The Bush Music Club turns 70 this year!
From humble beginnings…
It was 1952. Jack Barrie, John Meredith’s neighbour in Heathcote, was hosting some ‘Australian Nights’. John Meredith and Brian Loughlin turned up and with Jack Barrie, the emerging Heathcote Bushwhackers were “the undisputed highlight…dressed in wide-brimmed felt hats, flannel shirts, red bandanas… and bowyangs hitching up their trousers at the knees, and carrying accordion, lagerphone and bush bass” (1). They were soon joined by Chris Kempster on guitar and Harry Kay on mouth organ.
Mid-1953 in Sydney. The New Theatre had decided to put on the Dick Diamond’s musical ‘Reedy River’, based on the shearers’ strikes of the 1890s. They needed a band and The Bushwhackers were approached. Opening in December 1953, both the play ‘Reedy River’ and The Bushwhackers resonated with Sydney audiences and the play continued for months. The Band was soon expanded to include Cess Grivas, Alex Hood and Alan Scott. In fact, many musicians and singers wanted to come and join.
Early 1954. John Meredith and Brian Loughlin used to catch the train into work every morning. Apart from working on programmes for The Bushwhackers, they worked on the format of a new club which they named the Bush Music Club (BMC). As Meredith explains:
everyone wanted to come and join The Bushwhackers and we didn’t want to offend them by telling them to shove off. At the same time, we thought it would be good to teach them to sing Australian songs…and (we) could meet on a weekly basis… (2) p.10
On 14 October 1954, the Bush Music Club held its inaugural meeting in the Ironworkers’ Building in George St, Sydney.
In celebrating our Platinum year, the Bush Music Club today owes much to the work of song and tune collectors such as John Meredith, Rob Willis and Chris Woodland over the years. We also pay tribute to the many other characters who have contributed in their unique way to the Club. John Dengate was one such character who, known for his irreverence and sense of humour, wrote songs and poetry about everyday Australians who were doing it tough and songs that reflected a deep compassion for his family (3)
Bob Bolton also left his wonderful legacy. We remember Bob playing his button accordion, leading the Backblocks Musicians and the BMC Concert Party for many years and often seen taking photos at many folk events. Ralph Pride, a hard-working ‘treasure’, continues to play a key role in the Club, compiling the song and tune books used by the Concert Party, with George Bolliger patiently leading the Concert Party practices and helping keep the musicians in time.
Dancing has been part of the Bush Music Club since the beginning. Many members learnt bush dances on a Monday night at the Hut and enjoyed bush dances at Glebe and today at Beecroft. Dances are still being taught at Pennant Hills in Sydney by John Short. Many have had the great opportunity to dance at the special Heritage Balls which started in the early eighties with the Heritage Ensemble playing, led admirably by Dave Johnson, and with experienced callers such as Don and Wendy Richmond and Anthony Simon.
Another of the BMC’s ‘treasures’ is Sandra Nixon who has been archiving a lot of the Bush Music Club’s history for more than a decade. To find out more about our history, see the Blog she has created and still adds to: https://blog.bushmusic.org.au/
The future of the Bush Music Club? Helen Romeo leads a great team of expert tutors from the BMC who share a passion for passing on our music history with a great love of bush music and traditional songs to a new generation. This group (Saplings) get together at festivals and also organise sessions, master classes and family camps. Saplings has been going for 7 years and now some of our older Saplings have become tutors themselves and some have joined together to form the BMC Youth Bush Band who have played for dances at the last two National Folk Festivals. Saplings have their own Facebook page, website and an instrument loan programme. The website is: https://bmcsaplings.org.au/
The future is in good hands.
If any Folk Federation readers have been a member of the Bush Music Club or have a special link to the Club, you would be very welcome to join us at the members and friends’ reunion to celebrate our 70th year at the Goulburn Club in Goulburn on Sunday 26 May, 2024 or perhaps the dance at Petersham Town Hall in Sydney on Sunday 27 October 2024.
For more details and to express an interest, please contact Karen at email@example.com
1. McKenry Keith, 2014 More than a life: John Meredith and the Fight for Australian Tradition, Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 106
2. ‘John Meredith interview 14 March 1993 – Thirlmere’. Interviewer Colin Fong. Appeared in Mulga Wire No. 99 October 1993, p.10
3. ‘John Dengate, 1st October 1938 – 1st August 2013, Life Member’, BMC BLOG, 30 July 2020 (adapted from an article published on the Folk Federation of NSW website).