Gary Rhett Shearston was born 9 January 1939 at Inverell (NSW), his parents Audrey and James were separated when his father was posted on active army service overseas and he and his mother relocated to his grandparents property “Aydrie” near Tenterfield . Upon graduating from Sydney’s Newington College in 1955 he was employed as a cadet press correspondent with UPI but his interests were more musical, and by the age of 19 he had commenced a professional singing career.He toured with the Australian Puppet Show The Tintookies, as well as the Hayes Gordon Ensemble Theatre early in his career, and he regularly performed at Sydney’s The Folksinger Club and was signed to CBS records in 1963 by Sven Libaek (above)In March 1965 Sydney radio stations started playing a track from his album Australian Broadside which had climbed to #3 nationally, the track was Sydney Town which Gary had recorded with producer Sven Libaek, Richard Brooks (harmonica) and Les Miller (banjo and 6/12 string guitar) in April 1965. Gary befriended fellow Sydney folk singer Lionel Long (below), they encouraged each other, and jammed together, becoming the two most prominent Australian folk singers of their era. Shearston’s laconic, deadpan vocals were a perfect match for the satirical songs he wrote which lampooned the sacred cows and deflated the egos of politicians and bureaucrats alike. His style reflected the new age of folk songs which parodied, gently mocked or more stridently satirized the issues of the day, not necessarily confining himself to bush ballads or colonial songs with rural themes, he was inspired by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Buddy Williams, and Ewan McColl (below).Sydney Town was a witty, gently satirical ditty which humorously skewered such institutions and social issues of the time as the White Australia policy, the Menzies Government, the DLP, the price of beer, pokies, Oz magazine, the Mavis Bramston Show and the chorus ‘the more they try to keep me down, the better I live in Sydney town”, captured the irreverent and mocking ambience of the song.
Shearston wrote Sydney Town after changing the melody and reworking lyrics provided by author Frank Hardy (Power Without Glory) who had been inspired by a Jamaican calypso song about the slums of Kingston, and the policies of white colonial administrators there to keep the indigenous people “in their place”.
Spontaneously and humorously Shearston claims to have “lost his harmonica player” (Richard Brooks) halfway through the song and this adds to the informality and ‘live’ feel of the recording, which charted at #33 nationally. Sydney Town hit the Top 10 in Sydney however, and in 1966 and 1967 Shearston became Australia’s biggest folk music star, with his own national television show called Just Folk, Peter, Paul and Mary toured with him in Australia and recorded a cover of his song Sometime Lovin.
They also invited him to go to the United States, where he toured the east coast for four years, he also toured in London, where in 1972 he recorded several songs for his second album Dingo. The song which attracted most attention was his quirky, gypsy-violin propelled, deadpan interpretation of Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick out of You, which was a top ten hit in the UK, and Gary’s biggest international success.Shearston returned to Australia in 1989 and in 1990 he received the Tamworth Songwriter’s Association Bush Ballad of the Year award for his autobiographical song Shopping on Saturday, but Shearston was about to completely change his life’s direction. He became a priest in the Anglican Church in rural NSW, as an ordained deacon in 1991 and a priest in 1992. He subsequently served as assistant, rector, and locum at such church locations as Narrandera, Deniliquin, Hay, Bangalow and Stanthorpe, Gary Shearston sadly passed away in July 2013.