THE BUSH SONG


AUSTRALIA AND ITS TRADITIONAL MUSIC – a brief overview

 

 

COLONIAL MUSIC

 

 

© Warren Fahey

 

THE BUSH SONG

© Warren Fahey

 
Refer to my ‘articles’ section on the site and also Popular Entertainment in the Folklore of Sydney section, which includes background information and other examples of this tradition.

bark hut

The next period of folk song saw the emergence of what has become known as the ‘bush song’. In truth it had been around for a few years but in the period of pastoral growth, especially sheep and cattle breeding, this type of song became the dominant song form.

 
In many ways the bush song is the best example of Australian traditional music at work in as much it came to popularity at a time that Australia was defining its own identity. The description ‘bush song’ seems to fit more comfortably than ‘folk song’ or even the more staunch ‘traditional song’ and there are several reasons for this, not the least that they are products of their timeframe. As this popularity was the second half of the nineteenth century it coincided in dramatic changes in popular entertainment worldwide

 
“Necessity is the mother of invention” and, by all accounts, necessity led to all types of makeshift dwellings for the average bushman. Newspapers became wallpaper, empty jam tins became saucepans, shovels served as an impromptu frying pan, hats were used to strain drinking water, sugar bags became blankets and memories became firm friends. The story of Bob the Swagman and his trials and tribulations, not to mention his determination and optimism, has been one of the most endearing bush songs of all.

 
OLD BARK HUT

 
My name is Bob the swagman, before you all I stand,
And I’ve had many ups and downs whilst travelling through the land,
I once was well to do, my boys, but now I’m all stumped up,
And I’m forced to go on rations, in on old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
I’m forced to go on rations in an old bark hut.

 
Ten pounds of flour, ten pounds of meat, some sugar and some tea,
That’s all they give a hungry man, until the seventh day,
And if you’re not mighty careful, you’ll go with a hungry gut,
And that’s one of the great misfortunes, in an old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
That’s one of the great misfortunes in an old bark hut

 
The bucket you boil your beef in has to carry water too,
They’d say you’re getting mighty flash, if you should ask for two,
I’ve a billy can and a pint pot and a broken handle cup,
And they all adorn the table of my old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
And they all adorn the table in the old bark hut.

 
The table is not a bit of wood, as many you have seen
For if I had one half as good I’d think myself serene.
It’s only an old sheet of bark; God knows when it was cut,
It was blown from off the rafters of that old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
It was blown from off the rafters of the old bark hut

 
And of furniture there’s no such thing, ’twas never in the place,
Except the stool I sit upon – and that’s an old gin-case,
It does one as a safe as well – but you must keep it shut,
Or the flies would make it canter round the old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
Or the flies would make it canter round the old bark hut.

 
If you should leave it open, and the flies should find your meat,
They will not leave a single piece that’s fit for man to eat;
But you mustn’t curse nor grumble, as the maggots out you cut –
What’s out of sight is out of mind, in an old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
What’s out of sight is out of mind, in an old bark hut.

 
In the summer time, when the weather’s warm, this hut is nice and cool,
The breezes blowing through the cracks are balmy, as a rule,
You may leave the old door open, boys, but f you leave it shut,
There’s no fear of suffocation in an old bark hut.

In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
There’s no fear of suffocation in an old bark hut.

 
In winter time – preserve us all – to live in there’s a treat,
Especially when it’s raining hard, and blowing wind and sleet.
The rain comes down the chimney, and your meat is black with soot –
There’s a substitute for pepper in an old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
There’s a substitute for pepper in an old bark hut.

 
I’ve seen the rain come in this hut, just like a perfect flood,
Especially through that great big hole where once the table stood;
There’s not a blessed spot, me boys, where you could lay your nut,
But the rain is sure to find you in the old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
But the rain is sure to find you in the old bark hut.

So beside the fire I make my bed, and there I lay me down,
And think myself as happy as the king that wears a crown.
But as you’re dozing off to sleep a flea will wake you, but,
‘Tis useless cursing fleas and such in an old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
‘Tis useless cursing fleas and such in an old bark hut.

 
Such packs of fleas you never saw, they are so plump and fat,
If you should make a grab at one, he’ll spit just like a cat,
Last night they found my pack of cards, and were fighting for the cut,
And I thought the devil had me in the old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
And I thought the devil had me in the old bark hut.

 
And now, my boys, I’ve sung my song and that as well as I could,
And I hope the ladies present will not think my language rude,
And all you younger people, in the days when you grow up,
Just remember Bob the swagman, in his old bark hut.

 
In an old bark hut, in an old bark hut,
Just remember Bob the Swagman, in his old bark hut.

 
Anonymous. Collected from Mr Jacob Lollbach MBE, Grafton, by Warren Fahey in 1973. Mr Lollbach was a grand 102 when he recorded this full text of the song he had been singing for over eighty years. Mr Lollbach had learnt the song from a bullock driver, Jack Horner, who sang it to the tune of ‘The Wearing Of The Green’. Also included in Paterson’s Old Bush Songs, 1905 edition. Will Lawson, in Australian Bush Songs and Ballads, attributed this song to William Perrie adding “These verses were written in the shepherding days – when fences were few and far between – at Dungog, NSW. William Perrie was a veterinary surgeon in practice there.” Verses five, six and seven are from this version.

For a detailed study of the bush song refer to my book (co-authored with Graham Seal) The Old Bush Songs, published Sydney July 2005 ABC Books.
A recorded version is available on iTunes album ‘Great Australian Bush and Folk Songs’