50 years in the making

When a group of Melbourne University students gathered to share their love of traditional music in 1971, little did they realise that they were establishing a musical ‘institution’.

There had been ‘bush bands’ before, but none captured the public’s imagination to such an extent that they were able to turn professional.

Having established residencies in Melbourne pubs, the band’s attention quickly turned to Europe where two of their great influences – Fairport Convention and Planxty were leading a folk revival. They wanted to be part of the action, and in 1974 took off to try their luck. They were also heading into the gathering storm that was the beginning of punk! But that’s another story.

The next 8-10 years were split between extensive tours at ‘home’, and 5 European tours from the band’s base in London. Their energy and musicianship made an instant impact – Melody Maker describing them as taking the UK folk scene “by storm”. Numerous and extensive tours of the UK, Ireland, France, Holland and Germany established them as confirmed club and festival favourites – Cambridge, Rotterdam, Edinburgh …., and their debut LP ‘The Shearers’ Dream’ reached No.1 on the Melody Maker Folk Chart. The combination of traditional instruments, electric guitar and bass and the unique percussive drive of the lagerphone, meant they rocked like no other folk band!

During their home visits, the band began to explore and popularise the neglected area of bush dance.

The late 70s and early to mid 80s saw the band’s self-promoted Bush Dance Spectaculars attract 2-3,000 people to Town Halls and major venues throughout Australia. The impact of this dance phenomenon saw a single from their (Gold) ‘Dance Album’ reach the No. 14 on Melbourne’s leading commercial Pop/Rock station!

With the addition of drums in 1980, the Bushies entered musical territory previously unexplored in Australia. This was the decade of the ‘pub rock’ boom, and saw the band sharing stages (and holding their own) with the cream of Aussie rock – The Angels, Men At Work, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil ……..

The band released two Australian Song Books and two dance books and albums which – to this day, hold sales records. No Aussie school could do without them.

This decade also saw the band ‘adopted’ by country music fans and, on their first visit (1981) to Australia’s largest music event – the 10-day, 4,000 gig Tamworth Country Music Festival, the band was awarded it’s highest honour – A Golden Guitar.
(They’ve returned every year, playing to sell-out crowds).

The band’s constant search and reputation for musical excellence saw them attract some of Australia’s best – drummers Robby Ross (Goanna) and Freddie Strauks (Skyhooks), guitar legends Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Housden (Little River Band), Tim Gaze (Ariel, Rose Tattoo) and bassist Pete Farndon who went on to international fame with The Pretenders.

After decades of relentless touring, in 1995 the band decided to take a break from the road. The national broadcaster – ABC, marked the occasion with a 1-hour TV special “The Last Dance”. The band continued to record and perform at major festivals/events.

They’ve continued that policy to this day – always being in demand for their unique and powerful stage shows.

In 2007, the band realised a long-held dream, travelling to Nashville for the Australian Festival. The combination of Australian songs and subject matter and celtic-influenced music proved just as popular with Americans as it had with European fans 30 years earlier!

How many still-performing bands can boast 25 studio and live albums covering vinyl, cassette, CD and MP3 formats?!

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1 Comment

  1. Bruce Bennett

    To The Bushwackers, thank you. Our first “date” was to see you at the Sydney Town Hall in October of 1981. It was the ROCK AGAINST RACISM. A great gig that saw Debbie and I fall in love with your style of music and enthusiastic performances and in love with each other. 42 years later, we are still together, our kids know all the old favorites and we see you guys live whenever we can. Again, thank you. May you keep on doing the UPSTAIRS for thinking and DOWNSTAIRS for dancing for many years ahead.

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