APRA BEST SONGS 1926-2001

                                                                  Bushwackers

 

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (E Bogle) – The Bushwackers 1976

 

Written by Scots-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971, this is one of the great anti-war songs in recorded history. In structure and sentiment, the song recalls the brutal imagery of human loss, wasted lives and the obscenity of the 1914-18 war, and particularly the fateful landing of Australian troops at Gallipoli.

Similar graphic images and sentiments had already been captured in another anti-war song by Bogle entitled The Green Fields of France (also known as No Man’s Land), recorded by Davey Jones and the Fureys amongst others, which depicted the carnage and destruction of World War 1 in a soliloquy at the graveside of one Private William McBride.

But this song is uniquely Australian in its orientation and frame of reference, as it traces the rites- of- passage of a country boy, as he travels across rural Australia to enlist in the army to be shipped out to Gallipoli.

The lyrics unflinchingly convey the hell that is war, the young man loses his legs and his comrades become a pile of corpses around him in Suvla Bay. Bogle was moved to write the song during Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War when he perceived a lack of regard for the sacrifice that young Australians were making fighting this war in a foreign country. The song does not romanticize war in any way, and unfortunately the RSL initially interpreted it as being anti-soldier rather than anti-war.

Originally eight verses in length but ultimately reduced to five, it nevertheless retains all the bleak drama, pathos, and tortured angst that the best anti-war songs convey. Excerpts of Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda are featured at the end of the song and despite several historical inaccuracies in the lyrics – the line “they gave me a tin hat” is inaccurate, as steel helmets were not issued to our troops at the time, also the line ‘ … of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay, we were butchered like lambs to the slaughter”- fails to acknowledge that the vast majority of the 16,000 Australian and New Zealand troops landed not at Suvla Bay but at Anzac Cove, 8 kilometres south, and some 15 weeks earlier.

 

Given that the death toll for Australians during the 1914-18 war was 62,000, more than in any other conflict in which Australians engaged, nitpicking over some historical inaccuracies in no way detracts from the power and somberness of this song, which at its heart is an achingly powerful and uniquely Australian protest song.

The Original Bushwackers and Bullockies Bush Band shortened their name to become The Bushwackers and were founded by Jan Wositzky (vocals harmonica/percussion), Dave Isom (acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin and banjo), and Bert Karanhof (lagerphone) in 1972. They later recruited fiddlers Tony Hunt and Dave Kidd, concertina player Mick Slocum, and by the time they recorded And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, Dobe Newton had replaced Karanhof on lagerphone and become the lead singer.

The band had workshopped this great Eric Bogle song at Melbourne University folk music club jam sessions in the 1970’s, and they went into the AAV Studio in Melbourne in 1975 to record their second album  which was named after this song, with producers Ian Mckenzie (Noiseworks, Pseudo Echo, Models) and Ern Rose (Mississippi, Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Little River Band).

The Bushwackers recording is a stark, unadorned, piano ballad, there are no histrionics or overwrought pathos, the lyrics are however graphic, and Newton’s vocals are sincere, authoritative, and ringing with conviction, a still monochrome photograph accompanies the song, Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda is played as a coda to the song, and only then are additional instruments, trumpet and strings, added to the mix.

Although neither Bogle nor the Bushwackers versions charted, APRA accorded both versions of the song a ranking as one of the best thirty Australian songs in the modern era to 2001.

It is a celebrated and much-covered song which includes versions by such performers as Redgum, the Dubliners, Slim Dusty, Midnight Oil, the Pogues, Joan Baez and John Williamson.

 

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