I had been waiting for the 20th of February to arrive with mixed feelings and it took several days, weeks, months and the odd year to arrive depending on when it was that I first started to wait for that date. The mixed feelings were caused by the fact that I was going off on tour to Australia and would not return until May 6th  a grand total of 78 days. For all of this time I would be away from Danni, the longest we had been apart and during this period we would be having our 41st wedding anniversary. I am not sure if I have mentioned this in my write up of last years events, but we have either been married for 41 years and were married on March 31st  or we have been married 31 years and were married on the March 41st. I must try and work out some clever way of remembering which way round this is.

Danni and I had spoken in length about the fact that she might not be up for the rigours of a hectic touring schedule and I had been toying with the idea of her having another art exhibition towards the end of this year and combining with other artists as she has done previously. We agreed on this and that she could spend some valuable uninterrupted time, while I was away, to devote to producing pictures for the exhibition. So a date was set, venue decided on, and we approached Lawrence Heath, he of Electric Voices www.electricvoices.org  and such a great supporter of folk music and dance in and around the Guildford area.  Lawrence has been producing graphic design for many years and will certainly have some interesting items to display. Iris Bishop, who will be joining up with me in Australia for part of the tour, is also, apart from a magical musician, a truly gifted artist so it will be a joy to have both Iris and Lawrence to join Danni. To augment this trio and make it into a quartet we have asked Mary Kent to join the ensemble, and she has agreed, which rounds this up to perfection. Mary lives in France and is renowned for her wonderful paintings of horses and other animals.

So on with the year and the tour.

February 20th  duly arrived, punctually the day after the 19th as it has been doing regularly for more years than I can remember. Just before we left for the airport we had a fond farewell phone call from our fitness guru daughter, Lucy (who can be found at www.lwrfitness.com). The rest of the family – Johnny behind the wheel, Danni, Jess and all of the grandchildren (Harriet, Tom, Amelia and Lucy, 3 of whom  would be one year older by the time I returned) – came up to the airport to see me off, maybe it was to make sure that I had indeed gone,  My last sight of them all was of their smiling faces and waving hands as I set off through passport control and then security, a good memory picture to keep with me while I was away.

It was a one “stop off” flight through to Sydney and the “stop off” was in Hong Kong where there was enough time to have an invigorating walk around the immensity of that airport.

Arrival in Sydney was on the morning of February 22nd  and what better way of being eased into Australia was there than to be met by Kate Delaney and to be driven back to stay in her wonderful house in Balmain, first class.

The first day passed by uneventfully with myself getting ready for being “on the road” for the next couple of months. Jet-lag did not seem to be a problem as I just kept on going during the day and enjoyed the warmth of the late Australian summer day. Kate helped me with the purchase of an essential piece of equipment in the shape of a mobile phone. I will admit to not being the world’s greatest exponent on all things technological, so combining that with Kate’s own particular degree of knowledge this all added up to zero but at least that was a start and by the time that I was ready to be let loose on the road I had mastered the art of locking and unlocking the phone in the admirable time of 15 minutes 34 seconds – quite impressive. A good mutual friend of ours who now lives in Sydney, Denis Tracey, has teamed up with Kate, and they now sing together, and as we will be performing at certain venues over the next few weeks, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to learn some songs that we could all do along with Iris who would be keeping us in order. So we went through which songs would be suitable, and great it was to play them with Kate and Denis. I look forward to when and where we do these.

Friday was departure day for me and I was heading off down to the Cobargo Festival in southern New South Wales. Kate very kindly drove me to where the rental car pick-up had been arranged by my agent in Australia, Sandy Merrigan. Sandy of (www.merrigoroundmusic.com )has done a terrific job with this tour and she will be appearing many times within these writings.

The paperwork etc was soon sorted out, and fond farewells and thanks were bestowed on Kate as I set off south in a northerly direction, made more difficult by my trying to avoid the complicated method of paying the various tolls inflicted on some roads

On this Friday my destination was non-stop to Cobargo where I would be playing at their wonderful Festival and this was to be my first “booking” of the tour.

It was the most scenic of drives, some of it along the coast with spectacular views of the Tasman Sea and some truly beautiful countryside bathed unusually in swathes of green grass nurtured by the frequent rains they have been having, not to forget to mention the small but important country towns which are so much part of  Australia.  It was seeing these sights, and knowing that there was still so much more in store and to be seen and experienced, that made me realise why I love Australia so much.

During the festival I am staying with Pam and Pete who have a house some twelve or so kilometres west of the festival site. I had good directions as to how to find their place and had been warned that the sealed road would deteriorate into a dirt track, but as they say in Australia “No worries”. As I drove along the track, I spotted this particularly beautiful single-storey house perched up on a hill to my left, and I thought to myself, “Self, wouldn’t it be great if that was Pam and Pete’s house”, and sure enough so it was. Not as old as I first thought, but nonetheless magnificent, and the owners were the perfect people to be living there. The only thing missing from this Paradise Perch was Danni. After a fine welcoming cup of tea with Pam and Pete, I headed off to the festival site to get myself acquainted and accounted for and to meet up with my good friend and collaborator on several themed concerts, Ken Prato. This was to be achieved by the use of mobile phones rather than having to resort to the old fashioned traditional bush method of contact: coo……eeeeee. There is a subtle difference between someone calling out coo……weeeeee and the tried and tested coo…..eeeeee. Mind you, I think that the bush method would have been easier than trying to unlock the phone, but I suppose that over a period of time I will master this technique and be able to unlock it in under 5 minutes – that is my aim and goal in life. I did make contact with Ken, via the phone, and we met up. Good to see and be with him again. Ken and I are doing a themed concert during the Festival that we have put together and performed, once here in England at the Whitby Folk Week, when Ken was over in England. The concert is called “I Don’t Go Shearing Now”, which describes the life and times of a shearer looking back over the years, through song, story, poem and anecdote. Ken’s contribution to this is of course invaluable, as he himself is a retired shearer and obviously has a wealth of knowledge and first hand experience within the sheds and being “on the track”. Ken has written a book illustrating through story and poems his life shearing, and this has the title “Sheep Shit on the Brain” and is well worth a read by shearer or non-shearer. I am sure that this book is available through any good book store, or better through Ken himself {kenprato@bigpond.com} and you could then be assured of an autographed copy, (not by the sheep but perhaps by special request).

The beauty of these festivals is that you are guaranteed to meet up with so many friends and acquaintances from the past and the not so long ago past.

Just to mention some who were at Cobargo, Roger Montgomery, Warren Fahey, Ian and Jenny McDougall (more on them later), Yvonne O’Grady, Kath, Monty, Dennis McKay and all of that wonderful band No Such Thing from Kiama, and of course there were many, many more, but due to the distance of time between then and now their names slip through my mind. But there is one I must mention, Charlie Steel. Many years ago, back in the early 1960’s when I first set foot on this magical, wonderful land, and when I had left the sheep and cattle station that I was a Jackeroo on, Emu Springs, I drifted down to Melbourne in search of music, and it was there that I met up with Peter Laycock and heard him sing Moreton Bay. I remember to this day how the beauty of this song stopped me in my tracks, and I still have that same sense of awe when I sing it now as I did when I first heard Peter sing the song. So during one of the concerts that I did during the festival I sang Moreton Bay, and introduced it as having first heard it sung by Peter Laycock. At the end of the concert up steps this young man and introduced himself as being Charlie Steel, the son of none other than Peter Laycock. Life is full of these coincidences.  For instance, what if I had chosen to sing some other song? Charlie told me that sadly Peter had died a few years ago and that his mother Helen had died fairly recently. Indeed Helen had died on the same day as her close friend Ann Waters, wife of the late great Edgar Waters. Dying on the same day as your close friend must be a fairly unusual happening but who knows.

Charlie gave me a CD that he had made of his songs that is on its way having been posted along with other accumulated bits and pieces accrued during the tour. I look forward to listening to this and to the other CDs when they eventually arrive. Also there is another CD which is made up of early recordings of Peter Laycock’s singing.

My thanks go to Coral, Graham and all the other hard working people who made the Cobargo Festival such a success and such a joy to be at and a great way to start the tour.

Each day I was encouraged by the progress I was making in the locking and unlocking of the phone and the previous 15 minute 34 second struggle was now down to 13 minutes 28 seconds, so that meant that, given enough time, I could phone Danni and I would be able to gauge this as being not too an unsocial hour for her, such as the middle of the night. But then she could be painting. Anyway I was prepared to take the risk, and try to describe the beauty of standing on the shore of the Tasman Sea and seeing the glorious Southern Cross beaming down on me from a star studded sky. Very difficult to convey the glory and splendour of this southern sky, but Danni has been here and can visualise this scene. One other thing that I have learnt with the phone is that you do not have to shout as loud as you can, even knowing that the person you are talking to is many thousands of miles away, so that they can hear you over this vast distance – the wonders of communication. I do find that it helps to pace remorselessly up and down; maybe this aids the hapless person on the other end to hear better.

Monday had me still not even a week in Australia and saw my bidding a farewell to mine host and hostess Pam and Peter. My destination today was northwards up to Kiama and the home of Yvonne and her mandolin-swinging daughter Kath. En route I made a quick detour from Cobargo out to the coast, and the town of Bermagui for a quick scenic sensation which was aptly satisfied, then along the road stopping at various points on the way. Tonight being a Monday there is an Australian tunes session held at Yvonne’s and Kath’s house in Kiama, and this was something that I would not miss for all the teas in Tetatistiality. Their house is the place to be on a Monday, whichever day of the week it is. The Monday night is dedicated to their band No Such Thing and other musicians (http://www.myspace.com/nosuchthingoz) gathering together solely to play old Australian tunes, and believe me I can’t emphasise enough what a joy it is to be there for this. The atmosphere and sheer musical joy is beyond explanation. A couple of years ago, No Such Thing recorded a CD of some of the tunes that they like to play, entitled Going To The Barn Dance, and further produced a book called Tunes We Like To Play. I will say now,in all honesty, that Yvonne sent me a copy of the CD and this is never off my CD player. It has even eclipsed Blancmange Making For The Serious and that is saying something. But I do digress. It is such a good CD with such wonderful tunes played from the heart by this group of warm musicians. I have the repeat button glued to track 3. Both of these and other musical gems would be available through the No Such Thing website, if they have one. Otherwise contact me and I will make contact with Yvonne who will then co —    weeeeeeeee you.  I did so appreciate the hospitality of Yvonne, Kath and Monty. Monty is an exquisite fiddle player and has written some terrific tunes, one being  Queensland’s My Home and another called  Sir Terence Lewis’s Triumphal March to the Gates of Boggo Road Jail, both so well worth digging out.

My stay was for a few days till Thursday turned up, and I was due to be at The Blackheath Folk Club in the Blue Mountains, no hardship in going there as it would mean a drive through the countryside and experiencing the joy of being on the road again. This was to be in The Ivanhoe Hotel situated on The Great Western Highway and not far from Govett’s Leap. I arrived for the scheduled sound check at 17.00hrs, then soundly checked myself into the hotel, where I was to stay the night in comfortable quarters. It was a great night, and what I enjoy so much about folk clubs is that you have the opportunity to hear so many great singers and performers that you would not get the chance to catch anywhere else, and also to meet so many characters that come in the guise of the audience. There is still so much to learn and hear, and folk clubs are the perfect forum for this.

One of the people that I met and would have liked to have spent more time with was Kevin Campbell, who introduced himself as firstly a “Crocodile Orthodontist”, secondly a “Snake Castrator”, a “Goanna Farrier”, a “Bush Bull Artist”, and lastly a “Silicon Implanter For Flat Humped Camels” – one of the true blue Australian characters.

My good friend Tom Lovett was at the club, Tom has a radio show in Katoomba, up there in The Blue Mountains, and plays a lot of Australian music, which is no bad thing. I did an interview with Tom the last time I was over, two years ago, when we were both at The National Festival over Easter in Canberra. Sadly there was no time to spend with Tom as we were both pressed. Another friend Paul Cosgrove  {www.photoswordspeople.com} was there with his camera, and evidence of this can be seen here with these photos that he took while I was up there at the Blackheath Folk Club. My thanks go to Christine Davies who runs such a good club, and also to Christine Wheeler for getting us all together.

Also in the audience that night was a lady who came up and introduced herself as Stephanie, and to get my own back I introduced myself as Martyn, I was just not quick enough to think of any other name. Stephanie said that she had last seen me when she had booked me for her local folk club back in Bath, England, some thirty five years ago when she was living there. I can remember the club and as having a resident group called Chanticleer and I could even tell you what songs I sang on that night, as I have kept a diary since 1969 noting down which songs I ever sang, wherever I was singing that particular night. Anyway, Stephanie asked me what I was up to the next day and offered to drive me round to see some of the spectacular sights up and around these Blue Mountains, and as I did not have to be down to Sydney till the lateish afternoon, it was an invitation too good to miss.  So at 10.00 hrs the next morning I was up and ready for this sightseeing feast, and it was a most memorable feast. At this point you may wonder why there are not many photos of some of the places and people that I have been describing, but I was without a camera, and my skills as a photographer are slightly left wanting to say the least. There was a camera on the phone, but that is a different story which we won’t go into. I am sure that you would not like to see thirty four different pictures of  my knee, that is once I had managed to unlock it – the camera, not my knee. I have left all this to Iris. As you will note, when she arrived later on, she photographed every tree in Australia and all from different angles, not that I have any problem with that, as each and every tree in Australia has a majesty and aura about it. Also most of the grains of sand on the beaches, give or take a clump or two, but I don’t think that it really matters that she did not photographically record each and every grain. But I did take note of the areas that she ignored, and on a future tour I will make sure that these grains are snapped, either from above or below – I don’t think that it really matters unless you are yourself a connoisseur of sand. Back to Stephanie and a fond farewell as I headed off  down to Sydney and to meet up with Kate Delaney, Denis Tracey and his wife Amanda. Denis and Kate were having a practice along with their friend Molly, who had flown up from Canberra way. It was an added bonus to the day to be able to sit and listen to their music and songs.

I had a couple more days stay in Sydney which included a booking at the Loaded Dog folk club in Annandale run by Sandra Nixon. This is yet another well run club with great floor singers and atmosphere to suit. This night we were all treated to the wonderful singing of Margaret Walters, who was the support act, and what a support. Stephanie from The Blue Mountains turned up, as she was down in the Sydney area visiting her father in hospital, and if you are reading this, Stephanie, I apologise for not getting back in touch with you when Iris and I were back up in Sydney, but I inadvertently lost your mobile phone number. I suppose that I should have put it in my phone but that would have meant unlocking it. Mind you the time given for this is now down to 12 minutes 27 seconds.

Sunday saw me saying a fond farewell to the ever hospitable Kate, and me heading down to be at the Illawarra folk club concert to be held on this Sunday during the afternoon. As you could imagine the setting for this was magnificent, in the countryside with the sun shining on the gum trees and the audience complementing the general surroundings. One song that had to be sung during the concert was Reedy River, words by Henry Lawson in 1896, and tune by Chris Kempster 1949, as this mentions it being a “Sunday Afternoon” and includes Mary Campbell within the story. Once again some wonderful music to start the concert rolling, and this was supplied by none other than a full complement of No Such Thing playing these magical Australian tunes. Yvonne, Kath and Monty joined me on stage for three songs to finish the concert off. Firstly Green and Gold written by Stan Graham, (www.stan.fitchcraft.net) about the great already mentioned Australian poet and writer of stories, Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922). This song is featured on Stan’s latest CD.

Next on the list of songs was The Billy of Tea, a true Australian classic, and Another Fall of Rain. Yvonne on accordion, Kath on mandolin and Monty on the fiddle as usual. After the concert it was back down to Kiama to stay the night, before I was off on the road again the next day. It was now Monday and I was heading off and unfortunately I would be missing the Monday night session in Kiama, but I would be able to catch it in a couple of weeks time when I was back up there. An early start due to the long road stretching out in front of me ending up in Benalla, about two hours north of Melbourne. The first leg of this was cross country once again, and through spellbinding views, and then joining up with the Hume Highway, which is the major road link between Melbourne and Sydney. A fair few kilometres to drive but this is never a problem for me in Australia. The sun shone bright and warm as the road threw up the familiar names of towns that are now mainly by-passed: Goulbourne, Yass, Gundagai, Holbrook, with its inland submarine, Albury, where I crossed the great Murray River, Wodonga, Wangaratta and finally at Benalla. There were a few places that lured me into have a look, a cup of tea and a walk about so all in all it had been a long day by the time I reached my destination. Sandy had very kindly arranged for me to stay the night with some friends of hers, and indeed Roger, Joda, Andrew and Alana showed a stranger some more of the true blue Australian hospitality, so that an early start in the morning, which I needed, proved to be a mite difficult. I had to get the rental car back to the hire car company by 9.00hrs, so it was necessary  to be up and away no later than 6.30hrs, in order to give me time to get lost and negotiate the early morning Melbourne traffic and trams, and then to drive right into the heart of the city – all this after having been driving happily through sparsely populated roads and towns. So, gripping the wheel with both hands, away I went, and I am thankful to say that the objective was achieved.

The plan was to meet up with Sandy in Melbourne at this point, and as for once time was on our side, we then headed down to Geelong, where Sandy lives, and where I would be spending a few days. One could not ask for a better agent than Sandy. (Brian Epstein wasn’t available) She is extremely hard working, thoughtful, gracious and a very caring person, a joy to be with, and a provider of further true blue hospitality. We arrived at her house where I sorted myself out, had a good long walk, and turned round once or twice, I rang, with my increasing dexterity on the mobile,( now down to 10mins 48 seconds) Danni as our grandson Tom turns ten today and I wanted to wish him happy birthday. Then we headed off back up to Melbourne and on to the Ringwood Folk Club which is the home and heart of The Victorian Folk Music club. I was looking forward to playing there, as Iris and I had been there a few years ago, and the memory of that night is still with me. I know that I will be saying this about each and every place that I played in, but I do so enjoy the opportunity of hearing other performers, and this night was no exception. A great venue to play in and another well run club with a definite bias towards Australian songs and music. It was at the VFMC that I first met with Joy Durst, from whom I learnt so many of the songs that I sing even today. After the performance at the club, I was presented with the Joy Durst Memorial Australian Song Collection book signed by Steve Bullock on behalf of the VFMC, a treasured possession. I also connected with some old friends, whom I had not seen for many years, in the shape and form of Kerry Cousins, who I had known in my early days in Melbourne, and Graham McLean. Graham used to come and play double bass with me at the Reata, and I remember well how he used to bring his dachshund dog Penny with him, and Penny would lie down and sleep under the bass while Graham played away. Sandy drove us back down to sunny Geelong, and there I had the following day off before the next stage of the tour.

Iris Bishop was to join me with her accordion and various concertinas, and would be arriving at Melbourne airport on Friday March 10th, late evening. I was looking forward to having her musical expertise with me. Just an update as to progress with the mobile phone, I could now manage the locking and unlocking but still had to use both hands. But I was glad of the valuable link back to Danni, and the opportunity to catch up with all that was going on with Jess, Johnny and the family, along with Lucy and her ever increasing fitness business, and as always it is good to speak to Danni and share some of my experiences in Australia.

On the Friday evening before Iris arrived, I was to do the opening spot at a house concert held at Sandy’s. She was ably assisted by her son Daniel. The evening was to be shared with a very fine Scottish singer, domiciled on the east coast of Queensland, by the name of Gibb Todd. (www.gibbtodd.com) Gibb was en route to play at the grand Port Fairy Festival and this would have been  a great opportunity to catch up with him, but sadly I would miss his performance as I had to meet Iris at 11 o’clock that evening. It was good to have had a fleeting couple of hours with Gibb anyway. And then after I had done my bracket I was away up to the airport. No problems in meeting up with Iris, and once we had gathered all her bits and pieces, we drove off into the darkness and up to Mia Mia, where we were to play at the festival the next day, held there by Heather and Andrew Pattison.(www.wineandmusic.net)  This festival would be staged over the weekend in a particularly beautiful part of Victoria. Iris had managed the long flight well enough, and had had just a few hours stop off in Hong Kong, but we will be there for longer on our way back to England. But more on that later.

We had good directions to where we were staying, and this was in the lap of luxury at the Rowanston Boutique Winery (www.rowanston.com) owned by John and Marilyn Frederiksen, and this was just four or five kilometres from the Burke and Wills winery where the festival was. Mind you I think that Iris would have been happy with just a wood pile to sleep on, she could have then said that she had slept like a log.

In the morning it dawned on us the extent of the luxury we were to be subjected to over the next couple of days. When we had arrived in the early hours of the morning, there were lights on to welcome, and guide us in and parked in the entrance to the house was a Rolls Royce alongside a tractor with mower attached. Which one would be used for quick trips out to get essentials? John and Marilyn were the most hospitable of people with every thought being thought about. I did have a bit of a battle in getting a signal for the mobile and once it was unlocked …I managed to get a signal by standing with one leg on a ten foot high water tank, and the other on the stable five foot away, while clinging on to the dangling guttering. But it was worth the effort.

John and Marilyn have acres and acres of vines stretching as far as the crow can fly, and for so long as the track stretches. The festival we were playing at was only a short track stretch away, in Australian terms, and as we arrived we were greeted by swarms of locusts, millions upon billions of them, but as there is nothing you can do about them, everyone just got on with enjoying the music, friendship, food and wine. Andrew and Heather, who run this, are well experienced in catering and running festivals, being the important providers of The Troubadour Tent at The National Festival in Canberra held over Easter, but more on that later. They bought this property, Burke and Wills, which was named after the explorers who set off along the track adjacent to the property. Burke and Wills departed from Melbourne to go through the interior of Australia and up to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860 – 1861, and perished during the journey. The property was in need of some severe renovation and we felt that they should change the name from Burke and Wills to Work and Bills. But they have succeeded in making a most hospitable and welcoming of venues. Their vines also stretch far off into the countryside, and it is one of the most magical of experiences to watch the sun going down through the rows upon rows of vines, and then the moon rising up through the magnificent gum trees. Truly inspirational for musicians and artists, such as Heather, alike.

Again there were a host of old tried and tested friends to meet up with and greet, Peter Coombes being one, and he was from the days of the Reata as well. Some terrific music that was matched by the terrific audiences, who seemed to have melted into the atmospheric mood of the scenery. Even the locusts were of no problem, just minimal interest in their flight and the large swarms. Part of the team of artists gathered for this unique festival comprised two musicians on tour from Sweden. They played fiddle and guitar and had the whole place captivated each time they performed, and even the locusts were spellbound by some of these musicians.

The festival came to a close on the Monday evening and more fond farewells to old long-standing friends and new friends were made during the course of the weekend. But we would be back in a couple of weeks to Mia Mia for a concert with our good friends Eric Bogle and John Munro. Iris and I had been sharing the accommodation at Rowanston with Sheena Connelly who has been part of Heather’s and Andrew’s team at The Troubadour Wine bar venues at various festivals. We left in convoy with Sheena, as we went to meet a mutual artist friend Donna, who lives in the nearby (in Australian standards of distance) Woodend. We were unable to leave Rowanston without having a wine tasting session with John and Marilyn. I abstained, being the designated driver, clever of Iris to have suggested that I drive this next leg to Ballarat. Sheena was in control of her appetite as well as she was driving, thereby leaving Iris the one to taste fully for both of us.

While driving cross country to Donna’s there was a great sight of a mob of about thirty or so kangaroos in full flight, bounding across a paddock bound for wherever. The friend we were heading for, Donna, has to go into hospital at the beginning of April for an operation on her arm. Donna is an artist of fine repute, and she and Dan have spent many hours in days gone by talking art and painting, and as Donna has had this problem with her arm thereby restricting her painting, it is a crucial time for her. Time is never on your side at times like this, and it was only a brief stop over with Donna, not really long enough to absorb the extent of the painting that Donna has achieved even with the handicap of her injured arm. As we left she presented me with one of her paintings of a magpie for Danni, which is winging its way back to Danni via sea mail. It was time to be off and on the road again, so fond farewells to both Donna and Sheena. We shall see Sheena up at the National in Canberra as part of The Troubadour Tent Team.

Our destination was to Geelong where we were to stay put for a few days before pushing off again on Thursday 17thMarch, and we had made plans to meet up with our good friend and colleague Ken Prato, who lives and breathes in sunny Ballarat. We would be passing through Daylesford where my good friend Danny Spooner, or as I know him, Captain Spoon, lives, but he would not be in residence as we passed through, so it would have to be another time. As we drove along the road we spotted a sign which identified and pointed to The Lost Children’s Monument. So the inevitable detour took place, and very moving it was too. We just had to go and see this, as there is  a song we do, Babes in The Wood, which is all about lost children, and is the Australian version of the song by The Copper Family from Rottingdean in Sussex, Lost in a Wood. This is sung by Shirley Collins on the Song Links double CD that we did a few years ago, portraying English traditional songs sung by English singers and the Australian versions of the same songs sung by Australian singers. The monument had been erected by local subscription and maintained by Yvonne L Fix of Archer productions in Daylesford, and she can be contacted through (onesunrise@optusnet.com.au) However this monument is not to do with the song that I sing but is to do with the tragic loss of three young boys who wandered away from their homes in Daylesford in 1867, and, despite massive and lengthy searches, were never found alive. As we stayed and soaked in the true tragedy of this event we walked round to the house where Yvonne L Fix lived and had an interesting talk with her, a lady who is devoted to keeping the memory of these unfortunates alive. Something that the boys parents would never have recovered from. The boys set off on their adventure walk on Sunday morning of June 30 1867. They were William Graham, aged 6½ ,his brother Thomas, 4 years three months, and Alfred Burman, 5 years. When they had not returned by lunchtime, their father set off in search, and by the evening the police were notified, and the search continued into the night. At dawn of Monday July 1st  the search continued in earnest, and by the Wednesday there were 700 people out looking for these lost souls. Eventually on Friday 13th September a dog returned with a small boot and in it was a child’s foot.  Next day found the remains of the youngest boys in the hollow of a tree and the older boy nearby. We found the whole experience most moving and we were pleased to have been able to witness this monument and the care that people still retain for this. Although there was no connection with the song that we do, there are many other instances of young children being Lost in The Bush.

Away from there and onwards to meet up with Ken. I have mentioned Ken before and he is a most interesting and warm man, having some great stories about his experiences shearing and being “on the track”. We met up with Ken in Ballarat and he acted as our guide to show us some interesting sights  . But once again that four letter word, time, was against us and we had to head off to Geelong and a day of R & R, before the push off up to Kiama and track 3, and the delights of No Such Thing.

By now the date had moved on to Wednesday March 16th. I had been thinking of buying one of those cameras that had a delayed photo shot that once mounted on the dashboard of the car can be programmed to take a photo from the same spot every fifteen seconds, thereby in a way making a moving film of a journey. Iris’s son, Robert, the well known film animator (www.rob-ward.com)  had used one of these when he and his lady,Tina, had driven across America. So I thought that we could do the same for when we drove in Australia. Actually locating one was a major problem, and so we had decided that today we would go in search of said object through the myriad of shops in Geelong . Having Iris and her technical ability alongside was a major boost to this expedition; she would be able to lock it and unlock it in the blink of an eye. Off we went, and, hey-ho, we found a camera shop that had one of these which would be suitable. A very helpful young salesman explained the workings etc and said this was the one for me. The only fly in the ointment was the price, so, as lunchtime was looming, I said to this helpful salesman that I would go away and think about it over a coffee or two. Off we went and I soon made up my doubting mind to go for it and after refreshments went back to the shop. Sadly this helpful young man had gone off himself for some refreshment and had been replaced by a complete opposite in attitude and general approach. On our inquiring as to the camera his first question was as to how far I could stretch my budget, and while I pondered the absurdity of this, he yawned dramatically and thereby lost my interest and the deal, and we left the shop with no camera and feeling somewhat bewildered as to the manner of some salespersons, but richer for the experience.

Before I had left on this tour I had been having an e-mail session with a lady from around the Geelong area, Marlene Agnew, and she had been interested in a song that I do ,Year Of The Drum, written by Wendy Joseph back in the late 1970’s. I had recorded it initially in about 1982 , on Joe Stead’s record label, Greenwich Village, and the LP was called A Rose From The Bush. The story that I know about this song, and that I could relate to Marlene, was that I had first heard the song in Perth WA shortly after it had been written, and it was sung to me by a Canadian called Rick Avery. I must admit to this bit being a bit hazy, and I may well have the name wrong, and if his name was Bertrold Higgingstone I do apologise. I believe that Wendy Joseph is originally from New Zealand, and had been living in South Australia for a few years and was involved with folk music in Adelaide. Every two years there was a folk festival held in South Australia, and each time it was held in a different town. Within the festival there was a song writing competition and each song written had to be about the town that the festival was held in during that particular year. This particular year the festival was held in the town of Mannum on the river Murray.

Wendy Joseph did some detailed research on Mannum and discovered that, on a percentage or per capita basis, there were more men lost from there during the First and the Second World Wars than from any other town in Australia. This was indeed the content of the song and needless to say this song ,Year Of The Drum, won hands down. We are lucky that the festival was held in Mannum and thereby produced this song that will be sung by generations to come, constituting such a wonderful legacy. We are indebted to Wendy Joseph. So going back to my liaisons with Marlene Agnew, I had arranged to meet up with her, at Sandy’s house, this Wednesday afternoon. I had already met her son Scott about ten years prior to this at the Port Fairy Festival, and he had come along to the house concert with Gibb Todd just under a week ago. Marlene, her husband John and their son Scott duly arrived, and we spent some very precious and interesting time talking about things in general, and in particular the passing of the old ways of the Bush. John is a stock man and Scott still works with heavy horses. I sang him that great song written by Eric Payne about these horses, Copper and May, and also the one written by Derek Moule up in Adelaide called Across The Miles. Marlene, John and I are of the same generation and I know that many of you reading this will be saying: “Oh that’s a generation talking”, but I believe that the old ways have a lot to say for themselves as they have been tried and tested over countless years, and I am one of those people who query why we have to have change. It was good to have had the time to meet and chat and we parted with the compliment of Marlene asking me to address her as Marlee in the future. It had been a good day and I was now ready for the long journey ahead of us tomorrow.

Away we headed after farewelling Sandy, comfortably ensconced in the new hire car. In need of a morning cup of coffee we pulled up at a service station and ordered two coffees one black and one white. As the lady went off to fulfil this order she called over her shoulder “Would you like any milk in the black coffee ?” “Only if you’ve got black milk” I said.

While Iris and I were up at Heather’s and Andrew’s festival in Mia Mia, we were given a letter to both of us from Jon Beavis. I have known Jon for quite a few years now and I have always respected his song writing and I do sing a couple of his songs, The New Road and The Morning Dove. In the letter was a request that we could meet up in Melbourne. Today we have a drive up to Eden on the east coast of New South Wales, and as we would be going through the southern suburbs of Melbourne so we  arranged a meeting for noon at St Kilda Pier, and this we duly made.

Once again time was not on our side, and our meeting with Jon was to be all too brief but a total delight to catch up with him he is such a generous, interesting,and talented  person; there are not enough seconds in a minute now, nor minutes in an hour, hours in a day, or days in a year, or even years in a lifetime.

A few years ago on a previous tour, Martin Pearson, Vin Garbutt, Danni, Iris, and I had all gone to visit Jon who was then living in Bendigo, Victoria.

We all spent a pleasant afternoon talking, and drinking numerous cups of tea. As we were leaving,Jon asked us to wait for a short time, as he had something that he wanted to give to myself and Vin. We waited and Jon reappeared and presented us each with a full-sized harpoon. We had to leave these behind as we were of course unable to carry them without arousing suspicion, especially in New South Wales.

Even Vin was momentarily taken aback and could not find the right words to express himself. I myself am still a bit bewildered by this extraordinary gift, as I say an amazingly generous man. We parted company, Jon back up to Prahran, and us bound for Eden and along the Princess Highway.

3 o’clock in the afternoon found us in pressing need of food, and we were now in the country town of Traralgon, and we pulled up at the first hotel for a feed of whatever food was available.

This day was St Patrick’s Day, and in the hotel bar everyone was adorned in special green hats of all shapes and sizes. The beer was green and flowing freely. Hunger had by now taken over and we were unconcerned with the green beer and hats. I did wonder if on St George’s Day they would provide beer that was red white and blue. I will now say that the meal we ordered was just brilliant. I say this not just because of how hungry we were. For everything in the way of presentation to taste, I would have given it full marks and Iris would have given it more. The same went for the locals and the staff who were merrily celebrating this day, and good luck to them all. I can’t remember the name of the hotel but it is the first one on the left as you enter the town of Traralgon after the 3 people waiting at the bus stop. We then pushed onwards ever onwards to Eden quite a few kilometres on. As we drove through a particularly heavily wooded area as we neared to Eden, with Iris behind the wheel, dusk was descending, she managed to avoid a rather large and stubborn kangaroo apparently preparing himself or herself for the night in the comfort of the middle of the road. It would have been a rude awaking for the ‘roo and for us as well. If this kangaroo had been taking notes on how people were driving Iris would certainly have scored highly. I am sure that Skippy was impressed, but not on the road.  We arrived at our destination, and the motel that Sandy had booked for us, and fell into our respective rooms and a good nights sleep. It had been another of these spectacular days of driving through this most wondrous of lands. I phoned Danni and heard the sad news that her uncle had died in his sleep. He is survived by his wife Sylvia, and last Christmas they celebrated 71 years of marriage. The next day we were off early as there are a few more k’s  to drive, and our goal is Kiama where we will stay for a few days with Yvonne, Kath and Monty, and catch another nights music session (track 7) with No Such Thing.

Before we headed off on the road I went for my daily walk down to the ocean where I phoned Danni just to be able to say I was standing on the sand looking out over the ocean. I am getting quite practised at the locking and unlocking of the phone each time knocking several minutes of this procedure. Kate will certainly be impressed when I show her my dexterity when we are back with her in Sydney. We arrived in Kiama to the usual No Such Thing smiling faces, turned round once, then headed back the way we had come to Nowra, where tonight’s concert venue was the Golf Club. We enjoyed being there, and then went back for a couple of days in Kiama. Monday saw an absolute deluge of rain, some of the heaviest and most continuous rain that I have ever seen. Iris and I headed off to a local large shopping centre, and it was still raining as we arrived. We did whatever it was we had to do, then headed back to Kiama. I am sure  if we had stayed any  longer we might well have not made it back. Cars and lorries were being left abandoned. This flooding affected the turnout of musicians for the Monday evening session, but for us it was still a magically and memorable evening. Tuesday saw us back on the road and off to Sydney, where once again we are staying with the wonderful Kate Delaney. At Easter time she and Denis Tracy are playing at the National Festival in Canberra, and I thought that it would be a good opportunity to seize this chance and do some songs together, and also for us all to perform at the Humph Hall booking we have on Friday. We had arranged to meet up with Denis at Kate’s in the afternoon and have a run-through and so we did, a great way of spending an afternoon; I can highly recommend this. We had a touristy sort of day on Wednesday, and bought one of these all-encompassing OAP travel tickets, for me at least, and  then away to Sydney by bus, and then on the ferry across to Manley. One of my biggest regrets was on this particular ferry crossing. Seated on the ferry was the most picturesque of couples. I would imagine that they were both well into their eighties and dressed not to the nines but to the tens. Their dress was that of the highly fashionable 1930’s – Iris would be able to describe them in finer detail – and they looked as if they were heading to Manley, maybe to renew their vows or on some nostalgic trip. They were a picture, but neither Iris nor I had the courage to intrude in their bubble and ask if we could take their photo. But I have the memory of them firmly planted in my mind.

We had a quick stroll round Manley then back to Circular Quay, enjoying the splendid sights of Sydney from the harbour. Iris and I parted company there, as she wanted to have a look around, while I was going to walk back to Kate’s house in Balmain. The main reason for this was for me to find my way to the Royal George Hotel in Sussex Street. The Royal George was where many of us would gather in the early 1960’s and just sing and swap songs and it was there that I met Brian Mooney, Don Lee, Don Ayrton and many, many more. Like so many things The Royal George had changed, but I was glad to have found it again after all these years and much water under the bridge, which is of course close by.

Our next booking was on the Friday at Humph Hall run by Wayne and Gial Richmond. Wayne and Gial had just got married a week before, so all the best to them – such good people and a joy to be with. The venue is quite remarkable, being a 1970’s church that they have made into an excellent venue for acoustic music concerts (www.humphhall.org). We really enjoyed playing there, and had the added bonus of Kate and Denis to join us for the last bracket. Another great moment was to meet up with Shannon Appleyard-Dearing our Australian friend/daughter and her parents Les and Jenny Dearing, who had come down especially for this concert from Kurrajong in the Blue Mountains. A great night and more fond memories.

The next day we bade another fond farewell to Kate, as we are flying from Sydney down to Avalon Airport near to Geelong, where Sandy will meet us, staying the night in Geelong, then off up to Andrew and Heather Pattison’s winery at Burke and Wills, Mia Mia. Iris and I are doing a concert with Eric Bogle and John Munro there. Then off on the next leg of this tour up to Adelaide and around, for some more concerts with Eric and John.

We are doing the drive up to Adelaide in one day with Eric and John driving, leaving myself and Iris to once again enjoy the countryside. There were various stops along the way, one being in Avoca where Danni and I had stayed last time we were over. Just beyond Avoca, I phoned my old good friend from my days at the Reata in the 1960’s, Brian Brophy. He and his wife Caroline live just outside of Elstead, in a place called Nowhere Creek which is somewhere near nowhere. Sadly I only got their answer-phone, and we will not have another chance to meet up on this tour, so upwards and onwards to Adelaide.

Another one of our stops, mainly by request, was to pull into the hotel at Tintinara. Last time we came through here Danni and I stayed in the hotel for the night and then we went out to the sheep and cattle station Emu Springs, where I spent sometime working as a Jackeroo when I first came out to Australia all those years ago. This time we just stopped for a beer. The owners from the last visit had moved on, so I just left a short note for Paul and Megan, the current owners of Emu Springs, as they had been very hospitable to us when Danni and I visited. We arrived in Adelaide and dropped John off at his house, and for a change we had a fond hello with Alana. As we did when we arrived at Eric and Carmel’s  wonderful house in Happy Valley, such a stunning place, equalled only by the owners. It was so good to see Carmel again, and she had prepared a great meal for us all.

We have a couple of days to enjoy and soak in everything before we start on a short burst of concerts with Eric and John and bass player extraordinaire Pete Titchner. We did some tourist drives, and just got washed away in the beauty of each and every place we were taken to. In the middle of these days Danni and I will have celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary, and it was good to get to speak to Danni on the mobile, down to 9 mins 59 seconds now to unlock and lock the phone. The three concerts went well. What more can you say being with Eric, John and Pete. The first one was in The Old Courthouse in Auburn – great acoustics, you could hear every sentence. The next was in Wilunga at the Acoustic Peacock, and the last one on Sunday afternoon was in the suburb of Kensington, Adelaide. There I met up with another old friend Scotty Balfour, who was down from Alice Springs. Before this we had had a great get-together over a sumptuous meal at Eric’s and Carmel’s with Brent and Lee Miller, along with Derek and Gael Moule. Good to see each of them and to be able to spend that four letter word with them: time. Brent played bass and toured with Eric, and Derek wrote that great song ‘Across the Miles’ which I recorded on ‘Oceans in the Sky’, on the Fellside record label.

Our next adventure with Eric and Carmel was a visit to what is laughingly referred to as ‘their shack on the Murray’. If this is a shack whatever would a mansion be. It is about a 2 hour run from their Happy Valley residence to the ‘shack’, and once again what a drive. We went through Mannum and I took a photo of the War Memorial there, and noticed there were two ‘Reads’ mentioned as being amongst the dead from the First World War. I found that interesting as the name Read is spelt 4 different ways: Reed, Reid, Read and Reade. As we drew nearer there were glimpses of the Murray River in all its true splendour and magnificence.

We arrived at the shack and were immediately swamped by its beauty and atmosphere. During the evening it was so spectacular just to stand and look at the Murray with the stars reflected on the water. Once again the reality of the Southern Cross hanging over us. I phoned Danni to verbally share this experience with her, and she could understand this having been there before. Next I phoned my sister Mandy back in the UK, and while I was standing there outside talking to her, a possum appeared on the balcony rail, so it became a 3-way conversation.

We were back to Adelaide the next day via the wonders of Shell Hill, which is an Aboriginal place made out of fossils of mussels, an extraordinary sight. Back to Adelaide, leaving behind the pelicans, numerous species of birds and my friendly possum, whom I have named Mandy. The next day we bid a fond farewell to Carmel, and to South Australia as we head back down to Melbourne, where we are all doing another concert at The Albert Park Royal Yacht Club for our good friend Cliff Ellery. The drive down involved a good stop over for one night in sunny Ballarat, so as to make the journey to Melbourne the next day an easy and short one. We met up with Sandy at the venue, and I was sorry not to have been able to have chatted to Ted Egan and Nerys Evans, who had to leave right at the end. Judy Moody and Malcolm Storey (who for so many years ran and made such a success of The Whitby Folk Week) turned up; they are heading back to England soon. I had seen them before at the Ringwood Folk Club, as they are over here in Australia on a few months visit. We have a great mutual friend, Mollie Grove. Danni and I always stay with Mollie when we are up for Whitby, and we treasure our friendship with her, she is a great lady. Also in the audience was Jon Beavis along with his intended wife-to-be Sally, and it was good to meet up with her and Jon. Sadly I could not fit either of his songs in at this concert but definitely another time. To see my good friend Mary Ball in the audience was a great pleasure. It was Mary who gave me the book of collected Australian verse and within this was the poem ‘Irish Lords’ by Charles Souter, to which I wrote a tune. It was so good to see and catch up with Mary, likewise with Mary Traynor, Bronwyn Bain and Sheena as well. Amongst the many familiar faces in the audience was Christine Lazar, and now let me introduce you to this lady. Christine is the daughter of Tom and Veronica Lazar, who owned and ran the Reata out in Malvern, Melbourne, in the early 1960’s, and the Reata was where I first sang as a full-time singer. It was a coffee bar and a great meeting place for all sorts and types of people. Sadly Tom is no longer with us, and I was glad that I had made contact with him a few years ago. Danni was with me on this particular tour and I was playing in Toowomba in Southern Queensland. It turned out that Tom was living about 150 k’s away, as the crow flies or the kangaroo hops, so we made contact and drove the distance, had a cup of tea with Tom, then went back to Toowomba in time for the booking. I am glad we did this as I had doubts whether we would ever have the chance to see him again, and sadly these proved justified.

Veronica has been married to Christopher Hazzard for many a year now and they live happily in Richmond, Melbourne. Another important person from this time was Gary Kay. Gary was one of the prime antiques dealers in Melbourne, but has now retired and sold his business. He used to travel to France to buy his decorative antiques, and ship them back to Australia. In fact a few years ago now Gary came and stayed with Danni and me, when we were living at La Jeusseliniere in the Mayenne district of France and we had some memorable days with him. Despite this, he is still a good friend.

Anyway back to Christine. It was good to meet up with her at the concert and such a surprise. The next day in Richmond I found out that Gary was in hospital, so after meeting and chatting to Veronica and Christopher, I left Iris to wander round and enjoy the sights and sounds of Richmond, and I went over, with Christine, for a quick visit to see and be with Gary.

Back Iris and I went down to Geelong. A couple of days later we headed back up to Melbourne, where I left her intent on visiting as many Art Galleries as she could in one day.

I was off to do an interview on the ABC there; this was to be on a direct link to the ABC in Dubbo, NSW, where we were doing a concert in a few days time, and I do sincerely apologise for not remembering the name of the man who interviewed me.

As we were now in the early stages of April, and the important Anzac Day was looming, I decided that it would be appropriate to perform the Cicely Fox Smith poem that I had written the tune for, Farewell to Anzac. Anzac Day is the Australian equivalent of our Remembrance Sunday, which is always held on the nearest Sunday to November 11th, whereas Anzac Day is always held on April 25th regardless as to which day of the week it falls on. Both of these days are so important, and have such meaning and emotion, and I find them very moving.

My father was killed during the Second World War during the aftermath of the Normandy landings, and I sadly have no memory of him. Our mother could never really talk much about him, and we were reluctant to ask too much, as she would always break down, and so we knew little about him and the circumstance of his untimely death. Not many people realise that when the men were killed in action, it was the French that came along after the battle and buried the bodies where they had fallen. After our mother had died and we were going through papers, we found a letter which she had kept, which was actually from the French man who had buried our father, and included in this was his address.

My brother-in-law, Ian, on behalf of my sister and myself, had now done some research via the War Graves commission, and managed to locate  my   father’s grave, at St Charles de Percy, near to Vire, in Normandy. So armed with this information, Danni and I, along with her father,Bill, went on a visit to find the grave, and also to see if we could locate the Frenchman. This we did, and found the house, but sadly he was away in hospital in another region. However his sister was there, saw the letter, and remembered the circumstances, quite a moving experience for us all.

At this point I will just mention Stan Graham again. I was talking to Stan about the French burying the war dead where they fell, and true to his remarkable song writing skills, Stan has written the song Forgotten Fields, which is about my father. I myself could not sing this, but Stan has recorded it. This is also sung by Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher, who are good friends and such good performers of traditional and contemporary songs ( www.whaleyfletcher.co.uk ).

Now back in 2010, Danni and I had sold our property La Jeusseliniere on the Normandy/ Brittany borders, and in November we had been over there visiting friends. On our way back up to the port at Caen/Ouisterham we called in to the military cemetery at St Charles de Percy, which we always do whenever we are over. I can visualise the day as if it were today, a grey, still, quiet day with not a breath of wind, and not much sound around. This was Sunday November 14th and the nearest Sunday to Remembrance Day.  We pulled into the car park at around noon, and there was just one other car there, and this was showing Belgian number plates. We walked in through the gates to where there are eight hundred other young men buried, and noticed over in the distance two couples walking around looking at the gravestones. They noticed us and waved, to which we waved back, and then we went over to my father’s grave, where we spent some time and laid our poppies. The stillness and the greyness gave it a special  atmosphere. As we went back to the gates, the other two couples were there, and we struck up a conversation. They spoke perfect English. It was one of those occasions where the conversation flowed freely, and they were  the most friendly and amenable of people. They asked why were were there, to which we replied, and they in turn told us why they were there.  The conversation drifted round to various other topics, one of which was  what did I do. I said that I was involved in folk music, and sang a few songs and played some tunes. In response to this, they said: ‘Oh we play music as well; we play the bagpipes. We even have them in the car with us. Would you like us to get them out and play them over your father’s grave ?’. I am not at all ashamed to say that both Danni and I stood there by the grave with tears falling down. An experience which will, thankfully, stay with us forever. My sincere thanks go to Alec Jervis and the others, whose website is www.redhackle.be  We have remained in touch with them, and will hopefully meet up again.

On returning to England I phoned my sister Mandy, to let her know what had happened, and she pointed out how much it had been down to the workings of chance. If in the morning when I had got up, I had put my socks on upside down or something like that, which would have delayed us for a few minutes, this meeting at the cemetery would never have taken place.

Back at the tour, I drove down to visit my Australian daughter Charlotte, her husband Michael, and their 2 children, Tess and Jack. Tess was not at home but it was great to have been able to catch up with the rest of the family.

I was due to meet up with Iris at 6.00, at a pre-arranged spot along the St.Kilda road. I was early for the rendezvous, so I wandered along towards the bridge over the river Yarra, the only river in Australia to run upside down. Before I left Australia back in the 1960’s, I had a job in the parks and gardens department in Melbourne, doing general maintenance, and it was a great job in great surroundings. It became a sort of ‘hand-me-down job’ as I inherited it from Brian Mooney, who was leaving for Ireland, and when I was due to depart, Captain Spoon, Danny Spooner, held it for a while. At one point while I was there, the council decided that they would make a floral clock. So early one morning I and another gardener, I think that I can even remember his name as being Gary Smith, ploughed up the patch of land designated for the planting and the clockworks to be installed.  The patch of land and the floral clock are still there to this day and apparently keeping good time, though some of the plants are a little bit late. As I stood there I was inspired to phone Danni, as she knew what hand I had taken in the floral clock, and would be able to visualise me standing there as I spoke to her.

Over the last few weeks I have now managed to unlock and lock the phone in a mere 8 minutes. So taking this into account and calculating my meeting up with Iris at 6.00, I worked out there was time enough to say hello / goodbye as this would leave another 8 minutes the other side of this conversation to lock the phone. Anyway all went well, and Iris appeared at the given time. During the evening we had arranged to meet up with another old friend of mine, Peter Carroll. Peter is another survivor of those heady days at the Reata, and it was so good to meet up with him again.

After a good meal with Peter, it was back down to Geelong, and then back up to Melbourne the following day for the interview. Iris went off for more Gallery scanning, and Sandy, who had driven us up there, kindly took my guitar back down to Geelong, leaving me to wander about on a nostalgic lurch around some of Melbourne.

I took a train back to Geelong, and then walked to Sandy’s. Wednesday saw Iris and me off on a tourist trip along the coast to Lorne, where Brian Mooney used to sing in the summer months of the early 1960’s in a coffee bar, while I was singing at the ‘Greasy Spoon’, Portsea, across the Bay. ‘The Arab’, where Brian sang, is still there, while The Greasy Spoon succumbed to a fire at the end of a summer season. This was another great enterprise of Tom and Veronica Lazar.

Thursday Iris and I were off again on a fairly lengthy drive up to Wagga Wagga, where we would spend the night en route to Dubbo. So fond farewells yet again to Sandy, and off on the road. A good overnight stay in Wagga Wagga. One of the things I like so much about not only the countryside but the country people in Australia is that they have the time to be friendly and live life at a pace of about 50 years ago. With all our fine tuning and modern gadgetry we have lost the art of being able to be friendly. As I say, to me real progress would be to stop and evaluate everything that we have, and then proceed at a pace where we could fully understand and appreciate it all. There are too many “time-saving gadgets”, that actually lead you to spend more time rushing, in order to spend more time saving time, to save more time. To illustrate my point, we stopped in one of these small country towns to post some cards back to the grandchildren, and rather than merely quickly buying some stamps, I fell into deep conversation with the two young ladies behind the counter, and I now know what their preferred vegetables are, and also how often they have to pump the tyres up on their bicycles. I much prefer to have this knowledge than to know the complexity of glue manufacturing in the Swedish Fjords on my MPI Player, that is if I can get it unlocked. We had the same experience when we stopped in a small country hotel for lunch; we being the only people there, we were regally treated. A six or so hour drive up to sunny Dubbo, pulling up in Forbes, where I wanted to catch as much as I could about the Australian Bushranger, Ben Hall, shot on the 5th May 1865, at 5.00 in the morning, but we still had a distance to go to meet our given sound-check time, so hopefully we will search more on our way back through, when we will be in the company of Ian and Jenny MacDougall.

We had another great night in Dubbo, where once again we so enjoyed the chance to hear some of the local singers. As I say it was a great night in the RSL, hosted by Di Clifford. We stayed back at Di’s house with her and her son Marcus once again, great company. The next morning saw us returning the hire car and being picked up by Stuart and Anna, Stuart being Jenny McDougall’s brother.  They were to drive us up to Gulargambone, a fair distance north of Dubbo. Compelling scenery, as well as interesting chats with Stuart and Anna. We arrived at Gulargambone sort of middayish, and went directly to have a look at the venue for that night’s concert under the auspices of the 28 28 Club. Jenny and Ian were there already setting up and doing their sound check, and it was good to meet up with them again, I had last been with them at the Cobargo Festival, quite a few kilometres ago, at the end of February, where Ian and I had done an Australian Songs concert along with Warren Fahey and Roger Montgomery. Ian MacDougall is the man responsible for having written that perfect tune for Henry Lawson’s equally perfect poem about the outback in Australia, The Never Neverland. I recorded this song on the Sunlit Plains CD for Fellside Records, and how this happened I shall never know, but by mistake I was credited as having written the tune for it. Immediately I saw the error, I wrote to Ian explaining that somehow or other this had slipped through mine and Fellside’s fine editing net. Paul and Linda straight away printed and issued an erratum note that was stuck on the CD cases. Ian MacDougall himself was extremely gracious and understanding about this lamentable situation, and I am thankful that I am still firm friends with them. Mind you I would have given much to be able to claim that I had indeed written that tune.

Ian and Jenny have a property of about three thousand acres several kilometres north west of Gular, as the locals call it. We all drove out there after the sound-check, to this truly spectacular location, with the Warrumbungles rising majestically in the distance, yet another magical place to be. And to crown it all I was to be in the Jackeroos room at the homestead, while Iris was in the Jilleroos room. If you have reached this far with these reminiscences, you will know what I am going to say about the evening’s concert with Ian and his musicians: just great and another wonderful Australian country town to be in.

At the end of the concert we were all presented with special super sized jute bags with the name Gulargambone emblazoned proudly on the side. It is one of my prized possessions from this tour. Now I can put you out of your misery, and tell you that the name Gulargambone is Aboriginal for “A place of many Galahs”.  I believe that the name Warrumbungle is also Aboriginal for “A place of many mountains” – equally appropriate. We now had a few days to spend up here in northern New South Wales, and on the fringes of the Western Plains. Just the mention of The Western Plains stirs my imagination, and conjures up so many images of the Swag Men battling their way along the track, and indeed there are a few songs about this which always transport me visually to this place.

Ian’s and Jenny’s extreme hospitality had been extended to other people, and so their property “Oakwood” became a temporary home to eighteen others, some of whom were musicians, singers and poets. On the Sunday evening there was a session held where songs, tunes, recitations and all manner of musical feasts flowed. It was easy enough to imagine this sort of impromptu music going on in years past within the walls of this grand homestead, including Ian’s  Warrumbungles Suite played on the grand piano. Most people were away on the Monday morning, save for Don and Louise from Canberra, who were on their way up to Byron Bay where a large jazz and blues festival was taking part that weekend. So five of us set out for a day’s visit to the Warrumbungles, Ian, Iris, Don, Louise and I. Jenny stayed behind. This outing was, as predicted, just magnificent  and we had an in-depth up-close view of not only the Warrumbungles but also some of the surrounding countryside,and a look round the radio telescope at Parkes. We pulled in at the local pub for a refreshing glass or two of cold beer. Pinned proudly up on the local amenities notice board was this arresting sign…… We had parted company with Don and Louise, and we all met back at Oakwood, where Jenny had prepared a great meal for us, and even though we had feasted our eyes on such sights, we were all ready to eat. Before we sat down, I was standing outside looking at the large and full moon shining down on the Bush, and was immediately inspired to phone Danni. And you will be impressed with this: I took only 7 minutes 43 seconds to unlock the phone and to pass on the full glory of the moon looming up over this great Australian Outback. She would be experiencing this same moon in a few hours time.

The next day Don and Louise were off and away to the delights of Byron Bay, and I look forward to our next meeting sometime, somewhere. We just had a relaxing  day in front of us, and a chance to catch up with the necessities of life, such as clothes washing. Whenever I do a clothes wash here in Australia, I am reminded of a particular occasion when I was on one of my tours here, back in the last century, ie 1980s. It was a tour organised by Andrew Pattison, where I was with Captain Spoon and Ellen Hundley, and we went North, South, East and West in no particular order. One of our concert stops was in Alice Springs. Alice is very hot, but a bearable heat, being “desert dry”. We met up with an Irish man there – and forgive me but his name eludes me at this moment – but he had the true Irish way of saying things, and although some were a bit oblique, they made complete sense. When we asked him “How long have you been in Australia?”, his reply was: “I haven’t been back to Ireland since I left”. I could understand the logic in that. Next question was:“What is it that you like about Australia?” He thought for awhile, and said:“It’s a great place to dry your clothes in”. I could understand that as well, and just to check it out I washed a pair of jeans and hung them out to dry. Just seven minutes for them to be dry and wearable. This should be adopted as a slogan for tourists to visit Australia: A GREAT COUNTRY TO DRY YOUR CLOTHES IN. Anyway my most recent clothes washing took a tad longer here at Oakwood, but they were soon dry.

We are now up to Wednesday April 20th, and the day that Ian, Jenny, Iris and I closed up the welcoming and hospitable Oakwood, and head off back down to Canberra. A longish drive, being close on to seven hundred kilometres, but a rewarding drive as we travelled again through this magnificent countryside. We had planned to pull into Forbes and visit Ben Hall’s grave and the place where he was shot. It started to rain as we arrived in Forbes, but this did not deter us and we followed the single track the twenty or so kilometres out to where the shooting took place, at Goobang Creek all those years ago. This was indeed an isolated, lonely and atmospheric spot. Of course most of the vegetation and trees that we saw would not have been there on that day, but they would be offspring of what was there before, rather like the song that Eric Bogle wrote “The candle that was lit by the candle that was lit by the Dalai Lama”. I took a piece of wood that had fallen from a tree, that I now carry round in my guitar case as a prop for the small compartment, and this acts as a rest for my guitar.

The songs about the Bushranger Ben Hall are some of the best traditional songs of Australia, and as I write this, I can look at another of my prized possessions, the autograph and the address that Sally Sloane, one of Australia’s finest traditional singers and musicians, gave to me. Sadly Sally Sloane died in the late 1980’s, but her songs, music, and her singing can be heard through the Oral section of the National Library of Australia, in Canberra, (as can many others), and through the wonders of their website ( www.nla.gov.au ).They are really worth a listen to. We owe a great debt to the many collectors who went out and trawled through the Outback and found so many songs that would have been otherwise lost forever.

I believe that Sally Sloane’s mother was the midwife at the birth of Ben Hall, and it has always seemed fitting to me that such a gem of a song, “The Death of Ben Hall”, should have come from the singing of this lady. Ben Hall’s last words were “I’m wounded, shoot me dead”.

On our way back to Forbes, we called into the cemetery and found the grave where Ben Hall’s body lies, but there is dispute as to whether this is the actual last resting place for his body. This could be checked out through Professor Bill Gammage, the font of all knowledge to do with Australia and things Australian. I plucked a leaf from a bush growing near to the grave which I have pressed in my journal. There are two other graves in the cemetery of historical interest. One is that of Kate Kelly, she being the sister of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most celebrated and notorious Bushranger, hanged in 1880 after his capture at Glenrowan,Victoria. His last words were “Such is Life”. I visited the site of Ned Kelly’s capture in Glenrowan a few years ago, and I was taken on a guided tour of the place and shown where certain events took place. One of the points of interest was a log on which Ned Kelly was reputed to have sat. The guide came up to me at the end and asked me if I would like a piece of the log, as he would be willing to cut a piece off. Maybe this is where my taking bits of wood as souvenirs came from. I did remonstrate with him that if everyone had a piece of this log the log would eventually disappear. To which the guide replied “Oh that’s OK I go through about four or five logs a year”. Again a bit like “The candle that was lit from etc”. The other grave is that of the great- great-great-great- great-(I have forgotten how many greats)-niece of none other than the great Captain James Cook, Rebecca. I also looked and failed to find the grave of Ronald Pridhoe, as the the rain came down and stopped play.

We continued on our way, enriched by our stop in Forbes, heading for the bright lights and city life of Canberra. Maundy Thursday saw us getting into festival mode as The National Folk Festival beckoned us for the next four days. Ian and Jenny kindly took us to the hotel where Iris and I will be staying during the festival along with other performers, Keith Donnelly and Flossie Malavialle being just two. We have been crossing tracks as we toured around, and here we are finally meeting up in Canberra.

We saw Ian and Jenny again when they dropped us off at the festival site, and went on their merry way up to Goulbourne to stay with Jenny’s brother, Stuart, and his soon-to-become wife, Anna. We wandered around the site with all the hustle and bustle of preparation going on, and there were the inevitable meetings with friends both old and new. So very good to meet up with my friends of many years back, Brian Mooney and David Lumsden. The Lumsden family were in the forefront of folk song collecting, especially in and around Victoria, and they gathered a wealth of songs for all to sing.

We made for the Troubadour Wine Bar Tent, which is so much at the heart of this festival, and has been for many years. This is run by our good friends Heather and Andrew Pattison. Of course we were with them back in March when we did a couple of concerts at their Burke and Wills Winery, Mia Mia. Both Andrew and Heather have done so much for folk music over the years by providing an atmospheric and well-run venue for performers to play their particular brand of music, which also serves as a place where they can get together and meet up.

I do so enjoy being at The National which presents a wide variety of musics, but which still retains and provides a platform for the Australian traditional genre.

On the Sunday, after we had had a Good Friday, we performed Down The Lawson Track. This comprises Henry Lawson’s stories being read and his poem/songs being sung, and the idea is to move seamlessly with relevant songs weaving in and out during that particular story. We were fortunate to have Bill Gammage and Warren Fahey to read and narrate, while Iris and I performed along with the excellent Clare O’Meara on the fiddle. We had done this on the previous tour in the theatre of the National Library of Australia. On this occasion it was on the Easter Sunday morning, and it was well received by an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.

We had the special treat of being able to play The No Such Thing Band: Going To The Barndance CD as the audience came in, thereby setting exactly the right atmosphere. I had one of the greatest compliments paid to me by a man who had attended Down The Lawson Track. He told me that he had been going to concerts since 1955, and this, Down The Lawson Track, was the best he had been to in all those years. Certainly Bill and Warren set the scene so well. To me this showed how Henry Lawson’s works still shine so brightly to so many people. Sandy Merrigan did a terrific job with the power point display compiled by Danni and myself from old pictures of some of the Swag Men, and scenes from bygone days of Australia and its characters – so evocative .

Another highlight of the festival for me was to be asked to perform on the tribute to Eric Bogle concert, organised by Marina Hurley, who has also arranged and compiled a CD to go along with this. And all under the banner of The Troubadour Foundation, Andrew and Heather Pattison again. This was to be twelve songs of Eric Bogle’s, sung by twelve different artists. To actually be part of this and to be involved in the concert was one of those truly memorable events that will always stay with Iris and me.

Monday April 25th is an important day for everyone in Australia as this is ANZAC Day, ANZAC being a mnemonic for Australian, New Zealand Armed Corps, and this day is when all remember the dead from the First and Second World Wars, and beyond to modern times. Neither Iris nor I were required to perform until the evening, so in the morning I walked from the hotel to the Australian War Memorial. I was too late for the dawn service but I was glad to have made it out to the Memorial and to soak up the aftermath. I am never ashamed to admit to having a tear in my eye and my heart in these places, and on this occasion it was enough just to walk into the tomb of The Unknown Soldier, with the four silent sentries standing to attention, to trigger this off.  To see the old soldiers, with their proudly displayed medals, who had survived these gruesome conflicts, is a humbling experience. I was glad that I had gone, but it was indeed a thought-filled walk back to the hotel.

Later on at the festival there was a special Anzac Day concert and it was another memorable occasion. In particular it was great to hear Eric Bogle perform The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, with the masterful accompaniment provided by John Munro, never too much and never too little.

There is a book on the Anzacs entitled The Broken Years, Australian Soldiers In The Great War, and this is by The Font Of All Things To Do With Australia, Bill Gammage. He has done himself and the Anzacs proud. In fact for the past few years Bill,The Font, has been doing the commentary for the ABC on the Anzac Day March in Adelaide, so we were very lucky to have had him  with us the day before.

As I was walking back to meet up with others at the Troubadour on the Monday evening, I heard a young girl busker playing the fiddle. One of the great attractions of The National, and some of the other festivals held in Australia, is the abundance of the young buskers just playing and enjoying themselves in selected spots. I stood listening to this young girl and the more I listened the more impressed I was. Her father, Kerry Doherty, was standing by, and I struck up a conversation with him. Her name is Claire and she is but nine years old. Her playing, though, was that of someone much older. As I was talking to Kerry, it occurred to me that it would be a great idea if we could arrange for her to play somewhere, so that other people could appreciate her talent. What better place than the Troubadour Tent? And as Iris and I were due to do our final spot there later on that evening,  maybe Claire could come and do a short spot during our allotted time. Kerry asked Claire if she would be up for this, and she agreed. I went round to see Andrew and Heather to see what their views on this were as well, and with their consent the stage was set. Monday evening would see Claire Doherty playing at the Troubadour.

Claire’s playing comes from the love of the music, and this shines through in her performance. Needless to say Claire was rapturously received by the audience.

When we did our final spot at the Troubadour, Iris and I were joined by Kate Delaney and Dennis Tracey, and we also enlisted Bob McInnes with his fiddle. Bob was  brought on at literally the last minute, after I had seen him walking along with his fiddle. I asked him if he would be up for joining us on stage, and didn’t give him a chance to reply, but just told him when and where we were performing. Once we were all seated on stage, Bob made his grand entrance, and promptly sat down and fell backwards off his chair from the stage, thereby cleverly showing the audience what a “backdrop” is. Luckily the fiddle survived, and so did Bob. He is a great musician, and just joined in and played in his usual McInnes manner. Kate and Dennis were equally as proficient.

The last song that we did on this concert, and as it turned out the festival as well, was Stan Graham’s Old Whitby Harbour. This has a great chorus, and the audience was in fine voice.  We finish the song by singing the chorus twice, dropping out after the first time, and then leaving the audience to sing it themselves. And even as I write this up many months later, I can still hear the audience singing their hearts out. Stan would have been “blown away”.

Going back to the buskers, I spoke to Dave O’Neil, one of the festival organisers, and laid out an idea that I had had for future festivals. As there are quite a few buskers busking their wares, I suggested that someone from the organisation should spend a bit of time going round listening to these sometimes very talented musicians, and giving whoever they thought to be the best a spot at a prestigious venue such as The Troubadour on the last evening.

Tuesday dawned, and we were up away to Sydney, having joined up with Sandy Merrigan behind the wheel. When we had been up at Gulargambone, Stuart and Anna had extended an invitation to us to visit the Hume family property, both Jenny and Stuart being of that family. This is Hume as in the Hume highway, which links Melbourne to Sydney, or if you are going the other way, Sydney to Melbourne. Back in the 1830s, Hume was a surveyor and it was he who charted this route which ever way you went. Accordingly the Hume ancestral home is situated near to Goulbourne, and has the grand title of Garroorigang, and is designated as an historical house, and no wonder. The giant Merino sheep stands close by, but does not intrude in anyway. We all had a grand tour of this house which was originally built as an hotel, to which Ben Hall and some of his cohorts had paid a call. Stuart and Anna were our guides, and most interesting it was.

Something that always fascinates me when I am in Australia is that the Australian Victorian architecture is so much more decorative and striking than it is back in England. The detail and design is quite outstanding. This is particularly true of Ballarrat, Bendigo and many of the country towns, however big or small they are. This goes for the furniture and decorative items as well. So many fine mahogany washstands, dressing tables, beds etc; such a joy to see in their fine settings.

Anna had made us a delicious sandwich lunch with some special gluten-free bread, for those of us who try to be gluten-free. This was much appreciated as hunger was on top of us, and we were so famished we could have eaten our teeth, or even something that was not gluten-free. So with fond farewells and thanks to Stuart and Anna for their hospitality, and best wishes for their forthcoming marriage in July, we set off, bound for Sydney town, and sadly to the last leg of this tour. Once again Sandy was behind the wheel, and we arrived at Sydney Airport, where we were all booked into a hotel for the night. We would have an early start in the morning, as we would be flying from the east coast to the west coast, taking in the breadth of Australia in one fell swoop, prior to landing at Perth airport, ready to head down to Fairbridge for the festival there.

We would have no chance to meet up with any of our Sydney friends as our departure time was 7.00 hrs. And the night before leaving, now that I could unlock the phone in record time, down to four minutes eight seconds of pushing buttons and keys in vague hope of something happening, my reward for my advancing technical skills was to talk to Danni and others. With my phone skills operating in hand, I was able to ring my daughter Charlotte to wish her a happy birthday as today was the day.

On our arrival in Perth, we were met by my very good friends, Richard and Helen Collins. I have known Richard since the late 1960s in England, when the folk touring circuit was operating in full bloom, and folk clubs were aplenty and all working together, so there were no instances of one night here and then a two-hundred mile drive to the next booking. Mind you, I am one of those strange people who like to be “on the road” and have a fair distance between bookings. Richard was in sunny Halifax, and I would base myself there staying with a friend of Richard’s, Derek McEwan, who shared a flat with Christy Moore. So many memories to catch up on with Richard. Helen and Richard are putting Iris and me up, while Sandy is staying with relatives in the Perth area. Iris went off into Perth to scour the art galleries, while Richard, Helen and I went off to Kings Park for a view of Perth. Then a good convivial night was spent by all.

Friday saw us heading down from the airport to Fairbridge Festival by a bus that had been laid on. The bus was full of other musicians, singers, story tellers, jugglers and a wide variety of characters heading for the festival.  This is going to be our last performance here in Australia on this tour, so it was with a twinge of sadness that we approached Fairbridge, but also   delight at being there. Once we arrived at the site and absorbed the atmosphere and music the twinge disappeared.

We had two performances of Down The Lawson Track. Sadly Bill The Font was unable to be with us due to another already-committed-to  commitment that he was committed to, so Warren Fahey had asked Bob Rummery to replace him. Bob himself is from the Perth area, and well experienced in the folk music of Australia, and has contributed a fair amount himself. So with Bob, along with Warren Fahey, Clare O’Meara, Sandy Merrigan on power-point, Iris and myself, we were ready to head off Down The Lawson Track.

Iris and I had another couple of spots during the festival, one of which was themed as Old Australian Bush Songs, and once again we teamed up with Warren and Clare, with the added bonus of Marcus Holden being there. He  plays anything that has strings on it, this would even stretch to a string vest, I should think. All went well, and I enjoyed all of the different musics going on, not forgetting the many jugglers and street performers to be entertained by as you went from one venue to the next. The site itself is an interesting place, being described as a village; it is a place where many young orphans and Barnado children were brought from the UK to start up a new life in a new land.

The festival finished late on the Sunday afternoon, and the plan was for Richard and Helen to come to collect us and take us down to their bolt-hole on the coast in Mandurah.

I must admit to being caught out by Richard, as he pulled a fast one on me in retaliation for an equally fast one that I pulled on him several years ago now. I had gone off to say fond farewells to people, leaving my bags and guitar ready packed up. On my return Richard and Helen were there with the car, but no sign of my bag and guitar. I asked Richard whether he had seen these, to which he said no, and then that awful feeling came over me that someone had taken my belongings, and my guitar was missing. To give Richard his due, he didn’t let me suffer for long, and he admitted that he himself had stowed everything in the car. So I think that we are about level now unless I ……(Watch this space.)

We spent a good time enjoying Mandurah and the company there, before heading back up to Perth, and then the final push to Hong Kong, where Iris and I would stay for a few days, there to do a performance of Down The Lawson Track with a cast drawn from local Australians. Then I would head back to England on my own, leaving Iris to scout round the delights of Hong Kong.