When It Was ’64- The Beatles in Australia



Thank you for welcoming me to today’s meeting of Beatles Anonymous. My name is John Shortis and I’m a Beatles addict. My addiction began in June 1964 when they visited our shores. Like so many teenagers of the time, I went wild over them, and bought all their records. I also played their tunes on the piano by ear, I played them on the piano- that’s how I learned music. They were my music teachers. Their Australian tour barely makes it into many Beatles’ books coming out of America or Britain, but it was very significant. It was their first major international tour, on the brink of becoming worldwide stars. The effect it had on me, and on our country is enormous.

(To the tune of When I’m 64)
Buy me a record, drop me a line
Stating She Loves You
Indicate precisely with a yeah yeah yeah
Yours hirsutely, head full of hair
They rattled our cages
Gave us a nudge
The Mop-topped fab Fab Four
The world came asunder
When they ventured down under
When it was ’64.



Before there were Beatles, us Aussies were in the safe hands of Uncle Bob Menzies, although in ’64 he was ruling with a slender majority of two seats. The White Australia Policy was slowly starting to unwind under Immigration Minister, Harold Holt, the pill was available but not to single girls, and the controversial Oz magazine was getting off the ground.

In Britain, the Tories were also in power, led by Harold ‘you never had it so good’ MacMillan, who was brought down that year by the Profumo scandal. And the BBC had just ended its ban on mentioning politics, royalty, religion and sex in its comedy shows.

In the US, the president was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The latest craze here in Australia was surf music, direct from California, turned into an art form by groups like The Beach Boys, and thanks to our golden and vast coastline, very relevant and easily assimilated. Now peroxide was changing the colour of teenagers’ hair, there was a new social group called ‘surfies’, and a peculiarly Australian dance craze, the Stomp.

The latter was a simple affair- hands behind the back, stomp left and right, turn occasionally. We stomped to brilliant surf instrumentals like Bombora by The Atlantics, and this classic from Little Pattie:

Well I got my beach towel and I’m headed down for the sur-ur-ur-urf
Gotta see my Johnny, gonna meet him down at the sur-ur-ur-urf
We’re gonna shoot the breakers, gonna stomp in the sand
And look in his eyes a-while he holds my ha-a-a-a-and
Cause he’s my blond headed stompy wompy real gone surfer boy
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Our radio waves were also swamped by a plethora of heart throbs, like Del Shannon, who, in 1963, took this song to number six on the charts.

If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything I can do
Just call on me and I’ll send it along
With love, from me to you.

Simultaneously, with Del’s version, was the same song sung by a group we’d never heard before in this country- The Beatles. We didn’t really take in that it was their song. All we knew is that they sounded different, a bit strange.

Beatlemania took a while to make the journey to Australia. In Britain, Love Me Do had made it to number 17 in the charts late in ’62, and Please Please Me became their first number one in early ’63. In a matter of months, The Beatles had gone from regional act to national heart throbs. They toured the UK widely with big stars like Helen Shapiro and Roy Orbison, at first low in the pecking order. But they were the ones attracting the screaming fans and having wild reactions, so they very quickly went from support act to star billing.

Before them, groups had lead singers out the front- Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Col Joye and the Joye Boys- and the songs came from publishing houses. The Beach Boys had paved the way for a more democratic approach with songs being written within the group, without a front man. The Beatles took that a bit further by presenting as four distinct personalities, and fans started to develop favourites- George for his cheek bones, John for his unconventional ways, Paul for his baby face, Ringo because he was simply adorable.

Then there was the hair, the suits, the boots, not to mention the fact that their music was unique. My partner, Moya, says that to her ‘the sound was fresh, the tone of the voices was unlike anything she’d heard before, harsh but melodic, in a Northern accent, and those harmonies’. They were revolutionary in so many ways.

In these early stages of British Beatlemania, Australian impresario, Kenn Brodziak, was in the UK looking for bands to bring Down Under. A few were suggested, and he picked The Beatles- just because he liked the sound of their name- a pretty brave move considering they were unheard of in Oz. And this was at a time when US acts were doing well in Australia, and UK acts not so well.

The deal with their manager Brian Epstein was £1,000 a week for two weeks in June 1964, two shows a day, No contract was signed. Instead it was sealed with a handshake.

I’ve got arms that long to hold you
And keep you by my side
I’ve got lips that long to kiss you
And keep you satisfied (ooh).

Please Please Me was the first Beatles’ single to be released here, in February 1963, but it didn’t raise a flicker of interest, and it wasn’t till From Me To You that the band had any airplay, and that was in the wake of that Del Shannon version. They were too weird for our radio stations.



She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you lost your love,
Well I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say.
She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad.
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad. ooh!

This was the song that changed it all in Australia When it hit the airwaves, it stood out and instantly had an impact. Strangely, it never made it to number one, only to third position, but it entered our charts in September ’63 and was there for a record breaking 42 weeks. Australia would never be lukewarm about a Beatles’ track ever again. As well as the landmark ‘yeah’ repetition, the song was notable for the Little Richard inspired ‘Ooh’, complete with head shake. (Not to mention the delightful final chord, reminiscent of Glenn Miller’s In the Mood.) These were novelty additions that enhanced what was essentially a fantastically original song.

Back in Britain the pinnacle of success was getting on the bill of a massively popular TV show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and The Beatles did just that in October that year. The crowds outside the illustrious venue were so big and so loud they could be heard by the 15 million viewers who’d tuned in.

Compére Bruce Forsyth introduced them. ‘Are you ready? Are you steady? 5-4-3-2-1 zero- It’s The Beatles’. In the papers the next day, one Fleet Street journalist coined the name ‘Beatlemania’, and it stuck.

A month later came the news that shocked the world- President John F Kennedy had been assassinated as he drove through the streets of Dallas, Texas. In the midst of national mourning in the USA, The Beatles, previously ignored there, released their next single, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and something about its energy and positivism struck a chord. It went straight to number one on the Billboard charts, and The Beatles, who only months earlier had been signed for Australia at £1,000 a week, were now commanding $50,000 a show in the US.

Kenn Brodziak was thinking that his handshake deal might now be useless, but Brian Epstein, to his credit, only raised the fee for the Australia tour minimally, to £1,500. This time the deal was signed.

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I’ll say that something
I wanna sign your band
I wanna sign your ba-a-a-a-and
I wanna sign your band.

That Christmas, The Beatles recorded a message for Australia.

We’re hoping to come over soon and visit you in Australia, that’s if you move it a few thousand miles nearer.

And that year in Britain, this Xmas novelty song was released.

All I want for Christmas is a Beatle
Not a teddy bear, just a Beatle
I told Mum nothing else would do
There are four, so she can have one too
I don’t care which ever one she gets me
Ringo, Paul, John, George, they’re all the same
I can’t wait for Christmas day to come
Cause all I want for Christmas is a Beatle.

In Australia, our Christmas present that year was more of Bob Menzies- this time in a landslide election win.

As ’63 became ’64, we waited with anticipation for a tour by what was now the most successful group in pop music history. But not everyone was excited- the Headmistress of Ravenswood Girls’ School had this warning for her pupils.

I don’t want my girls to be involved in those screaming teenage mobs. I want to safeguard them from something they do not understand.

For some perverse reason, I refused to be taken in by the Beatles. Maybe because everyone else was fawning over them, I wanted to be different. I appeared unimpressed. And it took a while for the rest of the world to get aboard too.

Moya tells the story of going to Germany to stay for five weeks with her very incompatible pen-friend, Irene Muller, a 17-year old vicar’s daughter who’d never been kissed. Moya was a 15 year-old raver who took her copy of She Loves You with her. It sounded a bit odd played in the village vicarage while Mutti bottled fruit and Vati prayed. Their dog was the only one who approved of The Beatles. Maybe he liked the fact that they had just recorded their latest song in German.

Sie liebt dich, ja ja ja.

That was put to tape in Paris, during a season of shows in February 1964. For some reason they attracted the cream of Paris society in full evening dress, who were not impressed with The Beatles at all.

It was a different story a week later when they made a brief visit to the USA- shows in Washington and New York, and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, watched by an audience of 70 million.

It was on a Sunday, and even Billy Graham broke his life-long rule to never watch TV on the Lord’s Day. That night the US crime rate was lower than it had been for 50 years, and throughout whole of New York not one single hubcap was stolen. The USA had finally embraced The Beatles.

We wanna steal your ba-a-a-a-a-and.

Now Beatlemania was a worldwide phenomenon.



Back here in Oz, as the summer of ’64 turned into the autumn, the tide was almost out on our surf music. But there was one last hurrah for Digger Revell and the Denvermen, written by a rocker who was now a big wheel in the local music industry- writer, producer, agent, Johnny Devlin.

My little rocker’s turned surfie
Oh what’s she done to her hair?
My little rocker’s turned surfie
But as long as she’s mine
I don’t care.

(Interestingly, the B-side was a cover of a minor Lennon/McCartney composition Tip Of My Tongue).

When it left the charts, the way was clear for complete Beatle domination. At my school, the same teachers who’d sent us home for bleaching our surfie hair, now measured it, to make sure it didn’t touch the collar.

My little Surfie’s gone Beatles
But as long as she’s mine
I don’t care.

In those days, big international music tours shows had a number of acts and a compére. Knowing this, Devlin tried to get one of his protégés on the bill. But instead he was offered a spot.

Other support acts chosen were locals, The Phantoms, Johnny Chester, and, from England, Sounds Incorporated. The emcee duties were given to Alan Field, a comedian who made his living telling bad jokes on the Workingmen’s Club circuit in Britain.

I never forget a face, but in my mother-in-law’s case I’m prepare to make an exception.

My wife ran away with my best friend. Gee I miss him.

While we waited in anticipation for the arrival of our heartthrobs, their records were selling like hotcakes. In April, the 2SM Top 100 chart read like this:

1.All My Loving
2 Love Me Do
3.Roll Over Beethoven
4.I Saw Her Standing There
5.She Loves You
6.I Want To Hold Your Hand.

We were now officially in the grip of Beatlemania, and the Far East Tour, as it was amusingly called, was ready to roll- Denmark, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand.

At first, the Aussie cities to be visited were Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. But Adelaide was not happy about being left out, so a local DJ, Bob Francis, started a petition- signatures were sought at dances and beaches, sporting events and workplaces, and on a large piece of butcher’s paper that was displayed in Rundle Street. In two weeks, the DJ collected 80,000 signatures, and Brian Epstein was impressed enough to add the city to the itinerary, but at the new price- £12,000.

Tell me that you want no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing
That money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love.

Tickets went on sale- £1/17/6 ($3.75) for the dearest seats, 15/6 ($1.55) for the cheapest, at a time when the average wage was £15 ($30) a week. The price didn’t deter fans who camped out at ticket outlets to make sure they didn’t miss out. And the promoter had signed up a sponsor- Surf washing powder.

Money can’t buy me love.

All was ready for the arrival of the Fab Four.

We love you, Beatles
Oh, yes, we do
We love you, Beatles
And we’ll be true
When you’re not near to us
We’re blue
Oh, Beatles, we love you.

The day before they were to depart, disaster struck. The much-loved Ringo was rushed to hospital with tonsillitis and pharyngitis, and wouldn’t make it to the early stages of the tour. Manager Brian Epstein, in a panic, sent the group’s road manager on a reccy around London clubs to find a replacement. The job was offered to two different drummers who turned down the offer. The third option was Jimmy Nicol, a member of Georgie Fame’s band, The Blue Flames.

He agreed and was summoned to a hasty rehearsal at the Abbey Road studios where he was sat down at Ringo’s drum kit and asked to play through a batch of Beatles’ songs. Looking like a rabbit in the headlights, he posed for a couple of photos, was given the requisite Beatles’ hairdo, and it became official- Jimmy Nicol had the job.

That was on June 3, and the next day he was in Denmark as a Beatle. There was no time for a suit fitting so he had no choice other than to squeeze into Ringo’s stage outfit.

June 6 was Amsterdam, June 9 Hong Kong, then Australia.



After a brief refuelling stop in Darwin, John, Paul, George and Jimmy arrived at Sydney’s Mascot Airport, on the morning of Thursday June 11, met by 1,000 shrieking fans.

I remember the day well- even though I was publicly not a Beatles fan, privately I closely followed their music and the lead-up to the tour. I was in the library at my school, De La Salle Kingsgrove. It was pouring with rain in a typical Sydney torrential storm. I said to the librarian- ‘The Beatles are here.’ He was singularly unimpressed.

I couldn’t wait to get home that night and watch the coverage on TV.

The airport scenes I remember well- the hysterical young girls, and The Beatles themselves on the back of a truck, wearing matching black capes, waving with one hand, and grimly clinging on to TAA umbrellas with the other.

There were pictures of the Sheraton Hotel in Kings Cross, with more screaming fans outside, while inside the boys slept off their jet lag. Well, the three real Beatles did. Jimmy Nicol was picked up by a distant relative and taken to Arncliffe to meet his cousins. When he got back to the hotel, the security guards didn’t want to let him in.

But I’m with The Beatles

Yeah and I’m with the Kelly gang. Now bugger off, son.

(The other family connection was that John’s Aunt Mimi travelled with hem for some of the tour).

But it was their first press conference that won me over. Our local journalists lived up to their reputation for their cutting-edge, take no-prisoners style of questioning, but The Beatles broke through the crap with quick-witted humour and intelligence.

What do you expect to see in Australia?

Are you millionaires yet?
That’s a filthy rumour. I wish it was true.

Where does the money go?
A lot of it goes to Her Majesty. Now she’s a millionaire.

That was it. It was no longer a secret. I was out of the closet as The Beatles’ number one fan.

*   *   *

The first Australian performance was at the Centennial Hall in Adelaide- two nights, June 12 and 13- two shows per night. It was here they received the biggest reception of all – thousands of fans lined the route from the airport to the hotel, and stood in the street while they appeared on the balcony of Adelaide Town Hall for a civic reception- something like 300,000 all up, at a time when the entire population of the state was one million.

Meanwhile Ringo’s health issues were resolved and on June 14, he and Brian Epstein arrived in Australia. The next day, early in the morning, before The Beatles were up and about, Jimmy Nicol was escorted to Essendon Airport by Brian Epstein, with no chance for the stand-in drummer to say goodbye.

In the departure lounge, a photographer captured Nicol sitting alone, looking abandoned, with empty chairs all around him, a stark contrast to the crowds at the shows he’d played as a Beatle.

Epstein presented him with £500, and a gold watch inscribed with the words ‘To Jimmy, with appreciation and gratitude, Brian Epstein and The Beatles.’ I wrote a song for the show, inspired by that famous photo.

There he sits in an empty hall
He isn’t George, and he isn’t Paul
He isn’t Ringo, isn’t John
But he has money in his pocket, and a gold watch on

It only seems like yesterday
When three hundred thousand screamers paved the way
With such adulation, who needs friends?
When you can see your lone reflection in a camera lens

And he recalls from his lonely airport chair
How they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

Only thing his golden watch can claim
Is fifteen minutes of sweet Beatle fame
Caught in the headlight, starry-eyed
A thrill a minute on a magic roller coaster ride

And the whirlwind that’s still hanging in the air
Shows how they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

His eyes were filled with wonder
That’s what carried him along
His ears were filled with music
But he never heard the song

There he sits in an empty hall
He hears the ringing of the final call
The party’s over, the day is gone
But he has money in his pocket, and a gold watch on

Climbs the gangway, holding back his tears
Golden silence is the sound he hears
He’s used to thousands, but no one came
And now on TAA they welcome Jimmy what’s-his-name

And as the last jelly baby falls from his hair
He knows they loved him
Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

In Jimmy’s words:

The boys were very kind, but I felt like an intruder. It’s a little clique and outsiders just can’t break in.

Once home, Nicol released singles to try and cash in on his Beatles fame, and made TV appearances. He even contemplated flying back to Australia to join the band of American singer, Frances Faye, who was touring Oz at the same time as The Beatles. He’d stood in with her band one night while she was at Chequers night club and she was impressed. Maybe he should have taken that option because his career as a famous drummer didn’t exactly take off. Nowadays no one’s sure exactly what happened to Jimmy, whether he’s still alive, and if so, where? He’s vanished.



On June 15, 16, 17, now with Ringo back, they played Festival Hall, Melbourne, where the security guards were told to evict any audience members who got too carried away with screams, Among those who spent some time outside the venue was Ian (Molly) Meldrum.

There was no rest for the wicked, and next day they were performing at Sydney Stadium, a boxing arena where the stage revolved, one way then the other, operated manually by a man at the side of the stage. The audience spent part of the show watching the performers’ backs in a cavernous tin shed that had been doubling as a makeshift concert hall since the fifties. Bob Hope had once been heard to describe it as ‘Texas with a roof.’

Everyone I know who went to the Beatles’ concerts says the same thing- the screaming drowned out the music to the point that the Fab Four couldn’t hear themselves, and didn’t sound that fab. There were no foldback speakers, the PA systems they played through were 100 watts, and their amps were 60 watts. These days PAs powered by tens of thousands of watts are used for such an event.

The sound level emanating from the shows- Beatles plus audience- was measured at 114 decibels, more than a Boeing 707 at 2,000 feet.

Because of my feigned lack of interest in The Beatles, I didn’t get around to booking a seat, so instead I got to listen to it on my little red transistor in my bedroom as it was beamed live via radio station 2SM. My memory is that they sounded a bit ropy, but a hell of a lot better than I had been led to believe.

They were in Sydney for three nights (June 18, 19, 20), during which Paul celebrated his 22nd birthday, marked by fans who sent him hundreds of gifts, including a giant stuffed kangaroo.

After 13 shows in just over a week, they were off to New Zealand, then back on June 29 and 30 at Festival Hall, Brisbane. One of these shows in the northern capital was televised and I was amazed to see Paul sing a whole verse of Money Can’t Buy Me Love in a different key to the band. This was a good indication of how little they could hear themselves.

*   *   *

It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you
I find the things that you do
Will make me feel all right.

Just before they embarked on this tour they had made their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, about the craziness of Beatlemania- craziness that they were now experiencing in Australia, and that made them virtual prisoners, unable to leave their hotel rooms. Instead they had to make their own fun.

When I’m home
Everything seems to be right
When I’m home
Feelin’ you holdin’ me tight, tight yeah.

The loyalty to the woman at home wasn’t quite the reality though, as girls were picked from hotel foyers by road managers to keep the boys happy till the next hotel room.

And when I get home to you
I find the things that you do
Will make me feel all right.

The Sydney papers reported on another annoyance- jelly babies. Sydney DJ, Mike Walsh, had stirred this up by announcing that these were The Beatles’ favourite sweets, and soon Aussie fans were flinging them by the handful. In the words of Paul McCartney:

How can we concentrate on our jobs on the stage when we are having to keep ducking?

And John Lennon:

They even throw miniature koala bears and gift wrapped packages while we are going around on the revolving stage. We haven’t got a chance to get out of the way.

There was, of course, Beatle merchandise, but either the companies producing them over-supplied, or Aussies weren’t so keen. Wigs and figurines were going for a song by the end of the group’s time in Australia.



Like all good concerts of 50 years ago, the noisy crowd hushed down, and stood up, as God Save the Queen was played through the inadequate speakers. Then the screaming began, and on came the compére. His material was completely outdated, and they couldn’t understand his thick northern English accent anyhow. As the tour grew longer, his act was cut shorter.

Beatles’ music was so new and fresh, that no Australian acts had caught up with their sound. So they all performed pop songs from an era that was fading. But they did it well. The Phantoms, clad in electric blue, did good impersonations of The Shadows and The Ventures. Johnny Devlin, dressed in a black leather suit that he’d bought specially for the gigs, at the cost of 150 guineas, rocked his way through a set of 50s rock ‘n’ roll hits that went down well. The screaming reached fever pitch as the lights went out and a single red spotlight shone on Johnny Chester, singing well-known hits like Fever.

The first half ended with an exciting bracket of instrumentals by an English group that was part of Brian Epstein’s stable of stars- Sounds Incorporated. They would go on to be bigger here in Australia than anywhere else in the world, their rocking adaptation of Rossini’s William Tell Overture going to number two later that year.

Then, as the screaming increased, on they came. Paul did his count into I Saw Her Standing There, and without much said, what followed was a non-stop half-hour cavalcade of hits.




The day after the Brisbane gig, on July 1, after something like 19 shows in 26 days, played to 200,000 punters, their long haul through Denmark, Holland, Australia and NZ was over.

One account describes the tour as a manic occasion, with the group feeling like caged animals, in an endless round of civic receptions, balcony appearances, and press conferences. There’s live footage online, which sounds surprisingly good, but understandably they look like they’re just going through the paces.

The madness continued when they were back in England- the release of their movie, and accompanying LP and single, a tour of British seaside towns, and a short trip to Sweden thrown in for good measure. Then they were off to America for the tour that would cement the group as an international phenomenon, and send their level of success into the stratosphere.

Their next album, Beatles For Sale, sported a cover that was different here than anywhere else- ours featured photos of the band’s Sydney performances.

Australia, like so much of the world, was now caught up in Beatlemania. The music on the charts changed. Surf music was off the menu, replaced by the British Invasion- The Searchers, The Animals, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones, to name but a few.

As the surf era was swamped by Beatlemania, Aussie groups started to grow their hair and dress in matching suits and Beatle boots. There was even a group called The Cicadas who had a moderate local hit in 1964. But it wasn’t until the next year, when a home-grown band, (made up of migrants from Britain and Holland), conquered the charts with a Beatles flavour, and brilliant original songs. They were The Easybeats.

Post-tour, something shifted. We were buoyed by the excitement and thrills of this adventure, and we experienced it at a turning point, just as The Beatles were conquering the world. The generation that was saying goodbye to the old ways and ushering in the modern, had a new confidence. It was now official- we were on the verge of a society with changing values. Screaming at Beatles’ concerts, missing school to welcome them at airports- it all had a rebellious flavour about it- everything that principal at Ravenswood feared. Hair, clothes and music were the outer signs, but the changes that were coming were deep.

To paraphrase the words of another music star of the time:

The times they were a-changing.

When It Was ’64 was performed on Friday 13 June, 2014, at the Canberra Southern Cross Club, by Shortis and Simpson with band (Dave O’Neill-guitar, Bob Rodgers- rhythm guitar and vocals, Kate Hosking- bass guitar and vocals), Jon Jones- drums). The first half was the story with songs, the second half a dance bracket, starting with God Save the Queen, followed by a medley of songs that were performed by the support acts, then straight through the exact Beatles’ Oz Tour set list.

Essay written April 2021



Songs, YouTubes, Credits
When I’m Sixty Four, From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night, Money Can’t Buy Me Love by Lennon and McCartney
Sie Liebt Dich by Lennon/McCartney, German lyrics by Camillo Fleglen
Blond Headed Stompy Wompy Real Gone Surfer Boy by Jay Justin and Joe Halford
All I Want For Christmas Is a Beatle by Gladys Benton
We Love You Beatles by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse
My Little Rocker’s Turned Surfie by Johnny Devlin
They Loved Him by John Shortis
The tour on YouTube-
Beatles 1964 Highlights Reel
The Beatles’ Melbourne concert
Beatles’ Australian tour.

The Beatles Down Under by Glenn A Baker
The Book by Jim Barnes, Fred Dyer and Stephen Scanes
The Beatles Live! by Mark Lewisohn
The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn.

Bottomless Pit- Part One (1996-2001)



The Labor Party had been on a roll since 1983 when Bob Hawke had resoundingly beaten Malcolm Fraser. As seems to happen regularly on either side of Australian politics, the Liberal Party went through a long period of infighting, and elected a series of leaders to try to counter the popularity of Hawke. Back and forward they went, from Peacock to Howard, back to Peacock- but to no avail. Next, John Hewson was enlisted, only to lose ‘the unloseable election’ to Keating in 1993.

By the following year, the Liberal Party was running out of potential leaders, so it foolishly embarked on what has gone down in history as The Downer Months- Alexander Downer with Peter Costello as his deputy. It was, as was expected, a disastrous 250 days.

Peacock and Hewson had gone, Downer was useless, there was only one solution left- bring back Howard, the man who had famously said that his chance of a comeback was like ‘Lazarus with a triple bypass.’

He must have had the operation, because he came back a new man- trimmed eyebrows, Carla Zampatti ties, new suits and glasses. As his political hero, Menzies, had done when he formed the Liberal Party half a century earlier, he appealed to the forgotten people, in this case the middle ground of voters disenchanted with what they saw as an out-of-touch Paul Keating.

Howard concentrated more on attacking the tired Labor government than he did on providing new policies, and it worked. Lazarus’s bypass was a success, the coalition winning office with a whopping 45-seat majority.

I remember the election night well. We were doing a gig at The Newport Arms Hotel in Sydney and, between the sound check and performance, I went out to the car, put on the radio, and was not surprised when I heard the result, though it was not the one I wanted.



Port Arthur, once a notorious and brutal penal settlement for the convicts of Van Diemen’s Land, has been a much visited Tasmanian tourism destination for over 40 years. Where once, inmates were desperate to find any way out, now visitors queue up to experience this remarkable reminder of a not-so-distant past where transportation, colonisation, and rough justice were the order of the day.

Sunday 28 April 1996 was a typically busy Sunday at the site, and at lunchtime the café was abuzz with diners. Among them was a 28 year old Hobart man, who looked like yet another tourist except for the bag at his feet which contained a semi-automatic rifle, and a knife which he had used to kill the owners of a nearby guest house. After he’d finished his lunch, he took the deadly weapon out of his bag and began shooting randomly, at first in the café, then in the grounds and beyond. His name was Martin Bryant, and by the time he had finished his rampage, he had killed 35 people and wounded many more. In the wake of the biggest mass shooting Australia had ever witnessed, Bryant was captured the next morning.

The following Tuesday the new parliament was opened. I was there, in the public gallery. I remember it well. Howard and the opposition leader, Kim Beazley, conferring behind the Speaker’s chair, then emerging to lead parliament through a series of bipartisan condolence speeches that told of the horrors of the massacre, and paid respect to the dead and injured.

On the fourth sitting day of parliament, John Howard gave a speech in which he strongly advocated changes to gun laws. The gun lobby was not happy, still isn’t. Furthermore, Howard’s main support came from those that would normally have been his opponents, and opposition from those who would normally have been his friends.

But Tim Fischer, then leader of the National Party, came on side with Howard, as did all states and territories, although it took some time. Within the first months of Howard’s leadership, the use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons was severely restricted, and a gun buy-back scheme was put in place. It was the first thing Howard did, and, these days, as more and more mass killings happen in the USA and the gun lobby holds sway, Australia is seen as a shining light.

It was a belief he had held for many years (he mentioned it in one of his Headland speeches on 6 June , 1995) It is one of the sadly few examples of a leader not taking the easy way out, and standing for something he believed in.

I was so impressed with the leadership Howard displayed, against odds, to carry this legislation, the envy of gun control advocates around the world. I remember saying to Moya ‘I think he might be OK.’ She replied ‘just wait.’

It didn’t take long to prove she was right.

For my song On Day One, which covers this story, along with Kevin Rudd’s apology speech, go to Bottomless Pit- Preface, published above this essay.



Pauline Hanson‘s parents ran a hamburger joint in Brisbane just near the Gabba, so it’s no surprise that in the late eighties she bought her own takeaway food outlet, Marsden’s Seafood in Ipswich. She wasn’t a fan of seafood, but had learned from her mum and dad that, if you want anything out of life, you have to work for it. She had a staff of five, the shop was open 7 days a week, her business prospered.

Hanson’s foray into politics began when she stood as an independent Ipswich City Councillor, then joining the Liberal Party and being pre-selected to contest the federal seat of Oxley at the 1996 election. Oxley was a long-time Labor seat, once held by former opposition leader and Governor-General, Bill Hayden, so wresting the seat from the ALP was a bit of a long shot.

Ipswich, like many country towns, experienced friction between black and white, and Hanson picked up on resentment, in some quarters, to what was seen as special treatment for Aboriginals. Early in 1996, in response to yet another black death in custody, Keating’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was calling for an implementation of the recommendations from a royal commission that had looked into this issue for many years.

Hanson immediately penned a letter to the editor of the local rag, the Queensland Times.

Black deaths in custody seem to be Robert Tickner’s latest outcry. Pity that as much media coverage or political grandstanding is not shown for white deaths in custody.

She then continued on, in what the Liberal Party called a ‘calculated and callous attack’ on Aborigines. She was summoned to Brisbane to be told she was not wanted by the Liberals and, it was on the drive back to Ipswich, that she decided to run as an independent.

Hanson picked up votes from those who agreed with her from both sides of politics, and managed to win with a massive 19.3% margin.

It was her maiden speech in September 1996 that brought her to national attention.

I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.

Prime Minister Howard didn’t come out against her attacks on immigration, multiculturalism and indigenous people. He seemed to have the attitude that, if he ignored her, she would go away. He, in fact, many years later, would utter words that were horribly reminiscent of that last sentence from the quote above.

When it came to my song about Hanson, I was inspired by this excerpt from her maiden speech.

I come here not as a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of life’s knocks. My views on issues is based on common sense and my experience as a mother of four children, as a sole parent, and as a businesswoman running a fish and chip shop.

I imagined her Ipswich takeaway as the new centre of political thought, which, given that she did touch an ugly nerve, did represent a hotbed of opinion, shared by a sizable section of the population.

There’s a new seat of learning where philosophies are formed
It’s an eating and a meeting place of minds
Ideologies are born with every crumbing of the prawn
It’s a think tank and a fish tank intertwined

In the hallowed halls
Of the Ipswich fish shop
In between the squid and sardine
The head of research
The filleter of perch
The Dean, Pauline

Every idle conversation, like your thoughts on immigration
Will be noted, your opinion will be heard
And your vision for the nation, with your order for crustacean
Will become a proclamation every word

In the hallowed halls
Of the Ipswich fish shop
In between the squid and sardine
The head of research
The filleter of perch
The Dean, Pauline

Her mind is filled with your every notion
As she fries and grills the creatures from the ocean
Every old fish bone and every sav she batters
Is a new touchstone, yes every fish cake matters
And each sachet of tartare sauce
Will soon become an international force
She sets the scene, Pauline

There’s a new seat of wisdom where no reading is required
Yes it’s true, that’s where the newest paths are forged
Where your order for John Dory will become part of history
There is social change with every chip that’s gorged

In the hallowed halls
Of the Ipswich fish shop
In between the squid and sardine
The head of research
The filleter of perch
The Dean, Pauline.

Hanson formed the One Nation Party in 1997, with three members- herself, David Oldfield and David Etteridge.

Now, after 25 years of countless ups and downs, dances with the stars, a jail term, and numerous comeback attempts, she has risen from the ashes to hold a powerful position in the Senate, still listening to the equivalent of her seafood customers from all those years ago.


Marshall Perron, of the Country Liberal Party, was Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in 1995 when he introduced a bill to legalise euthanasia. On the day of the debate in the NT parliament he made an impassioned speech.

The terminally ill are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, wives and husbands – they are the flesh and blood of their kinfolk. In suffering, like us all, they embrace with tears, fears and sadness. They are not just ‘patients’; they are people. Mr Speaker, they are people like you. They are people like me. They are people like all those people in the public gallery. They are people like all those in the corridors and offices of this building. They are people like all of those in the streets. That is what we are talking about – real people. Let us allow each of them a personal choice. The freedoms that Territorians enjoy all their life should not come to an end just because life does.

After much scrutiny, amendments, and attempts at repeal, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was passed by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly to be effective from 1 July 1996.

The way it worked was that, after all safeguards were fulfilled, the patient would press the spacebar on a computer keyboard to trigger the dispensing of lethal drugs. Four people died under the short-lived law, but Max Bell, a retired taxi driver from Broken Hill, who was suffering from terminal stomach cancer was not to be one of them.

I’m dying of bloody cancer. If you’ve got cancer you can’t enjoy a nice view, you can’t enjoy a nice steak. You’re a walking dead man.

So that he could end his own life legally, he drove to Darwin in his taxi, an old Commodore, from 8am to 3pm each day, staying in motels along the way. The 3000 kilometre drive was exhausting.

As well as being the subject of a 2015 movie, Last Cab to Darwin, Bell’s story is also the basis for my song, Top End. In the song, I used the exact wording that came up on the computer screen.

I’m going to the Top End
I’ve never been before
A trip to the Never Never
I’ve read the glossy brochure
There’s magic in Kakadu
Secrets in Arnhem Land
Wasn’t thinking of heading this way
But Fate had another plan

I’m going to the Top End
This time of year is fine
A trip to the Never Never
I might be some time
There’s magic in Kakadu
Secrets in Arnhem Land
Never thought I’d be heading this way
But Fate took me by the hand

If you press ‘yes’, you will be given, within 30 seconds, a lethal injection. Do you wish to proceed? Do you wish to proceed?

I’m going to the Top End
Across the dusty plain
Seeking peace in the Never Never
My body racked with pain
I never was a computer whiz
I never had the need
Now things are different for me
This time I wish to proceed

If you press ‘yes’, you will be given, within 30 seconds, a lethal injection. Do you wish to proceed? Do you wish to proceed?

Mr Bell’s case was the first to come up, and when it came to confirmation of his prognosis, and mental health status assessment, no doctor came forward for fear of legal repercussions. The cabbie had no choice but to return home to die a ‘natural death.’

The legislation was controversial, and was challenged unsuccessfully in the NT Supreme Court. So it was valid under territory law, but under Section 122 of the Australian Constitution, the federal government does have power to overturn the wishes of territory governments.

The two key MPs who challenged the NT were conservative Liberal Kevin Andrews, and Labor’s Tony Burke. All parties allowed a free vote on the issue, and, by March 1997, the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 was passed. The Northern Territory’s bill was vetoed.

At the time of writing, Voluntary Assisted Dying Acts have become law in Victoria and WA, with SA and QLD making moves in that direction. In NSW there is likely to be plebiscite on the question at the next election, not due till 2023. NT and ACT are still subject to federal intervention, as laid out in the constitution. The debate continues.


In May 1997, the report on the stolen generation (Bringing Them Home) was released by the Human Rights Commission. One of the recommendations was that governments apologise, which the Prime Minister rejected, saying that:

To do so is to indicate in some way that present generations of Australians are responsible and can be held accountable for the errors, wrongs and misdeeds of earlier generations.

Leading figures from all walks of life reacted to this rejection, and when Mr Howard set out on an overseas trip the next month, some of them clubbed together to pay for a full-page ad in the British newspapers attacking his stance on the issue. Consequently, on his arrival, the British press gave him a hard time about Hanson and race issues.

For this, and a number of other reasons, that trip received press coverage back home. Here he was at Lords, watching the second test between England and Australia, while other world leaders were in New York at the UN Earth Summit on greenhouse gas emissions. Foreign Minister Downer went in his place, and despite calls from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to get on board, our beloved leader argued that legally binding targets would devastate our coal- driven economy.

When he had an audience with the queen, he told her that the republic debate was not a frontline issue, and was simply

bubbling along in the background.

When he got to the US a week later, he caught up with his old foe Andrew Peacock, then Australian Ambassador to Washington, who threw a shindig for Howard at the Ambassador’s residence. It was a happy affair with back-slapping, a barbie, Aussie beer, a jazz band on the lawn, and an address by Mr H. At the do was Peacock’s ‘best friend’ Shirley Maclaine, who you would think has had so much plastic surgery that her eyes would be permanently open. But one word into Mr Howard’s speech and she was out like a light. She must have been thinking

(To the tune of Hey Big Spender)
Whenever you walked in the joint
I could tell you were a man of extinction
A real dull speaker
Good looking, so refined
I wouldn’t like to know what’s going on in your mind
So let me get right to the point
I don’t fall asleep for every man I meet
Hey dull speaker
Speak a little less for me

Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun
How about a few laughs, laughs, laughs
I could show you a good time
You’re like cocoa at bed time

So let me get right to the point
I don’t fall asleep for every man I meet
Hey dull speaker
Hey dull speaker
Hey dull speaker
Speak a little less for me.


Margret RoadKnight is a celebrated Australian singer whom I’ve worked with many times. She has a brilliant knack for digging out interesting material, but doesn’t write songs herself.

I’ve written a lot for her, and one of the key moments was in 1997, when she approached me with an idea for a song about immigration, based on the notion that we’ve all come in different boats, but we’re all in the same boat now. She told me that there were already songs out there that used this premise, but that none of them was based on the Australian story of immigration.

At the time the boat people were still coming to our shores, mostly from Asian countries. This was at a time when polls showed that many Australians were concerned about immigration numbers, detention centres had been introduced (under Paul Keating), and the Immigration Minister was advocating harsh measures, doing things like curtailing family reunion provisions.

In my song I took an historical approach, starting with our indigenous people, moving on to the first European settlers, then to post-war migrants, and finally the boat people.

When I finished it, I wanted to get Moya’s reaction to the song, so I sat at the piano in our studio and sang it. I had my back to her, and at the end of my rendition, hearing no response, I turned to see what she thought. She was in tears. I took that as a ‘yes.’

Countless thousands of years ago
The journey began
Fearless thousands in rough canoes
Dug out by hand
From island to island
Story written in sand
Beyond the horizons
To a Dreamtime land

Timeless seasons of wanderings
On ancient sacred ground
Till fearless pioneers from northern shores
Came sailing Southern Cross bound
Finding their sea legs
Watching albatross play
Through the wild Roaring Forties
Neath the Milky Way

And we’re all in the same boat now
Sea change behind us
And if one thing’s gonna bind us
It’s being in the same boat now

Homeless thousands in crowded berths
A soulful travelling band
To a world of opportunity
The sunburned, lucky land
Tying up in calm waters
Leaving homes torn by war
Casting anchors forever
By a distant shore

And we’re all in the same boat now
Sea change behind us
And if one thing’s gonna bind us
It’s being in the same boat now

Winds change, sails fill, masts fall
Bows break, seas roar, pirates call
Storm blows, and so the vessel goes where it must go
We’re passengers, together

Countless thousands in fishing boats
By moonlight secretly
Lives in the hands of the elements
Like wounded snakes in the sea
Adrift on the ocean
Under tropical sun
For these fellow boat people
New life’s begun

And we’re all in the same boat now
Sea change behind us
And if one thing’s gonna bind us
It’s being in the same boat now.

By the next year, the government was allowing police to board boats carrying asylum seekers, and the scene was set for harsher policies and dramas that would be part of the immigration debate for years to come.

(Same Boat recording features Worldly Goods Choir)


One of my main sources of information on the waterfront dispute of 1998 was a book called Waterfront: The Battle That Changed Australia by Helen Trinca and Anne Davies. On its cover was a testimonial from Phillip Adams.

The most thrilling thriller since The Maltese Falcon.

And he’s dead right, because this episode in Australia’s political history is an enthralling tale of conflict, full of deception and secrecy, a late night ambush, balaclava-clad security officers, guard dogs, union heavies, the rich and the powerful, political shenanigans, and more.

In the left hand corner of this sparring match was the MUA- a recently formed amalgamation of maritime unions that had ruled the waterfront for the good part of the twentieth century. The wharfies could bring the country to a halt, and from that position of power had become the highest paid blue-collar workers in the country.

In the right hand corner were those whose livelihoods were linked to productivity on the wharves- business owners, farmers, and the stevedoring companies, notably Patrick Corporation.

John Howard and his coalition colleagues had waterfront reform at the forefront of their minds when they came to power in 1996, and it was no surprise that within weeks of taking the reins, a report into the issue was commissioned. The government was strongly advised to play an interventional role, and by early ‘97 the government signed off on a strategy.

The intrigue began when some months later, MUA Secretary, John Coombs, received a tip-off that an ad was being placed in an Army magazine calling for 76 recruits to train in Dubai as an alternative waterfront workforce, at the very attractive pay rate of $70,000 for three months. It was now clear that a waterfront reform plan was being hatched behind closed doors, (despite ‘I know nothing’ comments from Industrial Relations Minister, Peter Reith, and Patrick’s CEO, Chris Corrigan.)

International leverage by the union movement was imposed, and the threat of a ban on Dubai ports was enough for the UAE government to withdraw permission for any training to take place.

So to Plan B led by the National Farmers’ Federation and their new training company PCS, with access to Australian wharves, again without public notice.

Then late on 7 April 1998, the shit hit the fan. Not even Patrick’s staff knew what was about to happen. But it was no surprise to the government when security men, some in white shirts and ties, others in black, some with guard dogs, all wearing baseball caps, descended on the docks in Melbourne and Sydney. Word spread to the pubs and soon MUA members and supporters were at the gates hurling whatever they could get their hands on- empty stubbies, bricks, golf balls and rocks.

Patrick’s sacked the entire workforce and replaced them with the PCS trainees, and redundancy payments for the wharfies were put in place, supported by the government.

It was twelve o’clock
Down on the dock
The moon was not quite full
Corrigan, that desperate man
He had rehearsed the script
He had the assets stripped
He was ready for attack
A sneaky stunt on the waterfront
It was a midnight sack
A midnight sack
A stab in the back
A midnight sack

Who’s the man, the government man
Who has blood upon his teeth?
This would be no mystery
But more of a Mister Reith
Yes Pig Iron Pete
With mud on his feet
Has left a tell-tale track
That leads to the spot
Where they hatched the plot
It was a midnight sack
A midnight sack
A stab in the back
A midnight sack

Oh, don’t the guards look cute
As they try to make the union cactus
Oh, in their security suits
It’s what they call the world’s best practice

Now they’re tucked in bed with the Farmers’ Fed
And together they all yawn
Insolvency’ they cry with glee
That’s what they call reform
They sing a lullaby
That goes Dubai, Dubai
And a tune by Bacharach
What the world needs now is a waterfront row
And a midnight sack
A midnight sack
A stab in the back
A midnight sack.

The Federal Court found that Patrick’s could not terminate the workers’ employment and a reinstatement was ordered. A month after the drama unfolded, half the workers were back, the PCS sacked its employees, and an agreement was signed by both parties.

Productivity improved, workers’ wages and conditions were rationalised, the workforce halved, the culture of overtime was broken, and consequently the government called it a victory. But it was achieved at a price, as its partisan role and conspiratorial involvement rendered it less than honourable in some quarters. The episode certainly was not a model of government transparency.


After the waterfront drama, the news was dominated by the government’s Native Title Amendment Act, which was a response to the High Court’s Wik decision of ’96. Even though an election was not due till the following year, this was seen as the most likely election issue, and had even been talked about as a possible trigger for a double dissolution election.

But when Howard called an early election, it wasn’t native title that was dominating the news, but instead it was the delicate subject of tax reform, specifically a Goods and Services Tax. I say ‘delicate’ because the Coalition had lost the ‘unloseable’ election in ’93 over the proposed introduction of a GST, and in, 1995, Howard himself had announced there would ‘never ever’ be one.

The notion of a consumption tax had been on the agenda since it was first recommended in a report commissioned by the McMahon government. Successive governments rejected the notion, although it was proposed at a National Tax Summit while Paul Keating was treasurer. The coalition was nervous about it, but things changed when John Howard was on sick leave with a bout of pneumonia. He says that it gave him time to consolidate his thinking on the subject, and the policy began to be formulated. A 10% GST would be proposed, Wholesale Sales Tax would disappear, the funds from the GST would go to the states which would, in turn, abolish certain taxes.

The coalition’s bold move was not entirely popular, with Kerry Packer writing it off as a bad idea, the ALP unsurprisingly mounting a scare campaign, and the polls indicating that the government might fall because of it.

With the help of One Nation preferences, the coalition was re-elected in the October 3 election, but with only 49% of the two-party-preferred vote, compared to 51% for the ALP. There was no chance of Labor supporting the bill in the Senate, so it fell to negotiations with the Australian Democrats, who held the balance of power. After much deliberating, which resulted in the exemption of certain items such as fresh food, the GST was enacted on 28 June 1999.

Canberra Times cartoonist Geoff Pryor drew a cartoon that depicted the GST as an infant being looked on lovingly by its doting parents- John Howard and Democrats’ leader, Meg Lees. It had as its caption ‘Baby GST’- a good hook for a song I thought. As we were working with Geoff on a show called Stop Laughing, This Is Serious at the time, I asked him for permission to steal his title. He gave it, and here is the resulting song, written coincidentally just a short time after John Howard was announced as NSW Father of the Year.

I am the bonny baby GST
My daddy’s Johnny Howard and my mummy’s Meg Lees
Oh I’m such a naughty kid as you can see
But I can’t help it, it’s hereditary

You see my mummy and my daddy made me what I am
They made me tax Kentucky Fried and caravans
They taught me to put 10% on books for school
And brought me up to like the taste of dirty diesel fuel

I am the bonny baby GST
My daddy’s Johnny Howard and my mummy’s Meg Lees
Oh I’m such a naughty kid as you can see
But I can’t help it, it’s hereditary

I’m the kind of baby only mum could love
That’s why daddy’s handling me with big kid gloves
I’m good for the economy, they say it’s true
I’ve taken after both of them, I’m full of wind and poo

I am the bonny baby GST
My daddy’s Johnny Howard and my mummy’s Meg Lees
Oh, I am the bonny baby GST
Why is everybody always picking on me?

My relations never visit me, I’m never hugged and kissed
Uncle Peter’s only just admitted I exist
And Uncle Kimmie never ever talks to me at all
And Aunty Natasha, she won’t play ball

Nobody loves me, everybody hates me
I think I’ll go and eat worms
I could open up a can of worms- maybe I already have

Now mum and dad, they say they’ve done the best they could
With a bundle of joy who’s just a tad misunderstood
I’m just a few months old and I can crawl and talk
I could become a problem child
When I learn to walk

Less for you and more for me.


In 1999, we had a regular Friday afternoon spot on ABC radio in Canberra, hosted by Rod Quinn. I soon got to respect cartoonists who have to come up with a gem every day of the week. Learning a new song can take a couple of days, so by about Wednesday I had to decide on a story, research it, write furiously, then teach it to Moya. Of course, some weeks were slow-news-weeks, and at other times the big story broke on the Thursday or Friday, so we were really on our toes. I remember one day when the news changed on the way into the studio, and I was rewriting as we were being announced. I quickly handed a page of scrawl to Moya and she sang the new lyrics.

The other pressure of the situation was to be funny, but one week the news was dominated by one topic that wasn’t funny- East Timor.

Colonised by Portugal for 400 years, the situation changed for East Timor in November ’75, after there was a bloodless coup in Lisbon, the Carnation Revolution, ending the longest period of European dictatorship ever. The new regime implemented a policy of decolonisation, and former colonies were left to their own devices. In East Timor, rival political groups vied for government, resulting in a very short-lived period of independence under the leadership of The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN).

Indonesia invaded in December 1975, just three weeks after the dismissal of Gough Whitlam. In the lead-up to the invasion, Whitlam didn’t seem to raise too many objections, and this pragmatic approach to Indonesian-Australian relations went on to dominate the responses of successive PMs, from Fraser to Hawke to Keating.

For over 20 years violence, brutality and political instability held sway in East Timor, with significant events like the killing of Australian journalists in Balibo, and the Dili massacre.

When John Howard came in, he had no intention of challenging the status quo, but the change of Indonesian leadership from Suharto to Habibie in ‘98 saw a change of attitude to Timor. The choice that Habibie wanted was for the East Timorese to choose between autonomy under Indonesia or independence. To Howard’s cabinet, this marked the beginning of an unexpected shift in the Australian policy regarding this near neighbour.

In August ’99, a ballot supervised by the UN took place, and there was overwhelming support for independence (78.5%). Violence escalated, and eventually an international peacekeeping force, led by Australia, was installed.

It was at this time that we sang this on the ABC.

It’s Friday on the ABC
Our turn to sing comedy
But no one’s smiling across the sea
In East Timor

Another round of refugees
Walk down the ramp of the Hercules
Hear them talk of atrocities
In East Timor

There are no funny stories this week
No funny stories this week
Dili, ghost town, streets ablaze
Smoke in the nostrils, buildings razed
Hear the gunshot through the haze
Of East Timor

Hard words to say when your eyes are wet
But hard’s the best that it seems to get
In East Timor

There are no funny stories this week
No funny stories this week

The world remembers Balibo
As young peace keepers strike a blow
All dressed up and ready to go
To East Timor

Demonstrators shout aloud
Foreign policy under cloud
Past Prime Ministers are you proud
Of East Timor?

There are no funny stories this week
No funny stories this week

Timor loro sa’e ita rain
Rai Timor ita nia rain.

(UNAMET- the United Nations Mission in East Timor.
TNI- Tentara Nasional Indonesia, the Indonesian National Military.
The final two lines are from an East Timorese song).


Australia had been a destination for what we call ‘boat people’ since 1976 when thousands left South Vietnam, looking for safe haven. In 1992 with a spike in numbers arriving in Australia, the Keating government, with bipartisan support, established mandatory detention for all who arrived without proper visas. This was implemented in 1994.

Indochina was still the main source of arrivals, but disquiet in the Balkans after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the rise of the Taliban after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, gave the world new trouble spots, and new reasons to flee to safer havens.

The Taliban was a fundamentalist Islamic group that supported public executions, required women to wear the full burka, banned TV, music and cinema, and discouraged education for girls. By 1996, they had taken Kabul and provided a good reason for many people to feel persecuted.

Meanwhile, people smuggling had become a complex, organised operation with agents spread throughout different regions, recruiting passengers, creating transit to Indonesia, falsely promising acceptance in Australia, and often overstating the safety of the voyage.

All these factors led to an enormous increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. So new legislation was brought in to make people smuggling a crime, to have more powers to intervene on the boats at sea, and to provide residency in Australia on a temporary basis.

The detention centres were filling, and conditions were harsh. Protests were rife amongst detainees, and instances of psychiatric problems, self harm and abuse were being reported. The harshest of the centres was located at the remote South Australian outpost of Woomera.

This was the background to the song I wrote back then, called Detainee. The Woody Guthrie song, Deportee, was in my mind- the idea that those seeking asylum were being lumped together as a group of nameless people without their own stories.

He could have been a doctor
In North Afghanistan
If it weren’t for all the turmoil
And the bloody Taliban
And the home that is a bombsite
Hit by unfriendly fire
Now he’s sitting here down under
Staring at the razor wire

And the sun it keeps on beating
It scorches and it sears
And the sun can dry the earth’s crust
But it cannot dry his tears

The nightmare of the voyage
Is what he remembers most
In a boat designed for harbours
Or a day trip down the coast
An outing for the family
On the unforgiving foam
The leaks included in the price
Now he sits here alone

And the sun it keeps on beating
It scorches and it sears
And the sun can dry the earth’s crust
But it cannot dry his tears

For months he has been waiting
His crime it seems to be
Not queuing up politely
Now he’s a detainee
Woomeras are for launching
Spears into the air
He’s gazing at our golden soil
Advance Australia fair

And the sun it keeps on beating
It scorches and it sears
And the sun can dry the earth’s crust
But it cannot dry his tears.

(The recording of Detainee features Can Belto)


In 2001 there were some dramatic events that consolidated Australia’s approach to the whole asylum seeker/refugee/immigration situation.

The first of these was in August that year when a wooden Indonesian fishing boat with 400 asylum seekers, most of whom were fleeing the Taliban, was in distress, 140 kilometres north of Christmas Island. The engine had failed, and a violent storm had made the passengers extremely vulnerable. Australian surveillance planes spotted the boat, but instead of instigating a rescue, put out a call for help from any ships in the area.

A Norwegian container ship, the MV Tampa, responded, and although licensed to carry no more than 50 people, the captain honoured the rules of sea and took the asylum seekers on board. Little did he know that he was about to become the centre of a five-day political stand-off. The government stood firm that the Tampa would not venture into Australian waters. But the captain made the decision that it was the safest decision to make, given the intensity of the desperate pleas from the new passengers to be taken to Australia, not back to Indonesia.

We wouldn’t take them, nor would the Indonesians, so the government looked for other destinations. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer suggested Nauru, and thereby was born what became known as the Pacific Solution. Islands were to be excised, boats to be turned around, the Tampa’s passengers to be moved offshore, and the Tampa allowed to continue its voyage.

Then on September 11, two planes crashed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre in a brutal attack by Al Qaeda terrorists. The USA was talking of vengeance against countries that harboured the organisation, and Australia affirmed its commitment to the ANZUS Treaty. The enemy was Islam, the asylum seekers were Muslim, the murky blurring of immigration with terrorism was heightened.

After trailing in the polls, the coalition had a lift, thanks to matters of immigration and national security, and on October 6, with all this as the background, Howard called an election to be held in five weeks. A lot would happen in that period.

*   *   *

The dodgy fishing boats that have transported so many asylum seekers to Australia have historically leaked like sieves. So it’s ironic that the government acronym used to describe what is officially called a Suspected Illegal Entry Vehicle is SIEV.

And, in yet another great moment in the history of acronyms, asylum seekers are referred to as SUNCs (Suspected Unlawful Non Citizens).

The final song in this essay is related to what became known as the Children Overboard Affair, which began after the HMAS Adelaide intercepted a SIEV off Christmas Island in 2001. Efforts to turn the vessel back towards Indonesia were met with resistance by the SUNCs, 14 of whom jumped, or were thrown, overboard. One of the passengers held a young girl over the side of the vessel, threatening to throw the child overboard or into one of the smaller naval boats that were next to the SIEV. Seven of the naval crew dived in and helped rescue those in the water (all adults, not one child).

While the drama was unfolding, the Commander of the Adelaide was on the phone to headquarters in Darwin. Thanks to the confusion of the situation, with maybe a bit of Chinese whispers thrown in, the story was relayed further down the line, and was soon about children overboard.

Soon, Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock, and Defence Minister, Peter Reith, were in the loop. Now it was official- SUNCs had thrown their children into the Indian Ocean, from the safety of a SIEV.

All of this happened during a federal election campaign, and when photos of two women and a child in the water were produced, the temptation to make political capital of the situation was hard to resist. The only problem was that staff of the Defence Department were doubting these photos were linked to this incident.

That didn’t stop Reith from releasing the visual ‘evidence’ photos to the press. When the Minister was informed by the navy that there was a video that showed no children overboard, he replied ‘Well, we better not see the video then’.

It is then that Howard uttered these immortal words- ‘But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’

In 2001, Prime Minister John Howard, Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock, and former Minister for Defence, Peter Reith, were all busily trying to find out just who was responsible for what has become  known as the Children Overboard Affair. Guess what! It was none of them.

(To the tune of Blame it on the Bossa Nova)
Blame it on the Public Servants
They’re dispensable
Blame it on the Public Servants
When you’re reprehensible
Well it all began with just one leaky boat
And those photographs that won the Liberal vote
Blame it on the Public Servants
The great scapegoats

Was it Peter Reith?
(No, no, the public servants)
Lying through his teeth?
(No, no, the public servants)

Phillip Ruddock?
(No, no, the public servants)
Talking through his buttock
(No, no, the public servants)
Or Honest John
(No, no, the public servants
Doing nothing wrong
(No, no, the public servants)
Or a department head
(Yes, yes, the public servants)
The great scapegoats.

Before the Tampa, September 11 and Children Overboard, the Coalition was behind Labor in the polls. But come the election that year, Howard managed to win a third term. Fear worked.


All songs and parody lyrics by John Shortis
Hey Big Spender by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields
Blame It on the Bossa Nova by Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann

Lazarus Rising by John Howard
John Winston Howard Biography by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen; The White Queen (One Nation and the Politics of Race) by David Marr (Quarterly Essay)
Waterfront- The Battle That Changed Australia by Helen Trinca and Anne Davies

Sydney Morning Herald June 1997
The Fight to End a Life by Gay Alcorn (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September 1996)

How Tragic Events Unfolded at Port Arthur (SBS News, 27 April 2016)
Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996 presented by Kevin Andrews MP (Parliamentary Library 9 September 1996)
Marshall Perron’s 1995 Northern Territory Address (posted by Go Gentle Australia 14 November 2016)
East Timor and Australia’s Security Role, Issues and Scenarios by Dr Adam Cobb (Parliamentary Library 21 September 1999).

GOING VIRAL (a satire for the new normal) Act Two


President Trump seemed to talk little of the severity of the virus, placing all hope in the imminent distribution of a vaccine.

‘Tis the night before Christmas in that old White House
Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse
The stockings are hung by the President’s chair
Even though Trump will no longer be there

Donald is nestled all snug in his bed
While visions of viruses dance in his head
Masks and red baseball caps hang on a hook
With scrunched up pages of his niece’s new book

When out on the lawns there arises a clatter
He springs from his bed to see what is the matter
Before his wondering eyes a display
A squillion new cases and that’s just today

With Dasher and Dancer and Vixen and Prancer
They’ve written a question and they want an answer
They look to the top of the stars and stripes flag
Down the pole old St Nicholas slides with his bag

To Melania and Donald says ‘how do ya do?’
Then, as quickly as you can say ‘a little ‘flu’
He gives them a note from the medical crew
Then back up the pole with a quick ‘toodle-ooh’

Leaving them both to read
As he flies out of sight
‘A vaccine by tomorrow? By Christmas?
Merry Christmas, good night!’

(Our prediction was wrong- the US did manage to rush a release of a vaccine by Christmas.)


In the early days of the pandemic, we, like everyone else, stocked up on a lifetime supply of food and alcohol. That was when we discovered that our kitchen was home to our new best friend- solid, reliable, maybe a little cold, but efficient, and always welcoming.

I’m your friendly fridge
I’m in pride of place
Built of stainless steel
With a solid base
And my freezer door
Masks a thousand crimes
I’m your friendly fridge
In these hard, hard times

My doors are French
Though I’m more Bing Lees
I can take the stench
Of a good blue cheese
And a year’s supply
Of crafty beers and wines
I’m your filled-up fridge
In these hard, hard times

You can fill me more
With goods galore
‘Cause I won’t care
Make the most
And drink a toast
To my frigid air

Enough chilli sauce
To last me all my days
Every shape and size
Of salad mayonnaise
A tribute to the work
Of a Mr Heinz
I’m your friendly fridge
In these hard, hard times

As you get your elves
To stack my shelves
With caviar
You can celebrate
My energy rating
Of five stars

When the seasons turn
To a better day
There’ll be a monument
At the IGA
And the words will read
On a plaque that shines
‘To each friendly fridge
In these hard, hard times’
I’m your friendly fridge
In these hard, hard times.

Speaking of fridges- during the fire season, in Bungendore where we live, a local couple put an old fridge at the side of the main road, to support the Firies as they sped back and forth, to and from the bushfires. People wrote kind words on the side of it, and filled it with drinks and goodies.

That fridge, and the wonderful story it represents, is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.


We witnessed similar acts of kindness from our fans and our choir, who sent us anony-mous gift cards, on-line vouchers, cheques, books and regular deliveries of alcohol. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts (and livers).

Whilst the virus had a devastating effect on us all, in the scheme of things, we in Australia have come through it relatively well, especially when you compare us to places like Europe- if only their leaders had listened to my handwash songs.

In einer Molltonart
(In a minor key)
Ein kurzes Lied derart
(A little short song)
So gespielt in Molltonart
(Played in a minor key)
Ist gleich dieses Lied vorbei
(As this song is played)
Sind die Hände virenfrei
(Hands will be virus free)
Keine kleinen Keime mehr
(No more little germs)
Oder Krankheit so gemein
(Or illness)
In einer Molltonart
(In a minor key)
In einer Molltonart
(In a minor key)

Je me lave les mains
(I wash my hands)
Je me lave les mains
(I wash my hands)
Le lavabo ou le bidet
(In the bathtub or the bidet)
Un peu d’eau et je suis prête
(A little water and I’m ready)
Je me lave les mains
(I wash my hands.)


By June, all was going well with controlling COVID until a second spike hit in Melbourne, resulting in an extreme lockdown. The cause was traced to lax enforcement of quarantine, which had been placed in the hands of private security firms. An inquiry was held, heads rolled, no one claimed to know who made the decision to use these companies, and everyone blamed everyone else.

Premier Dan Andrews was heavily criticised by the federal government and by certain sections of the media. The right wing press christened him ‘Chairman Dan.’

(Based on The Little Red Hen)
As you’ve been such good girls and boys, and washed your hands so beautifully, I think you deserve a story. .Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a Little Red Premier who lived in Melbourne. He was friends with a policeman, two Departmental Secretaries, the big boss of all the Public Service, and three cabinet ministers.

One day the Little Red Premier found to his surprise that some naughty private security guards were making a big mess of hotel quarantine. The Little Red Premier had no idea who decided to give them these jobs so he asked his friends ‘Who will help me find out?’

‘Not I’, barked the plodding policeman. ‘I can’t help you because, even though I didn’t want to stand outside hotels all day, I don’t know who gave the jobs to those naughty security guards.

‘Not us’, purred the sleepy Secretaries of Government Departments. ‘We can’t help you because even though we each had responsibility, we blame each other.’

‘Not I’, quacked the noisy boss of all the Public Service. ‘I can’t help you because even though I’m the big boss I refer you to Referring Officer.’

‘Not us’, roared the busy Cabinet Ministers. ‘We can’t help you because we know nothing.’ ‘Then I will find out’ bleated the Little Red Premier, and he called an inquiry all by himself.

‘Who will help me tell the inquiry whose idea it was to give jobs to these naughty security guards?’ asked the Little Red Premier.

‘Not I’ barked the plodding policeman. ‘I can’t help you because it was the responsibility of the government departments.’

‘Not us’, purred the sleepy Secretaries of the Government Departments. ‘We can’t help you because it was controlled by the big boss of the Public Service’.

‘Not I’, quacked the noisy boss of the Public Service. ‘I can’t help you because even though I’m the big boss it was the Cabinet Ministers’ fault’.

‘Not us’, roared the busy Cabinet Ministers. ‘We can’t help you because it’s the Premier who’s in charge’.

‘Then I will tell the enquiry all by myself’, said the Little Red Premier.

And after 25 days of hearings, 62 witnesses, 200 000 pages, 3 million dollars, and a lost email or two, the Little Red Premier said something about the buck stopping here.


After an initial surge, Canberra was mercifully free of infections for quite a while. So we were able to get our choir back together in the second half of 2020, with 2 metres distance between each singer. About 30 of the 50 members came back, and continue to do so, with numbers gradually increasing. It’s been a bit weird though, because without the other singers right next to you, you feel like you’re singing on your own, which is not why people join community choirs.

With singing actually banned in some states, I decided to come up with a COVID-safe song- one that could be performed without singing all the way.

The idea came to me from a common sight on our TV screens throughout all the dramas of 2020. As our political leaders, fire commissioners, health officers and the like kept the community up to date on the latest threats and dangers, and how to stay safe, one constant feature has been the wonderfully animated and expressive sign language interpreters.

Moya and I looked up key words online, and we came up with a way to sign throughout the song. We took liberties with some of the signs, but our main intention was to pay tribute to these interpreters.

In the version in the show, we cut short the section that is signs only. When the choir does it, they sign their way through all the lyrics, without singing.

Your home is
In danger
No time could
Be stranger
Red the sky
Search for safer ground
Flames on high
Flames on high
Your home is
In danger

Your work is
In danger
No time could
Be stranger
Your notes fill the air
But no one is listening
Except for a chair
Empty chair
Your work is
In danger

It’s the time of the signs
Of reading between the lines
It’s the time
Of the signs
The time of the signs



Koala, musician, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.



Our local member is the deputy premier of NSW, John Barilaro. He is also one of the reasons the NSW government had some fun and games with their koala habitat protection legislation. Barilaro’s objection was that it would make it hard for farmers to clear land.

One thing you can’t accuse Mr B of is keeping a low profile- we can’t open a paper or put on the tellie without seeing yet another photo opportunity featuring his hair-gelled visage.

(To the tune of Little Arrows)
Barilaro in your paper
Barilaro on your screen
Barilaro on your radio
And all places in between
Barilaro’s there on Facebook
Barilaro’s in your hair
So pity us in Bungers
Barilaro’s everywhere

(To the tune of Roll Out the Barrel)
Roll out the Barilaro
He’s a Barilaro of fun
The Member for Monaro
He’s got the news on the run
Save the koala
They don’t need no gel in their hair
How much Mr. Barilaro
Can a koala bear?

With so many state and federal leaders in the limelight throughout this weird time, Opposition leaders have had a hard time being heard. Take Albo for instance. Did he go missing in action? He said he was back, ‘no more Mister Nice Guy,’ but do we even remember how to pronounce his name?

(To the tune of Funiculi Funicula)
Albo, Albo, will you help us please?
Is it Al-ba-neas-y, or is it Al-ban-ease?
Or Al-ba-naise, or Al-ba-nais-ey, Al-ba-neas-y, Al-ba-nease
We think we’re going crazy, Albo, will you help us please?

In the wake of its devastating loss at the last election, the poor old Labor Party experienced some internal troubles in 2020, when it came to reaching a unified stand on fossil fuels. Do they support the blue collar voters, or cosy up to the latte-sippers in the inner city? The former Shadow Minister for Agriculture, federal Member for Hunter, Mister Joel Fitzgibbon thought he had the answer.

(To the tune of Ol’ Man River)
Joel Fitzgibbon
Dat Joel Fitzgibbon
He always says somethin’
But don’t know nuthin’
Dat Joel Fitzgibbon
He just keeps coalin’ along

Think Joel’s insane
Butler is subtler
Says Joel’s a pain
Pipe that gas
And mine that seam
No wind farming
In Joel’s pipe dream

Joel gits weary
And tired of drooling
Over coal firing
And fossil fuelling
Dat Joel Fitzgibbon
He just keeps coalin’ along.



One of the changes that affected us all in 2020 was the difficulty in being able to communicate face-to-face with family, friends, colleagues, clients etc, which led to the incredibly increased use of a certain online platform.

(To the tune of When You Walk in the Room)
I can feel a new obsession on your face
As another online session’s taking place
Voices from your past life you exhume
Every time that you log on to Zoom

I prick my ears for a second, that’s the moment I think
That I’ll only understand you out of sync
When you’re on that screen you’re so over the moon
Every time that you log on to Zoom

Maybe it’s a dream come true
All those people in the room with you
Wish I could tell you that they’re not really there
But I only have the nerve to stare

I can feel a nervous shaking in my knee
Every time you get a new ID
Another bookcase in yet another room
Every time that you log on to Zoom
Every time that you log on to Zoom.


Like many other NSW and ACT residents, we have good friends and close family in Melbourne- all my children, grandchildren, and sons and daughters-in-law live there.

During the height of the long second lockdown, I was on the phone to my daughter, and she had the speaker on so that I was talking to the whole family. At the end of the conversation, without thinking, I said ‘I have to go now because we’re going out to dinner with friends.’ This did not go down well.

During that second spike down south, I heard a segment on Radio National in which a journalist had gained permission to venture onto the city streets after curfew and described what he saw. It was so eerie and evocative, with tales of foxes and empty trams. Then a friend told me how she was paranoid about forgetting to put the garbage out and having to do it after curfew. And one night, when I was talking to one of my sons, he was very envious when I told him I was going to the movies. He reacted by saying that his big night out is garbage night. With all that in mind, I wrote this, with some make-up advice from Moya.

The night before I wrote it, we were rehearsing a Polish folk song with the choir, and the tune was buzzing around my head. Consequently, there is a certain Polish atmosphere to my song.

(Garbage night in Brunswick is actually Monday, but Tuesday sounded better when sung.)

Another Tuesday night in Brunswick
Garbage night, the highlight of the week
Another chance to meet my neighbours
And check the busy nightlife on my street

But first some time to put my face on
That’s one thing I can’t go out without
Some lipstick, blusher and mascara
Garbage night, my big night out

My hairstyle it is still in lockdown
In need of mousse and hairspray by the ton
I choose my outfit with such relish
And earrings that will dazzle everyone

From my exclusive range of mask wear
I choose the most alluring I can flout
So I’ll look good beneath the lamplight
Garbage night, my big night out

And now I grab each wheelie bin
On cold cement, they make a din
Recycled bottles clink and clank
I don’t remember drinking that

A canine chorus is responding
They appreciate the effort I have made
The bloke across the road is dancing
‘Neath the twinkle of the stars on my parade

I hear two cars out in the distance
It’s almost peak hour in the roundabout
An empty tram, its bell is ringing
Garbage night, my big night out

The bins attract a prowling cat
A fox pops up to have a chat
They both come by to get a bite
Like me they love a garbage night

Another Tuesday night in Brunswick
The Town Hall clock will soon be striking nine
So much excitement for one evening
But must be back inside by curfew time

Goodbye to foxes, cats and dancers
And cars and trams, I’ll see you soon, no doubt
We’ll do it all again next Tuesday
Garbage night, my big night out
Garbage night, my big night out
Another Tuesday night in Brunswick.


Just before our show started, there was a run of elections, here and around the world.

In New Zealand, Jacinda Ahern was returned as Labour Prime Minister with an increased majority.

In Queensland, it was Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk who romped back in, also with an increased majority, proving that closing borders was popular.

In the USA, Joe Biden became President-elect.

And in the ACT, Labor’s Andrew Barr beat opposition leader, Alistair Coe, but both main parties lost seats to the Greens.

All of these took place within weeks of each other, so it was a case of election fever.

(To the tune of Fever)
Andrew Barr of Canberra Labor
Gave young Alistair the boot
Another four years of Andrew
Before we see another corflute

Election fever
At postal voting
Fever at opinion polls
Election fever
When you’re losing
Fever when you’re on a roll

Everybody loved Jacinda
Everybody felt the same
The country put their arms around her
And she only has herself to blame

Election fever
In a landslide
Fever when the count is tight
Election fever
On the ballot
Fever on election night

Annastacia up in Queensland
Now she’s got another go
Will she open up the borders
Is she Queensland’s friend or foe?

Election fever
At the football

Trump he’s stayin’ in the White House
There’s no way he’s gonna go
He says it was a rigged election
Engineered by Sleepy Joe

Election fever
On the hustings
Fever in a fiery debate
Election fever
In the fake news
Yeah, he’ll make America great

Now you’ve listened to my story
Here’s the point that I have made
Democracy’ll give you fever
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade

Election fever
Sausage sizzle
Fever with each snag you turn
Fever, watch ‘em sizzle
What a lovely way to burn
What a lovely way to burn
What a lovely way to burn.


The Two Ronnies popularised spoonerisms with their Rindercella many years ago, and Washington’s political satire group, Capitol Steps, have continued the tradition. We always end our shows with our take on this- Learless Feeders.

The first learless feeder is a former Mime Prinister, Ony Tabbott- One Prick Tony himself. They let him lie to Flondon so he could burk for Wrexit. Was it a case of sending bumone sack where he frame com.

But aren’t we glad he’s issed poff! If he packed his Smudgie Bugglers, will he wear them in the widdle of minter? He’ll breeze his falls off.

Same with Cardinal Peorge Gell. During the Coyal Romission, he was too fick to sly. But now, bo and lehold, they let him iss poff to Rome.

Pro nobs. Will his absence make the fart grow honder? I thon’t dink so.

And Talcolm Murnbull? After being a big pissadointment, he’s gone back to being a bealthy wanker. And now he’s bitten a rook. And that rook nigs the dife into Deter Putton and Cathias Mormann. And the title of that rook? A Pigger Bitcher.

Then there’s our current Mime Prinister, Mott Scorrison, MoSco a mappily harried mamily fan. Always looking out for Ken and the jids.

But MoSco’s not a very fart smeller. He wants to build a fas-gired stower pation in the Vunter Halley.

He might have chitten off more than he can bew.

And thanks to COVID 91, the hit shit the fan, and the economy’s up crit sheek. pithout a waddle.

So our Treasurer, Frosh Jeidenberg, has brought down a new Budget – but what a Bokey Bludget ….it promises wuck all for fimmen.

As for the Pabour Larty, they’re in sheep dit. They can’t get a doe in toor. They can’t see the trood for the wees. They’re in trig bubble.

Will Ablo ever be Mime Prinister? Nuck foes.

Then there’s Bladys Geragicklian…. She lell in fove with a podgy dolitician who kept pining his lockets while he was gonking Bladys.

And Tronald Dump- a dealer wheeler who’s as mad as a snut cake. With a Q.I. in dingle sigits! He may have a Wophy Trife, but he’s not exactly hung and yandsome!

Who could forget that rain treck of a debate when Tronald Dump kept on utting bin, till Boe Jiden told him to ut the shuck fup.

That’s when Dump’s poll numbers started to flop off like dries. So he throws a Parden Garty at the Hite Wouse. And foo hor? The jew nudge- Amy Boney Carrot.

Then he goes and gets the Vorona Cirus, calls it a flittle loo. In no time at all, he gets a clean hill of bealth. Was it all nake fews?

After all the blow lows and trirty dicks, Boe Jiden, a man who can barely string woo turds together, will soon be Freeder of the Wee Lorld. Let’s hope someone somewhere can give us some hoy in our jarts, some soap in our holes,

and a hand grope for the future.


After a year like this, will we ever return to the way we were?

(To the tune of The Way We Were)
Of the life we left behind
Misty rosy-coloured memories
Of the way we were

Toilet paper
We bought 6 rolls at a time
Hugs we gave to one another
That’s the way we were

Can it be that we were all so social then
When we were working overtime
If we had the chance to be employed again
Tell me, would we?
Should we?

Global emissions
Oh how high they used to get
They decreased by late September
From levels we will not forget
Now they’re back up in November
Even higher by December
Is that when we’ll remember
The way we were
The way we were.


We finished our show with a poem that did the rounds via the internet during lockdown. We thought it was written 150 years ago, and reprinted during the 1919 pandemic.

Proving that you shouldn’t believe everything that’s stated as truth on the internet, we later discovered that it was actually written in 2020 by Kitty O’Meara.

The poem was integrated into our closing song, a reprise of the opener, Going Viral.

And people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened
More deeply

Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless
The earth also began to heal.

No one’s going like a rocket
No one’s going to the moon
No one’s going cruising
To a sun-drenched tropic isle
We’re all just going viral
For a while.

And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead
And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.

No one’s going to the footy
No one’s going to the gym
No-one’s going begging
For a night out on the tiles
We’re all just going viral
For a while
We’re all just going viral for a while.


All songs and parody lyrics by John Shortis
In Einer Molltonart (translation by Gisela Pullen, Karl Gordon, Jean-Yves Poncelet)
Je Me Lave Les Mains
(translation by Jean-Yves Poncelet)
Sounds of Silence
by Paul Simon
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town by Mel Tillis
Da Doo Ron Ron by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Phil Spector
Yellow Submarine by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
The Little Red Hen, a traditional folk tale
A Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One by W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Rock-a-Bye Baby
, a traditional nursery rhyme
by Ivan Larionov
Theme from Fawlty Towers
by Dennis Wilson
Little Arrows by Mike Hazlewood and Albert Hammond
Funiculi Funicula by Luigi Denza and Peppino Turco
Ol’ Man River by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II
When You Walk In The Room by Jackie De Shannon
Fever by Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley
The Way We Were by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch Jr
And The People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara.

Deadly Encounters- (how infectious diseases helped shape Australia) by Peter Curson

Sydney Morning Herald Nov 1918-Sept 1919

How Australia’s response to the Spanish Flu of 1919 sounds warnings on dealing with Coronavirus by Frank Bongiorno (The Conversation-March 22, 2020)

Show performed Nov 2020
Essay written March 2021

Bottomless Pit- Preface


Moya Simpson and I moved to the Canberra region in March 1996, just as John Howard became Prime Minister. As Howard never officially moved into The Lodge, we always say we moved to Canberra when Howard didn’t.

It also marks the time when we were just getting into political satire, so it means that I have written hundreds of songs and parodies that document the reigns of six prime ministers- Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison. I have been nothing if not prolific.

What I’ve done in this series is dig through the bottomless pit of songs, picked the strongest ones, and written up the political and social background to them. I hope that the end result is a quirky, original take on a quarter of a century of Australian politics, through the prism of my songs.


I’ve been a full-time songwriter and musician since 1971. At first, I was a children’s writer, then moved into the world of community arts, still working mostly with kids. In 1983, when I was composer-in-residence for Campbell-town Council, I met Moya Simpson, who had just discovered she could sing. Through her, I met Margret RoadKnight, and soon we formed a cabaret act with Margret and singer/actor Kerry-Ella McAullay. I started writing for our act- adult comedy songs, not a child in sight.

In 1995, Moya and I each had a mid-life crisis, fortunately at the same time. We headed off, with a car and caravan, from Sydney where we lived, to various parts of Australia, picking up gigs and workshops wherever we could, open-minded about where we might end up. The big difference now was that there was just two of us, me to do the writing and playing, Moya to do the singing. She’d only sung in groups before (often in foreign languages), and I was relatively new at writing adult material, so it was a big shift for both of us. During that year in the caravan, I happened to write a song for Moya that was about a political story.


Nuclear testing was about to become a thing of the past thanks to a looming Test Ban Treaty. But French president Jacques Chirac decided to have a last hurrah, and, in the early days of his presidency, approved a test at Mururoa Atoll, south of Tahiti.

By way of protest, Australians started boycotting products like French wine, which was fair enough, until it all turned a bit silly- people refusing to buy croissants at Australian bakeries, for example. So I wrote Je Proteste in my very best Franglais, a list song which basically says that if we ban all things French, the problem will be solved.

Mesdames et messieurs
Avec les testes nuclieur
Je proteste, mesdames et messieurs
Je proteste

Take the flag from the pole
Au revoir Charlie DeGaulle
Since Mururoa Atoll
Mesdames et messieurs
Je protest

So to all things Francaise
Like Bastille Days, it’s goodbye not hello
I bid bon voyage to French fromage
And escargots
All those summer vacances
In the south of la France
Or Gay Paree
Toulouse Lautrec, croissants, baguette
C’est finis

Mesdames et messieurs
Avec les testes nuclieur
Je proteste, mesdames et messieurs
Je proteste

I’m sounding the knell on Sasha Distel
And Marcel Marceau
I’m closing the door on Charles Aznavour
And Brigitte Bardot
No more sweet chanteuses
I’m serieuse, and no Singing Nun
No le parking
No French kissing avec le tongue

Mesdames et messieurs
Avec les testes nuclieur
Je proteste, mesdames et messieur
Je proteste

Les Folies Bergeres and camembert
I will resist
There’ll be no more Can Can
No more Coq au Vin
They’re all off the list
No Veuve Cliquot, Cognac, Cointreau
Grand Marnier
Paté de fois
Ménage a trois, c’est terminée

Monsieur Jacques Chirac
You deserve le sac
Till you change votre tack
Monsieur Jacques Chirac
Je proteste.


That year we appeared at a Folk Festival at Wollombi in the Hunter Valley, and, on the same bill, was my brother Mark, who was performing with a Brisbane poet, Douglas Broad. We went see their act, which included a very funny politically correct version of Waltzing Matilda.

We asked Doug if we could include it in our repertoire. At the end of our year in a caravan, we had a 6-week Christmas season with Kerry-Ella McAullay at The School of Arts Café, a great little cabaret venue in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. We’d already done the ’94 season and had been asked back. Included in the set list were Je Proteste, and Politically Correct Waltzing Matilda.

Once a jolly swag person temporarily halted by a water source
Under the shade of an indigenous species of eucalypt tree
And he or she sang as he or she watched
As he or she waited till the kettle boiled
(As long as he or she used solar power)
With your consenting adult permission
Will you come perambulating round the dance floor with me
Matilda, please?

Down came a species of ungulate to take sustenance from the water source
Up jumped the swag person and grabbed him or her or it with protestations of manifold  delight (personifold delight)
And he or she sang as he or she stowed his or her ungulate in his or her food-carrying receptacle
With your consenting adult permission
Will you come perambulating round the dance floor with me, Matilda, please?

Down came the local example of the socio-economic patrilineal paradigm
Mounted on his equine quadruped of distinctive blood lineage
Thereby demonstrating his complete contempt for the aims and objectives of the animal liberation lobby
Up rode the troopers (peace keepers) 1-2-3
We allege you have a species of ungulate secreted in your food-carrying receptacle
With your consenting adult permission
Will you come perambulating round the dance floor with me
Matilda, please?

Up jumped the swag person and sprang into that water source
‘You’ll never take me alive,’ cried he….. or she
And his or her non corporal manifestation (personifestation) may be aurally detected
As you pass by that water source
With your consenting adult permission
Will you come perambulating round the dance floor with me
Matilda, please?

Perambulating round the dance floor
Perambulating round the dance floor
Perambulating round the dance floor with me, Matilda, please
And he or she sang as he or she watched
As he or she waited till the kettle boiled
(As long as he or she used solar power)
With your consenting adult permission
Will you come perambulating round the dance floor with me
Matilda, please?


The proprietor of The School of Arts Café, Bill Stephens, was very keen on the satire direction and encouraged me to write more. As an incentive, he offered us a whole season of satire in the coming year.

Time came to decide where we’d live, and I suggested Canberra to Moya. She laughed. But the interest in satire, coupled with some local enthusiasm for her voice workshops, must have helped change her mind.

I had organised to do a show over two nights at Bondi Pavilion, 23 and 24 March 1996. Entitled Short is the Song, it would mark 25 years of making a living as a full-time musician. On the Bill were Margret RoadKnight, Jeannie Lewis, Kerry-Ella McAullay, Tony Gorman, Dave Ellis, Blair Greenberg, my twin sons Peter and Yanto, Moya and Yours Truly.

In the meantime, Moya had been looking into finding us a house to rent. One stinking hot day, the car boiled over outside a real estate office in the town of Bungendore, about 30 minutes out of Canberra. So she thought she might as well venture into the office and see what they had. Before she knew it, she’d taken a lease on a house, and, after the Bondi shows, we drove to our new Bungendore home. It was 25 March 1996, just weeks after John Howard became Prime Minister.

Pretty well straight away, we set out writing and rehearsing our first full-length satire show. Called Shortis and Curlies, it was a three-hander- us plus a brilliant jazz singer, the late Andrew Bissett, whose book on the history of jazz in Australia, Black Roots White Flowers, I had read and loved.

Shortis and Curlies ran for a month to good audiences. We were now political satirists, and, at the risk of sounding like a firm of solicitors, became Shortis and Simpson. The stage was set for a new career adventure.


I have divided Bottomless Pit into four parts:-

Howard (1996-2001)

Howard and Rudd (2001-2008)

Rudd and Gillard (2008-2013)

Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison (2013-2021).

I’m an old-school news junkie. I read newspapers in print (Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald, The Weekend Australian). I also watch current affairs on ABC TV and SBS. I tune into ABC News Radio, listen to Parliament, watch and attend Question Time every now and then. I also have a large library of reference books. It’s from all these sources that I have gained the information that has fed my songwriting over these 25 years.

I’ve researched the stories all over again for these essays, using books, newspapers, and on-line references. These are listed at the end of each part.

While looking on-line, I found that the Parliamentary Library, based at Parliament House in Canberra, has covered many of the main issues in papers written by their research staff, or guest researchers. I’ve found these to be very good factual accounts of what happened.


I’d like to end this preface with a positive song. If you, like me, believe that apologising to the stolen generation and introducing gun control were fine achievements of two of our PMs, then you could say that Rudd and Howard did their best work On Day One. The quotes used are the exact words they uttered.

RUDD: When all is said
When all is done
I did my best work
On day one

(For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry)

HOWARD: When all is said
When all is done
I did my best work
On day one.

(There is a clear link between the volume of powerful weapons in the community and the extent to which they are used in an indiscriminate manner. I believe that it is in the national interest that there be a dramatic reduction in the number of automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the Australian community. I’ve held for a long time the view that I would dread the thought that this country would go down the American path so far as the possession of firearms is concerned)

BOTH: When all is said
When all is done
I did my best work
On day one.

The stories behind On Day One can be found within the relevant essays.

I hope you enjoy Bottomless Pit.

John Shortis
October 2020

The 1948 Show


Both Moya and I were born in 1948. To mark the occasion we decided to do something a bit wild. So we got married. Well we did the important part of marriage, the ritual before our friends and family, not the legal bit.

We also decided to go a bit personal and do a show about our birth year. So off I went researching through every edition of the Sydney Morning Herald of that year. I also did my usual digging through the many books I have, as well as websites, sheet music, YouTube etc.

The result was The 1948 Show, a reference to the brilliant At Last the 1948 Show, a ground-breaking BBC TV comedy from the late ‘60s, which both Moya and I loved. Our show, a combination of history, song and personal anecdotes, was performed on September 7, 2018.

We got married the next day. Only we would be crazy enough to work right up to the day before our wedding.

I was born on September 17, 1948 in Sydney, (Earlwood to be precise), and Moya on July 7, 1948 in London (Twickenham). So throughout the show, we often compared the events of our two countries of birth.


Back in the dark ages, before social media, there were no mobile phones, no personal computers, no iPhone. A tablet was something you took for a hangover, apple was a fruit, and Amazon was a river somewhere in South America. Avocados were not smashed, pork was not pulled, and cookies were American biscuits. Friends were people whose faces you knew, a troll was a small Scandinavian creature, a web was something a spider wove, and twitter was a sound made by birds. Deep in those faraway times, there was a year in which a baby John and a baby Moya came into the world. The year? 1948.

Back seventy years ago we see
The war a fading memory
The greenest leaves on every tree
To cultivate
Us babies boomed into the place
At such a fast and frenzied pace
With optimism on our faces
Couldn’t wait

The music had a little swing
With a country bumpkin kind of thing
A bit of Nat King Cole and Bing
Would resonate
And Jackson Pollock didn’t care
That paint was splashing everywhere
And Judy Garland, Fred Astaire
Well they were great

The 1948 Show
The 1948 Show
The year of ‘48

The ration cards were wearing thin
The modern world was moving in
New era waiting to begin
Don’t hesitate
Bring in the new world, leave the old
But fear a war that’s in the cold
The story waiting to be told
We now relate

The 1948 Show
The 1948 Show
The year of ’48.


The year started with a bang in Sydney with a violent electric storm, and a clang in London, with the bells of St Paul’s tolling for the first time in 20 years.

The Australian Prime Minister was Labor’s Ben Chifley, and in Britain it was Labour’s Clement Atlee, a fairly uncharismatic leader who Winston Churchill referred to as ‘a sheep in sheep’s clothing’.

But Clement had his moments, because under his watch, the National Health Scheme (NHS) was introduced in Britain. In a similar vein, we in Australia were given the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The average Australian salary was £349 per annum, and in Britain £300.

A loaf of bread cost sixpence halfpenny in Earlwood, and fivepence in Twickenham. Wartime rationing was still in place in both countries, and would last two more years in Australia, five more in the UK.

That year, Britain gave the world the Land Rover, and in Australia, we manufactured our very own Holden.

Holdin’ you in my Holden
Life is simply divine
I’ll be holdin’ you my whole life through
Till you’re mine all mine
Oh yeah
Thanks assembly line.

In November ’48, at the GMH plant at Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne, as a pianist played a waltz by Brahms, silver lamé curtains parted to reveal, spot-lit on a revolving stage, the brand new FX Holden.

Prime Minister Chifley was there, and his first words when he saw it were  ‘She’s a beauty’!

The Holden’s design was a reflection of Australia at that time, in that our allegiances were somewhere between Britain and America, and the Holden had some of the sedateness of the former, and the flashiness of the latter. But the mixture made it unique.

Although car ownership was still an expensive aspiration achieved by few, that was changing as the number of new car registrations had trebled in the previous year. Within a decade, in Britain, as in Australia, the family car would become the powerful symbol of the future. Dad in the driver’s seat, Mum next to him, and kids and dog in the back.

Moya’s first family car was a Standard 8. And ours? A Holden FJ, of course.

Holdin’ you my Holden.

And you’ll be pleased to know that Holdin’ You In My Holden is an actual jingle that I dug out of the National Library’s sheet music collection.


I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain
Third is the roses that grow in the lane
No need explaining, the one remaining
Is somebody I adore
I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.

This little piece of melodic optimism was an old song from the community singing days of the roaring ‘20s. In 1948, it was updated with a big band flavour, and became a hit all over again. Its cheery lyrics fitted well with our Prime Minister’s New Year message, which gave us every reason to believe that there was plenty to look forward to- unemployment was at 1%, and production had reached new peaks. There was every reason to never overlook a four leaf clover.

But it wasn’t all rosy. Churchill had coined the phrase ‘Iron Curtain’ two years earlier, and by the end of 1948, that curtain, with Stalin as its operator, had claimed pretty well every country in Eastern Europe.

One leaf is sunshine
The second is rain.

That year the US instigated the Marshall Plan, the brainchild of George C. Marshall, General of the US Army, which gave vast amounts of economic aid to Western Europe. The loftier aims of the plan were to do with rebuilding war-torn countries and increasing prosperity, but the motivation at its heart was stopping Communism.

Third is the roses
That grow in the lane.

In response, the Soviets imposed the Berlin Blockade, forcing the Allies to fly in supplies to the Western zones of the German capital, sometimes as often as every four minutes, to keep the population fed.

But, on the bright side, our mums and dads kept pumping out us baby boomers. And this fine line between optimism and fear, in a way, defines the psyche of our generation- economic prosperity on one hand, fear of nuclear annihilation on the other.

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover
That I overlooked before.


Meanwhile in America, it was election year, and all the polls predicted that incumbent President Truman would lose. But they were wrong. Fake news! Truman won.

He did face a challenge from the left though, in the form of former Vice President Henry Wallace, who launched a new progressive party. A regular performer at Wallace’s rallies was left wing singer Paul Robeson.

Ol’ man river, dat ol’ man river
He must know something, he don’t say nothin’
Dat ol’ man river, he just keep rollin’ along.

In the recording industry, there was a landmark development, when Columbia Records introduced the long playing record, the LP. 78rpm singles remained popular though, and one of Columbia’s biggest selling records of the year was this, recorded by bandleader Kay Kyser, written by Frank Loesser.

I’d love to get you on a slow boat to China
All to myself alone
To get you and keep you in my arms evermore
Leave all your lovers weeping on a far-away shore
Out on the briny with that moon big and shiny
Melting your heart of stone
Well, I’d love to get you on a slow boat to China
All to myself alone.

The phrase ‘slow boat to China’ comes from the gambling world. It describes the situation of a punter whose losses are large and often- like Moya’s father.

Our fathers were very different people. Mine was a devout Catholic, and I was named after a saint. Moya’s was a devout gambler, and she was named after a racehorse, Gentle Moya. He, along with his father, persuaded the whole street to place a bet on it.

Moya’s grandad had his ashes scattered on Epsom Race Course because he reckoned that, as they had everything else of him, they might as well have his remains too. And Gentle Moya? She came in last.

My father, inveterate traveller that he was, may well have taken a boat to China, but not in 1948, with Communist China about to emerge victorious from a civil war. I asked Moya who her dad would have put his money on? Chiang Kai-shek or Mao Tse Tung? She replied ‘the loser’.

Well, I’d love to get you on a slow boat to China
All to myself alone.


The British Empire once represented 25% of the globe, but, after WWII, a bankrupt Britain found itself overstretched, and the Empire started to diminish. India had already become independent, Communist-led guerilla warfare broke out in Malaya, British troops were moving out of Egypt and Palestine, and it was independence for Ceylon and Burma.

Britain looked to its remaining colonies to reduce labour shortages, in areas such as nursing and the railways, to help it rebuild after the devastation of World War II. So, in 1948, the first big wave of West Indians arrived in Britain aboard an ex-troopship called the Empire Windrush.

London is the place for me
London this lovely city
You can go to France or America
India, Asia or Australia
But London is the place for me

Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
I am glad to know my Mother Country
I been travelling to countries years ago
But this is the place I wanted to know
London that’s the place for me.

These immigrants, known as ‘The Windrush Generation’, brought with them the sounds of Jamaican music- like this 1948 song, written and sung by one of the newcomers, a man who called himself Lord Kitchener.

To live in London you’re really comfortable
Because the English people are very much sociable
They take you here and they take you there
And they make you feel like a millionaire
London that’s the place for me

Yes, I cannot complain about the time I have spent
I mean my life in London is really magnificent
I have every comfort and every sport
And my residence is at Hampton Court
So London, that’s the place for me.

In 2018, in the UK, there was some controversy over whether the Windrush generation should be declared non-citizens because they could not produce paperwork that proved they had the right to live in the country. The furore led to the resignation of Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

Well, all I can say is that, thanks to Jamaican immigration, the world of popular music is richer- where would it be without calypso and reggae?

Yes, London is the place for me.


Far away places with strange sounding names
Far away over the sea
Those far away places with the strange sounding names
Are calling, calling me.

In 1948, as this Bing Crosby song zoomed up the charts, far away places like Australia were dream destinations for many displaced persons from war-ravaged Europe. Despite hearing stories of poisonous snakes and spiders, man-eating sharks, ants destroying homes, and mosquitoes stinging people to death, 70,000 of them reached our shores that year, 50,000 of whom were from the mother country, some at the bargain price of £10.

I went down, down to the Strand
Went down to the Strand I did
‘We’ll send you down
To Aussie Land
For a mere ten quid’
And it was said with aplomb
Now I’m a ten pound Pom.

But many came from Central Europe. From countries like Poland:

Do vizenia do zo ba chaynia

From Yugoslavia, with officials checking for Communist supporters of the Tito government

Sto me me milo, milo i drago
Vo stuga grada mamo dukijan da imam

And from Italy

Mamma mia dammi cento lire che in Australia voglio andar.

In one newspaper report, the Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, announced that converted army hut accommodation would be made available for 6,000 migrants. Each would be charged £2/12/6 a week for board and lodging, part of a plan to accelerate production of building materials and house fittings, in order to meet the needs of the housing program.

Far away places with strange sounding names
Are calling, calling me.


Speaking of housing- in 1948, a nice little brick bungalow in St Kilda would set you back £3,500, while a semi-detached two up/two down in Greater London would cost £1,651.

But there was a housing shortage in both countries – each for a different reason.

For Londoners it was the wartime bombing, and Moya clearly remembers playing on bomb sites as a kid with never a thought as to what they represented.

Sydney’s chronic housing shortage was because of a lack of labour and materials. We were lucky because my grandfather was a builder, and he built our house in 1948, so I went straight from hospital to the family home in the then outer suburb of Earlwood, seven miles from the centre of Sydney.

I was delighted to find a song about the post-war housing shortage in the National Library’s sheet music collection, which I’ve adapted a little.

Our Prime Minister Chifley
We trust he’ll get the letter that we sent
We just asked him if we
Will ever find a house to rent

Because there isn’t any room for us in town
The landlord’s always turning us down
To help to keep Australia free we did our share
We can’t get a house and no one seems to care
There isn’t any room for us in town
So we’ll have to take the old bush track
And tramp, tramp, tramp to the back blocks
And build ourselves a wattle bark shack.


If you move the numbers of 1948 around you get 1984. And that’s exactly what writer, George Orwell, did to create the setting of his landmark dystopian novel of that name. 1984 wasn’t published till the following year, but Orwell finished writing in November 1948.

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clement’s
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martin’s
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells ofShoreditch.

I re-read the book recently and I was pleased to be reminded that it actually has songs in it- like this nursery rhyme, that harks back to a mostly-forgotten time.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I do not know
Says the great bell of Bow.

In another part of the book, the Washerwoman sings beneath the window where the main characters, Winston and Julia, are conducting their secret love affair.

They say that time heals all things
They say you can always forget
But the smiles an’ the tears across the years
They twist my ‘eart-strings yet.

This is an extract from another part of the book.

And then another quite different voice, a thin, cultivated voice which Winston had the impression of having heard before, struck in;
You are the dead
And by the way, while we are on the subject
Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

At the Chestnut Tree Café, a gathering place for out-of-favour Party members, a song played.

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.

1984 has been an extraordinarily influential book; so much of its language now being part of our language, with terms like Big Brother, Thought Police and Newspeak.

To support the claim that this book was prophetic, an adviser to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, gave us a perfect example of modern day Newspeak when she justified dodgy reports of the numbers at the Presidential inauguration in 2017. She referred to these as ‘alternative facts’.

To quote Orwell

Regardless of the facts, Big Brother is omnipotent…the Party is infallible.

Straight after Conway’s statement was made, 1984 hit the best-seller list all over again.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.


Another significant book, Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist tome, The Second Sex, was written in 1948, as was The Kinsey Report, which suggested that 50% of American husbands were unfaithful to their wives.

Why can’t you behave?
Oh, why can’t you behave?
After all the things you told me
And the promises that you gave
Oh, why can’t you behave?

There’s a farm I know near my old home town
Where we two can go and try settling down
There I’ll care for you for ever
‘Cause you’re all in the world I crave
But why can’t you behave?

Why Can’t You Behave? comes from Cole Porter’s hit musical of 1948, Kiss Me Kate, which actually had a song in it that mentions The Kinsey Report.

According to the Kinsey Report
Every average man you know
Much prefers his lovey-dovey to court
When the temperature is low
But when the thermometer goes ‘way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
Mister Pants for romance is not
Because it’s too darn hot
It’s too darn hot
It’s too, too, darn hot.

We don’t know if Kinsey’s statistics applied in Australia, but, for the advertising industry at least, wives here may have been too busy cleaning and washing to notice -as this newspaper ad illustrates.

The Hoover vacuum cleaner- it loosens the most deeply embedded dirt, reaches and cleans every nook and cranny. Just 29 pounds 8 shillings.

Then there’s the washing.

Every woman hates washday, until she uses a wonderful new 1948 Miracle clothes washer. Does the wash in half the time and no rubbing required. Say goodbye to those rubber gloves, girls. No more laundry bills with your new wringer and washer- in one handsome unit.

It was the year of the Sunbeam Mixmaster, and the first ever Australian Women’s Weekly Cookery Book, which contained such stunning recipes as Curried Rabbit in Grapefruit Cases- a mouth-watering meal that would make the temperature in the kitchen too darn hot, even if hubby was a good boy.

‘Cause when the thermometer goes ‘way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
Mister Pants for romance is not
Because it’s too, too darn hot
It’s too darn hot
Too darn hot.


In my research adventure for this show, I googled ‘English weather report July 1948’, the month of Moya’s birth. It seems that Londoners were facing a heatwave. It was too darn hot, hitting 93 degrees in Twickenham- except there was a sudden cold spell on July 7. So she was born when it was cold outside.

(I really can’t stay) But baby it’s cold outside
(Got to go ‘way) But baby it’s cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping you’d drop in
(So very nice) I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice
(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful please don’t hurry
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I’d better scurry) Beautiful please don’t worry
(Well maybe just half a drink) Put some records on while I pour

(The neighbours might think) Baby it’s bad out there
(Say what’s in this drink) No cabs to be had out there
(I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now
(To break this spell) I’ll take your hat your hair looks swell
(I ought to say no no no) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I’m going to say that I tried) What’s the sense of hurting my pride?
(I really can’t stay) Baby don’t hold out
But Baby it’s cold outside.

The writer of this song was Frank Loesser, who also wrote Slow Boat to China, and the songs for Guys and Dolls.

Baby It’s Cold Outside began as a duet that he and his wife sang at Hollywood celebrity parties. No doubt, someone influential was at one of those parties, because, in 1948 MGM snapped up the rights for an upcoming movie, and the rest is history.

Moya was always told she was a blue baby. Now she knows why.

Blue Baby it’s cold outside
Blue Baby it’s cold outside.


Despite the blip on the landscape on July 7, the heatwave continued, and played havoc with the 1948 Olympics. Britain was the only country prepared to host the first Olympics since Berlin 1936. Germany and Japan were not invited.

And now to another part of the world- South Africa.

Sombamba, u partieti
Si sombamba, partieti tina.

This is a song written in more recent times by Valanga Khosa, a black South African musician, now living in Melbourne. It translates as

Let’s take apartheid and throw it into the sea.

With only Whites being allowed to vote, and a massive gerrymander, the National Party won government that year, by promising to bring in Apartheid, an Afrikaans word that means ‘apartness’ – another way of saying ‘government-sanctioned segregation’.

Sombamba, u partieti
Si zombamba, partieti tina.

The same year, Cry My Beloved Country was published, which helped tell the world what was happening in South Africa.

Still, it took from ’48 to ‘91 before Apartheid was finally overthrown.


C’est si bon
De partir n’importe où
Bras dessus, bras dessous
En chantant des chansons.

1948 was a good year for French songs. At the world’s first international jazz festival in Nice, C’est Si Bon was premiered by French singer/actress, Suzy Delair, who is still alive, aged 101.

C’est si bon
De se dire des mots doux
De petits riens du tout
Mais qui en disent long
En voyant notre mine ravie
Les passants dans la rue nous envie

C’est si bon
De guetter dans ses yeu
Un espoir merveilleux
Qui donne le frisson

C’est si bon
Ces petites sensations
Ça vaut mieux qu’un million
Tellement, tellement si bon.

And a 1948 film gave us a song written and sung by one of the most iconic singers of the era – the Little Sparrow herself, Edith Piaf- La Vie En Rose.

Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voilà le portrait sans retouches
De l’homme auquel j’appartiens

Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose
Il me dit des mots d’amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et ça me fait quelque chose
Il est entré dans mon cœur
Une part de bonheur
Dont je connais la cause
C’est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie
Il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie

Et dès que je l’aperçois
Alors je sens en moi
Mon cœur qui bat.

Her professional team of songwriters discouraged her from performing a self-penned chanson in her concerts, but she ignored them, and it became her signature tune.

Et dès que je l’aperçois
Alors je sens en moi  – la vie en rose.


There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.

In 1947, when Nat King Cole was handed a crumpled manuscript of a song called Nature Boy, he knew he wanted to record it, but couldn’t find the song’s author.

It was soon discovered that it was written by a man from Los Angeles who called himself eden ahbez (without the capitals). He was a pianist who played regularly in a raw food restaurant, a hippie before hippies were invented, and lived like the boy in his song in the open air, under the first ‘L’ of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign.

With ahbez found and permission given, Cole recorded Nature Boy in August 1947. Capitol Records, however, finding the lyrics a bit weird, weren’t keen to release the track.

Then on January 1, 1948, musicians in the USA went on strike, demanding that record companies pay royalties to their union to help support members who could not find work. So Capitol had no choice but to look at recordings that were sitting there unreleased, like Nature Boy.

It topped the hit parades and helped bring Nat King Cole to the attention of music fans as a singer rather than the piano-playing leader of a trio.

When Frank Sinatra recorded Nature Boy that year, the musicians’ strike was in full swing, so he was forced to do a version accompanied by a choir alone, no musicians. The song has gone on to be an all-time classic.

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.


And now a message from our sponsors:

Don’t let your hands say housework. Use Softasilk hand beauty cream. Busy hands need gentle care so use smooth fragrant Soft As Silk after every household task. Don’t let your hands say housework. Keep them lovely and loveable for him with Softasilk.

This ad comes straight out of one of the first radio broadcasts of the monumentally successful quiz show, Pick A Box. It ended up on TV, but began as a radio show in 1948, hosted by a brash Texan vaudevillian by the name of Bob Dyer.

Howdy customers howdy, and another Colgate Palmolive get-together with prizes and fun galore for everybody.

In 1948, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting criticised radio announcers like Bob, saying they reflected low standards in good manners, speech, tact, delicacy, and refinement.

You have won a lovely prize. Are you married? Oh dear do you want to get married? Don’t look at me! Want to get married? You’ve got to get married now because you’ve won something that’ll be lovely in the kitchen, an Australian made pressure cooker, equal to the world’s finest.

But at least we had his lovely wife Dolly.

Well Bob, our next contestant is Miss Lorraine Berman, all the way from Strathfield in Sydney, Bob. She’s won over £500 worth of lovely Colgate Palmolive prizes, so here she is Bob, Miss Lorraine Berman.

In 1948 the centre of family entertainment was the wireless. So the Liberal Party used it to present what appeared to be a regular 15 minute radio serial, featuring a fictitious character called John Henry Austral. Actually, from this little excerpt, you can tell it was pretty overt propaganda.

We present John Henry Austral in The Enemy Within. So that’s what it’s come to in this land of ours- your land and mine. A decent Trade Unionist dare not speak his mind through fear of victimisation, for fear of expulsion from his Union, for fear of being shut off from his means of livelihood, for fear of the Communist Fifth Column.

The Liberal Party paid to have countless episodes aired twice a week on 80 commercial radio stations. It’s believed to have contributed to Menzies’ victory at the election the following year, with a strong fear campaign aimed at those Reds under your beds.

They’ll appear everywhere
In your ear, in your hair
In the ground, in the air
It is said

In the cool, in the heat
In the school, on the street
Wherever you retreat
Until you’re dead

In your fridge, in a pie
On the bridge, in the sky
Everywhere you fix your eye
Or turn your head

They will lurk every day
At your work and your play
From June until May
Beneath your bed

Reds under your beds
Reds under your beds.

Ben Chifley’s unsuccessful attempts in 1948 to nationalize the banks, and control rents and prices, were seen as socialism writ large. For John Henry Austral, it was proof that there were indeed

Reds under your beds
Reds under your beds.


We were waltzing that night in Kentucky
Beneath the beautiful harvest moon
And I was the boy that was lucky
But it all ended too soon
As I sit here alone in the moonlight
I see your smiling face
And I long once more for your embrace
In that beautiful Kentucky waltz.

The Kentucky Waltz was written and performed by the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. It was heard on the radio by a group of touring old-time musicians called The Golden West Cowboys, while they were on the way to Memphis, Tennessee. They thought that if Kentucky got a waltz named after it, then why not Tennessee?

The Cowboys had a signature tune that happened to be a waltz, so they wrote some words on the back of a matchbox, released it as a record in 1948, and it and it became an instant country-and-western hit.

I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
I introduced her to my loved one
And while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.

Tennessee Waltz has become a country classic and, for some reason, it’s been a favourite in Japan where it was, for many years, the best-selling song of all time.

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz.


1948- Property resumptions are beginning for the first stage of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs railway line.
1979- the Eastern Suburbs Railway line is opened.

1948- Opposition leader Robert Menzies wants a reduction in company tax rates.
2018- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants a reduction in company tax rates.

1948- Argentina won’t recognise British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
1982- Britain goes to war with Argentina and secures sovereignty.

1948- The Treaty of Brussels establishes a European Union consisting of five Western nations, including Great Britain.
2016- Great Britain votes for Brexit.

1948- a line is drawn at the 38th parallel to create North Korea.
1994- President Jimmy Carter meets with a North Korean leader.
2009- President Bill Clinton meets with a North Korean leader.
2018- President Donald Trump meets with a North Korean leader.
And after all that, nothing changes.

1948- The Jewish state of Israel is proclaimed. The Arab-Israeli conflict heightens.
2018- the US relocates its embassy to Jerusalem. The Arab-Israeli conflict continues.

Yavo’ shalom aleinu
Od yavo’ shalom aleinu
Yavo’ shalom aleinu
Ve al kulam.

This is a song that was a big hit in Israel in recent years for a group called Sheva, made up of Arab and Jewish musicians. The song uses the words for peace in both Arabic and Hebrew- ‘shalom’ and ‘salaam’.

Salaam (Shalom)
Aleinu ve al kol ha olam
Salaam, Shalom.

70 years on, and the two sides are still no closer to resolution- no ‘saalam’ and no ‘shalom’.

Salaam (Shalom)
Aleinu ve al kol ha olam
Salaam, Shalom


The movement of migrants across the Mexican border to the USA has been a contentious issue for years, and still is thanks to Mr Trump and his wall.

But the issue made news way back in 1948 when a DC-3 aircraft crashed at Los Gatos Creek in California, killing all aboard- four crew, and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported back to Mexico.

American folksinger/songwriter Woody Guthrie heard about the crash on the radio, and he was struck by the fact that the American crew were named, whereas the Mexicans were just referred to as ‘deportees’. So Woody wrote a poem in which he gave them names and stories. The poem was later set to music by an American school teacher, Martin Hoffman.

The crops are all in, the peaches are rotting
The oranges are piled in their creosote dumps
They’re flying you back to the Mexico border
To pay all your money to wade back again

Some of us are illegal, and others not wanted
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on
Six hundred miles to the Mexico border
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers and thieves

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita
Adios mi amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportees

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos canyon
Like a fireball of lightning, it shook all our hills
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says they are just deportees

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except ‘deportees’?

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita
Adios mi amigos, Jesus y Maria
You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane
And all they will call you will be deportees.


In 1947, the world of fashion was turned upside down by a young French designer, Christian Dior. Counteracting the boxy shapes and bare legs of wartime rationing, Dior used metres and metres of fabric to create what was known as the New Look.

The next year, the New Look was taken outside Europe for the first time, when 50 Dior originals were paraded before shoppers at David Jones in Sydney. This is how the parade was promoted.

The Dior girl is tall, with sloping shoulders, high bust, tiny waist and curved hips. Boned, busty bodices, whittled waspy waists, gentle shoulders, exaggerated hips, flaring out, creating a curvaceous form. Exclusive to David Jones- the New Look from Christian Dior. Proceeds from the parades will be devoted to Food for Britain.

Back then, while models were hardly size six waifs, they weren’t exactly chunky.

Oh, I don’t want her, you can have her
She’s too fat for me
She’s too fat for me
She’s too fat for me
I don’t want her, you can have her
Please do that for me
She’s too fat, she’s too fat
She’s too fat for me.

Too Fat Polka, a 1948 hit for The Andrews Sisters.

I get dizzy, I get numbo
When I’m dancing
With my Jum-Jum-Jumbo
I don’t want her, you can have her
She’s too fat for me
She’s too fat
She’s too fat
She’s too fat for me.

David Jones’ arch-rival department store, Farmers, just up the road, was offering ways to control those curves.

Come to Farmers’ fourth floor for a comfort-assuring corset that moulds you even as it surgically corrects faults The long brassiere gently curves from bosom to hipline, with never a break to mar that wand-smooth silhouette. Scientifically designed, the clever lacing lifts and firmly strengthens tummy muscles, keeping everything in place while giving you the greatest freedom in movement.

She’s too fat
She’s too fat
She’s too fat for me.


That was civilisation as we knew it in 1948. Many years earlier, the leader of Indian independence from British rule, Mahatma Gandhi, was asked

Mr Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilisation?

His reply?

I think it would be a very good idea.

Sadly, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, one year after the partition that created the new state of Pakistan. He was shot by a fanatical Hindu nationalist who accused him of appeasing Muslims.

Meanwhile, the art world was revolutionised by American artist Jackson Pollock, whose No. 5, 1948 was created on the ground. It was created by dripping paint, which earned him the nickname ‘Jack the Dripper’.

In Australian theatre, Sumner Locke-Eliot’s latest play, Rusty Bugles, was about the frustrations of soldiers who were sent to Darwin in World War II. And guess what? It had swearing in it. The Censorship Board was not happy because ‘fond mothers may not care to see their soldier boys drawn as the author has drawn them’.

So, the playwright was forced to tame down his language so much that one letter to the editor said that the play now sounded like it was set in a Girl Guide camp rather than an Army camp.

It was the year when the film of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock was banned by one of our politicians, who never actually saw the film, but he’d read the book and declared it extremely sordid and depressing.

Not as depressing as the fact that the Oscar for the best original song from a movie went to this song from the movie The Paleface, starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell.

East is East and West is West
And the wrong one I have chose
Let’s go where I keep on wearin’
Those frill s and flowers and buttons and bows
Those rings and thing and buttons and bows

Don’t bury me in this prairie
Take me where the cement grows
Let’s move down to some big town
Where they love a gal by the cut o’ her clothes
And I’ll stand out, in buttons and bows.

No one could understand why this song won when there was such stiff competition at the Oscars that year from songs like the Woody Woodpecker Song.

Ooh ooh ooh eh eh
Ooh ooh ooh eh eh
It’s the Woody Woodpecker song.

Buttons and Bows was in the charts for 24 weeks, reaching number one on September 17, 1948, the very day I entered the world. What a welcome!

You’ll love me in buckskin
Or skirts that I’ve homespun
But you’ll love me, longer, stronger
Where my friends don’t tote a gun

Gimme eastern trimmin’ where women are women
In high silk hose and peek-a-boo clothes
And French perfume that rocks the room
And I’m all yours in buttons and bows
Buttons and bows, buttons and bows.

OTHER 48ers

We share our birth year with a whole host of singers, musicians and songwriters who went on to create some of the great music of our time, and to influence us enormously- like James Vernon Taylor, born in Boston on March 12, 1948.

Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone
Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely days when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again.

Glenn Lewis Frey of The Eagles, born in Phoenix Arizona, November 6, 1948.

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (any time of year) you can find it here.

Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, born UK Midlands, August 20, 1948.

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, in London, July 21, 1948- the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy
To be calm when you’ve found something going on
But take your time, think a lot
Think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go.

And last, but not least, Olivia Newton John, born Cambridge UK, on September 25, 1948.

Guess mine is not the first heart broken
My eyes are not the first to cry
I’m not the first to know there’s
Just no getting over you

You know I’m just a fool who’s willing
To sit around and wait for you
But baby can’t you see there’s nothing else for me to do
I’m hopelessly devoted to you

But now there’s nowhere to hide
Since you pushed my love aside
I’m outta my head – hopelessly devoted to you
Hopelessly devoted to you.


What better way to end than with a goodbye song that was one of the big sellers of the year?

Now is the hour when we must say goodbye
Soon you’ll be sailing far across the sea
While you’re away, oh please remember me
When you return, you’ll find me waiting here.

Now Is the Hour has a history that precedes 1948, beginning as The Swiss Cradle Song, an instrumental piano piece which sold 130,000 copies of sheet music in Australia and New Zealand.

The Maori people took that piano tune, made a few musical adjustments, gave it some Maori lyrics, and used it as a song to farewell soldiers as they headed off to fight in the First World War.

Pō atarau e moea iho nei
E haere ana koe ki pāmamao
Haere rā ka hoki mai anō
Ki i te tau e tangi atu nei.

Many years later, when English singer Gracie Fields was touring New Zealand, she heard the song sung by her driver, took it back to England, English lyrics were written, she recorded it, and it became a worldwide hit in 1948.

Now is the hour when we must say goodbye
Soon you’ll be sailing far across the sea
While you’re away, oh please remember me
When you return, you’ll find me waiting here.


While we were rehearsing The 1948 Show, I told my sister, Claire, who’s a pianist, about the content of the show, and when I mentioned Kiss Me Kate, she alerted me to another song from the show, So In Love. She reckoned it would suit Moya’s voice.

I’d heard Ella Fitzgerald’s version many years earlier, but had forgotten how it went. Claire sat down at the piano and played it, and as it flooded back into my musical memory, I agreed with her.

Strange dear, but true dear
When I’m close to you, dear
The stars fill the sky
So in love with you am I
Even without you
My arms fold about you
You know darling why
So in love with you am I

In love with the night mysterious
The night when you first were there
In love with my joy delirious
When I knew that you could care

So taunt me, and hurt me
Deceive me, desert me
I’m yours, till I die
So in love
So in love
So in love with you, my love, am I.


Songs, YouTubes, Credits
The 1948 Show song written by John Shortis
Holdin’ You In My Holden written by Don Bennett
(I’m Looking Over) A Four Leaf Clover- 1948 version written by Mort Dixon and Harry M. Woods
Ol’ Man River written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II
On A Slow Boat To China written by Frank Loesser
London Is the Place For Me written by Lord Kitchener (Aldwin Roberts)
Far Away Places written by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer
Ten Pound Pom written by John Shortis
Do Vizenia, traditional Polish
Sto Me E Milo, traditional Macedonian
Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, traditional Italian
We Can’t Get a House written by Matilda G Leak
Oranges and Lemons, traditional English
They Say That Time Heals All Things, traditional
Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree, traditional English
Why Can’t You Behave? written by Cole Porter
Too Darn Hot written by Cole Porter
Baby It’s Cold Outside written by Frank Loesser
Sombamba written by Valanga Khoza
C’est Si Bon  written by Henri Betti with the lyrics by André Hornez
La Vie En Rose written by Edith Piaf, Louiguy, Marguerite Monnot
Nature Boy written by eden ahbez
Excerpts from Pick a Box and Ask Me Another– Australian Radio Quiz Shows (CD), National Film and Sound Archives
Excerpts from John Henry Austral from Liberal Party of Australia
Reds Under Your Beds by John Shortis
Kentucky Waltz written by Bill Monroe
Tennessee Waltz written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King
Salaam Shalom written by Mosh Ben-Ari
Deportees words by Woody Guthrie, music by Martin Hoffman
Too Fat Polka written by Ross MacLean and Arthur Richardson
Buttons and Bows written by Jay Livingston and lyrics by Ray Evans
The Woody Woodpecker Song written by George F Tibbles and Ramey Idriss
Fire and Rain written by James Taylor
Hotel California written by Glenn Frey, Don Felder  and Don Henle,
Stairway to Heaven written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page
Father and Son written by Cat Stevens
Hopelessly Devoted To You  written by John Farrar
Now Is the Hour written by Clement Scott
Po Atarau written by Clement Scott and Maewa Kaihau
Swiss Cradle Song (sheet music) written by Clement Scott
So In Love written by Cole Porter.

Books and newspapers
1948 by David Pietrusza
Australian Chart Book 1940-1969, compiled by David Kent
Car Wars by Graeme Davison
1984 by George Orwell
SMH 30 April 2018 Amber Rudd resigns as Britain’s Home Secretary after migration scandal.

Post-War House, Culture Victoria
Liberal Party ads from the 1940s by Jennifer Rayner (ANU- The Conversation)
The-Great-Australian Plays-speaking-orstyrlian-in-Rusty-Bugles by Julian Meyrick
The Kinsey report by Martin Gumpert.

Performed Sept 7 2018
Essay written August 2020

GOING VIRAL (a satire for the new normal) Act 1


20 bloody 20! I thought a leap year had only one extra day in it. This year felt like it had many more than that.

I heard many a writer say that when lockdown became the order of the day, they carried on regardless. That was our experience too, as we spend most days at home in our studio, writing and rehearsing.

Over time, I amassed an enormous amount of material defined by the pandemic. The big missing factor, of course, was performance.

We decided to do a podcast of my new songs and applied for grants to record them properly. No grant was forthcoming, which meant we were left to our own devices, with my limited equipment and tech skills. A recorded show emerged, but it sounded flat without an audience. The idea was abandoned.

For months the material sat there and grew, until restrictions loosened, and we had an email from The Artists Shed in beautiful downtown Fyshwick. They were trying to get Canberra artists working again and could hold a limited audience of 50 per show. Would we be interested?

Would we be interested?

Three dates in November were agreed upon and sold out in days. We added two more. They sold out in record time. Then two more- same result.

Our first performance since February felt weird. Even carrying equipment was alien. It took a couple of shows before we found our rhythm again.

Our audiences were socially distanced (the COVID officers even arrived one night to check this), and that was another challenge- playing to a spread-out crowd. But we were glad to be back, as were many of those in the ‘crowd’ who told us it was their first outing for a long time.

Here it is- Going Viral, a satire for the new normal, a torrid year documented in song. Put down your sanitiser, reschedule your Coronavirus test, let the supermarket shelves stay empty, as we remind you of what we all endured in this most peculiar of years, 2020.


No one’s going to the movies
No one’s going to the gym
No one’s going dining
No one’s going Dutch
No one’s going AWOL
Well at least not very much

No one’s going out for dinner
No one’s going to a bar
No one’s going formal
Or going out in style
We’re all just going viral for a while

No one’s going like a rocket
No one’s going to the moon
No one’s going cruising
To a sun-drenched tropic isle
We’re all just going viral for a while
We’re all just going viral for a while.


The US election was held on November 4, Australian time, and our first show was on November 6. We promised a song about it, with the ink drying on the page.

As is my wont, I watched the coverage on ABC from early morning until the bitter end. When I went to bed it seemed possible that things were tight but going Trump’s way.

By the time I’d woken up, Biden was looking stronger. Trump was in disbelief. Cries of fraud and rigging were emanating from the White House.

That day I had a dental appointment, and listened to News Radio all the way there in the car. Then, as I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, head back, mouth wide, an idea came to me. The song started forming.

The connection to dentistry will become apparent as the song progresses.

Oh President Trump. Four years since your last check-up so open wide for me. Oh dear, Mister Trump, that is the worst case of truth decay I’ve ever seen.

Trump’s got whoppers on his choppers
Clangers on his fangs
Unfounded claims on his election day
Howlers on his molars
Bullshit in his bite
The signs all say
It’s truth decay

He’s got porkies on his pearlies
Trumpery in his trap
Twenty thousand fibs in his X-ray
Lies on his incisors
Gaffes there in his gob
The signs all say
It’s truth decay

COVID- oh we’re going to have to extract that on, Mister Trump. Election fraud. OK, time for a needle. You’ll just feel a little prick.

The signs all say
It’s truth decay.


Meanwhile in Australia, 2020 was a time when two of our favourite Queensland pollies, Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, and Senator Pauline Hanson, both big supporters of border control, were (surprise, surprise!) calling for their state borders to be opened.

It was a time when Annastacia Palaszczuk romped back in as Premier of Queensland, proving how much the Banana Benders love it when the rest of Australia can’t come and ruin God’s Own Country, unless of course you’re a footballer or Tom Hanks.

It was a time when elections also maintained the status quo in New Zealand with Saint Jacinda, Andrew Barr in the ACT, and in the USA, someone who isn’t Donald Trump.

It’s a time when our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has actually been heeding the words of our medical experts- listening to the science- something he rarely does. Could it be that with planes grounded, cruise ships anchored, cars in the driveway and factories closed, he’s leading us to zero emissions. Who would have thought!

And not only that, he now takes pride of place as the most Socialist Prime Minister in our country’s history, handing out squillions for Seeking and Keeping jobs, even for the likes of us. And, treasurer Josh Freidenberg managed to do that with only one tiny miscalculation of 60 billion dollars.


In March, we went to Wagga to sing at a friend’s birthday party. This was the weekend when it became obvious that COVID was serious. The town’s gay and lesbian parade, scheduled for that weekend, was cancelled. The pubs were almost empty, with screens showing football being played before almost no crowds.

In our motel, we watched as our PM announced that gatherings would be restricted, except that he’d still be going to the footie to watch his beloved Sharks play, a statement he very quickly retracted.

This was the time of panic buying, and of empty supermarket shelves. Toilet paper, tinned and dried foods, and hand sanitiser were the big sellers. As soon as I was back in Bungendore, I wrote and recorded my Dunny Paper song.

We had to cancel sessions with our community choir, Worldly Goods, group singing being seen as a risky proposition. Instead, we invited them to join in this song by recording their parts on their phones, and sending them to us. I then mixed their vocal tracks (33 of them) into the recording, which we used in the show.

I’m showing true resistance
Sitting on my toilet bowl
Two metres social distance
Between each toilet roll
Another can of kidney beans
For breakfast, lunch and tea
No wonder the dunny paper keeps on running out on me

Running out on me
Running out on me
No wonder the dunny paper keeps on
Running out on me

I’ve made the big decision
I’m at home to stay
So I’m watching television
Sixteen hours a day
My neighbour’s brought a curry in
It’s ScoMo’s recipe
So no wonder the dunny paper keeps on running out on me

Running out on me
Running out on me
No wonder the dunny paper keeps on
Running out on me

I’m panic buying (Panic buying)
Buying everything in sight
If the virus doesn’t get me
Then the TV dinners might

To fit my brand new freezer in
I’ve had to renovate
Now that I have food to last
Till twenty-twenty-eight
All those frozen pizzas
Jalapeno, pepperoni
No wonder the dunny paper keeps on running out on me

Running out on me
Running out on me
No wonder the dunny paper keeps on
Running out on me
Running out
Running out
Running out on me.


That was in March, and around the same time we had a call from ABC radio in Canberra, asking us if we could do a couple of virus-related parodies. So I went out for my daily walk around the municipal ponds of Bungendore and, as I passed joggers and dog-walkers (socially distanced of course), I got to thinking.

(To the tune of Sounds of Silence)
Hello virus, my new friend
I’ve come to cough with you again
Another hour or two of FaceTiming
Two screaming parents up the wall climbing
Who can still hear the steady hum
Of another Netflix show
Turned down low
These are the sounds of virus

In empty streets I walk alone
Through the deserted shopping zone
I greet a jogger who’s on her lone run
I meet a dog who’s sniffing his own bum
My attention’s grabbed when a patrolling copper roars
‘Stay indoors’
These are the sounds of virus.

My dodgy technical ability came to the fore again, as I recorded it at home and sent it in by email. The interview was done live-to-air on our phones.


These days we seem to cover our hands in sanitiser about 50 times a day, each time we go anywhere. But in the early days of the pandemic, we were told to wash our hands for 20 seconds at a time, the length of two renditions of Happy Birthday To You. Thinking that might wear thin after a while, I decided to write my own handwash ditties, all of which popped up throughout the show- each lasting, of course, 20 seconds.

I reckon
Twenty seconds
Is shorter than you think
By the time this
Little rhyme is
You’ll have flushed your handwash down the sink.


But were we in safe hands with ScoMo at the wheel?

He certainly did a better job of this than he did at leading us through the bushfire crisis. At least he didn’t bugger off to Hawaii this time.

But he did revert to form when he first announced that restrictions could relax a little, by telling us that he was going to give us an ‘early mark’ for being such good little boys and girls.

Mister ScoMo says we’re oh so good
Us girls and boys
For hearing him and staying in
And playing with our toys
I smiled all night
When he said we might
Be given an early mark
Can’t wait for the trip to the slippery dip
And the seesaws at the park

But Mister ScoMo says
I’m good, good, good
But gooder still if I’d shown
That I’d installed his app, app, app,
But Mummy won’t let me have an iPhone

Mister ScoMo says we should go
Quickly back to school
But Mr Andrews, there’s one man who’s
Breaking every rule
On-line learning’s got me turning
Into a naughty child
I once was gentle, now I’m mental
Mummy says I’m wild

She says that when I’m good
I’m very, very good
And when I’m bad I’m horrid
So here I go
Now Mister ScoMo’s
Stuck a gold star on my forehead

Mister ScoMo says we’re oh so good
Us girls and boys.


If there’s one place that symbolises Mister ScoMo’s lack of leadership pre-virus, it’s the Cobargo Showground, site of the famous refusal by a local to shake his hand. The showground has a long history, going back thousands of years for the local indigenous people. It’s where the Cobargo Show is held, it became the centre for bushfire recovery after the devastating New Year’s Eve fires, and for 25 years it has been the home of the Cobargo Folk Festival. The first gig of the year for us and many other musicians was to be that festival, celebrating 25 years, but instead it became our February fundraiser for the traumatised Cobargo community. I wrote this for that show.

Show us the ground that has something to show
And we’ll show you a sacred site
Show us the way to the heart of the town
Where community can unite
Take us to rooms where the singing’s as strong
As a fiddler’s lilting sound
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground

Show us the ring where the cattle are judged
And the fanciest dress gets a prize
Show us the hall where the spongiest cakes
Have risen to double their size
Show us pavilions of satin and lace
Where the fanciest work can be found
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground

A meeting place
A greeting place
For so long
Hallowed sand,
On borrowed land

Where we belong

As the temperatures soar and the brutal winds roar
And the midday darkness it falls
With the main street on fire, and the flames reaching higher
The welcoming haven, it calls
So point to the track that will take us all back
To the walls where we’re safe and we’re sound
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground

Show us the spot where a leader is not
As welcome as you would suppose
Show us the land where the shake of a hand
Is a prospect that’s more on the nose
Show us the thrills as he heads for the hills
And the footage is spread all around
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground

A meeting place
A greeting place
For so long
Hallowed sand
On borrowed land
Where we belong

Show us the stage where a festival’s age
Of 25 years brings a cheer
Show us the scene where the purpose has been
To survive the last day of the year
Show us the shed where we all find a bed
Where relief is not thin on the ground
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground
Yes, show us the ground that has something to show
Cobargo Showground, Cobargo Showground.


ScoMo was in his element in the new normal- no hugs, no kisses, and no hand shaking.

Once upon each time we met
We’d hug or shake a hand oh
It was the norm to be as warm
As sunlight on the sand
Though we took it all for granted
Till the day that time would tell
Those days are done, no war’s been won
So now we just bump elbows

Back when we kissed our friends goodbye
Well it was no big deal, oh
So discreet, each peck of cheek
But now our lips are sealed

No friendly clutch or tender touch
Instead the tolling bell
Those days gone by, they bring a sigh
For now we just bump elbows

The very same elbows where we sniffle, wheeze and sneeze
Snuffle, snivel, splutter, cough and sniff
The very same elbows that we’ll bend
To celebrate the end
Of the second spike, we all don’t like
Oh if, If only

Should the sun come out again
And trees return to green-o
And not-so-social distances
No longer come between-o
Can’t wait to see how warm we’ll be
As each of us just mellows
Will we hug and kiss, shake hands, what bliss!
Or will we still bump elbows?
Hug and kiss, shake, what bliss!
Or will we still bump elbows?


The virus struck just seven months after a federal election that saw Bill Shorten presenting a major collection of changes, like scaling down franking credits, abolishing negative gearing, giving tax cuts to lower income earners, zero emissions by 2050. Scott Morrison, on the other hand, offered us a policy-free-zone that was based mostly on the coalition being better money managers, and not doing what Labor was going to do. Just as well we got the latter, though. I think Bill might have been too busy reforming to fit a virus in.

We coulda had Bill in all his splendour
We coulda had Bill and his bold agenda
We coulda had Bill, hey hey big spender
If he had not
Lost the plot

We coulda had Bill in charge of steering
We coulda had Bill being so endearing
We coulda had Bill, so positively gearing
But for better or not
We got Scott

By a man who’s not encumbered
By trivialities
Like policies

We coulda had Bill trying to inspire us
No franking credits to retire us
Too busy to notice there’s a virus
Corona who? Covid what?

We coulda had Bill to lead the nation
Drowning in a sea of legislation
Health and wealth and education
But for better or not
We got Scott

By a man
Who was committed
To keep the status quo
How did that go?

We didn’t get Bill
So it’s academic
We didn’t get Bill
We got a grand pandemic
But to keep us all hygienic
For better or not (we coulda had Bill)
We got Scott ( we coulda had Bill).


Time for another handwash song.

I just want this song to go viral
I want it spread about
So the whole wide worldly choir’ll scrub
Until the hand wash time is out
I just want this song to go viral. Ooh!


One of the things I did with too much time on my hands was to explore the music program on my computer. I’m not exactly a tech head, so my use of it has been fairly limited. I built up a rhythm track from sounds that were lurking in there beyond the standard instruments, and used it as a basis for a pretend rap song about the Covid-Safe App.

What a success story that App was! We were told that, by downloading it, we would be facilitate the process of tracing COVID cases. Well, it cost $70 million, and traced something like 17 cases.

I was wary as I don’t take to apps easily, especially as my old phone is never on the internet. Then, when I heard the opinions of two maverick Australian pollies- Pauline Hanson and Barnaby Joyce, I thought twice.

I’m not one to rap
But this Covid app
Is crap and I cannot condone it
So I’ve opened my trap
In these isolated times
Without much reason
But with plenty of rhymes
And my only crime
Is to say that I’m
Not gonna download it
Yes my only crime
Is to say that I’m
Not gonna download it

App app a Covid rap app
App app a Covid app
App app a Covid rap app
App app a Covid app

You might ask why
Well it’s my privacy, you see
And I own it
And you must be
Kinda having me on
If you think that I’d trust Amazon
So I’m inclined
Made up my mind
Not gonna download it
So I’m inclined
Made up my mind
Not gonna download it

App app a Covid rap app
App app a Covid app
App app a Covid rap app
App app a Covid aap

I’ve no Bluetooth
Mine’s green
That’s the truth
I’ve drawn a line
And I’ve toed it
And you must be
Kinda hopin’ and wishin’
If you think that I’d trust
Every politician
They’re out of time
And that’s why I’m
Not gonna download it
They’re out of time
And that’s why I’m
Not gonna download it

My choice is I’m not going to do it. So anyway, do I trust the government? No, I don’t.

But who’s that talking on the TV screen?
It’s the ‘please explaining’ Senator Pauline
She says she’s gonna blackball it
No, she’s not gonna install it.

And who’s that fuming on the evening news
Could it be Barnaby a-spewing out his views?
He’s sure the world can decode it
So he’s not gonna download it.

I was sure as eggs
That it had no legs
And the government had blown it
Then Pauline H and Mister Joyce
Go and make their choice
And that’s enough reason
To change my mind
So that’s why I’m
Gonna download it
Yes I’ve changed my mind
And that’s why I’m
Gonna download it

App app a Covid rap app
Download that Covid app
App app a Covid rap app
Download that Covid app

But the Covid app it’s all claptrap
It’s a furphy I’ve been sold
I can’t download that Covid app
‘Cos his phone’s too bloody old!


In an App-free zone- time for another handwash.

This song it won’t take long
And it’s in a minor key
This tune will be over soon
When my hands are virus free
No more bacteria
Or parthogens for me
In a minor key, in a minor key.


One of the many industries hit by the virus was the tourism industry, so many of the early cases being carried across the world via international travel. The most notorious case was that of the cruise ship, the Ruby Princess, so I decided to look it up on-line to be reminded of the story, only to find that right at the top of the Google listing was the Ruby Princess website, no acknowledgement of what happened, just outrageously cheery ads for the ‘trip of a lifetime’

(To the tune of Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town)
The princess of all ships, yes there is nothing to compare
Ruby are you contemplating cruising out somewhere?
The many Covid cases say there’s no jewel there in your crown
Oh Ruby, won’t you take your website down.

But for most of us in this new real world, a trip of a lifetime was a bit closer to home.

I’ve travelled round the world so many ways
Now I’m dreaming up a journey in my isolated haze
It’s closer than Vienna, Paris, Tokyo or Rome
It’s weatherproof, it’s further proof
That there’s no place like home

The first stop is the greatest site of all
You’ll find it if you follow me
Down through the hallowed hall
See my lounge room, be transported
To the dawn of time
Find relics of past dinners
And the art of spilled red wine

It’s the trip of a lifetime
Can’t you see
No pocket hit
My lifetime trip is free

Now we’ll do the balcony, I think
I’ve stocked up on alcohol
So why not have a drink?
A whisky sour, the cocktail hour’s the time I love the best
I come to heel when my Tequila Sunrise faces west

It’s the trip of a lifetime
Can’t you see
No customs slip
My lifetime trip’s care free

The bathroom, the bathroom
It’s high season in there
Such little room in the little room
Excitement in the air
Like Venice in mid-summer
But the crowd’s not tourist types
It’s Sorbent, or it’s Kleenex
Or it’s anything that wipes

At last, the room where I lay down my head
On my isolated pillow
On my isolated bed
While my doona covered, dear beloved snores from far away
A mercy small, that’s what I call a perfect holiday

It’s the trip of a lifetime
Can’t you see
It might be shit
But it’s the trip for me.


One aspect of research I love doing is looking at old newspapers. I tend to go for the Sydney Morning Herald as I was brought up on it. This time, it was newspapers of just over 100 years ago, the time of the last universally destructive pandemic.

It was in the last years of World War I that it struck in Europe, and was censored by many European countries, in order to keep up morale. One nation, where newspapers were free to report it though, was neutral Spain. So it was wrongly assumed that this was the source of the disease, and it was soon christened the Spanish Flu.

Spanish Flu, I’m talking to you
When will you vanish?
Spanish Flu, you’re not really flu
And you’re not really Spanish.

Here in Australia it was referred to as ‘pneumatic influenza.’

Not unlike the current situation, it was carried by overseas travel- in the many ships that were bringing troops back from Europe. They certainly weren’t cruise ships.

You struck at the end of a war
A war we call Great but we shouldn’t
Someone tried keeping the score
Of the dead and the wounded, but couldn’t
It felt like you came with the chiming of peace
It seemed like you waited till the firing had ceased

You boarded the ships unannounced
With the diggers whose home fires were burning
Your effect on those troops was pronounced
And the families for which they were yearning
You spread through the cities and spread through the towns
Like wildfire on fire, you sure did the rounds

Spanish Flu, I’m talking to you
When will you vanish?
Spanish Flu, you’re not really flu
And you’re not really Spanish.

The number of cases diminished until a second spike began in, of all places, Melbourne. Borders were closed, masks were compulsory, cities and towns were in lockdown. Sound familiar?

You witnessed the closing of schools
The darkening theatre stages
You sat through the downing of tools
You noticed the losing of wages
The wearing of masks in each long city street
The silence of pubs where we once used to meet

Spanish Flu, I’m talking to you
When will you vanish?
Spanish Flu, you’re not really flu
And you’re not really Spanish.


Ironically, the Spanish Flu is said to have originated in America. Funny that Trump never calls it ‘the American Flu!’

One hundred years ago, masks were not very popular with the masses. But to make it more bearable, some fashion-conscious ladies started wearing colour-coordinated masks to match their hats and handbags. Sound familiar? There was even a design proposed for a mask that could be worn by smokers.

And there were some seriously dubious recommendations of how to avoid the pandemic- like eating boiled red peppers, or drinking a mixture of turps and milk.

Aren’t we lucky that in this pandemic, we have a brilliant role model in the form of Donald Trump, Leader of the Free World.

Well I took the Regeneron. And just within a period of 24 hours I felt very different. I think I could have left the hospital a lot earlier. I’m going to send it to everybody that’s got the problem and we’re gonna send it free of charge. Regeneron.

MOYA (to the tune of Da Doo Ron Ron)
Saw him at the White House he was looking ill
Regeneron-ron, Regeneron

Somebody told him he should take a pill
Regeneron-ron, Regeneron.

Yeah he’s looking ill
Yeah he took a pill
Side effects unknown
Regeneron-ron, Regeneron

(To the tune of Yellow Submarine)
We’re all taking Hydroxichloroquine
Hydroxichloroquine, Hydroxichloroquine.

And a lot of good things have come out about the Hydroxi, a lot of good things have come out. The front line workers, many many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.

We’re all taking Hydroxichloroquine
Hydroxichloroquine, Hydroxichloroquine.

A man of such supreme advice and innate wisdom.

Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that- the disinfectant.

BOTH (as a round)
Then I see the disinfectant
Then I see the disinfectant
Where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute
And is there a way?
Is there a way?
Where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute
And is there a way?
Is there a way?

Then I see the disinfectant.

That sounds interesting!


Before we finish Act One, please pay attention to the World Health Organisation’s official guide to hand washing:

Rub hands palm to palm
Right palm over left dorsum with interlaced fingers and vice versa.
Palm to palm with fingers interlaced.
Backs of fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlocked.
Rotational rubbing of left hand clasped in right palm and vice versa.
Rotational rubbing backwards and forwards with clasped fingers of right hand in left palm and vice versa.
Rinse hands with water.
Dry hands thoroughly with a single use towel.
Use towel to turn off faucet.Your hands are now safe.Please use the sanitizer before you come back for the second act.




Rub soap, rub, that’s awesome
And rub post haste
Scrub right over the dorsum
Fingers interlaced
Rub soap, rub, rotational
Never asking why
Rinse, rinse, rinse-pirational
Dry, dry, dry!

Doo dood odo doo doo doo doo

Double U, H O. WHO?

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. 


Songs, YouTubes, Credts
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 that year, having been through the 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

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 1980


At the end of 1979, a song called Escape was released in the US. It didn’t raise any interest at first, but when the song’s writer and singer, Rupert Holmes, reluctantly sub-titled it The Pina Colada Song, it took off and made it to number 1 on the Billboard charts.

By the time it reached our shores in January 1980, the new title was entrenched and it reached a very respectable number 3 on our music charts.

He was tired of his lady
They’d’ been together too long
Like a worn-out recording
Of a favourite song
So while she lay there sleeping
He read the paper in bed
And in the personals column
There was this letter he read

‘If you like Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga
If you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight
In the dunes of the Cape
I’m the lady you’ve looked for
Write to me and escape’.

Holmes’ website is adorned with the names of many plays, musicals and books he has written, so it’s no surprise that his one big hit is a song with a story. The plot thickens.

So he waited with high hopes
And she walked in the place
He knew her smile in an instant
He knew the curve of her face
It was his own lovely lady
And she said ‘oh it’s you’
Then we laughed for a moment
And he said ‘I never knew,

That you liked Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean
And the taste of champagne
If you’d like making love at midnight
In the dunes of the Cape
You’re the lady I’ve looked for
Come with me and escape.

Holmes originally used the words:

If you like Humphrey Bogart 

At the last minute changed it to Pina Colada, a Latin American cocktail made of rum, coconut and pineapple juice, a drink he didn’t even like, in fact he reckoned it tasted like a cure for diarrhoea. According to some, you would need such a cure after hearing the song, an opinion supported by Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Worst Songs Of All Time.

But the song has had a life of its own, being used in many movies including Shrek, the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and in the streamed TV series Better Call Saul.


In 1980, when the average weekly pay was $238, a loaf of sliced bread cost 61 cents, petrol was 33.5 c a litre. You could buy a beautiful bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch for $3.99 and a slab of Toohey’s cans for $9.30.

A brand new Ford Escort went for $4 999, a Ford Fairlane for $12,458, and in those pre-float days, the American and Aussie dollars were at parity.

Australia’s first test tube baby was born, the Pritikin diet was the latest thing, as was the Casiotone mini keyboard.

63% thought that the man should be the breadwinner of the family.

Woolworths became a major shareholder in Dick Smith shops.

Azaria Chamberlain disappeared from an Ayers Rock campsite.

One series of the TV show Dallas ended with an important question- who shot JR?

The press made some interesting predictions that in the next seven years we’d have a 24-hour news channel, cricket would become the national sport in the US, and women priests would be ordained in the Catholic Church.

And the latest hair fashion was the Bo Derek look, consisting of a beaded and plaited style like the one she sported in the movie 10.


There was another fashion developing in London nightclubs, called the New Romantic Movement. It was the post-punk era, and the austerity of punk gave way to its opposite, a world of flamboyance and glamour, sent up beautifully in this David Bowie classic from 1980.

There’s a brand new dance but I don’t know its name
That people from bad homes do again and again
It’s big and it’s bland full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don’t do it here.

The recording is notable for its mechanical-sounding solo from English experimental guitarist Robert Fripp, and the sound is so contemporary that it feels like it came straight from the dance floor in those London nightclubs.

Fashion- turn to the left
Fashion- turn to the right
Oooh, fashion
We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town

But surprisingly it didn’t do as well as some of Bowie’s other records, only making it to number 70 in America, and 27 in Australia. It did make it to number 5 in the UK, the land of the New Romantic Movement.

Oh, bop, do do do do do do do do

In Australia, Fashion would have been one of the first tracks played on Triple J when it went to FM in 1980, along with adult contemporary stations Triple M and 2DAYFM.


British PM Maggie Thatcher suffered that year from functional dysphonia, a swelling of the vocal cords caused by too much shouting in Parliament. Much of her shouting was about her economic program which was so austere even the Queen had to economise.

At the 1980 Conservative Party conference, the Iron Lady’s voice was in fine form when members of her own party suggested she reverse some of her tough economic decisions. Her reply?

To those waiting for a U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.

In the USA, former actor and governor of California, Ronald Reagan, became the Republican nominee, and defeated Jimmy Carter in the November election.

A recession is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours, and recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.

Joh Bjelke Petersen had a 6th resounding win in Queensland.

You know the trouble with Queensland is that it gets branded as being part of Australia.

In the year that Bob Hawke was running for the seat of Wills at the federal election, a novelty song called The Bob Hawke Song made it on to the ABC news, because its writer, Pat Alexander, was working in the national broadcaster’s mail room. Alexander pressed a single of the song and sent it out to radio stations and performers, including Slim Dusty. On the B-side was a song called Duncan.

I love to have a beer with Duncan
I love to beer with Dunc
We drink in moderation
And we never ever ever get rolling drunk.

Slim’s wife, Joy McKean, noticed the song and suggested that Slim record it. He did, and promoted the song to radio stations by recording versions with the relevant announcer’s name replacing Duncan’s. John Laws must have liked his version because he played it 11 times during one show. Duncan went on to become a best-seller. If only he’d written a verse for Bob.

I love to have a beer with Hawkie
I love to have beer with Bob
He drinks in moderation
And he never ever ever drinks on the job.

Hawkie, a renowned drinker, gave up the grog in 1980. He later said:

If you’re going to become Prime Minister of this country you can’t afford ever to be in a position where you can make a fool of yourself or of your country, and I never had a drop for the whole period I was in Parliament.

Opinion polls dominated this election like never before. A Labor win was predicted, and Fraser responded with diatribes on the evils of unions and socialism. The Anglican Church prayed for voters. By the eve of the election, Labor voters were feeling pretty confident.

Nothing could be crazier than to vote for Grazier Fraser in the morning
What would be more welcome than defeat of dear old Malcolm, no more yawning
When I have to cast my vote on Election Day
I’ll write a note and here’s what I’ll say
Nothing could be crazier than to vote for Malcolm Fraser this morning.

But the polls proved very wrong, and for the third time, it was a case of:

What a friend we have in Malcolm
Loud his praises let us sing
If he ever tries to walk on water
I hope, like Harold Holt, that he can swim.

More female politicians were elected than ever before- in the lower house we had Margaret Guilfoyle, Joan Child and Ros Kelly, and in the Senate, Susan Ryan and Flo Bjelke-Petersen.

Mrs Bjelke-Petersen, can I ask you a couple of questions?
As long as the answer’s not Labor.

Why’s that, Flo?
Because I always say that if the answer is Labor it must have been a very foolish question.

Do you know anything about Pol Pot or the killing fields of Kampuchea?
No I don’t, but they definitely sound like they’re communistic-oriented.


In the world of music-
Belgian-born Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye
American singer/songwriter, actress, dancer, Christina Aguilera.

In the world of sport-
Aussie Rule legend and anti-racism campaigner, Adam Goodes
Tennis champions, America’s Venus Williams, and Sweden’s Martina Hingis.

In the world of acting-
American TV and film actress, Michelle Williams
American film actor, Jake Gyllenhaal.

And in the world of being famous for being famous-
Reality TV personality, actress, socialite, model, singer, businesswoman, Kim Kardashian, the woman who said that her biggest fear in life was stretchmarks.

Lady Diana Spencer had first met Prince Charles in 1977, but it was in 1980, when he sat on the same bale of hay at a friend’s barbie, that he began to think of her as a future bride.

And it was the year that film writer and director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow first got together.

1980 was the year we lost many luminaries of stage and screen like Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, Jimmy Durante, Steve McQueen, Mae West, as well as some iconic music heroes such as Bon Scott of AC/DC and, of course, John Lennon.

After five years of domesticity in his New York apartment, Lennon had released Double Fantasy, a collaboration with Yoko, his first album of new songs since 1974. On Monday, 8 December 1980, he heard that, despite mixed reactions, the album was about to go gold. After a day of finishing the recording of Yoko’s song, Walking On Thin Ice, the couple returned to their Dakota apartment, Lennon clutching a tape of the final mix of the song.

Waiting for him was Mark Chapman, a deranged fan who thought Lennon had betrayed the ideals of The Beatles. As the car pulled up, Chapman shot him then leaned against the brickwork calmly reading Catcher in the Rye. Written on the flyleaf were the words…

This is my statement. JL DOA.

The first single from the album was (Just Like) Starting Over, and John Lennon had chosen the second single release to be Woman, the most Beatle-sounding song he’d written as a solo artist.

Woman I can hardly express
My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness
After all I’m forever in your debt
And woman I will try to express
My inner feelings and my thankfulness
For showing me the meaning of success.


The big Australian movie of 1980 was Breaker Morant, directed by Bruce Beresford. It cleaned up at the AFI Awards, and was accepted as the Australian entry at the Cannes Film Festival, where Jack Thompson won best actor.

Internationally, movies of 1980 included The Shining, The Empire Strikes Back, All That Jazz, Xanadu, The Secret Policeman’s Ball, Kramer vs Kramer, and The Rose, loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, starring Bette Midler.

Some say love it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love it is a flower
And you its only seed.

When word was out that the movie was being made, an unknown singer-songwriter called Amanda McBroom dug out a song she’d written years earlier, also called The Rose, and sent it in to the producers, who put it in the reject box. But when Bette Midler heard it, she loved it and the song became the hit theme song of the hit movie of 1980.

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.


Every year has its one-hit wonders and 1980 wasn’t immune from this eternal phenomenon.

Day Trip to Bangor by English folk group, Fiddler’s Dram, was in the Aussie charts for 15 weeks, peaking at number 5, proving what true sophisticates we were back then.

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor?
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack and we opened a bottle of cider
Singin’ a few of our favourite songs as the wheels went around.

One story goes that the song was written after a day trip to the nearby North Wales seaside town of Rhyl, but…

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Rhyl 

didn’t quite cut the mustard, to the dismay of the Mayor of Rhyl who thought the song would single-handedly increase the town’s tourist potential. Then when he heard the rest of the song…

Wasn’t it nice, eating chocolate ice as we strolled around the fun-fair?
Then we ate eels in big ferris wheels as we sailed around the ground but then
We had to be quick ’cause Elsie felt sick and we had to find somewhere to take her
I said to her lad, what made her feel bad was the wheel going ‘round.

He decided that Elsie getting ill in Rhyl wasn’t a good look.

Anyhow, in an interview many years later, Debbie Cook, who wrote the song, said this story is:

A great piece of nonsense.

But, as the author of this essay, I never like the truth to get in the way of a good story.

And one of the good stories in the world of one-hit wonders is Shaddap You Face, written and performed by American/Italian/ Australian singer/songwriter Joe Dolce. It soared to Number 1 in Australia in 1980, was our first triple platinum record, and was number 1 in 11 countries, including Italy.

What’s-a-matter you? (Hey)
Gotta no respect, (Hey)
What-a you t’ink you  do? (Hey)
Why you look-a so sad? (Hey)
It’s-a not so bad, (Hey)It’s-a nice-a place

Ah shaddap-a you face. 

There have been over 50 different foreign-language versions, and the song has even been quoted on The Simpsons.


After her big hit some years earlier, English singer/songwriter Kate Bush had achieved moderate success with two subsequent singles. Then in 1980 she was at the top of her game again with a new release, Babooshka, with a story uncannily similar to the one in The Pina Colada Song.

She wanted to test her husband
She knew exactly what to do
A pseudonym to fool him
She couldn’t have made a worst move
She sent him scented letters
And he received them with a strange delight
Just like his wife

But how she was before the tears
And how she was before the years flew by
And how she was when she was beautiful
She signed the letter-

All yours
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
All yours
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!

Kate had just wanted an alluring name to sign a letter, so used Babooshka without knowing that, spelled slightly differently (Baboushka), it means ‘grandmother’ in Russian.

And it was Russia, in the wake of its invasion of Afghanistan, that was the focus of one of the big stories of 1980.

For many years, the USSR had been supplying aid for infrastructure and education in Afghanistan in return for control of rich natural gas reserves. But the country was in disarray as the Communist policies weren’t in line with traditional Muslim values, which led to a rebellion by extremists.

At the end of the previous year President Amin had seized power, and Soviet soldiers dressed as Afghan guards stormed the presidential palace, murdered the President and replaced him with an exiled Communist leader, Babrak Kemal. 80 000 troops followed and a Soviet invasion was a reality.

In these pre-September 11 days, the West preferred anything other than Communism, including Muslim extremism, so saw this as Soviet aggression. The Soviets said they were acting in response to an appeal for help from the Afghanis.

NATO denounced the Soviet position, and suggested a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Moscow in the European summer. When US President Carter delivered an ultimatum for the USSR to withdraw its troops by February or there would be no US athletes at the Olympics, he asked other nations to support a boycott. After a four-hour cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Fraser announced that Australia would be part of the boycott.

As part of my series of songs written about all of Australia’s prime ministers, I offer this as my contribution to the story.

Us Soviets, we hatch plan
To invade Afghanistan
West looks at us from afar
Says ‘What naughty boys you are’

In Moscow soon Olympic Games
Jimmy Carter, he’s Insane!
Says ‘athletes, stay where you are’
Who parrots him like budgerigar?

It is special Boycott Boy
Aussie, Aussie, oi-oi-oi
He gives us little joy
Not our pal, Moscow Mal.

With public opinion on side with the boycott, it was a good move for politicians as it was election year in the US and Australia. But the Australian Olympic Federation thought differently and, by a narrow margin, decided to send a strong contingent of athletes to the Games. The Australian Government was so sure of its position that they even offered financial incentives to encourage sporting organisations to stay behind.

Election coming very soon
Moscow Mal plays boycott tune
And to every sporting star
He offers cash in brown paper

Some say ‘da’, and some say ‘nyet’
Some stay dry, and some get wet
Boycott causes brouhaha
Does not hurt USSR

It is special Boycott Boy
Aussie, Aussie, oi-oi-oi
He still gives us little joy
Not our pal, Moscow Mal
I-O-C, oh O-I-C.

The Olympics went ahead, and here in Australia, Channel 7 had to wait till the last minute to announce that they would be broadcasting the Games, even though sponsors and athletes were withdrawing. With every broadcast, this theme song was played endlessly.

Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses at the wall
And good fortune to us all
A ha ha ha ha – ha!
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok
We’ll go dancing round the clock
A ha ha ha ha – hey!

The song was recorded by a German group called Genghis Khan, and as soon as it was broadcast, the song went straight to number 1 in the first week, a feat that had not been accomplished since Farewell Aunty Jack in 1974. It stayed in the charts for 4 months. We were a sophisticated nation in 1980.

Moscow Moscow drinking vodka all night long
Keeps you happy, makes you strong,A ha ha ha ha – ha!

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr Jim Stokes.

To read a transcript of Jim Stokes’ take on the Cabinet Records of 1980, click onto Jim Stokes 1980 talk
(Used by permission of National Archives of Australia)


Songs, YouTubes, Credits
Parody lyrics by John Shortis
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) written by Rupert Holmes
Fashion written by David Bowie
Duncan written by Pat Alexander. Parody by John Shortis
Malcolm Fraser Grazier, lyrics by Mungo MacCallum, (based on Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be in Carolina  in the Morning)What a Friend We Have in Malcolm, lyrics by Eric Bogle, (based on What a Friend we Have in Jesus)
Woman written by John Lennon
The Rose written by Amanda McBroom
Day Trip to Bangor written by Debbie Cook
Shaddap You Face written by Joe Dolce
Babooshka written by Kate Bush
Moscow Mal written by John Shortis
Moscow written by Ralph Siegel.

John Lennon by Philip Norman
Boycott by Lisa Forrest.

Rupert Holmes’ website
Transcript of an interview with Bob Hawke on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope
Songfacts website.

Show performed 2011
Essay written August 2016.