The following two recordings were made by the National Library of Australia at the 2010 National Folk Festival where I hosted a two hour session on Australian bawdy song and verse. It was literally packed to the rafters and the audience invited to contribute their favourite bawdy songs and verse. It was a very R-Rated event. Please do not listen if you are prudish.
My intention was to illustrate the living tradition of bawdry in Australia. It was alive and well.
The following is the introductory chapter of my ebook (it’s an ebook because my usual publishing associates were terrified about publishing it – so I did it myself)
You can assist my continuing work by purchasing the book from iTunes, Kindle or Kobo.
The 825 page book is ONLY $12.99 – please buy it.
There are also two fantastic CDs of material from the collection.
Here are two sample tracks from the CDs. Others are embedded in the text.
George Washingmachine sings ‘Do Your Balls Hang Low?’
Clare O’Meara sings ‘Condoms Are A Girl’s Best Friend’
A POTTED HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN BAWDRY
SING ANOTHERY DIRTY AS BUGGERY
This book grew out of concern that many of our old songs and expressions of folklore are disappearing. When they go so do parts of our history and national identity. I started collecting bawdry sometime in the boisterous nineteen sixties as part of my vacuum cleaner approach to collecting bush songs, verse, yarns and other folklore. It was simply a case of putting them to one side as they waited for their day to return to the centre stage. That time has come and although they probably won’t jump back into oral circulation, (not so easy in the 21st century), this collection is an important resource for those who value cultural threads and, hopefully, those who would enjoy refreshing their memory with some old bawdy classics. There are also a considerable number of songs and ditties that haven’t been published before and should add to the fun.
Writing and reciting poetry is an important part of our entertainment heritage and although it still flourishes in both city and bush, it’s harder to find. There was a time, in the latter half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, when every man, woman and child, worthy of the name ‘Aussie’, could recite a bush poem. The works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Henry Lawson, John Shaw-Neilson, John O’Brien, Mary Gilmore, (to name only a handful) were highly prized, especially if they were about horses, stockmen and the bush. We learnt them at school (elocution was all the rage) and at home. We shuddered when the demon barber slid the razor past the neck of ‘The Man from Ironbark, rejoiced as we rode with the ‘Man From Snowy River, and shed a silent tear for ‘The Drover’s Wife’. We also passed on the works of that most prolific poet of all – ‘Anon’ – including bawdy verses that would have made the Masters cringe.
Being a predominately male society throughout the nineteenth century, especially one that worked and lived in close proximity to other men, the subject of sex, especially the absence of it, was probably not far from most male minds. They certainly fantasised about women and many of the traditional songs and poems address those secret desires. It should be mentioned that society, even in the pioneering bush, was rather prudish, especially if women were within cooee. The singing of bawdy songs in the bush was most probably restricted to those occasions when men celebrated the work season’s end when they had received their cheque and out on the spree. The outback drover’s or bullocky’s camp was also another likely stage, being a relatively neutral territory.
This is not to say the city slickers refrained from singing bawdy songs: far from it and many of the collected songs came to us from the city. Even today I find it easier to encourage city slickers to sprout their bawdy repertoire. This might have something to do with the rowdy nature of the city and the relatively sedate environment of today’s country town where an individual is easily recognised.
Let me continue by paraphrasing a Gracie Field’s song of the 1930s – the bawdy song and recitation are ‘dead but they won’t lie down’. There is no doubt the average Australian of the nineteenth and early twentieth century knew bawdy or dirty rhymes, in varying degrees of filthiness from ribald to downright disgusting. This book is a study of bawdry, the collective name for all things filthy in folklore, and an attempt to explain why Australia could be considered one of the last outposts for this particular expression of traditional entertainment. It also explores what this tradition tells us about ourselves as a people, our society as a vehicle for censorship, and the changing world of entertainment. It’s a serious work if ever there was one! It’s also an attempt to keep the songs alive for a new generation.
For the sake of this collection and for your sanity the term song in general means recitation as well. The distinction between the two is not as clear-cut as in other expressions of folklore – some songs are known as poems and vice versa. The songs come from a variety of sources, a ‘dog’s breakfast’ cleaned up. There is also a ‘no rules’ approach to melodies with tunes being attached to songs without rhyme or reason, other than the fact someone sang it that way.
I started to actively collect folklore nearly forty years ago, sometimes with a tape recorder, more-often-than-not with a verse scribbled down on scrap paper or a pub drink coaster. Lately, I have been collecting via email and have even been known to hold up a mobile telephone to record some wayward ditty. The folklore collector is a relative of the bowerbird; scratching around to gather bits and pieces, sometimes obsessively, sometimes flippantly, in hope that one day they might prove parts of a puzzle. In this case the story of Australian bawdry has been assembled from a wide range of contributors, fellow collectors, performers and printed sources.
As a young lad in the mid-nineteen-sixties, exploring the world of recorded folk music, I discovered two LP records that changed my musical life. The first, She Was Poor But She Was Honest, had been released in 1962 on the American independent Folkways label. Derek Lamb, the singer, had a voice like no other. It was delicate and naughty with a strange vibrato that seemed to add a particular spice to the songs. It wasn’t bawdy in the filthy sense – more naughty.
Here are two examples of parlour-type bawdy songs. Both from the Australian collection.
Warren Fahey sings ‘Green Grass Upon The Green’ a song collected from Bill Harney. It uses the very old metaphor of the trooper and his horse drinking at a well. The ‘horse’ being the penis, and ‘well’ the vagina.
Warren Fahey sings ‘The Thrashing Machine’ – another old song and this time the metaphor is obvious.
The album (you can find it and some sound bites at http://www.smithsonianglobalsound.org/containerdetail.aspx?itemid=1469 still holds up today as a curio of that period when parlour music, music hall and traditional song merged with tin-pan-alley. I still sing several of the songs on the album including ‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’, ‘The Lobster’ (Rol-Tiddly-Ol) and the melodramatic title song, ‘She Was Poor But She Was Honest’. The thing that surprised me was that I knew so many of the music hall tracks from my mother’s family. I found myself singing along to what I now recognise as songs and ditties from my own tradition. My mother’s family was Jewish, or more correctly shmooish, since they weren’t particularly religious. If they had any religion it was their history with London’s East End and its music halls. Singalong music was a part of their life and the family piano was rarely silent.
My father’s family was as ‘Irish as Paddy’s pigs’ and also sang boisterously including some semi-bawdy material like, ‘With His Old Grey Noddle’ and that perennial favourite ‘O’Reilly’s Daughter’. It wasn’t until I started collecting folklore in the late sixties that I realised how valuable my father’s repertoire was, and how he was typical of many Australians when it came to his bawdy repertoire. He had grown up as an Irish Catholic and as the oldest son of a very large family, he was hesitant to sing bawdy songs – unless he had had a few drinks, which he did on Friday evenings. One of his favourites was called ‘Whollop It Home’ which had a rollicking chorus of ‘Put your belly close to mine and wriggle your bum’. He also sang a version of the innocent old British folk song ‘The Keys of Canterbury’ but it wasn’t until many years later that he offered me ‘the other’ verses:
If I give you fish and chips
Will you let me feel your tits?
Will you marry, marry, marry, marry,
Will you marry me?
If I give you half a crown
Will you pull your knickers down?
Will you marry, marry, marry, marry,
Will you marry me?
The second album, When Dalliance Was In Flower (and Maidens Lost Their Heads) was sung by Ed McCurdy and had been issued in 1956 on the Elektra label. McCurdy sang songs from the D’Urfey Collection: Pills to Purge Melancholy. They were essentially Elizabethan semi-erotic songs and, one would imagine, quite outrageous in the sedate 1950s. (Soundbites available: http://www.drinkingsongs.net/mp3s/1700s/1700s–1954-when-dalliance-was-in-flower-01-(LP)/index.htm
My interest in folk song had already been primed by British and American balladry, and I had commenced my journey with Australian bush songs, but here was a different type of song that sat alongside folk music, albeit uncomfortably. Both McCurdy and Lamb’s music was steeped in history and performed in a ‘quaint’ style that suggested there was more to the story than what they delivered. This, of course, was what tickled my fancy and saw me embark on an ongoing interest in Australian bawdry.
One of my starting points was the work of the American-born folklorist Gershon Legman and his studies of erotica in literature and tradition. Legman, a genius, somewhat eccentric and seemingly tortured soul, spent a lifetime collecting, analysing and writing about bawdy jokes, limericks, songs and poems. He eventually left America to live in what he felt to be a more tolerable society: France. It was from his home on the French Riviera he published his two monumental studies of the dirty joke: The Rationale of the Dirty Joke and No Laughing Matter. Legman was determined to show evidence of the psychological reasoning behind the types of jokes people told, why and how they told them, and when. Both books were the size of a telephone book and, no doubt thankfully for many, he printed the actual jokes in italics. I was more interested in the words that wrapped around the jokes. It was Legman’s work that inspired me to start collecting and thinking about the history of bawdry in Australia and accordingly I raise a toast to him and his brilliant dirty mind.
The singing of bawdy songs, or, as we prefer to call them in Australia and New Zealand, filthy or dirty songs, is dying out in the English-speaking world. I can’t comment on other cultures but the ever-rolling cavalcade of electronically transmitted popular culture has almost, but not entirely, changed our entertainment habits and especially the vocal tradition. We simply do not sing songs socially, and if we do they are more likely to be from the popular music repertoire of the last fifty years and, depending on your age, most probably of the last five years. This is because we do not see songs and singing as serving the same purpose they did fifty or more years ago. The most obvious signpost being the introduction and popularisation of television, which has, of course, been followed by a flow of technological change in the entertainment industry from the Internet to MP3. We have become unbelievably (and unacceptably) passive in our entertainment consumption.
I heard my first filthy songs when I was in my mid-teens. I was a keen bushwalker and youth hosteller and the campfire seemed a natural setting for the occasional bawdy ballad when we got tired with ‘Kumbaya’ and other singalong favourites. In retrospect these bawdy campfire songs were tame but in those days we were easily shocked, even by ‘Five Old Ladies Locked in the Lavatory’.
As I became more involved in performing and collecting folk music I attended late night parties where bawdy songs were frequently sung. I was living in salacious Paddington, Sydney, and they weren’t difficult to find in Australia’s most bohemian community! This is where the really filthy songs were sung and I distinctly remember wearing a duffle coat and desert boots (we called them ‘brothel creepers’) and singing along to classics like ‘The Good Ship Venus’ and ‘The Lobster’.
Warren Fahey sings ‘John Brown’s Penis’ – a parody of ‘John Brown’s Body’
The casual environment and ‘hose it down’ décor of Sydney’s inner-city pubs encouraged singing and free-expression. The ‘Sydney Push’, a predominantly left-wing intellectual sub-culture in Sydney from the late 1940s to the early ’70s, freely used bawdy song in its social environment. The fact that singing was a communal statement, in this case against censorship and conservatism, saw well-known Push members including Harry Hooton, Lex Banning, Paddy McGuinness, David Makinson, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes, Frank Moorhouse and Lillian Roxon rubbing shoulders with folk singers like Declan Affley, Marion Henderson, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Brian Mooney and Don Henderson. Folk music was extremely popular in the 1950s and early 60s and bawdy songs were a popular part of most repertoires. I certainly heard Declan Affley sing many of the classics, including what I believe was the definitive version of ‘The Ballad of Professor John Glaister’.
The most notable Australian bawdry scholar was the late Dr. Donald ‘Don’ Laycock, author of The Best Bawdry (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982). Laycock, a distinguished linguist and anthropologist, set out to collect bawdy songs in the nineteen-fifties when, as he comments in the book’s introductory essay, ‘the oral tradition was alive and well.’ However, he also sounded its imminent demise: ‘Nowadays very little is transmitted orally, apart from cold sores.’
Laycock became interested in bawdry early in life. ‘I first became conscious that I was surrounded by hundreds of interesting bawdy songs in about 1955, my second year of university. As far as I knew, nobody was collecting these important manifestations of our folklore – and, with hindsight, I see that I was pretty well right. I immediately started to type up all the songs being sung by my contemporaries at university, both at student parties and in the National Service camps of the University Regiment. At the same time I wrote down what I could remember – which turned out to be a great deal – of the bawdry that had circulated in primary school and high school. The collection grew and grew. Once its existence became known, friends and acquaintances from all over offered texts and improved versions. At the same time I collected graffiti and slang.’
Laycock then relocated to Adelaide to work in anthropological research at Adelaide University, where he continued to collect songs and recitations. It was then on to Canberra to complete his PhD (where he became a world authority on the languages of Papua New Guinea): ‘I was part of the cosmopolitan and reasonably sophisticated, community of scholars in University House. Here I met my first folklorists – people like Edgar Waters and Ian Turner – and learned for the first time that my songs were not unique, and that many of them had a long history.’
Awareness of Laycock’s now very large collection became common knowledge and he was ‘asked to make it available for an ‘underground’ collection to be published in Melbourne.’ He agreed and the 1962 mimeograph edition of Snatches and Lays (pseudonymous editors Sebastien Hogbotel and Simon Ffuckes) was the result. ‘There was a verbal agreement at the time that my material should not appear in a ‘commercial’ edition, but that agreement was lost in the mist of time long before the first commercial edition did appear. No blame, as the I Ching says.’
Annoyed by the Snatches & Lays infringement Laycock took his collection to the United States in 1963, where he accepted a job at Indiana University, then the most thriving folklore centre in North America, and home not only of the Indiana Folk Archives, but also of the Kinsey Institute of Sex Research. In Indiana he met folklorists John Greenway and Joseph Hickerson. Greenway had undertaken considerable research in Australia and Hickerson later became head of the Folk Song Archive at the Library of Congress. Laycock enthusiastically continued his interest in the bawdy tradition by attending concerts of Oscar Brand and purchasing his recordings. He also bought copies of Ed McCurdy’s records. In America he was recorded discussing Australian bawdry for the Library of Congress Folklore Archive. (I have deposited a copy of this recording session with the Oral History and Folklore Section of the National Library of Australia.)
‘While at the Kinsey Institute I took the opportunity to compare my Australian collection with American ones. I entered this sterile mausoleum of sexology with some trepidation – that was the year that Ralph Ginzburg was sentenced to a million years or so in jail for publishing and distributing the magazine Eros, which was partly based on material he had persuaded students to smuggle out of the Kinsey Institute – or so I was told.’
‘My research in the Kinsey Institute convinced me of the impossibility of the task I had set myself – a full documentation of my Australian bawdry, with all sources, melodies and variants. I came upon not only the collections of Vance Randolph (‘Unprintable Songs from the Ozarks’) but also the painstaking work of Gershon Legman. I gave up; it seemed impossible to complete. I still continued to collect sporadically, both oral material and published collections, but my heart was no longer in it.’
Laycock returned to Australia in 1964 and resumed his academic life continuing his study of Melanesian languages and his interest in Mensa, channelling and tarot cards. The latter acknowledging his involvement with Australian Sceptics, who reported in their 1988 Journal, ‘His appearance at annual conventions, where he delighted audiences by ‘speaking in tongues’, is legendary’. Laycock also worked on his meticulous book on the Enochian ‘language’ which he wrote allegedly channelling an Elizabethan mystic named John Dee (the book was published posthumously in 2001 and remains one of a few classics of sceptical linguistics).
In 1973, much to his surprise, Sun Books of Melbourne published a commercial edition of Snatches & Lays, containing much of his material. In 1979, admittedly extremely late, he wrote a protest letter to Sun Books but received no reply. Eventually, he turned his entire collection over to the American folklorist, Gershon Legman, for incorporation into his international collection.
In an article published in Nation Review, ‘Digging Up The Dirt’, Melbourne, 1976, Laycock lambasts Hogbotel and Ffuckes, (Melbourne intellectuals Ken Gott and Stephen Murray-Smith), for appropriating his collected works without acknowledgement including ‘34 songs plus about 14 limericks, half the toasts and the envoi – totalling, in pages, a third of the book’. He goes on to admit to writing various items published in the collection. ‘There are bits I wrote entirely – all of ‘Pull Me Dungarees Down, Sport’ except the first verse’ (although he admits others have since contributed to the song), ‘the last three verses of ‘Life Presents A Dismal Picture’ and the first half of ‘The People’s Flag’.’
The Nation Review article continues to reveal some of the likely authorship, ‘No mention is made of the fact that ‘Vincent van Gogh’ has been attributed to Sydney Painter, John Olsen, or that the late Professor John Anderson was responsible for introducing ‘John Glaister’ to Australia – though he never claimed to have written it. Ogden Nash certainly wrote ‘The Four Prominent Bastards’, and I’ve always been willing to back Robert W. Service as the author of ‘Eskimo Nell’. Henry Lawson – and this is acknowledged – wrote the ‘Bastard From The Bush’ – though he cannot be credited with all the versions in folk circulation’.
I am not sure I agree with all of Laycock’s claims to authorship but, generally, he was fairly on the ball. He is certainly right when he continues, ‘Well, so much for ‘folk tradition’. There exists an equally strong tradition of prominent, and respectable, poets, academics and other professional people, writing bawdry for the masses’.
In 1981 Laycock commenced work on his own book The Best Bawdry (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982) commenting, ‘It was not the book I would have written in 1960 – it is hopefully much better. Although the folkloristic documentation is less than I would have originally included, what there is has benefited from an additional quarter century of experience.’
What Laycock did was to trawl through as many versions of a song and identify, according to his own taste, the best, most singable, version representing how that particular song had settled in the English-speaking world, and particularly Australia. He also admitted that where there were ‘a large number of items which are not well known, but which should be, I have used a composite version’. Laycock definitely saw himself as an editor of the songs – juggling verses, altering lines where they appeared out of rhyme, clumsy or incongruent. He further added, ‘In my search for good versions I have often been impressed by the fact that the songs I collected back in the fifties and sixties are as good as anybody’s, so these usually form the basis of the texts’
He was very aware of the possibility of being criticised for such editing, especially in using composite versions and/or rewriting. This, of course, is familiar ground to anyone working in folklore, and folk song in particular. Some would argue that the texts should be published as collected – warts and all, whilst others believe the compiler has a responsibility to make the finished work as singable as possible – as a salute to the original tradition. It’s a tricky one but Laycock definitely saw himself improving the songs and this fits with the fact he was also an enthusiastic singer, (self-admittedly very out of tune) of many of the songs. In his introduction to The Best Bawdry he defends his decision: ‘There are in many of the sources, misleading or irrational punctuations, misspellings, mishearing, and occasionally total misunderstandings of an unfamiliar word. No one but the most ardent purist would object to my correcting these, this is not a painstaking textual study. The next step is to combine the good lines from various versions. Why should we miss out on a particularly felicitous expression, or an alliterative phrase, or an extra internal rhyme, simply because it is missing in the main source? And if all sources are clumsy or unmetrical in the same verse, and I happen to think of a better way of saying it, why should I not include my own improvement? And, finally, if the typing of the song has here and there inspired me to write an extra verse or two in the same style, who shall say me nay? Every competent singer of these songs I have ever heard has done his own trimming along these lines. All alterations are made in the interests of providing the ‘best’ versions – though there can be some disagreement, and it is often hard to choose between two equally good versions.’
Laycock’s justification for altering texts is indeed rather questionable but the realm of bawdry has always been at odds with academic folklore. Part of the reason is that the songs and recitations are prone to on-the-spot improvisation because they rarely get sung, especially in public, and one cannot expect singers to perform a ‘standard version’ – even one of their one. There is also the fact that many of the situations where such songs are performed are excessively alcohol-fuelled. Add to this the actual performance environment, which is usually a free-for-all and rarely relies on a single singer. Confusion reigns supreme! There was no real reason for Laycock to justify his position except where he admits to actually writing additional verses. It also must be remembered that Laycock was a linguist by profession: the study of words, rhyme and rhythm were very much on his mind.
Copyright is another issue that confronted Laycock and he dealt with it in the only realistic way possible for a collector of bawdry: ‘In making this selection I have not knowingly violated any copyright. The bulk of songs are clearly in the public domain; copyrighting ‘Eskimo Nell’ is a bit like trying to copyright the game of chess’.
Australian folklorists Brad Tate and Ron Edwards each produced collections where they encountered a similar problem however willing contributors were named and dated wherever possible. The editors of Snatches & Lays, and More Snatches & Lays, as mentioned previously, did not acknowledge Laycock or any other contributors other than two literary identities, Bob Brissenden and A.D.Hope. All other Australian published collections, including military, running, rugby and bushwalking clubs, also walk the anonymous path. Wherever possible I have linked songs to sources but, as explained in the acknowledgements, some were given on the understanding they would be anonymous.
The Internet, a recent addition to this list proves a fascinating source of bawdry and, apart from the dedicated sites for hash runners and rugby collections, many examples can be found in blogs, reminiscences, books-online and by doing specific song word searches. In many of these examples names, dates and locations are indicated. Prudence suggests that such names be not mentioned here. Every collector and complier in this field, myself included, has expressed the fear that bawdry was disappearing from the tradition, however, as mentioned previously, it’s dead but it won’t lie down.
Each successive compiler has attempted to put the Australian bawdy collection into perspective but, understandably, their knowledge of folklore and the period in which they were working and writing impacts on how they viewed bawdry and approached their writing. Tate and Edwards, being experienced collectors and observers, offer the most satisfying provenance and Tate in particular, provides evidence of the traditional source of melodies. I hope to have improved on their pioneering work.
In many ways bawdy songs are one of the best indications that a culture is alive and kicking for they are very dependant on the oral tradition for popularity and circulation. These songs are passed on from singer to singer rather than from the printed source, and in singing these songs one is not restricted to any correct version – they roll out and onwards. Being mostly anonymous creations they belong to all of us – and we obviously have no hesitation in putting our stamp on them. Verses change to suit the circumstances and social environment. Some come out the other side hardly recognisable as they fall to the folklore process of adoption and adaptation.
There are absolutely no rules as to the names of bawdy songs. In fact many of the bawdy songs in the Australian repertoire have no names at all. They are simply a set of words sung to a suitable melody. One is more likely to be asked for the song ‘about the hairs on her dickey di do’ or, even more likely, someone will commence singing a verse hoping others will join in. Editors, collectors and singers all put titles to songs. Laycock obviously dubbed the familiar ‘Please refrain from passing water while the train is standing at the station’ etc as ‘Railway Blues’ as no one else ever recorded it under that title. Likewise, Bill Harney, the famed old bushman of the Northern Territory, simply called one of his ‘Hickey, Hickey Hey’ because it fitted the borrowed American song ‘To My Yippee, Yippee, Aye’.
Laycock primarily intended his published collection to be used by singers. ‘If this book falls into the hands of singers – rather than just readers and browsers – they will have t he opportunity of refreshing their memories, testing their versions, objecting to the texts presented here and creating new material to be collected by some future space-age folklorist.’ Well, I don’t think I can justifiably be called a ‘space age folklorist’ but I hope to be able to put the Australian bawdy tradition into some perspective some twenty-six years later.
This collection belongs to an impressive catalogue of writers who attempted to explain the history and tradition of bawdry and also to make the songs available. Some books like those of Britain’s Bishop Percy and Thomas D’Urfey scan works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Robbie Burns did the service for Scotland, and across in America Gershon Legman, Vance Randolph, Alan and John Lomax, Ed McCurdy and, more recently, Ed Cray and John Patrick, have documented the bawdy song legacy. In Australia key folklore collectors like John Meredith and Ron Edwards included bawdy material in their general work, with Don Laycock, Wendy Lowenstein and Brad Tate publishing dedicated bawdy collections.
To put the historical publishing of bawdy material in perspective, including this present collection, it is important to understand that although Australia produced and circulated a large body of songs, and offers one of the last remaining ‘obvious’ bawdy song traditions in the English-speaking world, it also had one of the world’s most restrictive print and recorded sound censorship laws. It was the most censored English-speaking country in the world, after Ireland, until the Whitlam Labor Government, elected in 1972, repealed those laws. In the late sixties many suburban printers saw themselves as censors and even a small, specialist folklore journal I contributed to was subject to action. The printer of Australian Tradition Magazine, edited by Wendy Lowenstein, refused to print the winter, 1967, issue because he ‘objected to the ‘double meaning’ in one of the songs quoted by A. L. Lloyd in his article about Songs of the Dark Towns. The song was in fact a very old song detailing the meeting of a cotton weaver and a maid. On discovering the man’s trade the maid asks:
Well, if you’re a weaver brisk and free,
Would you weave on my loom, kind sir? says she.
The printer had self-censored his own press for fear of prosecution by the law. The particular issue of the magazine was subsequently published at another printing house.
As my early professional interest in the interpretation of traditional song grew I encountered what I will describe as ‘professional singers’ of erotic and bawdy songs. This, like my own interest, sounds slightly twisted however, for a folklorist it is simply yet another branch of the evolving musical tradition tree. In describing these singers as ‘professional’ I mean they were fulltime singers who released commercially available recordings. In truth none of them could be described in the same way as ‘popular’ singers in the music industry. Most recorded for independent record labels interested in folk music rather than music industry charts. The British folklorist and singer A. L. (Bert) Lloyd (1908-1982) was a major influence on this writer and singer, especially since he had lived in Australia and had an impressive Australian repertoire. Lloyd recorded numerous British erotic songs and ballads in the early 1960s including ‘The Bird In The Bush’ (Topic Records) and, during a tour of Australia in the eighties, I presented him in a workshop concert titled, ‘The Erotic Muse’. Ewan MacColl, who I also toured (with Peggy Seeger) was a legendary Scottish ballad singer who also carried a keen interest in the erotic ballads, and recorded many, including a large selection of Robert Burns’s songs from ‘The Merry Muses of Caledonia’ (Dionysus Records) and a 10” ‘Barrack Room Ballads’ set (Topic Records). Neither singer recorded anything that could be described as over-the-top bawdy. Before them there were numerous bawdy or ‘titillating’ songs released by music hall artists. In the 1920s and 19230s Black American singers released a considerable stream of raunchy material known as ‘hokum songs’ with suggestive titles like ‘Please Warm My Weiner’ and ‘I Want to Put My Banana in Your Fruit Basket’. These were a bluesy jazz style and released specifically for the black music market until censored by the music industry and pre WW2 attitudes.
The American artist, Oscar Brand (1920-), released a large catalogue of bawdy and barrack-room songs, probably the most important and commercially successful of all, and was the ‘composer’ of a bawdy song that ended up an international pop chart hit record. Its story is an interesting study in bawdy song travels. ‘A Guy Is a Guy’, originated in a British traditional song, ‘I Went to the Alehouse (A Knave Is a Knave)’, dating from 1719. During World War II, soldiers sang a bawdy song based on ‘A Knave Is a Knave’, titled ‘A Gob Is a Slob’. Oscar Brand cleaned up the lyrics and it was published in 1952. The best-known version of the song, recorded by Doris Day, charted in America in 1952 at #4 and remained in that chart for 19 weeks. Day’s version also peaked at # 1 on the Australian charts. It was also recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and by the Australian singer June Miller (with Les Welch and his Orchestra). John Patrick, that determined anthologist of erotica, maintains an excellent website with many of the early commercially released bawdy song collections available as MP3 samples: http://www.drinkingsongs.net/index.htm including City Waits, Ewan MacColl, Ed McCurdy, Oscar Brand and numerous field recordings.
There is one other major recording artist and that is the great ‘Anon’. Countless singers and bands have recorded bawdy songs and packaged them up under anonymous names like The Rude Boys, The Filthy Fockers, The Tossers etc. Many of these recordings were sold from ‘under the counter’ and did brisk business, especially in the late 1960s and 70s. Recording these songs anonymously allowed a far greater use of swear words and avoided the risk of being hauled over the coals by censorship regulations. These recordings were generally known as ‘Party Records’ but were obviously a poor substitute for the real thing. I do recall being present at parties where they were played as a ‘warm up’ and the transition from phonograph record to live singing didn’t take very long, maybe they served that purpose as ‘party starters’ for the shy. These bawdy song collections were usually made ‘on the cheap’ with groups taken into the studio (with flowing alcohol) and recorded ‘live’. Most were so live (and intoxicated) that they are painful but maybe the final audience for these songs didn’t know any different? The repertoire was straight out of the available published collections, usually word for word.
In 2007 I made contact with Brendan ‘Mook’ Hanley who, with his performance partner, Brent McDonald, recorded the first two ‘openly marketed’ bawdy LP records in Australia. Seven Old Ladies and Good Ship Venus were made for the independent Crest Record label (Melbourne) in the early 1970s. Hanley recalls, ‘They were recorded ‘rough’ by bouncing stereo tracks between two Grundig recorders – and I played practically everything and sang the songs’. At the time of their release I had already established my retail store, Folkways Music (Paddington), and remember that most record retailers actually sold the albums from under the counter.
Hanley explained, ‘the songs were sourced from my college days (good memory) and the Mess Hall Songs and Rhymes of the RAAF booklet. Brent McDonald had the songbook … left to him by his father. It looked like a duplicated document, stapled foolscap pages but we knew the tunes to all the songs. After those two albums sold so well, I broke away from Crest and made my own third LP with Brent MacDonald on guitar, and a bunch of other musicians and singers including the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band with whom I had toured Victoria earlier. That was the R-Certificate Songbook, which was superior in every way to the earlier two. It was recorded on a Scully 8 track at Armstrong’s Studios (now AAV) in South Melbourne. I even got to play harpsichord on one track! It was selling well … I was ordering regular batches from Astor and widening my distribution when the Rylah Government went on a Catholic vote-catching ‘Clean up the State of Victoria’ spree. In this book-burning, witch-hunting 1970s climate, self-righteous alleged wife-beating radio announcer Norman Banks went on a radio rampage about “never letting my (non-existent) daughter listen to this filth” which ended up with all the records being seized. Marcus Herman, of Crest Records, and myself were represented by the infamous Frank Galbally, in Melbourne Court. The records were played to giggling cops and a smirking magistrate while people like George Dreyfus and a professor in English (Dr Ian Turner) attested to the records’ musical and historical/cultural value. The subject of obscenity was not allowed to be discussed – just the worth, or lack of, in the articles in question. In truth, there were no “fucks” or “cunts” on the recordings ever … we studiously avoided those words for this very reason. There was nothing there that we hadn’t sung in our schooldays … and generations before us I dare say! On the third day of the trial, just before lunch, the smiling beak said “Well I’ve seen or heard nothing obscene here so far. I’ll give my decision after lunch!” We all went to lunch with much red wine etc. in a very celebratory mood, paid for by Mr. Galbally himself, no doubt revelling in yet another victory and his fat fee to go with it. We staggered back to the Courthouse half wallied, sat down and watched incredulously as the very solemn beak marched up to his podium with averted eyes, announced the whole lot to be obscene and all recordings to be destroyed and that the recordings were now determined illegal. Bang! went the gavel. “Case dismissed!” … and Bob’s your uncle’.
Brendan Hanley’s account of the censorship of bawdy recordings is fascinating, especially in the light of the 2008 action taken by New South Wales police against internationally recognized photographer Bill Henson, whose images of adolescent youths were deemed indecent, showing evidence that our guardians still poke their noses into the arts. Maybe this book will eventually be seized and burned too! Hanley offered a final comment: ‘I can only imagine the judge made a phone call at lunchtime and got told (by Minister Rylah) what to do. We never got over it! Astor dropped my R Certificate Songbook recording like a hot scone. We managed to find a backyard presser in Port Melbourne and continued a black market trade for a while through several outlets in Melbourne and Sydney’.
In Australia one man stands alone in his originality in writing and recording bawdy songs. Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson is the alter ego of Dennis Bryant (born Sydney, 1947) and he is recognised internationally for his outrageous repertoire of explicit material. (http://www.kevinbloodywilson.com) Wilson’s song titles give an indication of his direction: ‘Pubic Hair Song’, ‘Fuck Yer Guts Out’, ‘I Gave Up Wanking and My Dick’s On The Dole’ and are definitely not your usual pop repertoire. There’s a great story about ‘Kevin’ visiting Canada on his world tour: he alleges that he was told by the authorities that he was not allowed to say the word “cunt“, when performing in Canada. It ‘s not known whether this was an order or a suggestion. Whatever the case, ‘Kevin’ made a note of this and walked onto the stage in Montreal and the first song he sang was his now somewhat infamous ‘You Can’t Say Cunt In Canada’. It is not unusual to find young men and women, especially those who live in rural areas and used to attending B&S Balls know, word-for-word, many of Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson’s songs (‘Bachelor & Spinster Balls’ are peculiar Australian black tie parties where attendees traditionally get blind drunk). To many of these people the new compositions have assumed the role of the traditional bawdy repertoire. They certainly serve the same purpose.
To put the change in bawdry tradition into perspective, especially for twenty-first century Australia, we need to go back to the early days of the colony of New South Wales where the first bawdy songs were sung. Sailors and soldiers were always considered ‘bad boys’ and were a ready target for the clergy who regularly attacked them for lowering the morals of society. This was especially so in the 17th and 18th century when so many men were recruited to the army and sea. Sailors reputedly ‘had a girl in every port’ and soldiers were seen as ‘rambling rakes’. It begs the question as to what the clergy imagined these sex-starved men might be looking for when they landed. I doubt if it was a good sermon! History shows they got drunk, many took whores and they partied, including the singing of bawdy songs befitting their reputation.
Sailors, we know from the many collections of their songs and shanties, sang while they worked, when below deck and when they hit town. They especially relished songs about sea life, ‘Jack ashore‘ and the trials, tribulations and gallantry of sailors in general. They belonged to a noble maritime tradition and being of ‘the sea’ had no hesitation in adding songs to their international repertoire. Many of the shanties contained references to famous whores or infamous captains. One of the ways they retaliated for getting a dose of the pox or mistreatment by the ship’s officers, was to curse them in songs such as ‘Blow The Man Down’ or ‘Blow Boys Blow’. Obscene verses were inserted and more often than not tolerated, or at least ignored by the ship’s officers.
The convict class was also whooping it up in the colony of New South Wales. There is one documented story of a female transport ship arriving in Botany Bay and the male convicts and soldiers downing tools and guns to fornicate with the new arrivals on the beach. It sounds strange but certainly in the very early stage of the colony convicts were encouraged to ‘couple up’ to produce bonny babies for the colony. There was a bawdy atmosphere in the fledgling colony and one can only assume that bawdy songs were part and parcel of the times. One also needs to consider the large percentage of Irish political convicts sent to Australia and the role of song, especially parody, in the Home Rule campaign. Bawdy song degrading the British would have strengthened their resolve for independence.
There is plenty of evidence that soldiers (many who were also marines) relished singing bawdy songs, the bawdier the better. This, of course, is typical of male-dominated societies, especially those under strict rules and regulations. Singing sexually explicit and suggestive songs reassures such men of their own sexuality during times of deprivation, be it the absence of wives, sweethearts or whores.
The colonial soldiers sang backroom ballads and especially boasting songs when they marched, worked or were simply out on the town. A ‘man in uniform’ usually suggested, even if only to the wearer, a certain bravado, and the singing of bawdy songs in public places such as taverns and inns would have been seen as typical soldier camaraderie. In the 1840s there was even a bell, on the corner of Sydney’s College and Oxford Streets, rung nightly at 6 pm, to warn young ladies not to travel down Oxford Street near Victoria Barracks, Paddington, in case they met up with drunken soldiers. There were many taverns along the strip and there’s little doubt they would have resonated with lusty songs, especially since they catered predominately for soldiers and bullock drivers.
The life of the early soldier was very different from today where military operations are mostly a computer-designed attitude to warfare. In the eighteenth and nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, certainly during WW1 and WW2, warfare meant that the soldier spent exhausting days, sometimes weeks and months, stuck on the front line, in trenches or down rabbit holes, and this provided a natural setting for songs to relieve boredom and maintain sanity. I have written a detailed account of the Australian military service and its song tradition in Diggers’ Song (AMHP, Sydney 1988) and would go as far as to say that many of the songs in this present collection, not only the obvious military ones, were created or altered and circulated in WW1 and WW2. There is certainly one extremely important publication cited in this book: Mess Hall Songs and Rhymes of the RAAF 1939-1945 was a mimeographed collection published in 1945 for the New Guinea troops. There were only ten copies printed but the songs proved to be a treasure-chest and one of or earliest real collections. Other military collections have been cited, including the excellent roneoed collections provided by John Croyston, Seaforth, and Jock McLachlan of the Royal Australian Engineers, Perth.
Back to the past – when so called ‘parlour songs’ were popular in the more refined Australian homes, reflecting a more gentle and supposedly sophisticated approach to song. Some of these songs would undoubtedly fit into the category of bawdry however most relied on innuendo of the ‘Lusty blacksmith’ variety, where farm implements were used to represent sexual organs – my how their hammer and tongs did rattle!
As the colony grew, especially after the discovery of gold in 1851, so did the number of drinking establishments. Many miners came from California and brought their songs with them. The population flow, specifically from England, Scotland and Ireland, also saw old songs new again. Accounts from the gold towns of Gulgong, Ballarat and Bendigo, to name only three, tell of noisy hotels befitting any wild west. Goldfields life being so male-dominated would have provided fertile ground for bawdy songs. We certainly know that sexy shows like Lola Montez’s ‘Spider Dance’ were a huge success.
Later nineteenth-century Australia was fairly rough and tumble and very dependent on an itinerant workforce: shearers, stockmen, timber cutters, fruit pickers, bullock-drivers, and to some extent postal, banking, nursing and school teaching saw armies of men moving across the country. This, of course, is how many traditional songs were transplanted to new communities. Such workers were encouraged to participate in local community events, including sporting clubs where the singing of songs went with the territory. The same could be said for those migratory outback workers, especially drovers, who travelled thousands of miles, tending their herds or flocks, and were reliant on the company of fellow travellers. A few songs sung around a campfire offered a welcome break from the monotony and loneliness of the job.
The majority of convicts and early emigrants were decidedly lower, working class, and unlikely to be puritanical. They were usually seen as inveterate gamblers, boozers and devoted to bawdy behaviour and extremely bad language. In the 21st century our national stereotype is still seen as a gambler , boozer and swearer and this is possibly why international folklorists see us as one of the last bastions of bawdy song.
Being a pioneer society, mainly living in the ‘bush’ and in relatively isolated communities, resulted in many rural people being seen as naïve. We saw ourselves as ‘gawky’ and even later portrayals such as Steel Rudd’s On Our Selection stories saw characters like Dad, Dave and Mabel as ‘innocents’ in a strange world. For many years these same characters were taken up by ‘the folk’ and used in bawdy situations in colloquial sayings, yarns and jokes. To some degree this awkward Australian image continued with Barry Humphrey’s ‘Bazza McKenzie’ and Paul Hogan’s ‘Crocodile Dundee’. To a degree this awkwardness is identifiable in our bawdy song tradition and it is interesting to note that songs from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, specifically ‘Chunder in the Old Pacific Sea’ and ‘One-eyed Trouser Snake’ now appear in bawdy collections.
Although the majority of our population became urbanised in the early twentieth century some areas of work remained exclusively or predominantly male and would have provided an opportunity for the bawdy tradition to continue its rowdy way. Bush workers, especially boundary riders, drovers, shearers, rabbit and dingo trappers, timber cutters and railway workers still led relatively unsophisticated lives. Workers on fishing trawlers, fruit and vegetable farms, road gangs and long haul transport also employed an army of men, many living in communal camps. The other very conducive atmosphere was mining, especially remote mines in the Northern Territory, far north Queensland and West Australia. I toured many of these mining towns in the 1970s and songs were a welcome break from the back-breaking work however, by that time, the workforce was mainly European. The Snowy Mountain Project would have also offered a similar challenge to collectors. Lastly, a reference in Gershon Legman’s bibliography pointed to a song collection Antarctic Fuckup.and this led me on a merry chase. There appears to be no library copies however I did make contact with the association representing people who had worked in Australia’s Antarctic posts. It struck me that such male dominated, extremely isolated working and living conditions would be a natural stage for bawdy material. Alas ,I realised this all too late and although I have received encouraging feedback I am yet to find the elusive songbook. The expeditions are now, of course, open to both sexes and technology has all but eliminated home made entertainment in our frozen south.
There is no doubt that Australians have a unique and identifiable sense of humour. It is often referred to as ‘dry’ or laconic. This sense of humour also infiltrates our bawdry. We have a larrikin spirit that is brash and loud, probably born of a need to cover our inert shyness. We also like to use colourful language, especially colloquial expressions, and this too has left an imprint on our songs. The average bushman of the nineteenth century swore like a trooper, peppered his speech with the most extraordinary expressions but clammed shut, tight as a drum, in the presence of women. They hardly spoke in front of women let alone swear or sing a bawdy song.
In analysing the Australian bawdy repertoire I set out to put the various selections into bit-sized sections – the main reason being to make the collection more approachable and, at the same time, more readable and singable. This also turned out to be a way of controlling the large volume of songs that confronted me. I trust I have done the songs and tradition a service but please forgive me if some of the categories do not suit your taste. It was a difficult juggling act.
One of the problems facing an editor of a book on bawdry is how to acknowledge collected and contributed material. Most of my earlier collected material was provided to me as ‘anonymous’ or ‘please don’t say that I gave you that’. Other material was secretively scribbled down as unidentified singers took the floor. In such circumstances the idea of a collector interrupting the flow is unimaginable. That said, wherever possible I have tried to identify the source of material, be it from oral collections or print. Possibly it would have been far better and certainly easier to provide a general list of contributors so no one is blamed for a particular item and the sudden collapse of their maiden aunt.
There are also some collected examples where the contributor could not remember some of the lines. In any case where I have attempted to ‘restore’ a work, and I should say there are only a handful where I felt tempted to do so, such additions have been indicated. My pinning of tunes on songs has been done to make the collection usable. Wherever possible I have given the most widely distributed melody. In a small handful of cases I have suggested tunes and indicated so. Remember – there is no definitive tune association. For those interested in tunes, their history and musical notation, I recommend a website called The Digital Tradition (http://sniff.numachi.com) which offers words, music and midi files for nearly 10,000 traditional tunes. www.mudcat.org is another excellent site for forums on folk song. The best resource for bawdry is, without a doubt, www.folklore.ms
Parody is one of the keys to the bawdry tradition. Nothing is sacred when it comes to using and abusing a known tune for the sake of carrying song verses into popular circulation. The more common the tune, the more welcome is the coupling. I should imagine some song composers would be shocked to find their precious work being used to describe unbelievable sexual frolics. There is no rhyme or reason to their selection other than the tune came to the mind of the original creator, or creators, and it stuck like glue. Everyone is fair game from Dvorak to Ellington, Madonna to Chuck Berry. Advertising commercials also cop their fair share of parody and several are included in this collection.
George Washingmachine sings ‘Pubic Hair’ a parody of ‘Baby Face’.
George Washingmachine sings ‘Last Night I Pulled My Pud’ – showing parody even extends to the classics.
There is no age barrier for bawdry and here you will find filthy playground chants side by side with erotic bawdy ballads that have been around for hundreds of years. ‘The Bastard from the Bush’ sits alongside ‘Eskimo Nell’. You will also find that even parodies get parodied. Henry Lawson’s ‘Captain of the Push’ is a good example of how nothing is sacred.
Warren Fahey recites ‘The Bastard From The Bush’
In referring to songs taken from previously published Australian collections, not that there have been many, I have identified the most relevant sources. One has to bear in mind that such works, in most cases, were themselves taken from other print sources. The important fact here is that these songs have travelled strange paths and there is no one correct version or owner. Whilst I have cited some books as a source I have only done so for reference sake and that particular song could also be included in other books. Wherever possible I have used the most commonly published version.
The challenge of this book was to survey what bawdy songs, recitations and toasts have been and are still circulating in Australia and try and identify those that possibly were created here or were significantly added to or given an Australian perspective. Sometimes such changes are a subtle word here or there and others see the majority of the work changed and localised. There would not have been much value in assembling another anthology of unexplained bawdy classics and re-presenting them in a new package.
I also wanted to provide some evidence to the belief that Australia remains one of the most active societies in keeping this tradition alive. Australians have a well-earned international reputation to uphold! We are certainly seen as a ‘frontier society’ by a large percentage of the world – and one where bawdy songs should be sung! Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the popular bawdy songs are common to the English-speaking world. The majority were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and this had a lot to do with the migration to the cities, changes in working environments, growth of sporting clubs and the general liberalisation of society at large.
Although most Australians are technically ‘immigrants’ the majority of songs have come down via the Anglo Australian tradition. This isn’t to say that Asian, European and other migrants didn’t participate in this process or a sub-bawdy tradition. Nobody to my knowledge has specifically collected in this area although the Australian musicologist Peter Parkhill has done considerable work recording the songs of migrant Australians and points out that ‘common vehicles for bawdy songs were Italian ‘vaudeville’ songs, many from Italian-American communities, some (Greek) Rembetika songs such as ‘…from the prison in Piraeus come the cry, “swing your farter, baby, to please your lover” and, by far the most well-used form, as in English, is the parody.’ One area of ethno-bawdry is printed folklore, sometimes referred to as ‘photocopy folklore’, where mangled English letters or statements are taken to represent migrant stereotypes. These are not necessarily blatantly racist and more often in the style of ‘Nino Cullotta’ character in John O’Grady’s 1957 film They’re a Weird Mob. I have included two examples in the collection. There is also racist bawdy content in several of the songs and I include them for social and historical importance. It is important we study these songs in perspective and, hopefully, we learn from the past. It is heartening that in the ‘Great Shagging Match’ the victor is an indigenous man.
The survival and circulation of bawdy songs are directly related to the dramatic changes in entertainment patterns: essentially we have moved from entertaining each other to being entertained. The majority of collecting and compiling of bawdry was done in the later half of the twentieth century reflecting the then relevance of self-entertainment and the awareness of folklore collecting as part of the international urban folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Informants were, and continue to be, across a wide field of society: ex-servicemen and women, sporting fans, stockbrokers, plumbers, caretakers, bankers, truck drivers, bush poets, my fellow folklore enthusiasts, ratbags and rabblerousers.
Although I mention women contributed material to the bawdry collection I cannot say that women in Australia were major carriers of bawdy material. There seems to be a line, which most women accept and rarely cross. This can also be seen with joke telling where women will relate jokes in an all-female company, especially ‘hen’s nights’, but rarely in a mixed society. Interestingly this barrier has been crossed with the popularity of circulating bawdy jokes via email. Suffice to say the transferring of filthy material through such a printed source allows far more robust language and sexual concepts to be deemed acceptable, as if almost anonymous. I also suspect that since early Australian society was so male-dominated, women were looked up to as guardians of virtue and actively excluded from situations where bawdy songs would have been performed.
As a lad I recall women sitting patiently in the family Vanguard or Austin, sipping their shandy of half beer and lemonade, waiting for their boyfriend or husband to return from his socialising in the public bar – where ladies were not permitted.
While the singing and reciting of bawdy material belongs to no social class it does seem to have had a certain appeal to the so-called intelligentsia: university staff, poets and writers in particular. Maybe this is simply a reflection that such people are more prone to ‘writing things down’ or maybe the songs go better with a glass of wine than a beer! Certainly the social environment of these people differ and a private club like a university or business club is seen to be more conducive to singing than a hotel where television, jukeboxes, poker machines and piped music are unrelenting. Sporting clubs, obviously an important part of this survey, have offered a natural home to many of the songs and we have examples of bushwalking, running, caving, rowing and football clubs issuing their own songbooks and altering songs to include references to club members and activities. This ‘assumed ownership’ of songs is normal and happens in other areas of folk song. An obvious example is how the old-time shearers and drovers readily changed songs to suit their own stories. A British popular song of the 1870s called ‘Fashionable Fred’ with its opening line of ‘I’m just about to cut for Belgravia’ becomes an Australian bush favourite called ‘Tomahawking Fred’ or ‘Tambaroora Ted’ with the first line of, ‘I’m just about to cut out for the Darling’. Bawdy songs received a similar treatment.
In my earlier studies of the Australian sense of humour, ‘Classic Bush Yarns’ (Harper Collins 2000) and ‘The Big Fat Book of Aussie Jokes’ (Harper Collins 2007), I tried to explain how the Australian Identity uses humour to define itself. This book is another attempt to see how we tickle our funny bones, and identify those things that make us different as a people. Although the Australian bawdy collection covers a wide territory I do think the way we have used (and abused) these songs show us a particular Australian attitude. We are certainly more sexually open than most countries and this collection reflects that: explicit language, suggestive verse, euphemism and downright strange. No one in their right mind takes any of the song notions as normal and our ‘no holds barred’ approach sees the songs covering scatology, castration, bestiality, homosexuality, incest, fetishism, prostitution, masturbation and just about every other taboo sexual activity.
Warren Fahey sings ‘A Is For Arsehole’.
Of all the sporting genres it seems football, and in particular rugby, leads the bawdy chorus. Much has been written about the culture of rugby but the most important factor in its association with bawdy songs is that many of the leading private colleges, school and university, play rugby. One can also surmise that a greater percentage of these lads proceeded to university, especially since pay-for-education was introduced by the Howard Government in the 1990s. There are no designated licensed rugby mega-clubs, the majority of such venues are home for Rugby League and Australian Rules. Historically this has played a part in maintaining the rugby song tradition as players and supporters usually met post-game in the club’s smaller ‘club house’, which generally was little more than a bar and lounge, sometimes within another building facility.
A mate of mine, food writer Kim Terakes, is typical of an earlier generation of university rugby players, and told me how post match the lads, and in the seventies these were male only gatherings, would go to their ‘clubhouse’ where they would celebrate or commiserate the game by getting thoroughly trashed. The behaviour was misogynistic and often outrageous. Kim related how one lad stripped naked and put tomato sauce on the end of his penis and waved it at the female hockey team as they passed by the clubhouse windows. The group would get progressively drunker using ‘drink, drink, drink it up’ calls and games like ‘whirlybirds’ (where each participant had a number and had to clap in time with the general clapping, shout out their designated number plus that of someone else in the circle. If they messed up they had to down a pint of beer). He continued, ‘many of the club members would sing songs about ‘fucking twenty girls last night’ when in most cases they had probably never slept with a girl – ever’. It was a false bravado urged on by too much drink and a certain lack of social skills, especially in relation to how to treat women. Kim suggested that ‘there are a lot of old rugby supporters and players who never sustained a normal relationship because of their ‘misogynistic rugby mentality’’. Rugby social life has changed dramatically over the past twenty years and this has sounded the death knell for rugby songs. The songs are still sung, albeit softly, and the bell is sounding louder as the small clubhouses disappear and women are attending post-game celebrations. This is where the supporters General Public School upbringing shows, as it simply wouldn’t do to sing such songs in mixed company. Another factor is that the game has introduced professional players who are intimidated by club rules and regulations regarding behaviour. Many of these newer players are islanders from Polynesia – big, strong men who generally have a strict Christian background that certainly frowns on such singing. The New Zealanders, being even more enthusiastic for rugby (and singing) than the Aussies, are also more vocal and their major games are a sight to see and hear.
It is interesting to look at the song tradition of other football codes. Certainly some post game singing takes place but since most gatherings are staged in mega-clubs, where the environment is downright unfriendly to singing, the occasions of bawdy sessions is limited. Teams and supporters do sing on inter-club bus trips but even then the participants seem to be grasping for the verses of most of the bawdy repertoire. Most codes and clubs have their own team song but they are not very singable. The Australian Rules clubs use known songs as their club songs: ‘Keep Your Sunny Side Up’ (Essendon), ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ (St Kilda), ‘A Wee Doch and Doris’ (North Melbourne) and, for some strange reason, Brisbane uses the ‘La Marseillaise’ and Sydney Swans ‘Notre Dame March’. I talked to long-time Collingwood supporter, Dobe Newton (who is also a member of the Bushwacker’s Band), about AFL and bawdy songs. ‘Never heard anything remotely bawdy at any game or social gathering. AFL is very family oriented, and women are involved at all levels including the Board, so that would be the main reason.’ (For an insight into AFL songs visit YouTube ‘Drunken AFL Songs.’). The National Rugby League teams have club songs with original words but they have been written by pop music writers, and sound like it. Barracking type songs, which are generally sung by the crowds whenever their team scores, but these are generally doggerel and the fans appear to sing only a few lines before they fade away. Stuart McCarthy, of Alexandria, Sydney, is a Newtown supporter and said his team sing the following when the team wins:
Everywhere we go, people wanna know
Who we are?
Where do we come from?
So we tell them
We’re the mighty Bluebags!
The mighty, mighty Bluebags!
The mighty, mighty Bluebags!
1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, BLUEBAGS!
He admits it’s banal but ‘when there’s 25 or so blokes all screaming and banging on seats and dressing shed walls it’s great to be part of.’ This, of course, is often a ‘party starter’ and as the booze flows sometimes bawdy songs follow.
Soccer fans in Australia are not vocal like the English or Welsh and the absence of a song tradition might have something to do with the fact many players come from a non-English- speaking background. Professional football in Australia is now a big business with players being paid half a million dollars or more. Their code and personal management closely govern today’s players and any unseemly behaviour is quickly squashed. The bells are ringing!
Other sporting groups have and continue to sing bawdy songs. Snow skiers, hockey, bushwalking, caving and running groups have all produced songbooks. One interesting upholder of the true bawdy religion are the Hash House Harriers who have been described as ‘runners with a drinking problem’. The Harriers are an international organisation and songs play an important part in their social gatherings. Men and women Harriers participate in singing and many of their songbooks are structured for males and females.
Of course, the keyword in the social use of bawdy songs, be it past or present, sporting clubs, university student’s unions, bushmen around a campfire or stockbrokers letting off steam, is camaraderie. The act of defying social norms, aided by a good alcoholic boost, produces a bonding – everyone in the circle is equal and anyone, despite their vocal talent or lack of it, can take the lead. In fact, bad singers with large repertoires are encouraged.
It would be remiss of me not to make some mention of contemporary songs, especially rap and hip-hop, and society’s response to their content. There is a big distance between traditional bawdy songs and these modern songs. For one thing the old songs never set out to offend, and rarely did. Contemporary songs, especially those considered ‘urban ghetto’, are attributable to specific writers who use filthy, sexist and often racist references as if socially acceptable. Indeed they often appear acceptable to their prime audience. Punk bands crossed similar barriers decades earlier. These songs are also part of a machine, the commercial music industry, and are condoned under he flag of ‘self-censorship’ whereby record labels undertake to identify ‘explicit words’ and label the CD cover accordingly.
So who does sing bawdy songs in Australia? The answer is a big question mark but let me assure you that in the 21st century I can still go down the street, tap someone on the shoulder, ask whether they know any such songs and get a nod of the head. I can go to the bush and find farmers, shearers and bank tellers who, with a bit of gentle liquid encouragement, will whisper a few lines, and I have included some recently collected ditties in this book. I’m not sure if I live in a normal world but many of my associates can still sing enough bawdy material to provide evidence the tradition is still breathing. The songs are still in the minds of many Australians but the occasion for their performance is reducing at an alarming rate. Singers know these songs are mostly inappropriate but, thankfully, they also know the songs have been around for a long, long time and represent another time. The general feeling is that the songs are doomed, a curio of another era, but they’re not quiet ready to disappear.
This book, most probably, would have been the victim of Australian censorship laws if published forty ago, but times change and so do laws. There is nothing censorable in these songs and poems. Furthermore, the use of swear words, however offensive, is nowadays generally tolerated as part of language and is part of the popular media. This isn’t to say some of the items are not offensive but this is the nature of bawdry – somewhat disgusting, sexist, racist, shocking, and employing the foulest of words. But, once again, I would remind readers that one of Australia’s all-time most popular television hosts, the late Graham Kennedy, was taken off air on March 5th, 1975, for imitating a crow with a ‘f-ar-k’ sounding cry.
The real issue with the majority of bawdy songs is that they are demeaning to women, often violently. Women are generally seen as sex objects unwillingly or willingly participating in disgustingly gross behaviour. Once again this comes back to the fact that the songs have mostly been carried through the tradition by men, and mostly by men assembled together for a purpose such as war or competitive sport. Much of the justification has been put down to male bonding and camaraderie, especially in times of stress, and, of course, must be viewed from a historical perspective. This is one reason why the songs are disappearing from the oral tradition. I would further make the point, especially in the light of my recent study of humour (The Big Fat Book of Aussie Jokes. Harper Collins 2007), that although our tolerance for filthy jokes has broadened, especially when transmitted as emails, they are accepted despite many of them being just as misogynistic as the sons.
Finally, as a singer, I must raise a final toast to the songs themselves. They come in all shapes and sizes and many of them have come down some mighty strange paths. Some are ancient, some are relatively new, but each and every one created to be sung with the rowdy spirit of bawdry. Take them for what they are – good – and maybe not-so-innocent – traditional fun in an over-governed, sometimes too politically correct world. I hope this collection helps them travel a few more years.