Lyrics

Power in a Song

Windsong   Faraway Tom
  Trees They Do Grow High   Old Hammerhead
  Llewellyn Walking   Maria’s Gone
  Drover’s Sweetheart   Van Diemen’s Land
  Death of Ben Hall   Murrumbidgee Water
  When McGuinness Gets A Job   Ballad of Many Crows
  Largo   Joe Hill

 

WINDSONG
© John Warner 1997
Diane Wilder – a friend of John’s and a choreographer in the Margaret Barr school of modern dance – created a dance sequence called “Dear Diary” using several of John’s songs from Pithead In The Fern, his collection of songs about the establishment of the coal industry in South Gippsland in Victoria. The collaboration gave John the opportunity to write a song specially for “Dear Diary” which expressed the strength of the womenfolk who supported their miner husbands during a lengthy strike.

From Loch to Nyora where men lay the rail
Oh the wind and the rain,
The ridges and the valleys re-echo and wail,
To the blustery shout of the Mutton Bird gale
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

It sings in the towering gear of the mines,
Oh the wind and the rain,
As ragged cloud fingers blot out the sunshine,
We rush for the washing that flaps on the line,
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

Helpless the magpies and crows hurtle by,
Oh the wind and the rain,
The children run wild with a blaze in their eye,
Spinning and shrieking and ready to fly,
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

Down in the darkness our men hew the seam
Oh the wind and the rain,
Where sullen coal glints in the carbide lamp’s gleam,
Their souls thirst for light and the sky is a dream
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

Windsong are we in the high pitshaft wheel,
Oh the wind and the rain,
The gale of our loving will comfort and heal,
And we’ll stand in their picket line, hearts hard as steel,
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

United we’ll thwart the mine owner’s designs,
Oh the wind and the rain,
A new generation will spring from these mines,
As tough as the ryegrass along the fencelines
Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

Oh we are the wind, We are the wild wind,
Who dares to stand in our way?

LARGO

© John Warner 1983 or 4?
With its brevity and tenderness, Largo is not a typical John Warner song, but powerful nevertheless in the image of a remembered voice lighting the world and uplifting the heart. Handel’s Largo telling the story of who embraced a tree before he went into battle was a musical and lyric inspiration for this song.

Early the day, this new sun lifting
Sheds its light on my tree
Lighting the young leaves to a shade of green
A gift to the new-born day

In the shadows, olive-green brooding
Darker tones, minor chords
Lending their dignity to the major key
Harmony of light upon my tree

Rich is the world
Colours fill my senses
Birds and small children sing
Gilding the air

So these words, to you, my friend
For your voice, and your touch
That concentration of power in your song
That makes my vision new
And makes my morning fair

THE TREES THEY DO GROW HIGH
Trad.

I heard the late Peter Bellamy sing this song at a festival in England in ’82 or ’87 and remember vividly most of the songs he sang in that concert. I’d been familiar with the words since school days, but I found this version, from Walter Pardon – a traditional singer from Norfolk, touched me deeply with the halting repetition of the last line in each verse. Peter said he’d “taken a few liberties with it”.

The trees they do grow high
And the leaves they do grow green
Many’s the time love, you and I have seen
It’s a cold winter’s night that we must bide alone
Oh the bonny boy is young, but he’s growing, growing,
Oh the bonny boy is young, but he’s growing

Oh father, dear father, you have done to me great wrong
You’ve married me to a boy who is too young
Then daughter, dearest daughter, stay at home with me
And a lady you shall be while he’s growing, growing
And a lady you shall be while he’s growing

We’ll send him to college for about a year or so
Perhaps in that time into manhood he will grow
And you’ll find white ribbons for to tie round his bonny waist
Just to led the ladies know that he’s married, married
Just to let the ladies know that he’s married

As I was a-looking o’er my father’s castle wall
There I spied them pretty birds playing at the ball
And my true love, he’s the flower among them all
Oh the bonny boy is young, but he’s growing, growing
Oh the bonny boy is young, but he’s growing

At the age of 16 he was a married man
At the age of 17 he was the father of a son
At the age of 18, his grave was a-growing green
Cruel death had put an end to his growing, growing
Cruel death had put an end to his growing

I’ll make my love a shirt of the holland oh so fine
At every needle stitch in it, the tears come trickling down
And I will mourn my love until the day I die
And I’ll watch o’er his child while he’s growing, growing
And I’ll watch o’er his child while he’s growing

LLEWELLYN WALKING
John Warner ©1997

John works in childcare where he and his poorly paid colleagues struggle in spite of reduced funding to shape the lives of children at a most crucial stage in their development. Seeing a child take his first steps revitalises their commitment.

Sometimes when the screaming just goes on,
I wonder why I work here.
When a teething baby will not be consoled,
Does caring cost us too dear.
When a child is crying so are several more,
And helplessness abrades the spirit raw.
But today I saw Llewellyn walking,
A frown of concentration on his face,
On new and shaky muscles Llewellyn rose to stand,
Leaned into his first bold step, refused the proffered hand,
There should have been a peal of bells, should have been a band,
Today I saw Llewellyn walking, Llewellyn walking.

I’ve seen Llewellyn watching others play,
I’ve seen his calculation,
Wondering just what it is they do,
I’ve heard his cruel frustration.
Why should a driven hero have to crawl,
Or stagger leaning on a table or a wall,
But today I saw Llewellyn walking,
That struggle won so many times before,
He tottered seeking balance from the shadow to the sun,
As Nolan, Phoebe, Rachel, Jake and Natalie had done,
With fiery passion in his eyes, driving him to run,
Today I saw Llewellyn walking, Llewellyn Walking.

There can be no current market price,
On what was done today.
This victory of patience, care and love,
On a humble labourer’s pay,
This lifts the carer’s life above the stress,
The smell of nappies, disinfectant and the mess.
Today we saw Llewellyn walking,
Tomorrow Nina, Emily and Sam,
They’ll feel their muscles harden as they cling to chair and wall,
Light up with excitement as they stretch out strong and tall,
And we’ll be there behind to hug their courage if they fall,
Today we saw Llewellyn walking, Llewellyn walking.

THE DROVER’S SWEETHEART

Words: Henry Lawson 1891
Music: Chris Kempster 1981

Many people have written tunes to Henry Lawson poems, but none as satisfying to my mind as Chris Kempster’s.

An hour before the sun goes down behind the ragged boughs
I go across the little run to bring the dusty cows
And once I used to sit and rest beneath the fading dome
For there was one that I loved best who’d bring the cattle home

Our yard is fixed with double bails; round one the grass is green
The Bush is growing through the rails, the spike is rusted in;
It was from there his freckled face would turn and smile at me
For he’d milk seven in a race while I was milking three

He kissed me twice and once again, and rode across the hill
The pint-pots and the hobble-chain, I hear them jingling still
About the hut the sunlight fails, the fire shine through the cracks
I climb the broken stockyard rails and watch the bridle-tracks

And he is coming back again – he wrote from Evatt’s Rock
A flood was in the Darling then and foot-rot in the flock
The sheep were falling thick and fast, a hundred miles from town
And when he reached the line at last, he trucked the remnant down

And so he’ll have to stand the cost: his luck was always bad
Instead of making more, he lost the money that he had
And how he’ll manage, Heaven knows (My eyes are getting dim)
He says – he says – he don’t suppose I’ll want to marry him.

As if I wouldn’t take his hand without a golden glove
Oh Jack, you men won’t understand how much a girl can love
I long to see his face once more – Jack’s dog! thank God – it’s Jack
(I never thought I’d faint before) he’s coming up the track

FARAWAY TOM
Dave Goulder

Judith Morrison has introduced me to some of my most favourite songs and this is one. Dave Goulder lives in Scotland and is the author of “The January Man”

When the calendar brings in the cuckoo
And the summer comes following on
Through the thin mists of day, see him running away
And they know him as Faraway Tom

The earth is his bed and his pillow
And his sheets are the clothes he has on
He sleeps all afternoon, then he’s hunting the moon
Til it rises for Faraway Tom

He sees the fox leaving his hollow
And he knows where the badger is gone
And he watches the fawn from the sheltering thorn
But they don’t see old Faraway Tom

He knows nothing of letters and learning
And of manners and such he has none
And he numbers the seasons on his fingers and toes
As they pass over Faraway Tom

But what of the seasons to follow
Will cold and strong winds bring him down
And where will he lie when the snows fill the sky
And age tells on Faraway Tom

When the calendar brings in the cuckoo
And the summer comes following on
Through the thin mists of day, see him running away
And they know him as Faraway Tom

MARIA’S GONE
Trad.

Learned from English folk singer, Peter Bellamy, who died in 1991. Peter was a flamboyant stylist and made a significant contribution to folk music in England, America and Australia.

Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
And it’s early in the morning

Oh she’s gone and I can’t go
Oh she’s gone and I can’t go
Oh she’s gone and I can’t go
And it’s early in the morning

Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
And it’s early in the morning

Never did I know her mind
Never did I know her mind
Never did I know her mind
And it’s early in the morning

Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
And it’s early in the morning

Trouble, trouble is my name
Trouble, trouble is my name
Trouble, trouble is my name
And it’s early in the morning

Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
Mornin’s come and Maria’s gone
And it’s early in the morning

WHEN McGUINNESS GETS A JOB
Last winter was a hard one / Rise Up Mrs Riley
Trad.

Disempowered migrant groups of Irish and Italian labourers are set against each other by greedy contractors and two Irish wives discuss the situation as they see it.
I learned this song from Sara Grey’s CD, Sara. She in turn learned it from Joe Hickerson who says it dates from 1880 and appears in the collection of Abelard Folk Songs from upstate New York.

Last winter was a hard one, Mrs Riley, did you hear
‘Tis well yourself that knows it, ’tis for many’s the year
Your husband wasn’t the only one sat behind a wall
My old man, McGuinness, couldn’t get a job at all

CHORUS

So rise up, Mrs Riley, don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry – neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job

The politicians promise them work on the boulevard
To work with a pick and shovel and load dirt on a cart
Six months ago, they promised it, work they’d surely get
But oh, my good woman, they’re promising it yet

So rise up, Mrs Riley, don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry – neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job

Bad luck to those Italians, I’d wish they’d stayed at home
We’ve plenty of our own trash to eat up all our own
They come like bees in the summer time, they swarm in here to stay
And contractors, they hired them for 40 cents a day

They work upon the rail road, they shovel snow and slush
One thing in their favour, Italians never get lush
They bring their money home at night, drink no dinner wine
One thing I would like to say for your old man and mine!

So rise up, Mrs Riley, don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry – neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job

Springtime is coming and work they’ll surely get
McGuinness will go back to his job again, he makes a handsome sight
See him climb the ladder as nimble as a fox
For he’s the one to handle the old three cornered box

So rise up, Mrs Riley, don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry – neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job

So rise up, Mrs Riley, don’t give away to blues
You and I will cut a shine, new bonnets and new shoes
Hear the young ones cry – neither sigh nor sob
We’ll wait till times get better and McGuinness gets a job

OLD HAMMERHEAD
Jez Lowe ©1990

Jez writes powerfully of the dismantling of British industry and the effects of unemployment on generations of once proud workers.

Old Hammerhead weeps when the wind blows
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
High above the houses, the last Wear water crane
And we heard his cries for help
And we denied him in our shame
As we huddled in the darkness of his shadow

Who will come and help me?
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
I’ve watched and I’ve protected you
Will no one do the same
I’ve kept you from starvation, deprivations burning shame
And you’ve flourished in the comfort of my shadow

I’ve watched these streets surround me
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
The swarms of tiny children gathered round me in their games
And I watched them turn from playgrounds
Into windy lovers’ lanes
As they fondled and kissed there in my shadow

You always told me I’d be needed
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
I stood by in hundreds as you fought in freedom’s name
And better ships no other yard could ever hope to claim
Than them that slipped to the river in my shadow

Now I’m all alone here
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
You say my use is over and that progress is to blame
And the pride of these yards you say will never rise again
And no saviour to step out from my shadow

They’re coming for to take me now
Old Hammerhead cried in vain
With savage blade and cutting tool of fearsome burning flame
They’ll cast lots for my engine and divide my rusty frame
And they won’t even leave me with my shadow

VAN DIEMEN’S LAND
Trad.

Jan Thomas introduced me to this song in the early 80s when we were both involved with the Bush Music Club and the Mount Kuringgai Folk Club. Songs like this and Jim Jones sparked an abiding passion for convict songs.

Come all you gallant poaching lads that ramble free of care
That roam out on a winter’s night with your guns, your dog & snare
The hare and lofty pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking on your last career upon Van Diemen’s Land

Poor Tommy Brown from Nenagh town, Jack Murphy and poor Jo
We were three gallant poaching lads as the gentry well does know
One night we were trepanned by the keepers hid in the sand
Who for fourteen years transported us unto Van Diemen’s Land

The first day that we landed upon that fateful shore
The settlers gathered round us full 20 score or more
They ranked us up like horses and they sold us out of hand
And they yoked us to the ploughing frames to plough Van Diemen’s Land

The hovels that we’re in are made of mud and clay
With rotten straw for bedding and to that we daren’t say nay
They fence us in with raging fire and we slumber as we can
But it keeps away wild animals upon Van Diemen’s Land

There was a girl from Newport, Susan Summers was her name
And she had been transported for playing of the game
But she took our captain’s fancy and he married her out of hand
And she gives us all good usage upon Van Diemen’s Land

It’s often when in slumber I have had a pleasant dream
With my sweetheart I am sitting down beside a crystal stream
Through Ireland I’ve gone roving with my sweetheart by the hand
Then I wake up broken hearted upon Van Diemen’s Land

So come all you gallant poaching lads a warning take by me
I’ll have you quit night walking and avoid bad company
Throw away your guns and snares, for let me tell you plain
If you knew of our misfortune you would never poach again

THE BALLAD OF MANY CROWS

Words Andrew Burke (1996)
Music Margaret Walters and John Warner (1996)

The town of Wagga Wagga (place of many crows) is in the southern NSW district called the Riverina. The Murray River Irrigation System for a time brought prosperity to the region, but recent decades have seen a decline in the economic viability of farming and a high suicide rate among the farmers.
Western Australian poet, Andrew Burke, was serving a time as Poet-in-Residence at the Booranga Writers’ Centre at the Charles Sturt University and shared his new poem with John Warner and me at a gathering in the house of Pat and Barry Emmett in Wombat, NSW.

As I sat out upon a hill
Upon a hill, upon a hill
I looked up at the crows that fill
The leafy trees of Wagga

I saw their eyes like marbles black
Like marbles black, like marbles black
And felt a chill run down my back
Beneath the trees of Wagga

A woman there had told a tale
She told a tale, she told a tale
How the town had felt five years’ betrayal
Since crows returned to Wagga

“Our men have heard the crows’ sad song
The crows’ sad song, the crows’ sad song
Until by their own hand they’ve gone
I curse the crows of Wagga

Farmers are a steady lot, not given much to fancy
Born to heed the call to be as iron tough as Clancy

Now they hang themselves in their dark loss
In their dark loss, in their dark loss
When the crows’ stark song becomes their cross
Among the trees of Wagga

Black-eyed and beaky with a mourning cry
A mourning cry, a mourning cry
Riverina crows trespass and fly
To cast their eye on Wagga.

Now’s the time to break the spell
To break the spell, to break the spell
To greet the future and fare well
Among the trees of Wagga

I go inside to write my song
To write my song, to write my song
The crows know naught of right and wrong
In the leafy the trees of Wagga

MURRUMBIDGEE WATER
© John Warner 25.05.98

Written by John Warner for the song and verse cycle, Yarri of Wiradjuri, which tells of the heroism of Aboriginal Australians in saving the lives of white settlers when the original township of Gundagai was destroyed by flood in 1852. Murrumbidgee Water – the second song in the cycle – celebrates the river and its importance to the indigenous people and establishes the Murrumbidgee River and Morley’s Creek as the Mother and the Daughter

 

Born in the highland snows,
Wild in her youth’s descending,
Swiftly she fills and grows
Out on her floodplains, winding and bending,
Feeding the towering gums,
Bush in creek and gully,
Sharing her bounties wide,
Spreading soil in plain and valley.

Murrumbidgee fair, Murrumbidgee fertile,
Nurturing at your breasts we who walk here for a little while.
High on a ridge we stand, gazing in love and awe
Over the lands you made with your gentle hands: how rich the gifts you pour.

Over her years of floods,
Current twisting wild and strong,
Children she made in the land,
Creek and anabranch, pond and billabong.
Bright on the wide floodplain
Glints the rippling water,
Proudly side by side,
Flow the mother and the daughter.

Murrumbidgee fair, Murrumbidgee fertile,
Nurturing at your breasts we who walk here for a little while.
High on a ridge we stand, gazing in love and awe
Over the lands you made with your gentle hands: how rich the gifts you pour.

We have known the drought, we have seen her anger,
Hurling trees in her rage, we’ve borne thirst and we’ve borne hunger.
Yet for us who seek, beauty waits in hiding,
In some shaded pools wait the fruits of her providing.

Silver mist like hair,
As the day is dawning,
Marks the river’s way
As we hunt on a winter’s morning,
Duck and cod from the stream,
Fruit and fungus, plant and seed,
Kangaroo on the plain,
See, she gives us all we need.

Murrumbidgee fair, Murrumbidgee fertile,
Nurturing at your breasts we who walk here for a little while.
High on a ridge we stand, gazing in love and awe
Over the lands you made with your gentle hands: how rich the gifts you pour.

DEATH OF BEN HALL
Trad.

Ben Hall was shot dead in 1865. This song was collected from Sally Sloane in the late 1950s by John Meredith and published in his “Folk Songs of Australia and the Men and Women who Sang Them”. Ben Hall was a good man who turned bushranger following unjust treatment by the police.

Come all you young Australians and every one besides
I’ll sing to you a ditty that will fill you with surprise
Concerning of a ‘ranger bold whose name it was Ben Hall
Who cruelly murdered was this day which proved his downfall

An outcast from society, he was forced to take the road
All through his false and treacherous wife who sold off his abode
He was hunted like a native dog from bush to hill and dale
Till he turned upon his enemies and they could not find his trail

All out with his companions men’s blood he scorned to shed
He ofttimes stayed their lifted hands with vengeance on their head
No petty mean or pilfering act he ever stooped to do
But robbed the rich and hearty man and scorned to rob the poor

One night as he in ambush lay all on the Lachlan Plain
When thinking everything secure to ease himself had lain
When to his consternation and to his great surprise
And without a moment’s warning a bullet past him flies

And it was quickly followed by a volley sharp and loud
With twelve revolving rifles all pointed at his head
Where are you Gilbert, where is Dunn? he loudly did call
It was all in vain, they were not there to witness his downfall

They riddled all his body as if they were afraid
But in his dying moments he breathed curses on their heads
Till cowardly hearted Condel, the sergeant of police
Crept up and fired with fiendish glee till death did him release

Although he had a lion’s heart, more braver than the brave
Those cowards shot him like a dog, no word of challenge gave
Though many friends had poor Ben Hall, his enemies were few
Like the emblems of his native land, his days were numbered too

It’s through Australia’s sunny clime Ben Hall will roam no more
His fame is spread both near and far to every distant shore
And generations after this parents will to their children call
And rehearse to them the daring deeds committed by Ben Hall

JOE HILL
Words Alfred Hayes, tune Earl Robinson. 1925

Written in 1925 in honour of Joseph Hillstrom, activist and songwriter for the International Workers of the World, the Wobblies, who was “Murdered by the State of Utah, November 19th, 1915.” More than ever, the world needs this anthem to the power of the Union.

My will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan
Moss does not grow on a rolling stone
My body, oh, if I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again
This is my last and final will.
Good luck to all of you, Joe Hill

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me
I said “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”,
“I never died” said he
“I never died” said he

“In Salt Lake, Joe, by God”, says I, him standing by my bed
“They framed you on a murder charge”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead”

The copper bosses killed you, Joe, they shot you, Joe, says I
Takes more than guns to kill a man
Says Joe, “I didn’t die”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die”

And standing there as big as life and smiling with his eye
Says Joe “What they could never kill
Went on to organise,
Went on to organise”

“Joe Hill ain’t dead”, he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died
Where workers strike and organise
Joe Hill is at their side
Joe Hill is at their side”

“From Santiago up to Maine, in every mine and mill
Where working folk fight for their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill,
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me
I said “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”,
“I never died” said he
“I never died” said he

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