tony. He was in trig bubble at election time and the voters told him to iss poff. Does his absence does make the fart grow honder? I thon’t dink so

But what about that other former Mime Prinister-Talcolm Murnbull? He thought he was a fart smeller,but he was just a big pissadointmen. He’s gone back to being a bealthy wanke. The igger they bar, the farder they hall

Meanwhile, rack at the banch, we all thought the new Mime Prinister would be Shill Borten, but we were red dong.
He wanted to get rid of cranking fedits…and the voters were hot nappy. He never knew when to ut the shuck fup

Bill pored the bants off us all. He bopped his drundle, and the winner was Mott Scorrison. Now there’s a pare squeg in a hound roll

MoSco-.the clappy happer white ringer. And speaking of white ringers, what about Deter Putton? Isn’t he a fugly ucker?

And as for the shoovers and makers of the Pabor Larty, like Wenny Pong, and Bony Turke- they’re in sheep dit.

But they’ve got a new leader- Ablo

Poor old Pabor Larty, they nearly had a hatal fart attack. But will they make a  bange for the chetter? Or stay the same foring old barts they are? Nuck foes

At least we don’t have Tronald Dump…or Joris Bonson

Let’s hope someone somewhere can give us some hoy in our jarts, and some soap in our holes.


Another segment that has been part of our satire shows since 1996 is a collection of short parodies of well-known songs featuring recent news stories.

First, the Medevac Bill, introduced by Kerryn Phelps to allow people on Manus and Nauru to access medical attention in Australia, supported by her fellow crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt, Julia Banks, and Rebekha Sharkie. It was repealed at the end of 2019, thanks to the casting vote of Jacqui Lambie.

Rebekha Sharkie had sharp fangs, dear
Adam Bandt’s, were pearly white
And a jacknife had Julia Banks, dear
They all struck when the time was right

Now Kerryn Phelps, ja, and Andrew Wilkie
Looks like their Bill is going down
Oh the line forms on the right dear
Now that Medevac is back in town

Christmas Island is full of no one
Jacqui Lambie‘s oozing life
See her sneaking round the corner
Now she gave Medevac the knife.

During the recent debate on the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW, we came home one night and, to our horror, there was a robo-message on our answering machine from none other than Barnaby Joyce.

He has just been on the phone to me
He wants abortion to be history
I can’t believe it’s Barnaby

That Abortion Bill’s a mystery
Didn’t know it’s still a felony
I can’t believe it’s Barnaby

It’s been years and years
All we wanted was a choice
There is something wrong
With the voice of Barnaby Joyce___

He’s a bad smell that won’t go away
And it looks as though he’s here to stay
Still don’t agree with Barnaby.

The NBN finally came to our home town of Bungendore. We signed up and it’s been a nightmare. It feels like it plays up every second day, and we came back from an overseas trip to find that our landline number we’d had for 20 years was changed. Thanks NBN.

NBN, so now you’ve come to Bungendore
And this village girl need wait no more
With satellite and mobile phone
I’ll never be alone
My NBN, you’ll see
You have a friend in me
(You have a friend in me)

For just 80 bucks a gigabyte
I call a doctor in the dead of night
And if the rate at which I bleed
Is slower than the speed
Of the Internet
I’m forever in your debt
(Forever in your debt)

But when the NBN came through
I lost a bit of faith in you
My landline went, I’ve lost my phone
So I’m at home, at home alone

NBN most people would turn you away
I don’t listen to a word they say
I don’t see you as they do
‘Cause my TV just turned blue
I’ve lost my dearest friends
Thanks to the NBN
(Thanks to the NBN).

And finally, Alexander Downer, when he was High Commissioner to Great Britain, had drinks with a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos. Downer, hearing from Papadopoulos that the Russians might release some damaging information on Hillary Clinton, cabled this information to Canberra which was then passed on to US intelligence. It is claimed that this helped set off the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2019, Papadopoulos, in his book Deep State Target, accused Downer of being a spy. It seems that the G and Ts the two shared were shaken not stirred.

He’s the spy, the spy in the fishnet tights
A wondrous sight
Is our Alexander
Beckons you to meet for some G & Ts
Then talks with ease

Downer words he will pour in your ear
But his tights can’t disguise what you fear
For a Trump campaign will never miss him
He’s the kiss of death

That’s Mister Alexander
Donald Trump, remember that London night
His net is tight
Fishnet tights
Dressed to the Right
Fishnet tights.


Information comes mostly from the daily newspapers and current affairs TV shows of 2019.


See and hear the whole show at How Good Is 2019

All songs and parody lyrics by John Shortis, except where indicated

Albaneasey, Albanease, based on Funiculi Funicula, music by Luigi Denza, words by Peppino Turco

Prince of Whales, based on Men of Harlech , traditional Welsh

Bring Me Little Tax Cut ScoMo, based on Bring Me Little Water Sylvie, by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly)

Oh Give Me a Prime Minister, based on The Derby Ram, traditional

The Day We Went to Canberra, based on Day Trip to Bangor (Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time?), by Debbie Cook, parody lyrics by Moya Simpson

The Night Before Christmas, based on the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Give Medevac the Knife, based on Mack the Knife, by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Marc Blitzstein

Barnaby, based on Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

NBN, based on Ben, by Walter Scharf and Don Black

Alexander, based on Goldfinger, music by John Barry, words by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.


Albanese- Telling It Straight by Karen Middleton.

Performed Nov/Dec 2019
Essay written June 2020

Out of the Cabinet 1977


Loving you
Isn’t the right thing to do
How can I ever change things
That I feel

If I could
Maybe I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me

You can go your own way
Go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way
Go your own way.

Mick Fleetwood- drums
John McVie – bass
Christine McVie (nee Perfect)-, keyboard and vocals
Lindsey Buckingham- guitar and vocals
Stevie Nicks- vocals.

Of the many incarnations of Fleetwood Mac, that’s the famous line-up responsible for Rumours, the 1977 album that dramatically raised their status from moderately to wildly successful.

Fleetwood Mac had been around since they were a British blues band in the late ‘60s, but in the ‘70s, changes in personnel expanded their songwriting and vocal harmonies. Furthermore, Stevie and Lindsey were Californians, so when the band relocated across the Atlantic, they became exponents of the soft rock West Coast sound, no more blues jams.

Like Abba, Fleetwood Mac was made up of 2 couples- Christine married John but that didn’t last, the Californians were a pair but that didn’t last, and Mick was married but that didn’t last. However, they all stayed together for the sake of the music, and tensions simmered. To use Christine’s wonderful maiden name, this was perfect grist for the songwriting mill.

Stevie wasn’t thrilled about these lyrics written about her by Lindsey, but still sang her backing vocals regardless.

Tell me why
Everything turned around
Packing up
Shacking up is all you want to do
If I could
Baby I’d give you my world
Open up
Everything’s waiting for you.

Rumours was a year in the making, but must have felt much longer given the friction within the group. At the end of each tense recording session, the girls and boys parted company to spend nights in segregated accommodation.

They had to go their own way
Go their own way.

The confessional nature of Rumours struck a chord with the record-buying public, and it has gone on to sell more than 40 million copies. Go Your Own Way was the first of four singles from the album.


1977 was the year of CB radio, cordless TV remotes, VCRs at the bargain price of $2000, and microwaves at $429.

It was also the year of strikes, strikes and more strikes. Air traffic controllers, postal workers, power workers, and Telecom employees all had their turn. The oil, building and iron ore industries were affected, as was the export of uranium and coal.

Australia still had a whaling industry. Refugees were pouring in from Vietnam, and we heard the term ‘boat people’ for the first time.

A 39 year old neurophysiologist, Colleen McCullough, sold the paperback rights of Thorn Birds for $1.7 million in the US.

English adventurer, Robyn Davidson, travelled for four months with camels and a dog from Alice Springs to Wiluna on the west coast.

Anti-drug crusader, Donald MacKay, went missing in Griffith NSW, after his car was found in a hotel parking lot with spent cartridges and pool of blood nearby.

83 people died when a commuter train travelling to Sydney from the Blue Mountains hit a road bridge near Granville railway station. A 300 tonne section of the bridge came down on the train, killing 83 and injuring more than 200.

After 70 years of planning, the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches combined to form the Uniting Church.

Jimmy Carter became President of the US, Brezhnev took over as President of the USSR, and our Prime Minister was Malcolm Fraser.


Since Federation had been declared in 1901, Australia had shared an anthem with Great Britain. There had been on-going interest in replacing God Save the Queen (or King) with a song that reflected our own distinctive national character. The path to an Australian anthem is quite a saga.

In 1971, the Australian National Anthem and Flag Quests Committee launched an anthem contest, one of the entrants being John Shortis, my father, an amateur composer, conductor and arranger. His entry was Australia, Dear Land of Mine.

Australia dear land of mine
Let all voices now acclaim
As southern stars and waratahs
Enshrine thy lasting fame.

The ten top entries were published in a book, and there alongside songs by Jack O’Hagan (the writer of many hits like Along the Road to Gundagai), and Frank Coghlan (bandleader at Sydney’s one-time leading dance hall, the Trocadero), was my dad’s song.

These entries were given to the Australia Council for judging, but they mustn’t have been too impressed, because in 1973, during Gough Whitlam’s time, a new competition was held and every entry rejected. Till his dying day my father never forgave Gough.

But the issue burbled away, and in ’74 the Australian Bureau of Statistics held a public opinion poll to judge support for three existing songs- Song of AustraliaWaltzing Matilda and Advance Australia Fair. The latter received over half the vote, so Gough declared it the new anthem.

Gough was ousted, in came Malcolm Fraser, and in 1976 God Save the Queen was reinstated.

But not all were happy with the idea of athletes at the Montreal Olympics that year standing on the podium without a distinctive Aussie song, so the choice was given to the people at a non-compulsory plebiscite in 1977. Advance Australia Fair won convincingly, although it wasn’t officially adopted for another seven years.

One poll in ’77 had support for an Australian republic at only 29%, and during Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee Tour of Australia that year, a protester was removed for waving a Eureka flag and crying out ‘Independence for Australia’.

1977 was the year that punk group the Sex Pistols brought out a rather different God Save the Queen.

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb.

The single, which was sold with a cover that showed the Queen sporting a punk safety pin, was promptly banned by radio stations throughout Britain, but still got to number 2.

God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
In England’s dreaming.

The UK, in the hands of an impotent Labour government led by James Callaghan, was experiencing runaway inflation and unresolved industrial action, and there was increasing pessimism and cynicism among youth who saw no future beyond the dole queue.

This discontent found expression via a new musical and social phenomenon, punk, a movement that equated existing rock music with the establishment. Punk was everything the pop industry wasn’t.

The first UK punk band to record was The Clash who sang of a hope for change. Then came the nihilistic Sex Pistols who were instantly met with revulsion by the mainstream, who saw punk as sinister pop cult, based on sex, sadism and violence.

Don’t be told what you want
Don’t be told what you need
There’s no future, no future,
No future for you.

Punk was not just a new approach to music, but also had its own fashion, created by designer Vivienne Westwood, who happened to be the girlfriend of the Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren. The punk look consisted of brightly coloured Mohican hairdos, army-style boots, and body-piercing in unusual places.

Punk had actually begun in New York in 1975, led by groups like The Ramones, but the first punk band outside the US was from Brisbane. They were The Saints, and their song (I’m) Stranded is seen by many to be seminal in the development of punk.

I’m riding on a midnight train
And everybody looks just the same
A subway light it’s dirty reflection
I’m lost babe I got no direction
And I’m stranded on my own
Stranded far from home, all right

Stranded – yeah I’m on my own
Stranded – I’m so far from home
Stranded – you gotta leave me alone
‘Cause I’m stranded on my own,
Stranded far from home.

The single was released in the UK in 1976, one review declaring it:

 The single of this and every week.

The single had a cult following, and didn’t make it on to the Australian charts at all. However, (I’m) Stranded has been listed in the Top 30 Songs of All Time by the Australasian Performing Right Association, inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and has been stored on the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia registry.

Sir Bob Geldof once said that there were three bands that altered the face of ‘70s rock music: The Ramones, the Sex Pistols and The Saints.


The new musical order was the antithesis of pop music as it had been. In fact the bass player of the Sex Pistols, Glenn Matlock, was fired in 1977 because of musical differences. He did, after all, admire the bass playing of Paul McCartney.

Speaking of which, poor old Paul who had signed his songs away for peanuts in the naive early days of Beatlemania, bought the copyright of Buddy Holly’s catalogue of songs in 1977 for the bargain basement price of $100 000, a very smart move.

At the same time, another investment, a farm in Kintyre in the remote highlands of western Scotland, was to give him the inspiration for a nice little earner, a song he co-wrote with Wings’ guitarist, Denny Laine, inspired by a rugged headland not far away.

Far have I travelled and much have I seen,
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green.
Vast painted deserts with sunsets of fire,
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre.

Mull of Kintyre,
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here,
On Mull of Kintyre.

The local pipe band in full traditional dress played on the recording and the nostalgic lilting song was released into a music scene now feeling the effect of punk, just a fortnight after The Sex Pistols’ album Never Mind the Bollocks was released.

Mull of Kintyre sold two million on release, and one story goes that when Paul was once caught in a traffic jam he noticed a group of punks in the car next to him. Trying to become invisible as he thought they’d think him a joke, Paul was pleasantly surprised when one of the punks wound down his window to declare:

You know that Mull of Kintyre- it’s fucking great.


1977 saw the first Aussie Rules final to be broadcast live on TV, and Kerry Packer’s first season of the very controversial World Series Cricket.

ABC TV serial Bellbird ended after 1693 episodes over 10 years.

Channel Seven committed to a TV adaptation of The Naked Vicar Show, which had begun as an ABC radio program two years earlier. The show gave us Ross Higgins’ immortal character, Ted Bulpit, around which the popular sitcom Kingswood Country would later be based.

That year, Harry M Miller, who was chair of the Queen’s Jubilee Commemorative Organisation, set up what would become a landmark moment in Australian television industry. Molly Meldrum was to interview Prince Charles for Countdown, to promote a specially compiled album to raise money for charity. Molly learned the carefully worded script off by heart, but when the time for the interview came, he kept stuffing up the intro. To break the ice, the prince noted that Molly had just returned from a trip to London, to which the Countdown host replied…

As a matter of fact I saw your mum driving along in an open carriage in London the other day.

To which Prince Charles replied:

You mean Her Majesty the Queen?

After putting his arm around the prince’s shoulder and calling him ‘Lovey’, it was decided that the intro would be re-recorded after the future king left the studio.

Television played a big part in the federal election that was called for the end of the year, with Coalition ads using the slogan ‘fistful of dollars’ to promote its offer of tax cuts (which of course never saw the light of day). The ads worked. Despite one poll showing that Fraser was as unpopular as Whitlam, his government was resoundingly returned with a loss of only five lower house seats, and a small but meaningful majority in the Senate.


Don Chipp had served as a Liberal MP since 1960 and had been responsible for several portfolios, but when Fraser became PM in ’75, Chipp was not in the ministry, and it was clear that there was no love lost between the two men.

So it was no surprise when, in 1977, Chipp resigned from the Liberal Party with a speech that shows that disenchantment with political parties was alive and well even back then.

I have become disenchanted with party politics as they are practised in this country… The parties seem to polarise on almost every issue, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it.

Chipp was to lead a new centrist party, provisionally called the Centre-Line Party. Other names flagged were Dinkum Democrats, Practical Idealists of Australia and People for Sanity, until it was decided to call the party The Australian Democrats. Policy voted on by the members included environmental sustainability, health and welfare, animal rights, rejection of nuclear technology, and opposition to economic rationalism. Above all, to use Chipp’s immortal words, uttered some years later, the party’s main role was:

Keeping the bastards honest.

Chipp and a NSW colleague were elected to the Senate at the ’77 election as  Australian Democrats, beginning a long upper house presence that was to last for over 30 years.


Two Elvises were in the news in 1977, one who was coming and one who was going.

First, the one who was coming.

Back in 1970, there was a dispute between certain record labels and Australian commercial radio stations which meant that some records were banned from airplay. So, for about five months, we got cover versions of some singles, including the Beatles’ Long and Winding Road, which us Aussies heard sung by an unknown English singer called Day Costello. Costello’s take on the song was in our charts for 21 weeks and went to number 3.

Costello’s real name was Ross MacManus, who took the pseudonym from his grandmother’s maiden name.

It’s no wonder that, when his son, Declan, followed in his father’s footsteps to carve a career in the music industry, he adopted the same surname, with a first name taken from a music legend. He was Elvis Costello.

It was alternative record company, Stiff Records, that took on Declan MacManus in 1977, and who insisted on a change of name. His first album, My Aim Is True, attracted good reviews and reached the Top 20 in the UK, but it wasn’t till he released Watching the Detectives, which wasn’t from the album, that he had any success.

Nice girls not one with a defect,
Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct.
Red dogs under illegal legs.
She looks so good that he gets down and begs.

She is watching the detectives
Ooh, he’s so cute!
She is watching the detectives
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
They beat him up until the teardrops start,
But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart.

The detectives come to check if you belong to the parents
Who are ready to hear the worst about their daughter’s disappearance

Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay,
It only took my little fingers to blow you away.
Just like watching the detectives.

And so to the Elvis who was going.

In August 1977, the world stopped still when Elvis Presley died, and it’s one of those occasions where we know exactly what we’re doing and where we were when we heard the news.

Without Elvis, music and social history would have unfolded very differently, because it was thanks to him that white country and pop music met black blues and gospel, giving us rock ‘n’ roll. And with it came the incredible changes in youth culture that turned the western world on its head.

His first recording was an outrageously original and spontaneous version of That’s All Right Mama, but it was his Heartbreak Hotel in 1956 that put a bomb under the complacent and fairly insipid music industry of the time. Many musicians of a certain age name this record as their epiphany.

When John Lennon was asked to comment on Elvis’s death he said that Elvis died when enlisted in the army, a fairly accurate comment. Originally gutsy and groundbreaking he became, under the management of Colonel Tom Parker, a showbiz property whose name on a movie or record regardless of the quality, meant dollars.

After the army stint, the movies and their soundtracks deteriorated in quality, although he still gave us many highly memorable recording moments. But with the advent of the Beatles and the British Invasion he was seen as old-hat, and had stopped live performances. So, in 1968, he reinvented himself with a TV special, and a new and high quality album, From Elvis in Memphis.

It was then a new stage of his career took off as he was offered his first Las Vegas season, and the era of overblown outfits and performances began. His fans flocked and his ability to wrap them around his finger, not to mention his sizable talents as a performer and singer, meant lucrative results, and an ongoing contract.

As the years went by though, his behaviour and his spending became increasingly erratic, and when those around him tried to talk to him about it he stormed off, and took himself to Washington where his fame allowed him to have an awkward meeting with President Nixon. He told the President of his concern with the drug culture, which is ironic given his heavy use of prescription drugs.

Elvis’s life degenerated into a series of tours, variable performances live and on record, a bloated appearance, lacklustre reviews, and a growing list of health problems with drug dependence at the top of the list.

Footage of him performing Unchained Melody in Rapid City Ohio was too raw for broadcast at the time. The passion is there but the voice and the physical strength had all but left him.

Then the imminent release of a book that spilled the beans on what was happening to him behind the scenes sent him switching between depression and defiance.

When he finally succumbed to the effect of Seconal, Placidyl, Valmid, Tuinal, Demerol and a mix of other depressants and placebos, the initial cause of death was given as ‘cardiac arrhythmia due to undetermined heartbeat’. After the lab results, it was admitted that the primary cause of death was polypharmacy, better known as heavy drug use.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as Elvis’ body was transported in a white hearse from Graceland to the cemetery.

I am a big Presley fan, and this is an excerpt from my tribute song.

In a room lined with peg board
A cross marks the spot
Where he once tapped his Lansky store shoes
Where Tupelo met Memphis
Where hillbilly white
Met the black heart of rhythm ‘n’ blues
Where chains were unlocked
Where a culture was shocked
Like nothing we’d witnessed before
Now the room’s filled with tourists
And reel to reel sessions
These four walls see him no more

‘Cause Elvis has left the building
He’s found a safe place to dwell
And it’s out in the ether
Where he talks to St Peter
‘Bout the tariff at Heartbreak Hotel.

Interestingly, the day after Elvis left us, three Aussie bands began- INXS, Midnight Oil and Mental as Anything. The baton was being passed on.


Back to Molly Meldrum, and to 1975 when a film clip arrived on his desk from Sweden containing songs by an unknown band called ABBA. The song that stood out was Mamma Mia, but their record label refused to release it as a single until it was played regularly on Countdown. It received so much response that the record company gave in to public demand, and as a result the single took off around the world and ABBA’s international career was launched.

When Abba came to Australia for a sell-out concert tour in ’77, it was like a thank you for giving them their first success. In the audience, fresh from announcing that the Coalition would proceed with full-scale uranium mining was….

Malcolm Fraser
There you go again
You’re no Gough
It’s easy to resist you
Malcolm Fraser
Don’t you know that when
You sell it off
I’ll never ever miss you.

Another act that hit it big in Australia, before the rest of the world, thanks to Molly, was New York band, Blondie.

Darlin’ darlin’ darlin’
I can’t wait to see you
Your picture ain’t enough
I can’t wait to touch you in the flesh

Darlin’ darlin’ darlin’
I can’t wait to hear you
Remembering your love
Is nothing without you in the flesh.

 Lead singer Debbie Harry was discovered when she was part of a female vocal trio called The Stilettos. She was given the job of lead singer in a new band named after the colour of her dyed hair. In 1977 Molly was on one of his international jaunts, and noticed Blondie when they were playing support for Iggy Pop in the US. He was impressed enough to ask them for a video, and In the Flesh got the Countdown treatment. In the words of Debbie Harry:

By the end of 1977 In the Flesh had hit number two in Australia, It was Blondie’s first hit anywhere in the world. Thanks Molly.

Now we cross to Peter Manning with his take on the Cabinet Records of 1977.

Manning, Manning, Manning,
I can’t wait to see you
Your picture ain’t enough
I can’t wait to hear you in the flesh.

Click to go to a transcript of address by Peter Manning.


Songs, YouTubes and credits
All parodies written by by John Shortis
Go Your Own Way written by Lindsey Buckingham
Australia Dear Land of Mine written by John Shortis (senior)
God Save the Queen written by Glen Matlock, John Lydon, Paul Cook, Stephen Jones
Mull of Kintyre written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine
Watching the Detectives written by Elvis Costello
Elvis Has Left the Building written by John Shortis
Mamma Mia  written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson
In the Flesh written by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein

Paul McCartney- the Biography by Philip Norman
The Never Um Ever Ending Story by Molly Meldrum
Unfaithful Music by Elvis Costello
Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick
Careless Love by Peter Guralnick

National Archives fact sheet 251 for information about national anthem competitions
Don Chipp’s last speech as a Liberal– audio

Performed 2008
Essay written February 2017

Happy Little Copyrights

A tribute to the noble art of song stealing


Some years ago I read a book called It’s One For the Money, written by Clinton Heylin, all about song snatching. I always knew that borrowing tunes and words was a well-worn practice, with a healthy tradition behind it. But this book took me into a world of innocents and villains, moguls and minstrels, and dug more deeply into the topic than I had ever done before. I found it fascinating and, as I worked my way through its pages, I knew there was a show there waiting to be called on when needed. I even came up with the title, and filed that thought away for future reference.

The next chapter in the story involves the National Folk Festival, held each Easter at Exhibition Park in Canberra. We put forward a show we’d already done. The artistic director seemed keen for something that we could premiere at the festival, so I mentioned this song-stealing idea that was sitting in the recesses of my mind, and she accepted it. Somewhere in our negotiations the concept of doing it with a band and our Worldly Goods Choir developed, and off I went researching and writing.

The show was staged in the biggest venue, in what used to be the National Tally Room. Over two performances, thousands came to see Happy Little Copyrights, and the reaction was fantastic. It was a great event for a folk festival, going to the heart of the passing on of songs, and covering a range of pivotal folklorists and folk artists.

A month later, we repeated it at The Carrington Inn in Bungendore, minus the choir.

This is the story we told in Happy Little Copyrights.


In the words of Pablo Picasso  ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’.

One day, one Pablo Picasso
In the midst of a spiel
He said that good artists borrow
But that great artists steal
In the nicest sense of the word
Yes, theft can be fine
When the only sound to be heard
Is the passing of songs down the line
Folk style.

With skill each thieving musician
Would pilfer and pinch
It is a noble tradition
To filch and half-inch
In the nicest sense of the word
Yes, theft can be fair
Owning a song is absurd
When it simply exists in the air
Folk style.

Then along come the fat cats
The big wheels, the big deals
The dollar signs lit up in lights
The biggest gold diggers
The greediest piglets
With their happy little copyrights
Happy little copyrights.

Written and spoken by Shortis and Simpson for the Plagiarists’ Party. No copyrights were hurt in the making of this song.

Happy little copyrights. Ole!

(Some say it was Stravinsky who uttered those immortal words about artists borrowing and stealing, but we went with Pablo because Moya does a pretty mean Spanish accent, and there would be plenty of opportunity for her to call on her Russian, as you will soon see.)


Our story begins, centuries ago, long before mass-produced printed music, long before gramophones and records, when songs were happily passed on orally with no money changing hands. This process took place across cultures, and was given a name only relatively recently, when musicologist Charles Seeger, father of Pete Seeger, coined the term ‘folk process’.

In our show we used the traditional ballad Barbara Allen to demonstrate the folk process. One version popularised by Pete Seeger went

‘Twas in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swelling
Sweet William came from the West Country
And he courted Barbry Allen.

Another from folk singer Ewan McColl had a totally different tune, setting and characters.

It fell aboot the Martinmas time
When the green leaves they were fallin’
Then Sir John Graeme ‘o the North Country
Fell in love wit Barby Allen.

Another version comes to us from Sarah Makem of County Antrim.

It was in the latter part of the year
When green leaves they were fallin’
Young Jimmy arose from the West Country
Fell in love with Barbara Allen.

So between these three tales of Barbry/Barby/Barbara Allen, the time was either the merry month of May, Martinmas time, or the latter part of the year. The one who fell in love with Ms Allen was Sweet William, or Sir John Graeme, or young Jimmy. And it took place in the West Country, or was it the North Country?

These are just 3 of 90-odd versions of Barbara Allen that have evolved, as they got handed on from singer to singer, generation to generation, county to county, country to country.

And who owns this folk song? Maybe we all do- us folk.

Oh singer, oh singer
Go spread my song
It’s yours to have and borrow
Oh call it mine and call it yours
May it live beyond tomorrow.

And that, in a nutshell, is the folk process.


Hush, little baby, don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

By virtue of the aforementioned folk process, this traditional lullaby evolved, over time, into a street and playground game called Hambone.

Hambone, hambone have you heard?
Papa’s gonna buy me a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Papa’s gonna buy me a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring don’t shine
Papa’s gonna take it to the five and dime

Enter into the story, ‘50s rock ‘n’ roller Bo Diddley, who took this mockingbird rhyme and combined it with a traditional rhythm brought to the Americas many years ago by African slaves. The result was what came to be known as the Bo Diddley beat, the cornerstone of his eponymous debut single.

Bo Diddley buy babe a diamond ring
If that diamond ring don’t shine
He gonna take it to a private eye
If that private eye can’t see
He better not take that ring from me.

Despite its traditional origins, this song was deemed to have been written by Bo Diddley, and his beat became one of the mainstays of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, picked up by many acts over the years, including Buddy Holly, who ditched the mockingbird but kept the beat.

I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
I wanna love you night and day
You know my love a-not fade away
A-well, you know my love a-not fade away.

Famously covered later by The Rolling Stones, the credit on Not Fade Away went to two people- Buddy Holly and Norman Petty. Petty was Buddy’s manager, publisher and producer, who made sure he got a writer’s credit on every song Buddy recorded, whether he wrote any of it or not. So Mr Petty’s income was far from petty. On Not Fade Away, the extent of his involvement was to give Holly the idea of riffing on Bo Diddley’s riff.

And as for Bo Diddley, he seemed to be blissfully unaware of Buddy’s song until he heard The Stones‘ version. In Bo’s words…

I thought The Rolling Stones had ripped me off because the song was just like mine. I didn’t find out until some time later that it was a Buddy Holly song. I wish I’d heard his version while he was alive. I’d have told that dude something.

Was it that Bo was too aware of the folk origins of his riff to make too much of a fuss?

My love a-bigger than a Cadillac
I try to show it and you drive a-me back
Your love for me a-got to be real
For you to know just how I feel
A love for real not fade away.

To complete the story, the copyright of Not Fade Away is now held by Beatle Paul McCartney who bought the entire Buddy Holly catalogue in 1976 for $150 000.

Made his money back in just one day
Profit like that never fade away.


When we think of the word ‘rock’, it’s easy to assume that it came into our lexicon in the 1950s. No, try the 1590s. To prove there’s nothing new under the sun, have a look at these words from Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare…

My throbbing heart shall rock thee day and night.

Move forward half a millennium, to 1948, and along came a song called Let’s Rock, that’s basically a one-note melody heavily based on the words…

Let’s rock
Gonna rock
Rock around the clock

…six years before Bill Haley’s recording of Rock Around the Clock.

And in the same song, these lyrics…

One for the money
Two for the show
Three to make ready
Four let’s go

…appeared years before Carl Perkins wrote Blue Suede Shoes.

The writer of Let’s Rock was a jump blues sax player, Hal Singer, and even though two rock ‘n’ roll classics were pre-empted in his song, he didn’t mind at all. He saw it as the usual process at work, and considered his song fair game.

Rock Around the Clock was written by Max C Freedman and Jimmy deKnight in 1953, and recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets the following year. Haley wasn’t keen on the melody they gave him, so at the last minute, just before the first take was recorded, he replaced it with the melody from the verse of a Hank Williams song, Move It On Over. There were no repercussions- because Hank himself was a serial offender when it came to purloining the songs of others. More on him later.

It was Johnny Cash who first had the idea for Blue Suede Shoes, while doing military service in Germany. A fellow serviceman, who would always wear the now famous footwear when he was out on the town on leave, would regularly utter the immortal words…

Don’t step on my blue suede shoes.

Cash was under contract to Sun Records in Memphis, as was rockabilly artist Carl Perkins, to whom Cash passed on this tale.

Also, while Cash was in Germany, he heard a song called Crescent City Blues, written by Gordon Jenkins. The song appeared on what was basically a concept album created by Jenkins, the linking theme being a train trip from New York to New Orleans. This track was sung by Jenkins’ wife, Beverly Mahr.

I hear the train a-comin, it’s rolling ’round the bend
And I ain’t been kissed Lord since I don’t know when
The boys in Crescent City
Don’t seem to know I’m here
That lonesome whistle seems to tell me
Soon disappear.

Gordon Jenkins didn’t give a stuff about the folk process, and when Johnny came out with Folsom Prison Blues, he wasn’t happy.

Cash had confessed to Sun Records owner, the brilliant and influential producer Sam Phillips, that he had nicked the song holus bolus, but Phillips didn’t care less. Gordon Jenkins sued and won a cash payout of $75 000. But he didn’t manage to change the songwriting credit on Folsom City Blues. To this day it’s ‘words and music by Johnny Cash’.


Another artist in the Sun Records stable was none other than Elvis himself, who Phillips sold to Colonel Tom Parker for the grand sum of $35 000 in 1956. Elvis’s first hit under the Colonel, on RCA, was Heartbreak Hotel.

Well since my baby left me
I found a new place to dwell
It’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel
Well I get so lonely baby
I get so lonely
I get so lonely I could die.

This song was written by Mae Axton and Thomas Durden, and, according to the credits on the record label, Elvis was one of the writers. But the king, great singer that he was, was not a writer, and didn’t write a word or note of it, or of anything else for that matter. The Colonel just said to the real writers, words to this effect…

Y’all wanna share the copyright with Elvis and make squillions? Or don’t share and make sweet FA?

Another big Elvis hit in those early RCA days, Love Me Tender, began as an old song of the American Civil War, Aura Lea.

Aura Lea, the bird may flee
The willow’s golden hair
Swing through the winter fitfully
On the stormy air.

The Elvis team gave the old song new lyrics, and, as before, the Colonel made sure that Elvis was listed as one of the writers, even though he wrote none of it.

Love me tender
Love me true
All my dreams fulfil
For my darling I love you
And I always will.


What we call country music today was once country and western, which was once hillbilly. These are merely marketing terms for what is essentially American music from rural regions with origins in British folk music. The terms come from different eras, each being updated to make the genre sound less hick.

And it all began in the 1920s when there were major technological changes in the recording industry that meant that equipment could be more transportable.

A dapper New York-based record producer/talent scout/ opportunist by the name of Ralph Peer saw this new portability as a means to tap the untapped grass roots musicians in the wilds of the USA. Not only was there a world of artists and songs out there who had not been heard by the nation at large, but better still for the bank account of the astute publisher, they had at their fingertips a bottomless pit of un-copyrighted material.

Peer coined the term ‘hillbilly’ to describe the music he had discovered, set up a makeshift studio in Bristol, Virginia, in the Appalachian area, and placed an ad in the Bristol News Bulletin offering locals a chance to record.

In Maces Springs, 26 miles away, there were three homespun music makers, the Carter family- Alvin Pleasant (AP), wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle. With a repertoire that drew on hymns and ballads, they decided to try their luck with a recording session at the Bristol studio. The resulting records were released and the money started rolling in.

Songwriter for the Carters was always the patriarch, AP, but his songs were rather products of the folk process than original compositions, One of their biggest successes was originally a hymn written a couple of decades earlier by Charles H Gabriel and Ada R Habershon.

Mr Carter changed the odd word and note, claimed it as his, and, as with all his recording artists, Ralph Peer claimed the copyright, giving himself a nice little cut. The original went…

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home a-waiting
In the sky, in the sky?

The Carter Family’s version went…

Can the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

…with marginal changes to the music.

In the words of Maybelle Carter…

Mr Peer made us famous and we made him rich.

Maybe the song should have gone…

There’s a bigger cheque a-waiting
Finger in the pie, Lord, in the pie.

The folk process gets very interesting when song stealer steals from song stealer, which happened when folksinger Woody Guthrie heard a Carter Family song called When the World’s On Fire, which was itself originally an old hymn.

Guthrie was writing an angry response to Irving Berlin’s patriotic pop song God Bless America, and used the main tune of the Carter Family track.

One sunny morning
In the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office
I saw my people
As they stood hungry I stood there wondering
If God blessed America for me.

Woody toned it down over the years, and it became This Land is Your Land, America’s unofficial anthem, sung everywhere- in schools, at community events, and at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.


In the ‘30s, American folklorists, John and Alan Lomax (father and son), were given a grant by the Library of Congress to go deep into real America and record its folk songs. The search took them into prisons, including Angola penitentiary in Louisiana. It was here, in 1933, that they encountered an inmate who sang them a whole bunch of songs that had come via the folk process from a range of sources- parlour songs, minstrel songs, traditional ballads, and family hand-me-downs. His name was Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. The last song he recorded that day was called Irene.

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump into the river and drown

Irene, good night
Irene, good night
Good night, Irene
Good night, Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams.

He said he learned it from an uncle, and it has a number of possible origins, all from the southern states. The Girls Won’t Do to Trust, published in 1906…

Irene, goodnight, Irene
Irene, goodnight, my life
I’ll kiss you in my dreams.

Sometimes I Lib in de Country, published in 1915…

Sometimes I lib in de country
En sometimes I lib in town
En sometimes I hab uh notion
Tuh jump in de ribber en drown.

The Lomaxes copyrighted Leadbelly’s work, and, in 1936, published the songs they’d collected from him in Negro Folk Songs As Sung By Leadbelly. They paid him 1/3 of the royalties, but Leadbelly was not happy with the deal, so he hired a lawyer and got out of the Lomax contract.

In 1950, a year after his death, folk group The Weavers slowed Irene down, softened the original lyrics by removing the verse about morphine, and changing…

I’ll get you in my dreams


I’ll see you in my dreams.

Their recording of Goodnight Irene sold over 2 million copies in the US alone. The songwriting credits went to Alan Lomax/Huddie Ledbetter.

Other songs credited to Leadbelly included Midnight Special, Cotton Fields, and Rock Island Line, all coming from traditional sources.


And now for some good old Aussie plagiarism.

During World War 2, with beer rationing in place, a Queensland sugar cane farmer, Dan Sheahan, rode into his nearest town to have a couple of beers at the pub, only to find that the American soldiers stationed in the area had drunk the bar dry. So he went home thirsty and put pen to paper.

It is lonely away from your kindred and all
In the bushland at night when the warrigals call
It is sad by the sea where the wild breakers boom
Or to look on a grave and contemplate doom
But there’s nothing on earth half as lonely and drear
As to stand in the bar of a pub without beer.

This was the first verse of A Pub Without Beer, that went on to be published in 1944 in the North Queensland Register.

Meanwhile about 80 years earlier, a legendary song was published in America. The music of that song was written by the man known as ‘the father of American music’, Stephen Foster.

Beautiful dreamer
Wake unto me
Starlight and dewdrops
Are waiting for thee
Sounds of the rude world
Heard in the day
Led by the moonlight
Have all passed away
Beautiful dreamer
Awake unto me.

Take verse one of the Dan Sheahan poem, adapt, add new characters, and write new verses. Set it to a tune that’s more than a little reminiscent of Beautiful Dreamer, and you get…

It’s lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the campfire at night where the wild dingos call
But there’s nothin’ so lonesome, so dull or so drear
Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

Slim Dusty first came across The Pub With No Beer in 1957 when the writer of the song, Gordon Parsons, was part of his touring entourage. It became a landmark record for Slim, taking him to number one on the pop charts, selling half a million copies, and propelling him into the mainstream.

Old Billy the blacksmith, the first time in his life
Has gone home cold sober to his darling wife
He walks in the kitchen, she says ‘you’re early my dear’
But then he breaks down and he tells her the pub’s got no beer.

On a subsequent tour to North Queensland, the son of Dan Sheahan came backstage and told Slim the story of his father writing the poem that the song was based on. It was then that the story came out that Parsons had been given a hand-written uncredited version of the poem. He said he assumed it was traditional.

The Sheahan family contacted the publisher of The Pub With No Beer, but the song remained Parsons’ property alone.

It all makes sense when you learn that The Pub With No Beer was recorded on April Fool’s Day.


And so to 1965, when BobDylan shocked the purists by appearing on stage at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar over his shoulder and a 3-piece rock band lined up behind him. When they launched into rocking versions of songs, mostly from his latest album Highway 61 Revisited, the performance was met with derision by the crowd.

Among those lamenting what was seen by some as the passing of the golden age of folk music, was a New York playwright/author/folksinger called Gene Raskin. His answer was to write a song that was nostalgic for former times. He wrote…

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.

In the folk tradition, he set his words to an already existing song, in this case a Russian song, Dorogoi Dlinnoyu, written around the turn of the twentieth century by Konstantin Podrevsky and Boris Ivanovich Fomin. Raskin’s tune is not identical, but very close.

The song, in its original form, had been recorded by a Russian cabaret star and by gypsy singers, and was noticed by the world in 1958 when it was performed in the movie adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov.

Yechali na trojke sbubenzami
Av dali mil’kali agan’ki
Echt ka da boomnitji pirt, za Vami
Dushu boorazvyat at taski

Da rogoj dlinnayu, da notch’ku voonnayu
Da spesni toj, shto vdal’ letit zvinya
Is toj starinnayu, s’ toj simistrunnoyu
Shto po notcham tak mutchala minya.

There is no better way to give you the translation of the song than to reproduce the script from our show, spoken by Moya in her very best Russian accent…

In Russian, the song is also lament for days of long time ago. You and I darling we rode together in three-horse troika with bells jingling down long and winding road. Days are passing, multiplying my sorrows and my depression, but soon you will come back for me- and we will ride in troika down same road to bury me. One of our happier songs.

As Gene and Francesca (Raskin and his wife), they recorded Those Were the Days in 1962.

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
Thinking of the great things we would do.

Meanwhile in Britain, a young Welsh singer, Mary Hopkin, appeared on TV talent show, Opportunity Knocks, and caught the eye and ear of one of the world’s first supermodels, Twiggy, who promptly told Paul McCartney about her. McCartney happened to be at a London nightclub when Gene and Francesca were the headlining act. When Paul signed Hopkin up, this became her debut single…

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern
We’d smile at one another and we’d say
Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we’d choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

The song has been recorded in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Hebrew. There’s even a Bollywood version.

Covered by acts like Engelbert Humperdinck, The Fifth Dimension, and The Three Tenors, Those were the Days has been a blockbuster success, credited to Gene Raskin alone, with no mention of the original Russian writers.


Bob Dylan, who was not averse to using or abusing the odd folk tune himself, was strongly influenced by the celebrated folksinger Dave van Ronk. Many years ago, van Ronk was touring Australia, and I happened to be in Adelaide when he was there, so I went along to see him. He was playing a small bar, to an audience that numbered five, three of which were Eric Bogle, Doug Ashdown and me. I overheard a bloke, who playing pool at the back of the bar, tell his mate…

He’s just copying Bob Dylan.

I couldn’t help replying…

Actually, mate, it’s the other way round!

For example, back in ‘62 when both His Bobness and van Ronk were folksingers in Greenwich Village, Dylan was in the middle of making his first album and asked van Ronk if he could record his version of House of the Rising Sun. He told Bob he’d rather he didn’t, to which Bob declared that it was a pity because he already had.

Alan Lomax comes back into the story again, because it was he who had unearthed House of the Rising Sun back in 1937, when he made a field recording in the Kentucky mountains. Among his discoveries was Georgia Turner, a 16 year old miner’s daughter, who sang two songs including this one…

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many poor girl
And me, Oh God, for one.

In 1941, Lomax published Rising Sun Blues, and passed it on to The Almanac Singers, the members of which included Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who recorded it under the title of The House of the Rising Sun.

It was consequently recorded by many folk and country artists, including black blues singer, Josh White., and when his version was played on the BBC in the ‘50s, it was promptly banned, for these reasons…

This gentleman appears to be singing about a house of ill repute. Here at the BBC we do not believe this is appropriate for our listeners. This record is not to be broadcast.

But the version we know and love was passed down via the folk process, from Dylan’s take on van Ronk’s version, to English group, The Animals. But it was Dave van Ronk who gave the world the now-famous chords that were soon on the fingers of every burgeoning guitarist.

Songwriting credits on the sheet music show that words and music were written by Alan Price, the organist, in The Animals- no Dave van Ronk, no Lomax, no miner’s daughter.

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your life in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun.


Alan Lomax features again in the late 1940s, when he played a 1939 recording of a certain South African song to Pete Seeger of The Weavers. The song was Mbube, meaning ‘lion’, and it was sung by its writer, a Zulu man, Solomon Linda.

Thinking the singer was singing ‘Wimoweh’, and, believing the song to be traditional, The Weavers recorded it, crediting themselves as arrangers, with no mention of its South African source. But when it became apparent that Linda was the writer, Seeger did pay some royalties over to him.

Later, in 1961, American doo wop group, The Tokens, were in the studio, running through their material to search for a good track to record. When they sang Wimoweh, the producers thought it could be a hit if they played with it a bit. So they took one of the lines, extended it, gave it English lyrics, and it became The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

In the jungle the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight.

The writers of this version claimed it as theirs, and it became a nice little earner for them, being a hit several times over- not only for The Tokens, but for Scottish singer Karl Denver, and Australian group Love Machine.

Royalties soared when it was used in The Lion King, movie and musical. Then, after an article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, alerting the world to the injustice, a deal was finally made with the family of Solomon Linda. The song writing credits now actually include Solomon Linda, who wrote it in the first place.


I’m a political animal, and I love nothing better than watching the TV coverage of elections. When Scott Morrison announced the election date in 2019, it happened to be for the same night on which we were to perform Happy Little Copyrights in Bungendore.

So I decided that I would make some reference to politics in the show that night, via the song What a Wonderful World. I chose it, not because it directly had a connection (or so I thought at first), but one of its writers was also one of the writers who claimed complete ownership of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. His name? George David Weiss.

And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

Then, while we were rehearsing it, I realised that much of the tune is the same as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you.

Made famous by Louis Armstrong, we used What a Wonderful World to pay tribute to the wonderful world of the 2019 election campaign- from Satchmo to ScoMo.

I see ScoMo’s campaign
He’s shearing sheep
He’s kicking balls
Sends me to sleep
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see Shorten on the hustings
Makes another gaffe
Eats another oyster
Permanently naff
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see Richard di Natale
Reach out to the ALP
And Palmer with his millions
Sharing preferences with glee
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see ABC guru, Antony Green
Computer doesn’t always
Agree with his screen
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.

Yes, thank you ScoMo, Bill, Richard, Pauline and Clive for a scintillating election campaign.

And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh yeah! 


The same team who ‘wrote’ The Lion Sleeps Tonight also claimed to have written the music of an Elvis classic. What are the chances it was ‘borrowed’?

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can’t help falling in love with you
Shall I stay? Would it be a sin
If I can’t help falling in love with you.

To answer the question, have a listen to the YouTube of Plaisir d’Amour, written in 1715 in the court of King Louis XVI of France.

Plaisir d’amour
Ne dure qu’un moment
Chagrin d’amour
Dure toute la vie.

Pilfering European tunes has been a common occurrence in the commercial music world.

For example, There’s a Hole in the Bucket, made famous by Harry Belafonte and Odetta, also comes from European sources, beginning life as a traditional 19th century German kids’ song, possibly brought to America by the Pennsylvania Germans.

Wenn der Pott aber nu ein Loch hat
Lieber Heinrich, lieber Heinrich?
Stopf ‘s zu liebe, liebe Liese
Liebe Liese, stopf ‘s zu.

It’s the same circular story, with call and response between Heinrich and Liese.

Womit soll ich’s aber stopfen
Lieber Heinrich, lieber Heinrich?
Mit Stroh, liebe, liebe Liese
Liebe Liese, mit Stroh.

At this point in our show Moya went into a frantic Deutsch moment that quickly led us through the next part of the song.

Aber Heinrich das Stroh ist zu lang. Muss ich abhacken? Mit einem Beil, Heinrich? Das Beil is zu stuumpf. Mach scharf mit einem Stein? Der Stein ist zu trocken, Heinrich!!

Which translates roughly as- hole in bucket, straw too long, axe too blunt, stone too dry. Henry a dickhead.

That latter statement certainly pervaded the well known version, as Odetta became more and more frustrated with Harry’s obvious solution to each problem.

Well, wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry
Wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, try water

In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

As I played the final chords, Moya summed it all up with…

Mein Gott Heinrich, was für ein Dumkopf!


Where are you going to, Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to a bonny lass there
For once she was a true lover of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any needle or thread worked in it
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Like all good folk songs that are subject to the folk process, Scarborough Fair has many variations. This one, which also has a different tune from the one we know and love, hails from Yorkshire where Scarborough is located, and was collected by English folklorist, Cecil Sharp. By the end of the eighteenth century there were dozens of versions of this song, only a few of which are now widely known.

At the height of the sixties’ folk boom, an American troubadour by the name of Paul Simon who was doing the rounds of the British folk clubs, was invited to dinner at the home of legendary English folksinger, Martin Carthy, who taught Simon his reading of one of the traditional tunes of Scarborough Fair, complete with his very own haunting guitar arrangement. Carthy had in turn learned the song from Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger.

In 1966, when Simon and Garfunkel were fabulously rich and famous, they had a massive hit with Scarborough Fair. They superimposed a beautiful counter melody that sounds like it was maybe improvised by Garfunkel.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there.

She once was a true love of mine.

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green.

Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown.

Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain

Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

The lyrics of the counter melody are loosely based on a 1963 Paul Simon song called The Side of Hill, so no problem with stealing from your own song.

On the side of a hill in a land called ‘Somewhere’
A little boy lies asleep in the earth
While down in the valley a cruel war rages
And people forget what a child’s life is worth

And the war rages on in the land called Somewhere
And generals order their men to kill
And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten
While the little cloud weeps on the side of a hill.

On the sheet music of Scarborough Fair/Canticle, the songwriting credits are given to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, no mention of Carthy, or tradition.

Many years later, Simon contacted Carthy, and got the Englishman up on stage to sing it with him, and afterwards asked him if he was mad at him. Carthy said he was, and in a moment of catharsis, forgave the American.

It’s a bit of a similar story to House of the Rising Sun. The plagiarism is to do with chords and guitar arrangement. I suppose it would have been gentlemanly to have at least acknowledged the source at the time.

The other consideration is that these are traditional songs, owned by nobody and everybody. Given there’s a percentage allocated to the writers as royalties, if the musician doesn’t claim it, the publisher will.

Still, acknowledgement would have been nice.


I mentioned earlier that one of the serial offenders when it came to song snatching was country and western star Hank Williams. One great example of this is the song Jambalaya, which was a hit for Williams in the ‘50s, and for The Carpenters in the ‘70s. This song has its roots in New Orleans, in an old Cajun lament for a lover who has run away to Texas with another- Gran’ Texas.

M’as quitté pour t’en al-ler s’ul Gran’ Texas
T’en allez aussi loin z’avec un autre
Criminelle, comment t’y crois moi j’peux pas
M’as quitté pour t’en aller s’ul Gran’ Texas.

The song in French Creole, is a stalwart of Cajun repertoire, and if you check out the 1946 version by Chuck Guillory, you will hear the source of Hank’s hit. He varied the tune slightly, gave it those great Cajunesque lyrics, and claimed it as his own.

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirowgue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and a file’ gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m a-gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou. 


(This may) This may be the last time
(This may) This may be the last time children.

The Last Time is a traditional gospel song recorded by, among many others, The Staple Singers.

(This may) This may be the last time
Maybe the last time I don’t know.

When The Rolling Stones first made it big, their hits were covers, and when their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, watched Lennon and McCartney’s success with originals, he knew it was time for the group to do the same. But with The Beatles it was organic- John and Paul had been writing together long before they’d been discovered. With The Stones it would have to be forced, so Oldham designated Mick and Keith as the group’s writers, locked them in a room and said he’d let them out when they’d come up with something. This was it…

It is the evening of the day

A hit for Marianne Faithfull…

I sit and watch as tears go by.

Writing a song for The Stones proved harder than they thought, but they kept at it, and one day Keith was sitting guitar in hand, playing along with the Staple Singers recording of The Last Time, and soon he and Mick had the beginnings of what became the first self-penned A-side for The Stones.

Well I told you once and I told you twice
But you never listen to my advice
You don’t try very hard to please me
With what you know it should be easy

Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don’t know
Oh no. oh no.

The song bore the credit Jagger/Richard, with no nod to The Staple Singers or to tradition in general.

Well, I’m sorry girl but I can’t stay
Feelin’ like I do today
It’s too much pain and too much sorrow
Guess I’ll feel the same tomorrow

Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don’t know
Oh no. oh no.

And, did Keith and Mick ever need to steal a song again?

This may be the last time
Maybe the last time I don’t know.

In 1966, Oldham once again took a cue from The Beatles, whose producer, George Martin, had released an album of orchestral arrangements of Beatles songs. Out came The Rolling Stones Songbook, performed by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra. The album rightly drifted into oblivion until, in 1997, the orchestrated recording of The Last Time was sampled by The Verve in their hit song Bitter Sweet Symphony. By then, The Stones’ manager was Allen Klein, who demanded and received 100% of the royalties.

But, in 2019, Jagger and Richard reversed the court’s decision, and handed all the royalties back to writer of Bitter Sweet Symphony, Richard Ashcroft.


From The Stones to The Beatles, and to the words of Mr Paul McCartney…

What do they say? A good artist borrows, a great artist steals, or something like that. That makes The Beatles great artists because we stole a lot of stuff.

For example, the riff in Lady Madonna was lifted from Bad Penny Blues by English jazzman, Humphrey Littleton.

Come Together from the Abbey Road album is a bit like a 1956 Chuck Berry song You Can’t Catch Me. The only direct lyric steal is..

Here come old flat top.

The verses of both songs are pretty well based around one note, so no one could claim melody theft, but it’s in the phrasing that there are similarities. The dispute was settled out of court, and Lennon recorded the Berry song on his 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album. I suppose a healthy royalty cheque from a song on an album by an ex-Beatle, was pretty good compensation.

Also post-Beatles, the main tune of Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is a direct pinch from a traditional folk song, Stewball. Lennon, in his pre-Beatles band, The Quarrymen, was influenced very much by skiffle music, and my guess is that he came across Stewball via skiffle star, Lonnie Donegan, who did a version of it.

But the most notorious Beatle-related copyright case is associated with George Harrison, in the early days of his solo career. It all began in 1963 with He’s So Fine, recorded by The Chiffons.

He’s so fine
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)

I wish he were mine
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)

That handsome boy over there
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)

The one with the wavy hair
(Doo lang doo lang )

 Don’t know how I’m gonna do it
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)
But I’m gonna make him mine
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)

Be the envy of all the girls
(Doo lang doo lang doo lang)

It’s just a matter of time
(Doo lang doo lang).

And it was just a matter of time before someone noticed the obvious similarities between He’s So Fine back in 1963 and Harrison’s mega-hit of 1971, My Sweet Lord.

My Sweet Lord (Alleluia)
Mm my Lord (Alleluia)
Mm my Lord (Alleluia)
My Sweet Lord (Alleluia)
I really want to see you, (Alleluia)
I really want to be with you, (Alleluia)
I really want to see you Lord (Ah)
But it takes so long

My Lord (Hare Krisna)
Mm my  Lord (Hare Krisna)
My sweet Lord (Krisna Krisna)
My sweet Lord (Hare Rama)
I really want to know you, (Hare Rama)
I really want to go with you, (Hare Rama)
I really want to show you Lord (Ah)
That it won’t take long my Lord (Alleluia).

There are definite crossovers between the two- the three-note melody of the verses, the beginning of the bridge, and the use of the backing chorus between the lines.

The publishers of the older song went for the jugular and sued George, who was found guilty of subconscious plagiarism, and had to fork out half a million bucks. But the story ended well for George because he bought the publishing company that owned He’s So Fine.

And The Chiffons recorded My Sweet Lord. Everyone was a winner.


Doo lang doo lang doo lang

soon became…

C’ching c’ching c’ching c’ching.

Subconscious plagiarism is an interesting one as it’s so easy to do. Here’s an example of my being guilty of it. Back in 2007 when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister the first time, I did a bit of research and found out that until then there’d never been a leader called Kevin, anywhere in the world. So I wrote this song…

In Rome we’ve had a Romulus, a Constantine the Great
In Pommy land a Winston and a Henry number eight
In the USA a Dwight, a Lyndon and a Franklin D
But delve and dig and search you might but still there’ll never be

A Kevin
As sure as God is in his heaven
There’s never ever been a leader called Kevin.

I realised many years later that the melody of the first line of the verse is identical to Simply The Best, made famous by Tina Turner.

I call when I need you my heart’s on fire.

Then, just recently, it hit me that it was also very much like Something Stupid, a hit for Nancy and Frank Sinatra.

I know I stand in line
Until you think you have the time.

Just like George I was guilty of subconscious plagiarism- twice in the one song. The difference is that if you sue him you make millions, whereas if you sue me for a percentage of the earnings of my song, you’d make about $3.50, if you’re lucky.


The Summer of Love came into common parlance as a term to describe the height of the hippie movement in 1967. It evokes San Francisco, flowers in the hair, lots of drugs, and some landmark songs. One of these was by English band Procol Harum. 

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kind o’ seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale.

The drummer in our band, Jon Jones, tells a story of a friend meeting a bloke in an English pub and asking him what he did. He replied that he wrote A Whiter Shade of Pale in the ‘60s and was still living off the royalties. When asked what the song meant he said he didn’t have a clue because he was so out of it on illicit substances.

I don’t know who our drummer’s friend spoke to, but it was most likely Keith Reid, the singer in the band, who was the writer of those enigmatic lyrics.

But it’s the music that has a copyright tale attached to it.

The sheet music that came out at the time shows the composer as Gary Brooker, the lead singer in Procol Harum. The song has a beautiful 5-note melody, notes from the time-worn pentatonic scale, the black notes on the piano. The chords are based on a descending bass line, once again a time-worn tradition that has precedents in classical music, namely Pachebel’s Canon in D, and Bach’s Air on a G String.

It’s that latter piece of music that you can hear borrowed by Procol Harum’s organist, Matthew Fisher, a classically trained musician.

Solos and riffs are interesting beasts because, whilst they’re vital to the success of the record, they’re extra to the tune that the singer sings.

For example, Bill Wyman, The Stones’ bass guitarist, reckons he wrote the riff of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, but he receives no royalties for the song.

Raphael Ravenscroft, the session musician who played the iconic and stunning sax solo on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street was paid a session fee of £27, full stop.

The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, scored the classical sections of their songs, like the French horn solo in For No One, the piccolo trumpet solo in Penny Lane etc. Martin was on staff at Parlophone Records, and was paid a salary, no royalties on these million sellers.

As for Fisher, he claimed that his instrumental was integral to the composition of A Whiter Shade of Pale, but didn’t rush in to staking his claim officially, waiting 38 years before he did so. He was successful, and, in 2005, was considered to be one of the song’s writers, entitled to 40% of the royalties, but without back pay. 


I’ll finish with the biggest copyright dispute in this country, one that began with a song written by schoolteacher Marion Sinclair in 1934, as an entry in a competition for the Girl Guides Association of Victoria. It won and was picked up worldwide.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh
Kookaburra, gay your life must be.

Apart from having gay kookaburras corrupt the innocence of Girl Guides, the song became an Aussie and worldwide classic. And many years later, so did this Men At Work masterpiece…

Travelling in a fried-out Kombi
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast

And she said,
Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

In 2007, the ABC ‘s quiz show Spicks and Specks unwittingly opened a can of worms by asking…

What children’s song is contained in the song Down Under?

The answer of course is Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, two references to which appear, not in the main song written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, but in the instrumental solos played by the band’s woodwind player, Greg Ham.

I actually met Marion Sinclair in the early ‘80s, in Adelaide Hospital, when I was researching Australian children’s music. The meek elderly woman I encountered then would die in 1988, oblivious of the kerfuffle caused by her song.

After her death, the copyright was bought by Bob Wise’s Music Sales, and eventually ended up in the hands of Larrikin Records. When the honchos at Larrikin were alerted to the information brought to light, dollar signs flashed loud and clear, as Down Under had sold millions of copies around the world.

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

And he said
I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

In many Australian songbooks, like The All-Time Favourite Australian Song Book, Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’s songwriting credit is listed as anonymous. Like The Weavers before them, Men At Work thought they’d quoted a traditional tune in their song. They were sued, and lost the case. Larrikin asked for 40%- they got 5, but still earned themselves a nice fat six-figure settlement.

We come from a lawyers’ office
Where the golden rule’s to fill the coffers
Men At Work, they went and plundered
They’d  better run, they’d better take cover.

In this litigious world in which we now live, you can always guarantee that there’ll be copyright disputes going on. At the time of writing, Twisted Sister managed to stop Clive Palmer using their song We’re Not Gonna Take It in his political advertising. Interestingly, Twisted Sister’s song is, in turn, derivative of O Come All Ye Faithful, which is well and truly out of copyright.

Singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran has just had to pay out millions to the estate of Marvin Gaye, and not that long ago Led Zeppelin won a court case that was based around the  chord progression of good old Stairway to Heaven.

As long as there are moguls and millionaires, and money to be made, disputes like these will continue. But in the hands of us humble writers and musicians, who make up a sizable part of the music industry, the folk process carries on regardless. So here’s to all of us- song recyclers of the world, unite!

And, finally, I’ll pilfer from an Aussie classic to which I owe the title of this show and essay.

We’re happy little copyrights
We’re all held legally
So sit and watch us copyrights
Advance financially
Our profits show we’re growing stronger
Every single week
And we adore the copyrights
With bucks galore clear in our sight
Our profits grow with every week

Although we hold the copyrights
We sometimes stole the copyrights
They put a rose in every cheek
We perfected the technique
And put a bum on every seat. 



All parodies written by John Shortis.
Happy Little Copyrights written by John Shortis.
Barbara Allen, traditional
Barbara Allen- Pete Seeger’s version
Barbara Allen- Ewan McColl’s version
Sarah Makem’s version comes from the singing of Frankie Armstrong on the CD The Garden of Love
Hush Little Baby, traditional
Hambone, traditional
Bo Diddley written byBo Diddley
Not Fade Away written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty
Not Fade Away Rolling Stones’ version
Let’s Rock written by Hal Singer
Rock Around the Clock written by Max C Freedman and Jimmy deKnight
Blue Suede Shoes written by Carl Perkins
Move It On Over written by Hank Williams
Crescent City Blues written by Gordon Jenkins
Folsom Prison Blues written by Johnny Cash
Goodnight Irene written by Huddie Ledbetter
Goodnight Irene- Weavers’ version
Heartbreak Hotel written by .Mae Axton, Thomas Durden, Elvis Presley
Aura Lea written by George R Poulton and W W Fosdick
Love Me Tender written by Elvis Presley and Vera Matson
Will the Circle Be Unbroken written by Charles H Gabriel and Ada R Habershon
Can The Circle Be Unbroken? written by A P Carter
When the World’s on Fire written by Virginia Franks and A.P. Carter
This Land Is Your Land written by Woody Guthrie
A Pub Without Beer (poem) written by Dan Sheahan
Beautiful Dreamer written by Paul J. Frederick and Stephen Foster
The Pub With No Beer written by Gordon Parsons
Those Were the Days written by Gene Raskin
Dorogoi Dlinnoyu written by Konstantin Podrevsky and Boris Ivanovich Fomin
Those Were the Days Bollywood version
House of The Rising Sun, traditional (Alan Price credited)
House of the Rising Sun Bob Dylan version
House of the Rising Sun Dave van Ronk’s version
Rising Sun Blues- Georgia Turner (original Lomax recording)
Mbube written by Solomon Linda
Wimoweh The Weavers’ version
Wimoweh The Tokens’ version written by George David Weiss, Hugo E. Peretti and Luigi Creatore
What a Wonderful World  written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss
I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You written by George David Weiss, Hugo E. Peretti and Luigi Creatore
Plaisir d’Amour written by Jean-Paul Egide Martini and Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian
There’s a Hole in the Bucket traditional German, adaptation by Belafonte and Odetta
Heinrich und Liese, traditional German
Scarborough Fair, traditional, collected by Cecil Sharp, sheet music
Scarborough Fair Martin Carthy’s version
Scarborough Fair/Canticle, written by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
The Side of the Hill written by Paul Simon
Grand Texas written by Chuck Guillory
Jambalaya written by Hank Williams
The Last Time, traditional
The Last Time- The Rolling Stones written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger
The Last Time- The Andrew Oldham Orchestra
Bitter Sweet Symphony written by Richard Ashcroft
Lady Madonna written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Bad Penny Blues written by Humphrey Littleton
Come Together written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
You Can’t Catch Me written by Chuck Berry
Merry Xmas (War Is Over) written by John Winston Lennon and Yoko Ono
Stewball, traditional
He’s So Fine written by Ronnie Mack
My Sweet Lord written by George Harrison
A Leader Called Kevin written by John Shortis
Simply the Best written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman
Something Stupid written by C Carson Parks
Whiter Shade of Pale written by Keith Reid, Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher
Air on a G String written by J S Bach
Down Under written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert
Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree written by Marion Sinclair
Happy Little Vegemites, written by Alan Weekes.


Buddy- The Biography by Phillip Norman
Down Under- The Tune, the Times, the Tragedy by Trevor Conomy
It’s One For the Money by Clinton Heylin
Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave van Ronk
Rock Around the Clock by Jim Dawson
Stone Alone by Bill Wyman
Walk a Country Mile by Slim Dusty
What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele as told to Bob Golden
Who Wrote the Ballads? by John S Manifold.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight- songfacts
The Last Time -songfacts
Scarborough Fair- The Telegraph (UK)
Dave van Ronk House of the Rising Sun- Esquire
Grand Texas- earlycajunmusic
Goodnight Irene- whats-in-a-song

Show performed April/May 2019
Essay written December 2019


Out of the Cabinet Preface


In common parlance, a cabinet is a piece of furniture.

But in that peculiar rarefied world that we call parliament, it’s a group of senior ministers meeting all together in a room behind closed doors.

The notion of a cabinet evolved over hundreds of years in Great Britain, was transported to our colonial parliaments, and eventually adopted in our Federal Parliament.

One of the characteristics of Cabinet is solidarity, which means that collective decisions made are to be fully and publicly supported by all ministers. To achieve this there is much open and free discussion, with dissenting views being aired, under the assumption that cabinet meetings are confidential.

There is a written record of Cabinet business including submissions, decisions, memoranda, minutes and the like, that are marked ‘Cabinet in Confidence’. In 1983 Parliament approved the public release of these documents going back 30 years.

So, in early December each year, an historian, who has gone through the massive amounts of cabinet papers from the relevant year, briefs journalists to give an overview of the major issues of that year. The journos are given a media kit that includes copies of some key documents, and are given access to the records in the Archives’ Canberra reading rooms.

Then on January 1, media outlets start publishing stories of tantalising and revealing information from decades ago.

In 2010 Parliament allowed for the waiting period to be reduced to 20 years, with 2 years being released at a time, to catch up.


Since Federation there was always a desire to have a national body that would house government records. In 1920, Edward, Prince of Wales, (of Mrs Wallis fame) actually laid a foundation stone for a National Archives in Canberra, but in good government style, the building was never built.

In 1998, the National Archives moved into its own home, in what was once, among other things, the General Post Office. Known as East Block, this 1926 building, situated in the Parliamentary Triangle, was designed by government architect John Smith Murdoch, who was responsible for many of the capital’s early buildings, such as the original Parliament House.

(In more recent times, the Archives building was sold, the staff were temporarily relocated at The Museum of Australian Democracy, and are now back in a renovated East Block.)

The actual records are held in another part of Canberra, so East Block is the public face of the Archives.


Like all the cultural institutions of Canberra, the National Archives has a public program that enhances the accessibility of the collection. This is where we come in.

In 2008 the year of cabinet release was 1977, and we were asked to come up with a short performance about that year, its politics, songs, general news, dramatic events, interesting stories etc. The way it worked was that we would be the warm-up act for one-time ABC journalist, Peter Manning, who would talk about what he’d come across in the cabinet documents.

It went well, with several full houses. They asked as back and Out of the Cabinet became an annual event, with the historian being Jim Stokes for the next six years, then Nicholas Brown for two years.

In the latter years it was part of the Enlighten Festival, and to capitalise on the brilliant atmosphere of projections on public buildings, became a nighttime activity.  We always reckoned that only in Canberra would people go out on a Saturday night to see a show about government documents.

It was one of our favourite gigs of each year, but everything has a life, and in 2016 our involvement in the project was ended by the Archives In that time we covered the years 1977 to 1991 missing out 1981 in the changeover from 30 years to 20).*


Now as part of my shortistory project, I have gone back over the shows and written them up as e-Essays, presenting a quirky look at 15 years of history, social changes, popular song, politics, interesting facts, and more.

These essays document an era that saw three Australian Prime Ministers (Fraser, Hawke, Keating), and world leaders like Thatcher, Carter, Reagan, Brezhnev and Yeltsin. They cover dramatic events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, Chernobyl, and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen rose and fell, the Australian Democrats were born, the Franklin Dam was stopped, and the Bicentennial was celebrated controversially.

It covers some fantastic songs, from classics to one-hit wonders, and some legendary albums like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles.

It was a time when we saw a whole host of female music debuts by the likes of Madonna, Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry. Hip-hop, disco and punk were born, Elvis Presley and John Lennon died.

Australia’s population went from 14 million to 17 million, and technologically we witnessed the coming of the fax machine, the worldwide web, the mobile phone, the popularity of the VCR and the CD, not to mention Neighbours and Home and Away.

There were also major changes in society- for instance homosexuality was illegal in all states at the beginning of the years we covered, and legal (Tasmania excepted) by the end of our coverage.

To research each year I essentially went through 365 editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald. I chose the Herald because I lived in Sydney from ’77 to ‘91, and was familiar with the local references. I thought that by using the newspaper as my initial reference I would get day-to-day stories, ads that indicated the costs of things, dramatic and funny stories, attitudes, and my specialty- things you don’t necessarily find in a history book.

What you’re about to read doesn’t, by any means, cover everything that happened on these years, so there will be some big events and songs left out. The choice of what to include came down to what we could make work in a live performance, and within the length of each performance.

I also regularly referred to certain source materials like-

The Book by Jim Barnes, Fred Dyer and Stephen Scanes
Rolling Stone Magazine
The Faber Companion of 20th-Century Popular Music by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing
The Chronicle of the 20th Century
Australian Chronicle of the 20th Century
The Encyclopaedia of Australian Rock and Pop by Ian MacFarlane
50 Years- Celebrating a Half-century of Australian Television by David Clark and Steve Samuelson
Friday on My Mind by Ed Nimmervoll
Singles (6 Decades of Hot Hits and Classic Cuts), various writers

I used many internet sites, always cross-referencing as much as I could. Sometimes it is the only source on, say, a one-hit wonder.

Additional sources of information are given at the end of each essay.

I also give links to YouTubes of relevant songs, and to the talks and transcripts by Peter Manning, Jim Stokes and Nick Brown.

And where it’s relevant I bring in personal stories.


Thanks to-
Moya Simpson for her role in the original shows as performer and as editor (Slasher Simpson I call her)

Fred Harden for his technical know-how and support

Lawson Lobb for his proof-reading and editing

Peter Manning, Jim Stokes and Nick Brown for brilliant research and informative talks

National Archives staff for being so supportive over those years

Information for this preface comes from the Parliamentary Education Office, and National Archives of Australia

I hope you enjoy Out of the Cabinet.

John Shortis
January 2020

Out of the Cabinet 1990/1991


It’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away

Since you’ve been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing, I said nothing can take away these blues
‘Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u

In 1985, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince created a side-project, a band called The Family. It was a way to release some more of his music without adding to the overkill of the Prince brand. The Family released one eponymous album, which contained a little known song called Nothing Compares 2 U.

At the same time, Sinead O’Connor, a student at a Quaker boarding school in the town of Waterford in SE Ireland, was spending evenings in her room playing guitar, singing and writing songs. She’d had a tumultuous childhood and found that through singing she could express her pain. Successive schools had tried to steer her away from a life of shoplifting after she was caught nicking a pair of shoes from a shop near her Dublin home. It wasn’t crime that filled her mind now, but instead her sights were clearly set on a career in music.

O’Connor formed a band, dropped out of school, moved to Dublin then to London where she was invited to record as a solo artist. Endowed with thick black hair, she simply rocked up one day at the studio with it all shaved off, a fairly revolutionary move at the time. Maybe it helped that she had the face of an angel with the devil in her heart.

New Musical Express described her as:

The female Johnny Rotten of the 1980s- an angst ridden young woman who shocked established society with her look and views.

Her first album had some success, but it was her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released in 1990, that caught the world’s attention. Ironically, whilst her songwriting was extremely well-received, it was the album’s one cover, the Prince song that had been around for four years, that took off.

I could put my arms around every boy I see
But they’d only remind me of you
I went to the doctor and guess what he told me
Guess what he told me
He said, ‘Girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do’
But he’s a fool
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u.

One contributing factor to the success of the record was the memorable video clip. Shot around Paris, with an all-female crew, it was originally intended to look very Parisian, but the filmmaker was so impressed with Sinead’s look that he decided to concentrate on close-ups of her face as she lip-synched her way through the song’s emotional journey.

Sinead’s image was satirised by Gina Riley on one very popular TV comedy show of the time, Fast Forward.

Nothing is there, I have no hair, I’ll sue.

In 2004, Nothing Compares 2U came in at number 162 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


1990/’91 technology was still fairly primitive compared to what we now have, but it was a landmark era for changes that would hail the modern era.

The digital camera was on the market in the US for the first time, and the world’s first website was launched. Neither had quite taken off yet, with the camera too expensive and rudimentary, and the website nothing more than an information resource about the European Particles Physics Laboratory in Geneva, where the Worldwide Web had been invented.

Only 1% of Australians had taken up the new mobile phone technology, and a new phone provider, Optus, was allowed to operate in competition with previous monopoly holder Telecom. Back then you could ring your phone companies on a 1-3 number for the first time, the call centres were actually in Australia, and the operators were really called Geoffrey and Kylie.

1990/’91 was a time when Australians felt that life was better than it used to be 5 years ago, women more so than men. No wonder because female lawn bowlers were now allowed to wear mini-skirts on the green.

You could grab yourself a bottle of Australian champagne that wasn’t actually champagne for $4.99, and a six-pack of Toohey’s Draught for $5.99.

You could do your supermarket shopping at Coles or Woolies, or Safeway, or Jewel or Bi-Lo. or Franklin’s (which was celebrating its fiftieth birthday.) And thanks to the power of the supermarkets the milkman was becoming a thing of the past with only 19% of households getting milk delivered, compared to 38% 2 years ago.

It was the time of the first Gulf War, which meant that in a matter of months petrol rose from 63.9 to 75.9 cents a litre.

But if you didn’t want to drive, you could fly with either Ansett, or Australian, East-West, or Compass. Sydney to Melbourne with Compass cost $120 return as long as you bought your ticket 9 months in advance, which isn’t as generous as it sounds because that’s about how long the airline lasted.

But if you were feeling guilty about the effect of air travel on the environment you could feel a bit better when you got home, because this was a time when many Councils had introduced recycling bins.


Speaking of recycling, one of the big hits of the time was a song that had been a hit 40 years earlier, now recycled by the magic of recording, sung as a duet by the very dead Nat King Cole, and his then very much alive daughter, Natalie Cole.

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why darling it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too.

The song, from an album made up completely of songs made famous by Natalie’s daddy, helped resurrect Natalie’s career, and made her number 1 in many countries including Australia.

One man who was hoping to be number one in the political hit parade in Australia at the same time was Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Both Hawke and his Liberal opponent Andrew Peacock were saying that the 1990 election was the most important election since the war.

Unfortunately the electorate didn’t agree, as they’d fallen out of love with the two main parties, and were getting more excited about green parties and the Australian Democrats. As I write this in 2016 this sounds all very familiar.

But it didn’t stop the good old ALP coming up with yet another dreadful campaign jingle, this time sung by a bunch of kids, presumably the ones no longer living in poverty by 1990.

Give us an Australia proud and strong
Give us a future we can really build on
‘Cause the future is in our eyes
See the children look into the future.

As expected, the Democrats did well, scoring nearly 12% of the vote, though they lost their leader, Janine Haines who had unsuccessfully tried to win a lower house seat.

Hawke just made it over the line, Peacock resigned, giving way to John Hewson as the new Liberal leader.

So, bird lovers, it’s incredible
That a Hawke can be forgettable
And a Peacock, so forgettable too.

As I worked my way through the Sydney Morning Heralds of these two years I came across a letter to the editor penned by Yours Truly. It simply read:

1975- double dissolution. 1990- double disillusion.


In Europe the Cold War was beginning to thaw, and in a wall-free Berlin, 200,000 people attended an outdoor concert which featured Sinead O’Connor, and Pink Floyd who, appropriately, performed The Wall.

Within months of the wall coming down, the golden arches of MacDonald’s stood proudly in Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Better than Blini or Borscht, bigger than Butterbrot and Boris, classier than caviar, thousands of people queued up for the honour of paying a few days’ wages to get a taste of the West.

Gastronomically, the Bol’shoi Mac was making inroads, but politically it was a time that marked the end of the Soviet parliament and the beginning of the Russian parliament, led by Boris Yeltsin.

Vodkas back I whack
Soviets I sack
I kick them out
Then I put myself in
Country’s in big stink
So grab glass and drink
To me, President Boris Yeltsin

Meanwhile in Britain, Maggie Thatcher‘s Poll Tax was met with riots, and even her own party called her a ‘destructive force’. She resigned and John Major was the new Prime Minister. In Ireland, the country voted in its first female president, Mary Robinson.

But it was in South Africa where the most dramatic and significant changes took place, under the new presidency of the white National Party’s F W de Klerk. As Education Minister de Klerk had favoured such discriminatory practices as keeping blacks out of white universities, but now as President he could see the inevitability of and end to apartheid.

In his inaugural address to parliament in early 1990, he was applauded by the international community when he promised the lifting of bans of the ANC and other illegal parties, reinstatement of freedom of the press, an end to capital punishment, and the release of political prisoners.

Among those to be released was freedom fighter Nelson Mandela who had never stopped fighting for democracy in his 27 years of imprisonment. Soon after his release, as part of a world tour he was the guest of honour at a mega-concert staged at London’s Wembley Stadium, and televised in 61 countries. On the bill, along with acts like Natalie Cole, Lou Reed, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, and Simple Minds, was Johnny Clegg, a white musician who had formed mixed-race bands in South Africa. His song Asimbonanga was among the many songs written to support Mandela during his imprisonment.

A sea gull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ u Mandela sina (We have not seen Mandela)
La phe kh-na (In the place where he is)
La phe seli khona (In the place where he is kept).

At the end of 1990, Oliver Tambo, who had led the ANC through its darkest years, returned to South Africa after years of exile in Stockholm. Mandela became the President of the ANC, facing the challenge of making the transition from clandestine organisation to mainstream player. By the end of 1991, at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, the stage was set for the formation of a multiracial transitional government, a new constitution, and a commitment to an undivided South Africa.


And so to Australian state politics, where in Queensland, the outcomes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption were providing much interest.

Police Commissioner Terry Lewis was sentenced to 14 years for corruption and forgery , and Joh Bjelke-Petersen was on trial for perjury.

The perjury charge was related to whether Joh had lied when answering questions about a cash donation of $100,000 by Singapore businessman Robert Sng. Just months after the donation, Sng’s company got the go-ahead to create a new hotel precinct in Brisbane’s Edward Street. Joh pleaded not guilty, and after a trial lasting four weeks, as the jury considered its verdict, Joh had this to say:

I am innocent and these people in here couldn’t prove otherwise. They can try going on as long as they like, they’ll never get any further than they got tonight- up a road, up a dry gully.

After five days when the jury foreman, Luke Shaw, announced that no verdict was reached, the jurors went public, saying that the foreman had dismissed their points of view. There was an uproar when it was discovered that Shaw was an active member of The Friends of Joh group. The case was thrown out of court, and Joh got off, scot free.

Labor’s Wayne Goss was now Premier of Queensland, and was taking the state in a more progressive direction, by bringing in laws that decriminalised homosexuality. Even though Victoria and NSW had made this change a decade earlier, Queensland right-wingers and fundamentalist churches were opposed. According to Elaine Nile of the Call to Australia Party:

It seems that Labor governments are a bit morally bent in that direction.

Unbelievably it wasn’t till 1990 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. And it was still an offence in Tasmania, ‘against the law of nature’, punishable with 21 years gaol, after a bill to decriminalise it failed to make it through the Upper House.


I love myself, I want you to love me
When I feel down, I want you above me
I search myself, I want you to find me
I forget myself, I want you to remind me

I don’t want anybody else
When I think about you, I touch myself
Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no
Oh, no, oh, no.

I Touch Myself, recorded by Australian group The Divynyls in LA in 1991, is a rare thing, a hit song about female masturbation, although Madonna had taken us there the year before when she simulated the act while singing Like a Virgin on her Blonde Ambition tour.

The song was actually co-written by Mark McEntee and Chrissie Amphlett of The Divynyls, with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who were the writers of Like a Virgin.

Amphlett had come a long way from the day when she was first noticed by McEntee while singing in a massed choir at the Sydney Opera House in front of an audience of priests and nuns.

You’re the one who makes me coming running
You’re the sun who makes me shine
When you’re around I’m always laughin’
I want to make you mine

I close my eyes and see you before me
Think I would die if you were to ignore me
A fool could see just how much I adore you
I’d get down on my knees, I’d do anything for you.

The record was accompanied by a sensual video clip, which was banned from daytime TV in Australia.

Amazingly they reacted quite differently in the US. As Amphlett said:

I mean it is on television six times a day. There is no problem with it whatsoever either on radio or TV. I thought that Australia would be more liberal but it seems to be a lot more straight-laced.

Amphlett died of breast cancer 2013, and the song was re-recorded by leading female artists to raise awareness and funds for research.

I don’t want anybody else
When I think about you, I touch myself
Oh, I don’t want anybody else, oh, no
Oh, no, oh, no.


Opera was a newsworthy topic in ‘90/’91 for a number of reasons. Australia’s first opera super star Grammy Award-winner, La Stupenda, Dame Joan Sutherland, retired after a career of 40 years, and The Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras) made their debut appearance in Rome, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup Final. The recording of this debut became the best-selling classical album of all time.

Opera also figured in the drama of Australian politics, as Keating gave a famous speech about leadership in which he never mentioned Hawke, but referred to himself as the Placido Domingo of Australian politics, centre stage, always giving quality performances.

Leadership is not about being popular. It’s about being right and being strong.

And as he was making that speech, this song sung by Bette Midler was roaring up the charts.

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains wide
From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man.

While this positive song echoed throughout the land, Mr Keating told us that this was the recession we had to have, and his running of the economy was being blamed for a 30% increase in hair loss.

From a distance
We all have enough
No hungry mouths to feed
Mr Keating, can we believe this stuff?
That no one is in need.

For the first time news of the secret agreement known as The Kirribilli Agreement in which, some years earlier, Hawke assured Keating that he would hand the leadership to him at a suitable time after the 1990 federal election. Keating decided that the suitable time was now, so on June 3 1991 he challenged Hawke, losing by 44-66 and immediately resigned as Treasurer. He vowed not to challenge again, and instead sat and watched from the comfort of his backbench pew.

From a distance
There is no harmony
And it echoes through our land
It’s the voice of Bob
It’s the voice of Paul
It’s the voice of the Big Picture Man.

The conflict between Paul and Bob was being reported everywhere, which led one overseas journalist to interview one Labor politician who knew exactly what was going on. (The journo’s questions in regular italics, the politician’s answers in dark).

Is Bob Hawke from the Right or the Left?
He’s from the Right.

How Right?
He’s the most Right wing Labor PM since Scullin.

So he’s supported by the ALP’s Right wing?

So who is supporting him?
The Left wing.

Oh so the Left like Hawke?
No they can’t stand him.

Why does the Left support him then?
Because by supporting him they can extract concessions from him.

Why doesn’t the left support PK in return for concessions?
Because the Left can’t stand Keating either.

Hasn’t the ALP got a better chance of winning the next election with Keating?

So by sticking with Hawke the Left is guaranteeing the government’s defeat at the next election?

Are you saying the Left would rather see the government thrown out of office than switch from Hawke to Keating?

Have the Left got any brains?
Yes, but cleverly concealed in the rear of their trousers.

Then on December 19, Keating challenged again and by a narrow margin of 56-51, became Australia’s 24th Prime Minister.

And the portrait on the wall
It must be anything but small
Must be as wide as it is tall
Big Picture Man
Big Picture Man.


The never ending fight for rights of our indigenous people was as strong as ever, as three landmark songs were written, all with links to one man, Paul Kelly.

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow.

In 1991, singer/songwriters Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody went camping at Lake Wivenhoe in Queensland, and one night around the campfire, guitar and mandolin in hand, a cycle of chords started to form, and a song emerged.

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow.

It was Paul Kelly who gave Archie Roach’s career the nudge it needed to record this iconic 1990 song about the Stolen Generation, from his album Charcoal Lane.

This story’s right, this story’s true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep

Said to us come take their hand
Sent us off to mission land
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away

Took the children away
The children away
Snatched from their mother’s breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.

Back in ’88 Bob Hawke had promised to enter into a treaty with indigenous Australians by 1990. The magic year had come, but alas no treaty or any steps towards it becoming a reality. So Galarrwuy Yunupingu from Yothu Yindi invited Paul Kelly up to Arnhem Land to work on the song with him, and once again it was around a campfire that a verse of lyrics were developed.

According to Paul Kelly:

We got pretty stuck for a while. I’m not really someone who writes from the top up, or from a theme down. So we struggled.

Then in Darwin, as the band were rehearsing songs for their next album, Kelly jammed with them and a groove started to develop. Over the top of the groove they started singing the words they had so far, including an improvised chant:

Treaty yeah, Treaty now

Some time later, Yothu Yindi’s manager rang Paul Kelly to tell him that the band had recorded Treaty and that the record company were keen to release it except no one can really hear the words properly.

Kelly informed him that that was probably because they weren’t all written yet, so he quickly convened with Yunupingu, and the two collaborated with Peter Garrett who made a few suggestions. The next day the song was recorded, and its remixed version that came out in 1991 went global, taking Aboriginal music and language to the world.

Well I heard it on the radio
And I saw it on the television
Back in 1988, all those talking politicians
Words are easy, words are cheap
Much cheaper than our priceless land
But promises can disappear
Just like writing in the sand

Treaty yeah treaty now treaty yeah treaty now

Nhima djat’pangarri nhima walangwalang
Nhe djat’payatpa nhima gaya nhe
Matjini Yakarray
Nhe djat’pa nhe walang gumurrt jararrk gutju.

(which translates as-‘dance, improvise, keep going, my grandson’).


Looking back at these years from 2017, it’s interesting to see who’s still around, and how little some things change.

For example, Donald Trump divorced his then wife Ivana who was moaning that she might have to survive in a $5 million mansion on a mere $33 million pay-out. The poor darling needed millions a year just to cover basic necessities like bodyguards, chauffeurs, servants and cosmetic surgery. Not to mention the therapy for the poodles, and the goldfish’s personal trainer.

In Australian politics, Barrie Cassidy was Bob Hawke’s press secretary, and Tony Abbott was John Hewson’s.

A $2.50 Medicare co-payment was proposed by the Hawke government, and a 15% GST by the Liberals.

It was alleged that there was a political bias to the left in the press gallery, and a claim of ABC bias from Bob Hawke, so Gerard Henderson was called in to appear on the ABC for balance.

And in sport, South Sydney footballers were caught up in a drug scandal.

Some things never change.


Hey hey hey hey
There’ll be food on the table tonight
Hey hey hey hey
There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight

My gut is wrenched out, it is crunched up and broken
My life that is lived is no more than token
Who’ll strike the flint up on the stone and tell me why
If I yell out at night, there’s a reply of blue silence
The screen is no comfort, I can’t speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven’s gate and I don’t know why

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
There’ll be food on the table to night
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight.

Blue Sky Mine from Midnight Oil, a response to reports of a rapid increase in cases of Mesothelioma, which had doubled over the past decade. The main culprits were power stations, the building industry, and ship-building.

But Rear Admiral Holthouse of the Australian Navy didn’t agree, declaring in front of 15,000 sailors and their families that the deadly blue asbestos which still infested the Navy’s ships and bases ‘is a naturally occurring fibre and is so harmless you can eat it’.

Midnight Oil’s song was about the town of Wittenoom in WA where blue asbestos had been mined for many years.

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
There’ll be food on the table to night
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
There’ll be pay in your pocket tonight.


1990/1991 movies
Terminator 2
Naked Gun 2 ½
Godfather 3
Omen 4
Rocky 5

1990/1991 births
Harry Potter
Wyatt Roy
The Australian Republic Movement
The Wiggles

1990/1991 deaths
Sir John Kerr
Manning Clark
Patrick White
Roald Dahl
Greta Garbo
Leonard Bernstein
And Freddie Mercury


Girls, is your under-arm area a little on the nose? On the bugle? A bit funky? Then you need Teen Spirit deodorant. It comes in a full range of aromas- Pink Crush, Sweet Strawberry, Romantic Rose, California Breeze, Ocean Surf, Caribbean Cool and Orchard Blossom. Teen Spirit Deodorant- it leaves no white residue.

Teen Spirit, the deodorant of choice of the girlfriend of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Seattle band Nirvana. When a friend told him he smelt like Teen Spirit, Kurt took it as having a revolutionary meaning, a good name for a song, so he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit, although he never actually used those words in the lyrics. The song became a Generation X anthem, introducing grunge, a hybrid of punk and heavy metal, to the world.

Load up on guns, bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s overboard, self assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid, and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto
An albino
A mosquito
My libido.

Cobain grew up in the logging town of Aberdeen, 100 miles west of Seattle. Through his father’s record collection he became familiar with the heavy metal sounds of Black Sabbath. His connection to punk is a little more obscure, because record shops in his home town didn’t sell the works of the Sex Pistols and the like, so he had to make do with reading about the punk lifestyle in magazines.

A fellow high school mate, bassist Krist Novoselic, formed a band with him and an ever-changing array of drummers. They became Nirvana, eventually found themselves the right drummer, Dave Grohl, and were working on their second album Nevermind when Cobain sent a distorted cassette recording of Smells Like Teen Spirit to producer Butch Vig. Even through all the roughness of this demo he could tell it was a great song.

Rolling Stone gave the album 3 stars.

With Nirvana the latest underground bonus baby to test mainstream tolerance for alternative music, given the small corner of public taste that non-metal guitar rock now commands, the Washington State’ trio’s version of the truth is probably as credible as anyone’s. Nevermind finds Nirvana at the crossroads- scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.

Nirvana certainly succeeded in the conquest mentioned in the review, with Nevermind eventually selling over 30 million copies worldwide. Smells Like Teen Spirit makes it into many lists of Greatest Songs of All Time, and has been covered by a cappella and jazz groups, there’s a beat-box version, it’s been sampled, and even satirised by Weird Al Jankovic…

What is this song all about?
Can’t figure any lyrics out
How do the words to it go?
I wish you’d tell me, I don’t know
Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, oh no

A garage band we’re from Seattle
‘Cos it sure beats raising cattle
Well we don’t sound like Madonna
Here we are now, we’re Nirvana.

And so we come to the time when we introduce Professot Nicholas Brown, who’s been poring through the cabinet documents of ‘90/’91 to give you the lowdown on the machinations of the final years of the Hawke government and the early Keating days.

In the Archives, it is dangerous
So here he is now, entertain us
Doctor Nick is all bravado
Give the man an avocado
Hello hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello

Ladies and Gentlemen, Professor Nicholas Brown.

To find Nicholas Brown’s in-depth take on the cabinet documents of 1990/’91, go to Professor Nicholas Brown 90 & 91


Songs, YouTubes and credits
All parodies by John Shortis (except for Weird Al’s)
Nothing Compares 2U written by Prince
Nothing Compares 2 U Sinead O’Connor
For Prince’s version go to Nothing Compares 2U Prince
For Gina Riley’s parody, go to Nothing Compares 2U Gina Riley
Unforgettable written by Irving Gordon
Watch the 1990 ALP election ad
Boris Yeltsin written by John Shortis
Asimbonanga written by Johnny Clegg
For an ad for McDonald’s in Russia, go to McDonalds in Russia
I Touch Myself written by Chrissie Amphlett, Mark McEntee, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg
From a Distance written by Julie Gold
Big Picture Man written by John Shortis
From Little Things written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly
Took the Children Away written by Archie Roach
Treaty written by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Paul Kelly
Blue Sky Mine written by Midnight Oil
Teen Spirit written by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl
Acoustic version at Teen Spirit acoustic
For Weird Al Jankovic’s  parody, go to Smells Like Nirvana

Books and newspapers
A Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela
All Fall Down by Matthew Condon
Reflections of a Bleeding Heart by Don Watson
How To Make Gravy by Paul Kelly
The Canberra Times
Australian Magazine

Treaty J Files

Show performed March 2016
Essay written August 2017

50 Years Ago Today

Marking the 50th anniversary of
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band


Although I’ve been a Beatles tragic for the greater part of my life, I refused to like the mop tops when I first heard them in 1963, because everyone else was crazy about them and I wanted to be different for the sake of it. But by 1964 when they toured Australia, I succumbed to their charm, thanks to their witty press conferences, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked on their music.

Without knowing it, they were my music teachers. I enthusiastically banged out their tunes on the piano, and from them I learned about chords, scales, modes, keys, time signatures, melody and harmony.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a pinnacle in my Beatles-led discovery, I think because it not only expanded my musical world, but it captured my imagination with its overall theme, its cast of characters and the worlds it took me into. I was an innocent about the drug connections, so I sort of missed out on that aspect at the time, but now realise how much the album was part of the social context. After all, the Summer of Love was just around the corner.

Moya and I performed 50 Years Ago Today at the Cobargo Folk Festival to mark the fiftieth anniversary of this ground-breaking LP (and they were called LPs back then). It featured us with festival guests, and an instant choir which we formed at the festival. We then re-jigged the show with a band and choir at Queanbeyan Bicentennial Hall.

Fifty Years Ago Today marked this golden anniversary by telling the story, not just of the recording itself, but how it came about, the era it was part of, and the affect it had on the world, socially and musically.

It went back to 1964 when the group hit the big time in America, and moved forward through the musical and recording developments of Rubber Soul and Revolver, the rivalry with The Beach Boys, the role of marihuana and LSD, The Beatles’ growing apathy to live shows, and, of course, included every song from the album.

For a long time now I have considered that my two favourite Beatles’ albums were Rubber Soul and Revolver, but I have to say that, having now spent months learning these intricate Pepper songs, I have new respect for Sgt Peppers, and it is now officially on the top of the list.


 It was 50 years ago today
Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.

The British public heard the Sergeant and his band on 1 June 1967, and the Americans the next day. Us Aussies, though, had to wait till the end of July, because the Poms didn’t trust us Antipodeans to do a good job of printing the elaborate artwork, so 50,000 covers had to be shipped. While they were on their way, the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War broke out, so the ship carrying the covers couldn’t get through the Suez Canal, and had to come the long way round.

This was at a time when the population in Australia was 11,912,253, and our Prime Minister was the debonair Mr Harold Holt (until he tried to walk on water at the end of the year). It was the era of the Vietnam War. Australia was going all the way with LBJ, and military conscription was compulsory for 20 year-old males, who, conveniently, couldn’t vote till they were 21. Don Dunstan became Premier of SA, and Gough Whitlam leader of the federal opposition.

But much more importantly, you could buy a bottle of Sparkling Porphyry Pearl for 90c a bottle, and a brand new Holden Ute for $1,981.

If you felt like ‘a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down’, a packet of Bex painkillers cost 12 cents, and a pound of tea 29c.

And even though we’d had decimal currency since February 1966, the prices were still given in pounds, shillings and pence, as well as in dollars and cents. So, a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s, on vinyl of course, cost $5.25, or £2/12/6.

This was an LP that was unlike anything we’d experienced before. The music wasn’t really rock ‘n’ roll, there were hardly any love songs, and it reeked of English fairgrounds, circuses and Music Hall. But at the same time it was so sixties, full of LSD references and inspiration.

In 1967, I was in my second year at Wollongong Teachers’ College, and played piano and trombone in a band called The Rubber Band. We were all Beatles’ fans, especially the lead guitarist who I think was even more of a tragic than yours truly. He brought Sgt Pepper’s around to my flat in Austinmer pretty well on the day it came out, and everything about it was extraordinary. There was the pop art cover, cardboard cut-outs, a psychedelic inner cover, lyrics printed on the sleeve for the first time ever. I listened to it on a tiny portable record player with the worst speakers in the world, and it still managed to blow me away.


We’re Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
We hope you will enjoy the show
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sit back and let the evening go
Sergeant Peppers Lonely, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

It’s wonderful to be here
It’s certainly a thrill
You’re such a lovely audience
We’d like to take you home with us
We’d love to take you home

I don’t really want to stop the show
But I thought you might like to know
That the singer’s gonna sing a song
And he wants you all to sing along
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Billy Shears.

The next track just segued in- Billy Shears singing With a Little Help From My Friends. Well, Ringo really, but the illusion was there. Only a few minutes in and I was already introduced to Sgt Pepper himself, his band, and his singer.

What would you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key

 Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mmm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mmm I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

In the days of Beatlemania it was mandatory to have a favourite Beatle. (Moya’s was George because of his cheek bones, mine was John because his voice touched me.). So all four had to have tracks to appease the fans- easy with John and Paul as they did most of the writing and singing, and George always had a track or two, but something had to be found each time for Ringo.

One afternoon in March 1967, John and Paul met up at Paul’s house, not far from the Abbey Road studios, to finish a song for Ringo. They’d started the day before and all they had was a bit of a tune, and a working title (Bad Finger Boogie), but the lyrics just wouldn’t come, until John suggested basing each verse on questions.

What do I do when my love is away?
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do I feel by the end of the day?
Are you sad because you’re on your own?

That night they turned up at the studio to record the song, with unfinished lyrics and two opening lines that went…

What would you think if I sang out of tune?
Would you throw a tomato at me?

With its instant rewrites and lyrical gaps filled, it became a perfect fit for Ringo and he sang it brilliantly.

Yes I get by with a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends.

The name Billy Shears was actually based on a real person, William Shears Campbell, a musician who had won a Paul McCartney look-alike competition, and, with all the rumours around at the time that Paul was dead, the belief was that Mr Shears was being passed off as Beatle Paul.

Luckily Paul was alive and well, because he was the driving force behind Sgt Pepper’s.


To understand how The Beatles progressed to the point of creating this seminal work, it’s worth going quickly through their story to see how they changed from the days when they were just four cute Moptops, producing a string of top pop hits, all with ‘me‘ and ‘you’ in the title.

Love love me do, you know I love you

Please please me whoa yeah like I please you

  She loves you yeah yeah yeah yeah

  I want to hold your hand.

It was that last song that made them internationally adored in 1964, and saw them touring America where they met Bob Dylan for the first time. When His Bobness heard:

I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide

he thought they were singing:

      I get high, I get high, I get high.

So he treated them to a puff or two of weed, thinking they were old hands at it. Instead he introduced them to it.

And it was partly thanks to discovering dope that The Beatles made the breakaway from catchy pop to a more arty style that set the scene for the musical changes that were yet to come. Also, these self-taught musicians were now being taken quite seriously in wider music circles. Orchestral versions of their tunes started to appear, and even classical music critics deigned to analyse their work.

So natural is the Aeolian cadence, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths, and the flat-submediant key switches built into their tunes.

John Lennon’s comment about all of this?

I thought Aeolian cadences were exotic birds.

In 1965 they launched into a new LP, Rubber Soul, often described as the pot album. It took them musically and thematically into uncharted waters, and saw them become more involved in production. It was the sign of a new musical direction and a new level of artistic control.

The Beatles were now caught between the old and the new. They had taken pop into a new dimension, but were still looking like mop tops, and their manager, Brian Epstein, was still working them hard on the interminable touring grindstone. Between tours, in early ’66 they discovered a new creative stimulus, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, LSD.

Their next LP, Revolver, captured the LSD experience, and once again broke boundaries, with material that ran the gamut from children’s song to political song, songs with Indian influences, funk, the surreal, the trippy, the enigmatic, the melancholic and the simply beautiful.


It’s now that The Beach Boys come into the Sgt Pepper’s story, because while The Beatles were recording Revolver, Brian Wilson was still trying to get over the impact of Rubber Soul. He thought that was it for The Beach Boys, that pop music could never get better. But he didn’t give up, he just locked himself away in the studio for 10 months till he came out with The Beach Boys answer to Rubber Soul, called Pet Sounds– more a single work, than just a series of songs.

I may not always love you
But as long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you.

It was God Only Knows from Pet Sounds that especially touched Paul McCartney. He thought it was the best pop song ever written. So, a respectful rivalry developed between the two groups, and by the time Revolver came out, The Beatles knew that their next album would have to be pretty amazing to outdo The Beach Boys. Beatles producer, George Martin, said that without Pet Sounds there would have been no Sgt Pepper’s.

                      God only knows what I’d be without you.


One important development that led to the creation of Sgt Pepper’s was the fact that by ’66 The Beatles’ live shows, staged in massive sports arenas, were becoming increasingly soulless, unsatisfying musically, even dangerous.

They received an anonymous telegram advising them not to go to Tokyo as their lives were in danger. The venue they were due to perform in, the Nippon Budokan, was considered a sacred place where traditional Japanese martial arts took place. There was opposition from conservative groups, and the tour took place in a state of siege, the crowd consisting of 7,000 fans and 3,000 policemen. The drama had its impact on the music, the Tokyo gigs being some of the worst The Beatles ever did.

The next day they flew to Manila, where things got worse. Manager, Brian Epstein, had received a suggestion that the group pay a courtesy call to Imelda Marcos en route to an afternoon concert. He turned down the invitation because time was too tight, and when they didn’t show up, all hell broke loose. Security was removed from all their appearances, and death threats were received at the British Embassy and at their hotel.

Then there was John Lennon’s comment about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus. The article in which his words were printed hadn’t raised a flicker of controversy in Britain, but in the southern Bible Belt of the USA it was deemed outrageous. 22 radio stations banned Beatles’ music, there were public burnings of their records, books and merchandise, the audience numbers were down, and more death threats were being made. In August ’66 they gave up touring forever.

When they returned to England they each went their own way, following individual pursuits. Ringo was wanting more time with his young family, John was trying out an acting role  in a movie called How I Won the War, Paul bought an old farm house as a hideaway in a remote corner of Scotland, and George was studying Indian music.

Then at the end of ’66, having hardly spent a day together for two months, they reunited, now as recording artists only, to make the album that would become Sgt Pepper’s.

The original idea was to have a Liverpool theme, and one bitterly cold night in November 1966, the sessions began with a new song from John, based on the name of an orphanage housed in a gloomy Gothic mansion not far from where John had grown up in Liverpool.

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to
Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever.

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me.

Composed on the film set in Spain, it began its life as a gentle acoustic guitar song, but soon developed into something much heavier. The final product was made up of two takes in different tempos and keys, brilliantly spliced together as one by producer George Martin. 

In response, Paul wrote his Liverpool song, an imaginary take on a bus roundabout.

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a Mac
In the pouring rain, very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back.

Neither song made it on to Sergeant Pepper’s. The Liverpool theme was too hard to sustain, and they needed a new hit record. After a dozen in a row, they released a double A-sided single with Strawberry Fields on one side and Penny Lane on the other, the best ever in my opinion. Unbelievably, it only reached number 2 in the UK, kept from the number 1 spot by none other than Engelbert bloody Humperdinck.

Please, release me, let me go
For I don’t love you anymore
To waste our lives would be a sin
Release me and let me love again.

But The Beatles’ single did get to number 1 here in Australia, Engelbert only making it to number 5.

So release me and let me love again.

(The 50th anniversary release of Sgt Pepper’s includes Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, as originally intended.)


The first song that actually made it onto the new album had been written by Paul when he was a spotty unknown Liverpudlian teenager, back in the pre-Beatles days. It was written very much as a tribute to the style of music that his father played in dance bands.

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

Considering that the new album had no title, and certainly wasn’t conceived as a concept, When I’m Sixty-Four contributed perfectly to the olde-worldy feel that would permeate the record eventually.

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight
If it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck & Dave.

And guess how old Paul’s father was when the LP was released?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?


The recording of the new album continued still with no name until Paul McCartney rolled up at the Abbey Road studio in early ’67 with the Sgt Pepper’s theme song. This was the first time the others had been introduced to this notion.

Paul had been holidaying in Kenya and was toying with the idea of The Beatles adopting the identity of a mythical band. On the flight home he noticed the two salt and pepper packets that were served with his meal, one marked S, the other P. In his mind this grew to be Sgt Pepper, the leader of this imaginary band.

There was a tendency at the time for bands to have ever-expanding names like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. So he came up with an equally lengthy name- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Without knowing it, he’d given birth to the idea of a concept album, where a mythical band took you into a fanciful world of acts and characters, with a large helping of psychedelia thrown in.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Aah aah.

John Lennon said that the images in this song were inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. The title came from a painting his son, Julian, had done of a nursery school friend called Lucy. Julian described it as ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’, the initials of which, coincidentally, are LSD.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is essentially a Lennon song, but Paul did add the recurring riff, and also the next image…

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone.

As the epicentre of Hippiedom had moved from Swinging London to tripping San Francisco, and all four Beatles had immersed themselves in the LSD experience, this new album was going to be a hell of a trip.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Aah aah.


In the very year Sergeant Pepper’s was born, some notable celebrities died-actors Spencer Tracey and Vivien Leigh, writers Dorothy Parker and Carl Sandburg, freedom fighter Che Guevara, Australian Prime Ministers Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Harold Holt, jazz musician John Coltrane, classical composer Zoltan Kodaly, and folk legend Woody Guthrie.

Now Woody does have a distant connection to Sergeant Pepper’s, because if you Google ‘concept albums’ the first name that comes up is Woody Guthrie. The reasoning behind this is that he wrote and recorded many songs around central themes, like the dust storms of the 1930s, and the building of the Grand Coulee Dam that would go on to provide water and jobs for the dust bowl migrants.

Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
From the Grand Coulee Dam where the water runs down
Every State of this Union us migrants have been
We come with the dust and we’re gone, gone with the wind.

Woody’s songs came out as 78rpm singles, and it wasn’t until the mid ’50s that albums with a single concept were released, most notably Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, on which every song evoked the same mood, one of late night loneliness and lost love.

In the wee small hours of the morning
While the whole wide world is fast asleep
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never, ever think of counting sheep

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You’d be hers if only she would call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That’s the time you miss her most of all.


The immediate precedent for The Beatles’ concept album was a 1966 offering from Frank Zappa’s group, The Mothers of Invention, called Freak Out!. Its central theme was American popular culture, and this was reflected throughout the songs and also on the sleeve.

Apart from the title track, the songs on Sgt Pepper’s weren’t written to fit the theme. That sort of happened later when the final product was being assembled. But there is one song that sounds like it was made to slot into the concept, it’s the last track on side one, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.

John Lennon got the idea for the song from an old poster he’d bought in an antique shop – a poster that advertised a benefit performance to be staged by Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royale, in Rochdale Lancashire, on Tuesday Evening, February 14, 1843.

Messrs Kite and Henderson, in announcing the following Entertainments, assure the Public that this Night’s Production will be one of the most splendid ever produced in this town, having been some days in preparation.

Little did Mr Kite and co know that they would one day be immortalised in a famous song, because Lennon borrowed heavily from the ornate wording of the poster.

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanques Fair-what a scene
Over men and horses hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire
In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world

The celebrated Mr. K
Performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate
The Hendersons will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don’t be late
Messrs. K and H. assure the public
Their production will be second to none
And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz.

The waltz section of Mr Kite was a perfect example of how the creativity bounced between producer George Martin and the musicians. John wanted the music to swirl around and give the appearance of a horse dancing. So Martin collected a whole bunch of recordings of fairground organs, put them onto tape, cut up the tape, threw the bits in the air and spliced them back together. The result is simply brilliant.

The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H will demonstrate
Ten summersets he’ll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill.

Pablo Fanque was the pseudonym for William Darby, a circus impresario, who was actually of black African descent. Mr Kite was an acrobat in his troupe whose celebrated trick was standing on his head on top of a pole whilst playing the trumpet. There’s an engraving of him performing this feat on the poster upon which John based his song. Mr Kite was obviously down on his luck, and the proceeds of this event were to go to him, an act of generosity for which Pablo was famous.

There’s a fascinating Australian connection to this story too- a relative of Pablo Fanque, probably a son or nephew took his name, toured down under, and moved to Sydney where he died, and is buried in Pioneer Park in Balmain.


As I said earlier, there’s not much in the way of rock music on Sgt Pepper’s. What is rife on the record though, is music that swings, that has a lilt associated with entertainment of former times. The big swingers are With a Little Help From My Friends, When I’m 64, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite, Getting Better, and Fixing a Hole.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go.

Many people assumed that Fixing a Hole was about mind-altering drugs, but it was just about Paul McCartney’s home renovations. He’d bought his Scottish farmhouse sight unseen, but when he saw it, he rapidly became a DIY expert.

I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go.

When The Beatles toured Australia back in ’64, they had to hire a replacement drummer, Jimmy Nicol, because Ringo was hospitalised back in England, suffering from tonsillitis. Every day the other three would ask Jimmy how he was getting on and he always replied:

It’s getting better all the time.

Back to ’67, The Beatles were needing more songs for their new album, and Paul McCartney was walking his sheepdog, Martha, when someone asked him what he thought of the weather. It was the beginning of spring in London so his reply echoed Jimmy Nicol’s immortal words. He went home, wrote the positive chorus:

It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better)
It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better).

The song is an interesting mix of sunny optimism and harsh reality, a perfect blend of the stereotypical characterisations of John and Paul.

I used to get mad at my school (No I can’t complain)
The teachers who taught me weren’t cool (No I can’t complain)
They’re holding me down (Uh huh)

Turning me round (Uh huh)
Filling me up with your rules.

Guess which words in this next section came from Lennon?

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better
A little better all the time
(Can’t get no worse).

While they were recording that song, John was drugged up to the eyeballs and felt ill. Innocent George Martin thought it was just a dizzy spell so took him to the Abbey Road roof to get some air and left him there, up on the roof with no railings. The other three ran upstairs and rescued him.

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
It’s getting better all the time.

 And all in swing time.


In 1967, Australian television, just over ten years old, produced some new shows that made their mark. There was This Day Tonight, affectionately known as TDT, our first nightly current affairs show and forerunner of today’s 7.30 show on the ABC. And we can’t forget Bellbird, the popular soapie that won Australian hearts, in black and white of course.

We also got a dose of realism in a new series called You Can’t See ‘Round Corners. It was highly controversial –for a start its main character was a conscientious objector, and furthermore the show had an uncompromising approach to social issues.

Gritty, realistic ‘kitchen sink drama’ had been around in British theatre since the ’50s, and it spilled over into television, so it’s no surprise that Sgt Pepper’s made its contribution in this area with stories of domestic violence, angry young men, and brutal teachers in Getting Better, and a runaway teenager in this haunting masterpiece.

Wednesday morning at five o’clock
As the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more

She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside, she is free

We gave her most of our lives
Sacrificed most of our lives
We gave her everything money could buy
She’s leaving home, after living alone, for so many years.

Paul McCartney wrote that song after reading about a 17 year-old schoolgirl who’d run away from her respectable, middle-class family. It was becoming a familiar story as the young generation were breaking away from their parents’ more traditional ways.

Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that’s lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
“Daddy, our baby’s gone
“Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?
How could she do this to me?”

We never thought of ourselves
Never a thought for ourselves
We struggled hard all our lives to get by
She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years.

As soon as he’d written it he had the idea for the arrangement in his head, so he asked George Martin if he could write a score from his ideas immediately, while the thoughts were hot. But George was busy recording Cilla Black and couldn’t drop everything in the middle of a recording session.

So Paul, for the first time on a Beatles’ recording, hired another arranger, Mike Leander, who did a brilliant arrangement for harp and strings. George Martin was miffed, but, in stiff upper lip fashion, recorded the song with minor alterations.

Friday morning, at nine o’clock
She is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the motor trade

What did we do that was wrong?
We didn’t know it was wrong
Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy

Something inside, that was always denied for so many years
She’s leaving home, bye, bye.

She’s Leaving Home took the rivalry between The Beatles and The Beach Boys to a new level. When Brian Wilson heard it he started to answer it with a new album called Smile, but he then declared The Beatles the winners of their little contest and stopped working on the album. He finally finished Smile in 2004. 


That track is one of the few by The Beatles to have none of the foursome playing on the accompaniment. But when they did play their instruments, they often experimented with how they played them and how they were recorded.

Take drums, for instance. In pop music of the time they had mostly been workhorse instruments, relegated to keeping time in the background. But now in the studio, Ringo had the luxury of adding little flourishes he would never do in a concert.

There’s an old joke that goes:

Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?

The answer?

He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.

One of the big myths of all time, in my opinion. And I am not alone. In the words of legendary musician Al Cooper:

Sgt Pepper’s was the album that changed drumming. Before that album drum fills in rock ‘n’ roll were pretty rudimentary.

Legendary drummer Phil Collins said:

Well I think he’s vastly under-rated, Ringo. The drum fills were in fact very, very complex things.

Also the drums were now being much more heavily miked and could be heard much more up front.

When it came to the bass, EMI had always claimed that too much bass would make the stylus jump. Paul McCartney thought this was a load of crap, and wanted to try plugging his bass directly into the recording desk instead of via an amplifier. To do this, the Abbey Road engineers invented the Direct Injection box, (the DI that we all now use on stage and in the studio).

When Lennon saw it working, he asked George Martin:

Hey George, can you put my singing straight into the desk?  

To which George replied:

As long as you’re prepared to have an operation that inserts a jack plug into your voice box, John.

One of the things I remember so well from that night when I first heard Sgt Pepper’s was Paul’s bass playing- how high in the instrument’s register it was, and how melodic and orchestral his bass lines were.

Thanks to Sgt Pepper’s, bass and drums were featured like never before.


Before The Beatles came along, producer, George Martin, had cut his teeth on producing comedy records, like the big 1960 hit for Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers, Goodness Gracious Me. Sellers often played played Indian characters, and whenever Indian musicians were needed on these comedy records, George Martin would call on the Asia Music Circle in Finchley, North London.

LOREN: Oh doctor, I’m in trouble
SELLERS (as Indian doctor): Well, goodness gracious me
LOREN: For every time a certain man
Is standing next to me
A flush comes to my face
And my pulse begins to race
It goes boom boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom
Boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom-boom-boo
Boom boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom
SELLERS: Well, goodness gracious me


From New Delhi to Darjeeling
I have done my share of healing
And I’ve never yet been beaten or outboxed
I remember that with one jab
Of my needle in the Punjab
How I cleared up beriberi
And the dreaded dysentery
But your complaint has got me really foxed.
Boom boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom
Boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom-boom-boom,
Boom boody-boom boody-boom boody-boom
(Well, goodness gracious, how audacious, goodness gracious me!)


So when George Harrison turned up with his contribution to the album, George Martin knew exactly where to turn for Indian musicians.

We were talking
About the love we all could share
When we find it
To try our best to hold it there
With our love
With our love
We could save the world
If they only knew.

It is common for the culture of immigrants to influence the over-riding culture of the host country. This is exactly what happened with Indian music, especially as a result of the influx of Indians after the decline of the British Empire.

George Harrison first became interested in Indian music when he was on the set of the 1965 movie Help!. In one scene, an exotic instrument, that had been carefully placed as a prop, caught George’s eye, and in the break he just had to pick it up and see how it sounded. It was a sitar and it immediately struck a nerve with him, it was as if it were in his subconscious somewhere. A door was opened. He equated it with his first hearing of Heartbreak Hotel.

The sound meant something to me. It just touched me in a certain way and made me want to know more about it or follow it. Likewise with Indian music.

 Harrison soon brought Indian influences into Beatles recordings, and took the study of Indian classical music very seriously.

His first effort for the Sgt Pepper’s album was a throwaway song about the strange world of The Beatles’ business arrangements. When George Martin heard it, he sent him home to do better.

And he certainly did that.

Try to realise it’s all within yourself
No-one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you.

The words emerged from a cosmic dope-driven dinner party at the home of Klaus Voorman, whom The Beatles had known from their Hamburg days. To me the outstanding aspect of this track is not to do with the lyrics, but with the music, light years away from standard pop tracks. The beautifully constructed modal melody is sung without harmony, except for the presence of a drone that runs throughout the whole song. This reflects a belief that the voice is all important and all other instruments are meant to copy it, not compete in any way. Then there’s the use of traditional Indian drum rhythms, and the exciting solo that is a hybrid of Eastern and Western music, as sitars and orchestral sings bounce off each other in a call-and-response fashion. In terms of the concept album, Sgt Pepper’s variety show now had its exotic element.

At the recording session, the stark atmosphere of the Abbey Road studio was transformed as the musicians from the Asia Music Circle redecorated it with carpets, hangings, and smouldering joss sticks.

When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind, is waiting there
And the time will come when you see
We’re all one, and life flows on within you and without you.

George Harrison didn’t want his song to be taken too seriously so an outtake of all four Beatles cracking up at the end of some unrelated recording was edited in to end the track.


Back in ’67, the image on a record cover was becoming all important. The previous two Beatles’ album covers had become much more than publicity pictures of the group. Rubber Soul featured a distorted image of the band, and the Revolver cover, designed by the very same Klaus Voorman mentioned above, consisted of psychedelic drawings of the foursome, interspersed with standard photographs.

For the Pepper album, pop artist Peter Blake was commissioned to come up with a cover that picked up on the idea of The Beatles stepping outside themselves. They would appear dressed as their alter-egos in military uniforms with brass instruments in their hands. They would be flanked by their Madame Tussaud waxwork figures, along with 60 cultural icons including Fred Astaire, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Marlon Brando, Shirley Temple, Laurel and Hardy, Lenny Bruce, W. C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Stockhausen, Dylan Thomas, William S. Burroughs, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll,  Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Carl Jung, Lawrence of Arabia, a couple of Hindu gurus, and quite a few dope plants.

But, until the last minute, no one had thought of copyright so they paid 50 quid to a former employee of Brian Epstein to contact the sources of all 60 images. It was a nightmare. She certainly earned her money.

It all added to this wonder world of images, sounds, drugs and fanciful characters. There was even a song about a parking attendant.

Lovely Rita meter maid, nothing can come between us
When it gets dark I tow your heart away

Standing by a parking meter when I caught a glimpse of Rita
Filling in the ticket in her little white book.
In her cap she looked much older
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man.

When us I first heard Lovely Rita, I didn’t quite get it because, to us Aussies, meter maids were young wannabe beauty queens on the Gold Coast who were paid by a local businessman to put money in people’s meters so they wouldn’t get fined while they stayed longer at the shops. In their skimpy bikinis, they certainly didn’t look anything like military men.

Lovely Rita meter maid,
May I enquire discreetly
When are you free to take some tea with me?

Meanwhile, John Lennon was bored with his home life. Too many drugs and a dying marriage weren’t a great combination so when he was at home he spent most of his time reading the paper or watching television and these were the sources of many of his songs on Sgt Pepper’s.

According to his then wife, Cynthia:

When he was at home he spent a lot of his time lying in bed with a notepad. When he got up, he’d sit at the piano, or he’d go from one room to the other listening to music, gawping at television and reading newspapers.

One of the ads he heard regularly on the tele was:

Good morning, good morning
The best to you each morning
Sunshine breakfast
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Best for everyone.

In his boring world he wrote a song for Sgt Pepper’s inspired by a Kellogg’s ad.

Good morning, good morning
Good morning, good morning
Good morning-ga

Nothing to do to save his life call his wife in
Nothing to say but what a day how’s your boy been
Nothing to do it’s up to you-ou
I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK.

That last line pretty well describes Lennon’s state of mind at that time. Good Morning, Good Morning is a mishmash of unrelated images and jagged time signature changes. John wanted a brass section, so George Martin wrote a stunning score played by some of the members of instrumental group, Sounds Incorporated. John thought the brass recording sounded too straight, so it was flanged and compressed till it sounded like something else.

John’s summing up of the song?

A piece of garbage.

Maybe, but coming from the mind and musical imagination of John Lennon, it’s not without its interesting elements.


The outstanding final track, A Day in the Life, also had its genesis in John’s mundane suburban life.

I read the news today oh, boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph.

 One day in January 1967, John read this vital piece of news…

There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey.

which became:

I read the news today oh, boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall
I’d love to turn you on.

That last line changed the direction of the song completely. Now it went far beyond stories in The Daily Mail, to a provocative reference to LSD.

Paul had an unfinished song that he says was a simple school day recollection of having an illicit smoke on the school bus. Whatever, it fitted in perfectly with John’s song, and despite Paul’s innocent explanation, was an equally provocative reference to marijuana.

Woke up, got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.

A Day in the Life had the dubious honour of being banned by the BBC, up there with House of the Rising Sun, Paper Doll, and Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.

Before Paul’s song emerged, they knew that something would happen in the middle but didn’t know what, so they left a space of 24 bars, ending with an alarm clock so they’d know when time was up.

This was later filled with a monumental crescendo (Paul’s idea), played by 40 classical musicians from the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras, who arrived at the studio to be told they were to play their instrument from its lowest to its highest range without listening to the person next to them. The musicians were asked to wear full evening dress, and were further decorated with red noses, gorilla paws, funny hats and carnival novelties. The total cost of the session was £367/10/-, money well spent.

The crescendo was recorded four times, each super-imposed so it ended up sounding like 160 players. Coming as it did after the famous ‘I’d love to turn you on’ line, there was no doubt that we were being treated to a musical approximation of the turning-on experience.


 (Warning: the following chapter contains information only possible as a result of the era of vinyl records, and to a lesser extent the CD era, but now in the age of Spotify and iTunes, an anachronism.)

Recording for Sgt Pepper’s ended in April 1967, and the all-important running order of the tracks was left to George Martin, for Beatle approval of course.

He knew he had to start with the theme song, then, because of the Billy Shears’ reference, go to With a Little Help From My Friends as the second track. As far as the ending went, nothing would be able to follow A Day in the Life with its enormous orchestral climax, and the reprise of the theme song would need to come before that. In the days of vinyl, side one needed a good strong ending, and as much as he would have loved to have given this honour to She’s Leaving Home, he thought it wasn’t upbeat enough to end a side, so Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite got the guernsey.

Within You, Without You was so unlike anything recorded in pop music, that George struggled with where to place it. He couldn’t see it following anything, so he opted for track one, side two, and with laughter at the end of the track, he thought that it should lead into a song with a bit of humour, like When I’m Sixty-Four.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was so different and very strong, so it came in as track three, side one, then the lesser tracks fitted the in-between spots.

It was Martin’s idea to edit the tracks tightly close together, and this went a long way towards adding to the notion of this as a single work. The Beatles thought though that after all that continuous sound it would be a pity to have silence after the final long decaying chord.

Back in ’67, unless you owned an automatic record player, the needle would sit in an inner groove while the record rotated, until someone lifted it off. So they decided they would fill this groove with sound by recording gibberish. The engineers chopped up the tape, played some backwards, spliced bits together at random. The end result sounds something like:

Never you see any other way
Never you see any other way
Never you see any other way

over and over until the stylus was removed, and The Beatles put out of their agony.

As was normal, fans played it backwards to see what clues there were as to Paul’s mortality status. All they got was a mixture of a possible obscenity and a reference to Superman.

Also on the inner groove is a police dog whistle, only audible to the family dog.

When Sgt Pepper’s was released in mid ’67, George Martin and The Beatles were a bit nervous about how it would be received. Had they gone too far too fast? Was it too pretentious? Too uncommercial? Reviews were diverse but mostly full of praise.

In just four years they had gone from their first LP, which was recorded in 10 hours, costing £400, to this one which took five months and cost £25,000.

Sgt Pepper’s turned popular music upside down, and provided the Summer of Love with a trippy hippy LSD-ridden soundtrack. It has gone on to sell over 32 million copies.

To mark this anniversary, I wrote my own tribute to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Moya and I performed as an encore in Queanbeyan. It contains around 25 references to the LP.

Fifty long years have gone
Since your golden baton
Kept the time on that magic LP
Half a century hence
And you’ve made a few pence
But the pepper still grows on the tree
You’ve fixed all the holes on the bandstand
And filled all the cracks in the skies
And you’ve helped Mr K who gets better each day
As he scoffs all the marshmallow pies

You’ve returned all our ears
Now that young Billy Shears
Has got by with the help of a friend,
The words you believe
They remain on your sleeve
Though there’s some I still don’t comprehend
And Rita is wishing good morning
Her little white book’s run its course
And that motor trade bloke
He woke up, had a smoke
While he’s waltzing with Henry the Horse

Tonight was your night to sit back
Let the evening go
So Sarge, before we say we’re sorry that it’s time to go
We say happy 5-0

Quietly opened the door
To at least sixty-four
Of the loneliest hearts you could find,
You have flown through a ring,
Gone without and within
You have found, in your time, peace of mind
You’ve counted the holes out in Blackburn
You’ve lived through the highest of highs
You’ve been leading the band like a military man
Who can see with kaleidoscope eyes

Tonight was your night to sit back
Let the evening go
So Sarge, before we say we’re sorry that it’s time to go,
We say happy 5-0.

P.S. Just months after the record came out there was earth shattering news- The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, was found dead from an accidental drug overdose. Epstein had done a brilliant job of taking them from Liverpool to the world, and making them (and him) very rich. He saw his job as making
sure the records kept hitting the top and that his number one act was seen live by as many people as possible around the world. So, once the dispirited musicians pulled the plug on touring, he felt redundant, his role taken away from him. How much this contributed to his untimely death will never be known.

Around this time, John and Yoko became an item, Paul met Linda; now without a manager the direction of the band became more aimless. Disunity struck. It was like there was a pre-Pepper story and a post-Pepper story.

Happy fiftieth birthday to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.


Songs, credits and YouTubes
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
With a Little Help From My Friends by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Love Me Do by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Please Please Me by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
She Loves You by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
I Want To Hold Your Hand by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
God Only Knows by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher
Strawberry Fields Forever by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Penny Lane by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Please Release Me by Eddie Miller and Robbie Yount
When I’m Sixty-Four by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Pastures of Plenty by Woody Guthrie
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning by Bob Hilliard and David Mann
Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Getting Better by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Fixing a Hole by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
She’s Leaving Home by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Goodness Gracious Me by Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee
Within You Without You by George Harrison
Lovely Rita by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Kellogg’s ad by David Lee
Good Morning, Good Morning by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
A Day in the Life by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Happy 5-0 by John Shortis

Summer Of Love (The Making Of Sgt Pepper) by George Martin
A Hard Day’s Write (The Stories Behind Every Beatles’ Song) by Steve Turner
Beatles ’66 by Steve Turner
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years) by Mark Lewisohn
The Beatles Live by Mark Lewisohn
Paul McCartney the Biography by Philip Norman
The Beatles by Hunter Davies
The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies
50 Years (Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television) by David Clark and Steve Samuelson
The Chronicle of the 20th Century
Australian Chronicle of the 20th Century

Sydney Morning Herald June/July 1967
Sydney Morning Herald Mar 18, 2017 (article by John Shand)

Pocket Docs- Pablo Fanque in Australia) (ABC Radio National, Dec 23 2016


John Shortis
March 2017

Performed at Cobargo Folk Festival February 2017 and Queanbeyan Bicentennial Hall March 2017
Essay written April 2017

P.S. Vale George Martin, who died in 2016, aged 90. His contribution to the artistic heights reached by The Beatles, especially on Sgt Pepper’s is enormous. He knew when to let them have their creative heads, and when to rein them in. Thank you George.

Out of the Cabinet 1982/1983


Back in 1982/’83, there were more women than men for the first time since records were kept. Despite this, average weekly earnings were just over $300 for men and just under $250 for women.

Marriages in which both husband and wife worked accounted for 41% of marriages, and the model of working father, dependent wife and kids applied to only 20% of marriages.

Just eight months short of its 50th birthday, The Women’s Weekly went from 52 editions a year to 12, resisting the temptation of calling itself the Women’s Monthly, but not resisting a price rise, from 70c to $1.50.

White wine was the drink of choice for 60% of drinkers, and it was available in a 4-litre cask that you could pick up for $4.77, or in a 2-litre flagon for $1.99.

A stamp cost 27 cents, a meat pie 70 cents, and the Sydney Morning Herald, 25c. Coles and Woolies had only 17% of the market between them. Saturday afternoon trading was just being introduced. Milk was still available in bottles made of glass.

The video came into its own, with local video rental shops popping up everywhere, and Australia switching to video recorders faster than any other country.

1982 was the year when the Compact Disc was launched on the world, but it was many years before CD players were affordable enough to be commonplace, so we were still buying our music on vinyl, despite a slump in the record industry due to an economic downturn, an ageing market, and the popularity of home taping on cassette.

The environmental concern of the time was the depletion of the ozone layer, with moves to limit use of chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol cans.

And this song was a worldwide hit.


Travelling in a fried-out Kombi
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said

“Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Colin Hay was a Glaswegian whose father ran a music shop, assuring him a ready supply of his favourite records, and an easy way to own a guitar. At the age of 14 he and his family migrated to Melbourne.

In 1978 he and guitarist Ron Strykert started playing and writing together, and Strykert presented Hay with a tune he’d made up by hitting bottles filled with different levels of water. Inspired by Skyhooks’ use of Aussie themes, the song developed into Down Under.

The next year the duo recruited a few more musos including Greg Ham on sax, and they played their first gigs at The Cricketers’ Arms Hotel, opposite the hallowed MCG. The newly named Men At Work did covers and originals, and Down Under was merely a humble addition to the set list that they worked their way through each Thursday night.

In 1980 they’d saved enough money to pay for a recording session, and released a single on their own label- the A-side was called Keypunch Operator, and on the B-side was that throw-away track, Down Under. Interestingly, you can hear snatches of the famous flute solo in the instrumental section in the middle of that early recording.

The single wasn’t what you could call a huge success but as a live act they were growing from strength to strength. An executive from CBS Records was so convinced the company should sign the band that he turned up to work each day as a different Man At Work, one day a plumber, next day a house painter, then an electrician till they gave in.

The result was a single Who Can it Be Now?, and an album, Business As Usual. Down Under was re-recorded for the album, complete with flute solo. It was released as their second single, and became so big in the US in 1982 that 30,288 jars of Vegemite were exported there that year, and Men at Work’s fee went from the $50 a night they once received to $30 000.

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said

I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.


Winning the America’s Cup yacht race was a goal that had always eluded Australia, and was high on the wish-list of achievements that would show the world that we were up with the best.

In 1983 we had a contender that showed promise- Australia II owned by an Alan Bond syndicate, and skippered by John Bertrand, designed by Ben Lexcen.

After four races, Australia II was trailing 3-1, then made a miracle comeback to level the scores at 3-all. So for the first time in the race’s history, a seventh race was called and in the early hours of September 26, the whole nation was glued to see if yachting history could be made.

Prime Minister Hawke was in Perth, purportedly for a Cabinet meeting that was scheduled for the day of the final race. I’m pretty sure there are no cabinet papers for that meeting because when Australia II won that final race by 47 seconds, the image on our screens was of a wildly jubilant PM giving a long TV interview in which he was presented with a famously garish Oz-centric jacket. It was during that interview that he uttered the immortal lines…

Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.

The soundtrack to that day that brought the nation together was Down Under, and the song was a massive hit all over again. It had sold 500 copies all up in its first incarnation, now it was selling that many in a day.

Many years later there was an innocent question on the ABC’s music quiz show, Spicks and Specks.

What children’s song is contained in the song Down Under?

The answer was Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, a song that is often credited as traditional Australian, but was actually written by a Melbourne schoolteacher Marion Sinclair in 1934 as an entry in a competition for the Girl Guides Association of Victoria. The song won and was picked up worldwide. Somewhere along the way its copyright had been assigned to Larrikin Records, and as Sinclair had died in 1988, the song was still in copyright.

So Larrikin’s New York based parent company sued Men At Work and won the case, receiving a six-figure settlement.

We come from a lawyers’ office
Where the guiding rule is to fill the coffers
Men At Work, we say, they go and plunder
A single bar of the song that’s called Down Under.


Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry, on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world we know
Up where the clear winds blow.

Up Where We Belong, from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman, hit the Australian charts in early 1983, just as Malcolm Fraser was about to call a snap double dissolution election, confident that he could run rings around a Labor Party then led by Bill Hayden.

But lurking within the ALP was the popular Member for Wills, Bob Hawke, whose leadership ambition was unstoppable. On the very day that Fraser called the election, Hayden stepped aside and Hawke was elected unopposed as Leader of the Opposition.
So, Fraser was now up against a new and much more formidable opponent.

Please lift me up where I belong
Where the Liberals cry, eating humble pie
Please lift me up where I belong
To lead the ALP

I was in Italy at the time of the election, and no Italian I approached had ever heard of Signore Fraser or Roberto Hawke. So, in desperation, I bought an Italian newspaper, and there, tucked away deep inside, was a tiny article, in Italian of course, that mentioned Hawke more than Fraser, and Bob’s famous drinking prowess. From that I gathered it was hello Bob and goodbye Malcolm.

It was a landslide win for Labor, Fraser resigned in tears, Keating became Treasurer, Peacock was the new Liberal leader, and his deputy was John Howard.


With an ocker Prime Minister in The Lodge, 1983 was a bumper year for Australian number one records that stayed on the charts for months on end.

Me mate Boomer rang
Said he was havin’ a few people around for a Barbie
Might cook a burra or two

Will Walla be there?
Yeah, and Vege might come too

D’you wanna go Anna?
I’ll go if Ding goes

What’ll we do about Nulla?
Nulla bores me to tears.

Australiana is a comedy monologue written by humourist, Billy Birmingham, and performed by Jewish Australian comedian, Sandy Gutman, better known as Austen Tayshus. It stayed in the charts for nearly eight months, and is still the biggest-selling Australian single of all time.

He’ll definitely lead you astray, Liana.

It wasn’t all comedy though.

I can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
Till the morphine came and killed the bloody row

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel
God help me, I was only nineteen.

Based on recollections of his brother-in-law, I Was Only 19 was written by John Schumann and recorded by Redgum. The song raised awareness of the physical and mental effects of the Vietnam War on its veterans, at a time when the government announced a Royal Commission into Agent Orange.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only nineteen.

Another massive Australian hit in 1983 was an EP by Australian Crawl, called Semantics. The EP made it big thanks to this classic song.

Meet me down by the jetty landing
Where the pontoons bump and spray
I see the others reading, standing
As the Manly Ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay

Hear the Captain blow his whistle
So long she’s been away
I miss our early morning wrestle
Not a very happy way to start the day

She don’t like
That kind of behaviour
She don’t like
That kind of behaviour

So, throw down your gun
Don’t be so reckless
Throw down your gun
Don’t be so reckless.

1983, the year the dollar was floated, and Medicare was launched.

Don’t be so reckless.

The year the Labor government softened its stand on uranium.

Don’t be so reckless.

And 112 women were arrested for trespassing onto Pine Gap satellite tracking station, each giving her name as Karen Silkwood.

Don’t be so reckless.


When we performed this back in 2011 it was obvious that some things never change.

1982- Fraser PM, Peacock sniffing around leadership.
2011- Gillard PM, Rudd sniffing around leadership.

1982- Unions lift bans on live meat exports.
2011- Government lifts bans on live meat exports.

1982- at the ALP conference MPs were allowed a conscience vote on abortion.
011- at the ALP conference MPs were allowed a conscience vote on same sex marriage.

1982- Electricity prices to rise by 27%, not much kerfuffle.
2011- Electricity prices to rise by 18%, lots of kerfuffle.

1982- An attempt to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi fails.
2011- An attempt to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi succeeds.


In doing these performances, as well as looking at some of the great songs of the relevant years, we resist some that are so bad they’re good. This is one of those songs.

Oh, I’ve been to Nice and the Isle of Greece
While I sipped champagne on a yacht
I’ve moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo
And showed ’em what I’ve got
I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things
That a woman ain’t supposed to see
I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.

I’ve Never Been to Me, what they call a sleeper, was first recorded by American singer, Charlene, in 1976. It went nowhere, until 1982, when the song was played by a Florida DJ and the response was so great that it was re-released, with the addition of this heartfelt monologue.

Hey, you know what paradise is?
It’s a lie, a fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight
That’s truth, that’s love.

And so, Charlene joined the ranks of one hit wonders, making it to number 1 in Australia, in the charts for 15 weeks, proving there’s no accounting for taste.

Sometimes I’ve been to crying for unborn children
That might have made me complete
I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.

With philosophies like Charlene’s out there, it’s no wonder that the Monty Python team searched for The Meaning of Life in their 1983 film of that name. This was the song that Eric Idle sang over the film’s credits.

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.


One of Australia’s most celebrated mysteries has been the subject of four inquiries, an opera, a play, a film, TV broadcasts and numerous books. It’s the story of the Azaria Chamberlain disappearance, which took an interesting turn in 1982.

Two years earlier, Lindy Chamberlain had claimed that a dingo had taken her daughter from their tent at the Ayers Rock campsite, an explanation that was supported by an immediate inquiry. But some in the police and in the community were unconvinced, especially when Lindy didn’t display the perceived level of emotion. The investigations continued, and, in 1982, the Northern Territory Supreme Court had the case re-opened. Lindy was convicted of murder and sent to Berrimah Jail for three years.

She was later exonerated, and just after we performed this show, a fourth inquest was beginning. As had been found twice before, the dingo did it.

In another story, Prince Charles and Princess Di were due for an Australian tour in March 1983, a tour that that was so anticipated that it actually played a part in deciding the date of the federal election. But, although Australia was captivated, this was at a time when the Royal Family was under a cloud in a number of ways. Prince Andrew’s affair with Koo Stark had been revealed, Princess Margaret was also having open dalliances, and the marriage of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips was shaky.

Charles and Di’s happiness too was being questioned after it was reported that they’d had a row on a recent holiday, returning to London in stony silence. But Australia welcomed them and their visit was hailed as the biggest celebrity tour since The Beatles.

Back in Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bathing in the glow of popularity that followed her decision a year earlier to retaliate when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Britain had owned these islands, just off the coast of Argentina, since the 1800s, and were, according to Thatcher, inhabited by 1800 people ‘of British tradition and stock’. The war lasted less than three months, the British victory giving a much needed confidence boost to Britain, and providing the impetus for Thatcher to win the ’83 election.

The British Navy obviously played a big part in a war situated in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and Split Enz’ s song Six Months In a Leaky Boat was ‘discouraged from airplay’ in Britain.

The war brought prosperity to shipbuilding towns in England and Northern Ireland, as more ships were being built to replace those destroyed in the war. Elvis Costello saw the irony in the fact that the young men of these same regions were being sent off to the Falklands to potentially become casualties in the very same ships. He co-wrote a song, Shipbuilding, which was a hit for English singer/songwriter Robert Wyatt. In 1983, Costello released his own version featuring jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker.

Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding

Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task
But I’ll be back by Christmas”
It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding

With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.


Shane Howard was a Geelong-based singer/songwriter who way back in ’77, while in his mid-teens, had formed a folk-rock band called Goanna. In 1982, they made their first album, Spirit of Place, from which came their first single, Solid Rock. Both topped the charts.

Around the same time, the Tasmanian government was attempting to carry out its promise to dam the Gordon and Franklin Rivers in order to generate hydro-electricity. Thousands of protesters converged on the site to join a blockade, and the voice of the protest was the head of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, local GP, Bob Brown, one of the 1200 who were arrested.

Under the pseudonym of Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble, Goanna joined forces with Peter Garrett and Redgum, to lend their voices to the protest.

Oh Tasmania, the hardest heart would understand
Just to feel your wilderness
Your silence sings to me.

Let the Franklin flow, let the wild land be
The Wilderness should be strong and free
From Kuta Kina to the south-west shore
It has to be something worth fighting for
It has to be something worth fighting for.

The B-side consisted of a monologue by Bob Brown himself, and all proceeds made from the sale of the single, which made it to number 12 on the Australian charts, were donated to the cause.

Support for the No Dams movement came from a number of notables including Dick Smith, Manning Clark, and David Bellamy. Even Prince Charles weighed in with an environmental message.

When I was in Australia some years ago they were busily cutting trees down to turn them into the late edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite the fact that he was right- Fairfax used tonnes of newsprint manufactured 100 kilometres from the site of the dam- the local member told Charles to…

Mind your own business.

It was in the Sydney Morning Herald that I was reminded that a state referendum was held, but with only two choices- do you want to dam the Gordon here, or there? The ‘No’ campaign urged voters to tick neither but simply write ‘No Dams’ on the ballot paper. The informal vote was 45%.

And I also read about a by-election called as a result of Prime Minister Billy McMahon’s retirement. On the ballot papers, 9% of voters wrote ‘No Dams’.

It became a federal issue, with the Coalition supporting the dam, and Labor opposing. At the ’83 election Bob Hawke promised to stop the dam project if he was elected.

Power, I collect it
As long as it is not hydro-electric
Power, I choose it
Power, I know how to use it

One of the first things Hawke did on coming to power in ’83 was to take the issue to the High Court. Section 51, paragraph 29 of the Constitution, which states that the parliament has power with respect to external affairs, was cited. And what did external affairs, or foreign affairs as we now call it, have to do with a dam in Tasmania? Well, the area where the Franklin and Gordon are situated is listed as World Heritage, and therefore by blocking the dam, the government was fulfilling its responsibilities under an international treaty.

Lawyers, know your constitution
External powers, that is my solution
A wilderness In this ‘no dam’ nation
That is the power of the federation.

The High Court voted 4-3 to support the government’s case, and no dam was built.

Oh, let the Franklin wend
Its way around Rock Island Bend
Let the Gordon run
Where the sun has kissed the morning mist
And Mister Gray, I say don’t mess with Robert J
I’ll change your plans
I say ‘No dams’.


In 1982 there was a row over whether homosexual groups should be allowed to join in Anzac ceremonies. Bruce Ruxton, then Victorian president of the RSL had this to say…

I don’t know where all these gays and poofters are coming from. I don’t remember a single poofter from WW2.

Then there was morals campaigner Jerry Falwell who, whilst visiting Australia that year, told us…

We are not against homosexuals- we just feel that homosexuality is a moral perversion.

When Festival of Light’s Fred Nile gave a breakfast address for $3 a head at the Central Coast Christian Centre, the topic was anti-discrimination, but only men could attend.

And Joh Bjelke-Petersen had this to add to the debate about an equal opportunity policy.

In Queensland, we already give people equal opportunity in areas where they qualify to be equally qualified.

Speaking of Joh, when he fell out with the Liberal Party in 1983, one Liberal politician said of him…

He’s a power drunk egotist- that’s not a political view, that’s a medical view.

So now the Country Party had to rule in its own right, and Joh had to dig deep to find talent in his cabinet. One of the new ministers was Vince Lester whose greatest feat was walking backwards across his electorate, and who was a vigorous campaigner for outward opening lavatory doors, reflective number plates, and real sausages.

With such talent, Joh led a lone Country Party to victory in the ’83 elections. In the Sun Herald the next day, Joh’s win only made it to the bottom half of the front page. On the top half was the real news…

Simon, the doctor on A Country Practice, is to wed Vicki, the vet.


And finally, 1983 was a monumental year in the world of showbiz because of one small black-ish man by the name of Michael Jackson, and one huge album success, Thriller.

On a live TV show, Jackson introduced his iconic moonwalk, whilst singing…

She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene
I said don’t mind, but what do you mean, I am the one

Who will dance on the floor in the round
She said I am the one, who will dance on the floor in the round.

Billlie Jean, the second single off the album, would have been called something different if producer Quincy Jones had had his way. He thought everyone would think Michael was singing about tennis star, Billie Jean King. Jackson held his ground because of the real-life story behind the song. He’d had to deal with many a female fan who claimed he was the father of their child, and one of these, who called herself Billie Jean Jackson, reckoned that he had fathered one, not both, of her twin sons.

Billie-Jean is not my lover
She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one
But the kid is not my son.

Music TV (MTV) was only two years old when Thriller came out, and the video clips it broadcast were not much more than promotions of the artist’s performance of a song. Billie Jean changed all this with a clip that was like a short film, with high production values, and a narrative. MTV, though, was exclusively the domain of white artists so, at first, they showed no interest in it. Jackson encouraged his record company CBS to not take this lying down, so they simply threatened to provide no videos from any artist in their massive stable, black or white.

MTV buckled, and Billie Jean was shown, helping to take the song to the top of the charts around the world.

The videos accompanying other singles from Thriller took the art form further to the point of the title track having a 14-minute clip that cost $14 million, and was distributed to cinemas. Music videos would never be the same again, and would now be a vital part of any song’s success.

Thriller became the biggest selling album of all time, with sales of 100 million.

‘Cos this is Thriller, Thriller night
And no-one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike.

And our very own beast is about to strike, in the form of Dr Jim Stokes, so Jim, take that cabinet documents essay and..

Read it, read it
About debates that may be heated,
Cabinet meetings that went through the night
It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right
Just read it, read it
Read it!

For Jim Stokes take on the Cabinet Records of 1982 and 1983, go to Jim Stokes 1982 1983.


Songs, YouTubes and credits
Down Under written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert. Parody by John Shortis
For the original 1980 recording go to Down Under original recording
Up Where We Belong written by Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Will Jennings. Parody by John Shortis
Australiana written by Billy Birmingham
I Was Only 19 written by John Schumann
Reckless written by James Reyne
I’ve Never Been To Me written by Ron Miller and Kenneth Hirsch
Galaxy Song written by Eric Idle and John du Prez
Shipbuilding music by Clive Langer, lyrics by Elvis Costello
Solid Rock written by Shane Howard
Let the Franklin Flow written by Shane Howard (pseudonym F. River)
To hear Bob Brown’s only hit go to Bob Brown B-side
No Dams written by John Shortis
Billie Jean written by Michael Jackson
Beat It written by Michael Jackson. Parody by John Shortis
Thriller written by Michael Jackson

Down Under- The Tune, the Times, the Tragedy by Trevor Conomy
Australian Prime Ministers edited by Michelle Grattan
Unfaithful Music by Elvis Costello

To see Bob Hawke being given his Aussie jacket and delivering his immortal line go to Hawke in Perth 1983

Show performed 2012
Essay written July 2017.