This time last year, Australia Day (January 26) almost completely passed me by. We’d only been here a few weeks and I just remember Mike taking us to South Bank to watch the evening’s fireworks on the waterfront. We were all ears for the Aussie accent and all eyes for the Brisbane skyline.
This year’s been different. How to learn about a country? Play its folk songs!
I became the piano accompanist for community choir Southern Cross Voices Inc (formerly Logan City Choir), and their first gig of the year was an Australia Day performance in Woodridge.
A country’s folk songs tell you a lot! These are all about prisoners and settlers, diggers, sheep shearing, poaching, trees – blue gum trees, coolibah trees, plum trees, possums, kangaroos, wombats. And what’s a jumbuck? Or a billabong, a billy, a lime-juice tub, a cockie’s son, the Queensland Overlanders, a bare-bellied yoe. Plus cool if unpronounceable names like Murrumbidgee and Gundagai.
It’s the rich imagery of underdogs, dust and dirt, and the dignity of hard work. Here’s a taste:
Farewell to old England for ever
Farewell to my rum culls as well
Farewell to the well known Old Bailey
Where I used for to cut such a swell
We’re bound for Botany Bay
LIME JUICE TUB
When shearing comes lay down your drums
And step on the board you brand new chums
With a rah-dum rah-dum rub-a-dub-dub
We’ll send you back to the lime juice tub
There’s a trade you all know well
It’s bringing cattle over
On ev’ry track to the gulf and back
men know the Queensland drover
Pass the billy round, boys
Don’t let the pint-pot stand there
For tonight we drink the health
of ev’ry Overlander
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
Two things: Waltzing Matilda isn’t a waltz, and – despite it’s very cheery tune – this is a sad song! Like a carefree poacher is shot by some officers (bet they were Brits too).
HOME AMONG THE GUMTREES
Give me a home among the gumtrees
With lots of plum trees
A sheep or two, a kangaroo
A clothes line out the back
Veranda out the front
And an old rocking chair
You can see me in the kitchen
Cooking up a roast
Or Vegemite on toast
Just you and me, a cup of tea
And later on, we’ll settle down
And go out on the porch
And watch the possums play
Vegemite on toast! It doesn’t get more real than that! Awesome.
There were several more to learn, including I am Australian, Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home and of course the Australian National Anthem.
So I was imagining my Australia Day out would be in a noisy marquee, with barbies on the go, loads of beer, and everyone wearing lots of sunblock.
Instead the occasion was a citizenship ceremony. I got to the Trinder Park Rest Home early, and asked a couple of residents where the choir would be singing.
“Oh you mean the ceremony,” an elderly chap said. He was nice! He sounded very northern to me. Like, Yerkshire northern.
“I can take you there but you have to drive me back ‘cos I can’t walk those hills.”
No problem. “So, are you from The Nurth?”
“Yes, the north of England. I’m from Leeds,” he said.
He asked me where I was from. I made my bog-standard reply which is: I’m from London but my parents are from Sabah, Malaysia (which explains why I look like I do).
“Ah yes, I’ve been to London,” he said, in the same way I might say: Ah yes, I’ve been to the Himalayas…” It was funny coming from him.
“I went when I was young,” he continued. “Thinking the streets were paved with gold, you know. Of course they weren’t. Then I came here.”
As I helped him into my car, another retiree came over, walking his dog. He asked me where I was from, too. I thought later that this might have been because a whole bunch of people were turning up today to take their vows to become Australian citizens.
This guy said he was from Holland. I notice the older Dutch migrants here always say they’re from Holland – not the Netherlands. I don’t know if that’s a generational thing or they’re being specific about Holland being a part of the Netherlands.
When I said my spiel about where I’m from, he said, “Ah Sabah! I know that place! And Indonesia! Nasi goreng! We used to say: No we don’t want to eat it – it’s too smelly! Now, they’re all queuing up for it here. When Sukarno came up in Indonesia, all the Holland people left!”
Eventually I got to the Reception Hall.
Multiculturalism was definitely the word of the day.
A podium at the front of the room held an array of flags, which one of the singers said might represent the countries where these new Australians had come from.
It’s a long list:
I’ve probably missed some. Member for Rankin, Queensland Dr Jim Chalmers headed the ceremony. He said that this was the 65th anniversary of Australian Citizenship, since Australia chose to define her own criteria for citizenship in 1949.
“In my view Australia Day is special because it recognises some things which are great about Australia – it’s diverse, it’s egalitarian, and it’s democratic. But most of all, it’s multicultural, and you are an investment in our multiculturalism that we regard so highly in Australia.”
Dr Jim Chalmers, MP.
New Australians pledged their allegiance to uphold the principles of Australian governance, while other Aussies reaffirmed their loyalties.
The event was organised by the local Lions Club division.
The choir sang its heart out under Musical Director Chris Bradley’s impassioned instruction, and the ceremony ended on a high with a moving rendition of “I Am Australian”.
Here are the Southern Cross Voices members who were at the event.
Chris Bradley is in there somewhere in the middle front (he’s wearing the blue shirt). Apart from leading Southern Cross Voices, Chris is also Musical Director of Chordiality Inc., and Voice Tutor at St Peters Lutheran College, in Indooroopilly QLD.
These are only some of the singers, the full choir is 50-strong. I’ll meet them for the first rehearsal of the year this week. Looking forward to that!
Maybe they’ll be singing here when I take my citizenship vows in a few years. That would be nice.