Ten Topical Tunes for Australia Day 2013

StrayaAlmost all Australians have some kind of emotional attachment to January 26th. For some, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the great things our nation and our fellow Aussies have achieved across a range of fields. For others, it’s an excuse to have a barbeque and a piss-up, all while listening to the triple j Hottest 100 and keeping cool in a child-size paddling pool. For some Australians, it’s not a day of celebration, but rather a reminder of the darker side of our history and of the horror that is the ever-present threat of bogan culture.

In this Australia Day playlist, we’ve tried to address all of those themes and more, in an attempt to find a sound that sums up a true reflection of life in this Great Southern Land. Wherever you are from the Tropic of Capricorn, all the way past Bass Strait to the bottom of the Island State, you’re sure to find a tune to suit your personal Australia Day experience.

You can find all ten tracks after the jump…

1. From St Kilda to Kings Cross – Paul Kelly

In case you haven’t noticed, Australia is really freaking big. Naturally, that means it takes a really long time to get from one place to another. While this tune reflects on the charm of two places in particular, that opening line doesn’t go by without reminding you just how important the concept of travel is to our national culture. Whether you’re heading inland, or road-tripping right around the perimeter, distance in Australia is a formidable thing, and a factor that seems to have given us a taste for adventure.

2. Treaty – Yothu Yindi

When Yothu Yindi were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame last year, it was easy to get excited, because it presented an opportunity to re-address the issue at the heart of their biggest hit. Unfortunately, all that ended up resulting from the prestigious occasion was terrible sound (that arguably let down a magnificent performance), and a tragic reminder of just how much further we have to go in terms of reconciliation.

No matter where you stand on the Invasion Day/Australia Day issue, we should all take a moment to remember that with all the great things about our country comes a significant amount of history that many would rather forget. As Australians, we have a duty to make sure that we do not.

3. Moreton Bay – Bernard Fanning

While this version was performed in the film Ned Kelly, it was not written for that occasion. It was, in fact, written by an Irish poet about the convict experience in the early days of settlement, and was so popular at the time that it was quoted in the Jerilderie Letter, written by the bushranger himself. Covered here by the man with the most Hottest 100 entries in the countdown’s history, I defy you to find a more quintessentially Australian folk recording.

4. I Was Only 19 – The Herd

Even though the commemorative day isn’t for another three months, the ANZAC legend is so entangled with the Australian cultural identity that it would be foolish to ignore it on our national day. However, among all the celebration and privilege that comes with living in modern Australia, it’s easy to forget the blood shed by those who fought so that we could live the life we enjoy today. The fact that this tune reflects on a more modern conflict, and falls into the still-fresh genre that is hip hop, reminds us that while we’re knocking back a couple of beers around the barbie, there are still thousands of Australian soldiers in foreign lands who are longing to be back home for the celebrations.

5. Solid Rock – Goanna

Like “Treaty”, this track reflects on the darker side of our history, but unlike Yothu Yindi, this song was written by Australians of Caucasian descent. However, this song wasn’t chosen for its overt message, but rather for the fact that it represents a value dear to many Australian hearts: standing up for the plight of those struggling in our society.

What better day than this to celebrate those who speak out for those whose voices aren’t being heard, especially given the selection of Ita Buttrose as Australian of the Year and Akram Azimi as Young Australian of the Year. Both of these fantastic Australians have adopted causes not affecting them directly, but that they are still passionate about, personifying a value that we as Australians hold dear but don’t always achieve.

This song is an example about how speaking up can make a difference, and is something we should all strive to do, for the benefit of all.

6. My Home – Mojo Juju & The Snake Oil Merchants

Coming from a rich background, both genealogically and musically, this track from Mojo Juju highlights the cold, hard truth about the racism intrinsic in Australian society. While we paint ourselves as a nation of multicultural values and acceptance, you don’t have to look far to find examples of people being judged by their skin colour, their faith or their language. This track not only addresses it, but challenges it head on, reminding those who would reject Australians of non-Anglo origin that our current multicultural society is not going quietly. (As a matter of fact, it is pretty loud, damn toe-tapping and generally awesome, so there.)

7. Nullarbor Song – Kasey Chambers

The connection Australians have to the outback, both in terms of the myth of the Great Never Never and for the people who actually live there, is remarkably strong. Kasey Chambers, for most of her childhood, fell into the latter category, living off the land while her father, Bill, worked as a fox hunter. Her songs about the time spent in the middle nowhere are warm and sweet, often pining for a time when her life was simpler and there was plenty of space to move. While that kind of life isn’t easy, there’s certainly a romantic sense of freedom about it, one that can easily tempt the blood of convicts, misfits and pioneers that runs through the veins of so many Australians.

8. Bridal Train – The Waifs

While all the songs on the list so far (and to come) have been about residing in this magnificent land, this tune reflects on what it’s like to leave it, for good. Based on the true story of Australian war brides shipped to the US to live with their American husbands, it reflects on the loss of family and a farewell to a land well loved.

9. Erskineville – The Gadflys

It’s easy to focus on the grand landscapes of Australia, with all their harshness and romance, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to look a little closer to home: to study the metropolitan and suburban lifestyles that are just as Australian as those being lived beyond the Great Dividing Range. With a rare vocal from the late Andy Lewis, this track reflects on all the little delights of a suburban love.

So why is this track on the list? Because sometimes it’s nice to remember that parts of the Australian experience aren’t so far from the rest of the world, despite the physical distance.

10. Island Home – Christine Anu

There are a couple of versions of this track floating around, but it’s the 2000 Earth Beat version that has won my heart. I can vividly remember watching the video on the ABC when I was a kid, and while this version is a little more removed from the Warumpi Band original than Anu’s 1995 cover, it is far more inclusive, reflecting Australia as a whole, rather than the specific island referenced by the original. Either way, it reflects the purist of patriotic feelings – the sense of being in a place, and being home.


Our Australia Day playlist has been a mixture of loving odes and critical reflections, and there is a strong reasoning behind this. If you love a place, you can adore it with all your heart; but like a parent and a child, when it heads the wrong way, your love means you also have a duty to try to push your country in a better direction, towards a brighter future, and you can’t do that without taking off the rose coloured glasses.

Advance Australia Fair.

What songs sum up your Australian experience? How do you intend to spend the day? Let us know in comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


1 Comment

Filed under Music Matters

One response to “Ten Topical Tunes for Australia Day 2013

  1. Polly

    Great Selection. Whether intentional or not, Paul Kelly at the top of the list is perfect! Thanks, love your work.

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