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Dance in Australia next

Convicts and transportation


© 2005 Warren Fahey

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Fashion is an important part of dancing and that includes the dances themselves. In the 19th century the most popular dances were a reminder of the courtly century before where preposterously dressed men and women wearing powdered curly wigs, curtsied and bowed in set dances like mechanical figures on a calliope. Thankfully, much of the stuffiness had been set aside, especially in the rural areas, as the partners swung around the halls in the Lancers, Alberts and other set dances. The varsoviana, schottische and polka were also popular with particular dances like The Berlin Polka sweeping the country as the ‘latest dance’ from Europe. In the cities ‘dancing masters’ taught these new dances to an eager public.

The following parody of Sally in Our Alley from the
W Fahey Collection/ Australian Melodist No 21. Circa 1880, is an example of how dancing and dancers fascinated the public.

Sally in the Ballet

Parody of Sally in Our Alley

View Words

I mentioned ‘bawdry’ in my introduction. In 2005, as part of my general collecting of bawdry, I set out to gather bawdry associated with dancing. I was encouraged to do this after realising I had a couple of examples that I had noted down in the early seventies. A case of where there’s smoke there’s fire!

In 2005 I wrote to several friends and also circulated requests to dancers and musicians, especially in the folk circuit. These yielded a few contributions but my prime source came from other collectors, especially Peter Ellis, in Victoria. Peter has done a lot of work in collecting and restoring traditional dance music in Australia.

Dance bawdry appears to have developed as colloquial expressions to remind musicians of dance names. This is a real issue with many musicians and the name of the tune is often the one thing that immediately recalls the tune. Many tune names are derived from the musical pattern of the piece so Varsoviana becomes Arse Over Anna, or simply Arso. It is a phonetic way of remembering and, considering the average player of traditional music is confronted with hundreds and sometimes thousands of tunes, especially with variants. The naming of tunes also varies across a community. For example, a traditional tune transposed to Australia in the 19th century (or last month) could have had several titles and, just as relevant, it may also have had tune variations to distinguish it from another community. Say, for example, the Irish ‘Wearing of the Green’, could have been known under that title in Tipperary but in Galway it was known as ‘Paddy Letting off Steam’, a simple play on the structure of the title. Alternatively it could very well be known in Donegal as ‘Paddy Foley’s Tune’ because everyone in Donegal knew that Paddy Foley played that tune on his fiddle. He had a certain agreed ownership that entitled the tune to carry his name. At a dance someone would simply say: “Paddy Foley’s in D” – even if Paddy was not in attendance.

The fiddle was extremely popular in Australia because it was usually inexpensive and, of course, it was light and loud.


There is also the fact that musicians can be smart-arses and being separated from the main body of dancers, usually by sitting on a stage or rostrum, allowed them to make comments, often bawdy, about the dancers and individuals. Referring to certain dancers in bawdy terms was an ‘in joke’ to be shared by the musicians.

Comperes (or MC’s) also injected bawdy humour into the tradition and have been known to sing parody verses of popular songs associated with certain dances.
“First lady forward, second lady pass, third lady’s finger up the forth lady’s arse”


Circassian Circle = Circumcissional Circle
Virginia Reel = Vagina Reel

Evening Three Step … Evening Three Stumble
Barn Dance … The Cocky’s Hop
Lucille Waltz … Loosewheel Waltz.
Schottische … Short Squeeze
Gypsy tap = Tipsy Jap (all above from Peter Ellis)
Sheebeg Shemore = She Begged for More

Arsehole Brown For Tea. Ask Old Brown For Tea
Banish Misfortune = Vanish Me Foreskin (All above WF Collection)
Arse over Anna’ (Varsoviana) – from Sally Sloane, Lithgow, 1980

The grand chain figure of the Lancers, figure 5, Peter Ellis’s grandmother used to sing:


The tune being The Girl I Left Behind Me) (aka The Woodpecker’s Song. WF)

‘Well I stuck my nose up a billy goat’s arse,
And the smell was enough to blind me,

So I took his prick for a walking stick
And his balls I left behind me.’

(Frank Thompson’s variation, and his balls they dragged behind me.)


Another Lancers parody (collected by WF from P Dick, Wyoming, NSW):


Third party cross over and fourth lady pass
And the fifth lady’s finger up the sixth lady’s arse
Bow to your partners, salute one and all
And the girl with the dirty arse

Turn your back to the wall.



(Peter Ellis)to the tune ‘Babes in the wood”

“Cock your leg up Sal Brown
Let the water run down”

From Fiddle player Eileen McCoy – Tasmania,
to the tune of The Irish Washerwoman:


The Irish Washerwoman

“Oh you dirty young bugger how dare you presume
To piss in the bed when there’s a pot in the room
You should have been hit ’round the head with a broom
Before the daylight of the dawning”

Some derived dance names have no explanation for their widespread popularity and are not necessarily bawdy.

Cock O’ the North is well known as Aunty Mary Had A Canary

Aunty Mary

In many cases these tunes also attract a parody verse (or two) sung by musicians, and quite often picked up by dancers and ‘passed on’.

Aunty Mary had a Canary
Thought it was a duck
Took it behind the kitchen door and taught it how toÉÉ.
Fried eggs for breakfast, Fried eggs for lunch (and can’t remember the rest)
From John Williams via Peter Ellis

Cock o’ the North

(Aunty Mary) From Peter Ellis’s great aunt Beat

‘Aunty Mary, Uncle Charlie, I’ve lost the leg of my draws,
Aunty Mary, Uncle Charlie, won’t you lend me yours.’

And another From the late John Ottery
‘Aunty Mary had a canary up the leg of her draws,
When it came down, its beak was brown,
And it said I’m the cock of the north.’

And from John Lepley

‘Aunty Mary, Uncle Charlie,
Stood in a bucket of eggs,
Aunty Mary, Uncle Charlie,
The yolks ran down their legs.’

John Williams also contributed a bawdy parody of that 20th century dance hall favourite, Daisy, Daisy Give Me Your Answer Do. (First heard in Arab CafŽ at Lorne, Victoria, Jan 1968)



Daisy, Daisy, give me your tit to chew
I’m half crazy all for a root with you
It won’t be a stylish entry
I can’t afford a frenchie
But you’ll look sweet
Between the sheets
Of a double bed built for two


On Top Of Old Smokey

was another popular song. This contribution Rowan Webb, NSW.

On top of Old Smokey,
as everyone knows
lives Marilyn Munroe
without any clothes.

And John Milce, Sydney:

On top of old Smokey where nobody goes
there lies Sabrina without any clothes
Along came Roy Rogers, clippity clop
down with his trousers and out with his cock


Peter Ellis’s sister recalled this parody of She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.

She’ll be coming round the mountain,
pissing like a fountain,
when the chain on her bicycle brakes. She’ll be sitting in the grass with the pedal up her arse and her tits playing ping-pong with the spokes.


(From John Lepley, Victoria)

Hey rig a jig, kiss a little pig, follow the band,
Follow the band, with your tool in your hand,
Hey rig a jig, kiss a little pig, follow the band,

Follow, follow the band.

I first heard this in Newcastle, late 1960s, (WF) as

‘Hey jig a jig,
Fuck a little piggy-wig
Follow the band’

Peter Ellis recalled the locals at Nariel (including David Alleway) singing a parody to the ubiquitous Spanish Waltz tune (derivative of The Cachouca) known under various names such as My Father Was A Dutchman, Mary is a-Weeping etc.

‘Once she was a virgin, a virgin, a virgin,
Once she was a virgin, but look at her now.’

Bob Michell collected a full text of the above (a variant) in the 1950s from Enos Newitt (refer tapes in W Fahey/National Library Collection). I also located a set of milder verses in the Australian Melodist Songbook (circa 1880, Melbourne)

Then American song, and popular dance tune, Redwings, also attracted a lot of parody.

‘Oh the moon shines bright on Charlie Chapman’, (sic Chaplin?) From Peter Ellis


In 1975, at Sofala, I recorded the following from Owen Judd of Wollongong.

There once was an Indian maid,
Who said she wasn’t afraid
To lay on her back for two-and-a -zack
And let the cowboys whop it up her crack

One day she got a surprise
Her belly began to rise
Out popped a nigger – and began to frig ‘er
With his arsehole covered in flies.

And another that ran the complete parody of the song:


View Words


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