Historical Silences, Musical Noise

Slim Dusty, Country Music and Aboriginal history

Authors

  • Toby Martin University of Sydney

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.39715

Keywords:

country music, Aboriginal history, Slim Dusty, settler-colonial history

Abstract

Much Australian history has argued that Australian culture and academic writing were largely silent on the issue of Aboriginal history prior to 1968. Further, there has been a common argument—and assumption—that non-Indigenous country music did not deal with Indigenous Australians in this period at all. However, Australia’s most popular recording artist, the country singer-songwriter, Slim Dusty, did in fact record several songs that dealt with issues such as the history of frontier massacres and Aboriginal pastoral labour during the 1950s and 1960s. These songs provide fascinating examples of alternative history-making, and show that there was a conversation—albeit limited—about difficult settler-colonial issues occurring in postwar popular culture. Dusty’s songs also provide new ways of thinking about music and politics in the civil rights era, supplying rich examples of the ways in which popular music in general can engage with complex historical narratives, and how popular culture can disrupt conventional ways of telling history.

Author Biography

Toby Martin, University of Sydney

Toby Martin is Lecturer in Contemporary Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, and honorary research fellow at the University of Huddersfield. He is a historian of popular music, as well as a songwriter, musician and practice-led researcher. He has published in the areas of country music in Australia, Aboriginal popular music, and music and colonial tourism, including the monograph Yodelling Boundary Riders: Country Music in Australia since the 1920s (Lyrebird Press, University of Melbourne, 2015).

References

Beckett, J. 1993. ‘I Don’t Care Who Knows: The Songs of Dougie Young’. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2: 34–38.

Berger, S. 2018. ‘A Plea for Renewing a Left-of-centre Engaged History Writing’. In A. Clark et al., ‘What is History: Historiography Roundtable’, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 22/54: 500–505. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2018.1528046

Brett, J. 2003. Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511481642

Carlson, B. 2016. ‘Striking the Right Chord: Indigenous People and the Love of Country’. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 12/5: 498–512. https://doi.org/10.20507/AlterNative.2016.12.5.5

Clark, A. 2018. ‘What Is and Isn’t History’. In A. Clark et al., ‘What is History: Historiography Roundtable’, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 22/54: 500–524. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642529.2018.1528046

Curthoys, A. 1999. ‘Expulsion, Exodus and Exile in White Australian Historical Mythology’. Journal of Australian Studies 23/61: 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/14443059909387469

—2003. Freedom Ride: A Freedom Rider Remembers. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

—2009. ‘Stanner and the Historians’. In Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia, ed. J. Beckett and M. Hinkson, 233–50. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Cusic, D. 2002. ‘Politics and Country Music: 1963–1974’. In Country Music Annual 2002, ed. C. K. Wolfe and J. Akenson, 161–85. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press.

Dunbar-Hall, P., and C. Gibson. 2004. Deadly Sounds, Deadly Places: Contemporary Aboriginal Music. Sydney: UNSW Press.

Dusty, S., and J. Lapsley. 1979. Slim Dusty: Walk a Country Mile. Sydney: Rigby.

Ellis, M. 2008. ‘Slim Dusty: Chronicler of the Bush’. https://www.historyofcountrymusic.com.au/slim_chroniclerofthebush.html (accessed 9 June 2020).

‘Farewell Slim’. Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 2003. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/farewell-slim-20030926-gdhgm2.html (accessed 8 May 2020).

Gardner, P. D. 1993. Gippsland Massacres: The Destruction of the Kurnai Tribes: 1800–1860. Ensay, Vic.: Ngarak Press.

Gordon, A. L. 1876. Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes. Melbourne: Clarson, Massina & Co.

Griffiths, T. 2003. ‘The Language of Conflict’. In Frontier Conflict: The Australian Experience, ed. B. Attwood and S. G. Foster, 135–49. Canberra: National Museum of Australia.

Guralnick, P. 2002. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. Edinburgh: Mojo Books.

Hadju, D. 2001. Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina. London: Bloomsbury.

Hayward, P. 2004. ‘From Folk to Country: The Localisation of Country Music on Lord Howe Island’. In Roots and Crossovers, ed. P. Hayward and G. Walden, 67–74. Gympie, Qld: AICM Press.

Hirst, J. B. 1978. ‘The Pioneer Legend’. Australian Historical Studies 18/71: 316–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/10314617808595595

Inglis, K. (assisted by J. Brazier). 1998. Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press.

Johnston, C. 2014. ‘John Williamson Sees True Blue People All over the World’. Sydney Morning Herald, 17 September.

Konishi, S. 2010. ‘Idle Men: The Eighteenth-century Roots of the Indigenous Indolence Myth’. In Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Histories, ed. A. Curthoys, F. Peters-Little and J. Docker, 99–122. Aboriginal History Monographs, 23. Canberra: ANU E Press. https://doi.org/10.22459/PH.09.2010.05

Krichauff, S. 2017. Memory, Place and Aboriginal-Settler History: Understanding Australians’ Consciousness of the Colonial Past. London: Anthem. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1trkkdh

McGrath, A. 1987. ‘Born in the Cattle’: Aborigines in Cattle Country. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

McGregor, R. 1997. Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory 1880–1939. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Macintyre, S. ‘Historiography and History’. In A. Clark et al., ‘What is History: Historiography Roundtable’, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 22/54: 514–519.

McKusker, K. 2008. Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-Tonk Angels: The Women of Barn Dance Radio. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

McQueen, H. 1970. A New Britannia. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin.

Martin, T. 2011. ‘Creating Country Music Capital: The Past in Tamworth’. History Australia 8/1: 153–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/14490854.2011.11668361

—2015. Yodelling Boundary Riders: Country Music in Australia since the 1920s. Melbourne: Lyrebird Press.

—2019. ‘Dougie Young and Political Resistance in Early Aboriginal Country Music’. Popular Music 38/3: 1–22.

Moses, D. 2013. ‘Genocide’. Australian Humanities Review 55: 23–44.

Read, P. 2000. Belonging: Australians, Place and Aboriginal Ownership. Sydney and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reynolds, H. 1981. The Other Side of the Frontier. Sydney: UNSW Press.

—1998. This Whispering in Our Hearts. St Leonards NSW: Allen & Unwin.

—1999. Why Weren’t We Told? Melbourne: Penguin.

—2013. The Forgotten War. Sydney: Newsouth Books.

Rodnitzky, J. L. 1999. ‘The Sixties between the Microgrooves: Using Folk and Protest Music to Understand American History, 1963–1973’. Popular Music and Society A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated23/4A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated: 105–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007769908591755

Rolls, M. 2010. ‘Why Didn’t You Listen: White Noise and Black History’. Aboriginal History 34: 11–33. https://doi.org/10.22459/AH.34.2011.01

Rosalo, R. 1989. ‘Imperialist Nostalgia’. In Representations, 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory, Spring 1989: 107–122. https://doi.org/10.2307/2928525

Ryan, L. et al. 2019. ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia, 1788–1930’. https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/map.php (accessed 9 June 2020).

‘Slim Dusty Bio’. http://www.slimdustymusic.com.au/bio/ (accessed 7 May 2020).

‘Slim Dusty Dies’. 2003. Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/slim-dusty-dies-20030920-gdhf2b.html (accessed 29 August 2019).

Smith, G. 1994. ‘Australian Country Music and the Hillbilly Yodel’. Popular Music 13: 297–311. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143000007212

—2005. Singing Australian: A History of Folk and Country Music. North Melbourne, Vic.: Pluto Press.

Stanner, W. E. H. 2009. After the Dreaming and Other Essays. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Stratton, J. 2007. Australian Rock: Essays on Popular Music. Perth: Network Books.

Tharunka. 1964. ‘Demonstration for Aborigines’. Tharunka, 17 July 1964, University of New South Wales, Sydney, p. 9.

Tunnell, K. D., and M. S. Hamm. 2009. ‘Singing across the Scars of Wrong: Johnny Cash and his Struggle for Social Justice’. Crime Media Culture 5/3: 268–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659009346015

Van Sickel, R. 2005. ‘A World without Citizenship: On (the Absence of) Politics and Ideology in Country Music Lyrics, 1960–2000’. Popular Music and Society 28/3: 313–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007760500105164

Walker, C. 2000. Buried Country. Sydney: Pluto Pres.

Ward, R. E. 1958. The Australian Legend. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watson, E. 1975. Country Music in Australia. Sydney: Clarendon Press.

White, R. 1981. Inventing Australia. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

White, R., and H. M. Teo. 2008. ‘Popular Culture’. In Australia’s Empire, ed. D. M. Schreuder and S. Ward, 336–62. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199563739.003.0014

Published

2020-08-21

How to Cite

Martin, T. (2020). Historical Silences, Musical Noise: Slim Dusty, Country Music and Aboriginal history. Popular Music History, 12(2), 215–236. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.39715