First came the music. Anglo-Celtic in its origin, it survived brutal transportation half-way around the world to the oldest land on Earth, already with a history of some 40,000 years of habitation. Here the music was shaped by struggles of the human spirit and the harshness of the environment. The folk songs and tunes which migrated with convicts and first settlers gradually became the unique music of the Australian bush. These early songs told of life in the camps, on the land, on the breadline and on the run.
Through the great depression and World War II this poetry of mateship and hardship underpinned our culture. Then Australia, no longer isolated, lost its unique identity by rushing along with the rest of the world to embrace the American dream.
The musical “Reedy River” revived interest in Australian folk music during the 1950’s. Written by Helen Palmer and Doreen Bridges, the backing band for this popular stage production was “The Moreton Bay Bushwhackers”.
By the time of the British Pop Invasion of the 1960’s the flame of our bush music heritage was barely alive. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that the massive resurgence in folk music overseas inspired such Australian bands as “The Larrikins”, “The Cobbers”, and “The Original Bushwhackers and Bullockies Bush Band”.
Their success in those years is evidenced in part by ten albums and may gold records; the biggest selling Australian songbook ever; soundtracks for feature films and television series’; numerous awards and an entire ABC documentary devoted to the band.
The Bushwackers’ astounding popularity in concert peaked in the 1980’s when their dances attracted crowds of 4,000 in capital cities. One memorable night more than 1,000 people were turned away from a sell-out show at the “Birkenhead Barn” in Sydney.
Even after ten years of solid touring the public just couldn’t get enough of The Bushwackers – long after most other bands formed in the same era had burned out or faded away. However in 1984 The Bushwackers too decided to call it a day, due primarily, to the costs of keeping a band of their stature on the road but also, to the desires of long-standing members to establish a home and family of their own.
Various past members of the band got together for reunion tours every year between 1984 and 1990 while record companies churned out compilations drawn from The Bushwackers earlier recordings.
It wasn’t until late 1993 that Roger Corbett and Dobe Newton reformed the band with some old hands and players from a younger generation. This new outfit appeared at the “Tamworth Festival” in January 1994 as “The Range Rovers” but failed to escape the attention of several music industry heavyweights who had come to witness the band’s covert debut.
Within just a few months Dobe, Roger and newcomer Melanie were signed as “The Bushwackers Band” to publishing giant Warner Chappell and a new recording deal was struck with ABC/EMI.
Their latest recordings are among their finest with the band as potent as it ever was, and perhaps more focused.
While the music can speak for itself, to understand The Bushwackers legend we need to visit Another Time….. Another Place.