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Singing Australian: A History of Folk & Country Music in Australia
Review of Graeme Smith's new book

By Christine Wheeler
Posted Thursday, November 24, 2005

A product of at least ten years work and passionate commitment for Graeme, this book is full of insights into the development of a folk scene in Australia, and the comparison between folk and country music is nothing short of fascinating.

Graeme is an academic musicologist currently based at Monash University in Melbourne. Although the book is invested with a scholarly air of thorough footnoting and well-documented interpretations and opinions, it remains eminently readable and laced with frank and disarming comments about the folk community which is evidently Graeme’s first love. He covers a lot of ground in the book, not only tracing a history of both folk and country music but also looking at the rise of ‘world music’ in Australia and at the crossover music, with a chapter entitled ‘Between, Folk. Country and Rock’. I can almost guarantee that your musical gurus will be mentioned and have an index reference – from the early collectors through the fathers of bush bands to Slim Dusty, Archie Roach, Eric Bogle and Apodimia Compania, to name just a few.

compelling expressed and provocative

Graeme is not short of opinions, but they are all compelling expressed and provocative. He constantly returns to the question of the folk philosophy:

Without some idea of a creative community, folk is at its best no more than an attractive musical style, at worst a pop fad. … Ideas of folk persist because they have deep histories in western culture, in attitudes to pastoral and nature, to the city and modernity, to the individual and society. … Ideas such as the folk community and the folk process are not just about cultural production in simpler, bygone communities, but are ideals through which contemporary activists and participants understand their own cultural activity and develop their commitment to maintaining the possibility of ‘authentic’ and unmediated cultural creativity in modern urban societies. (pp.13-14)

Highly recommended reading for folk enthusiasts

Highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the folk scene, the country scene, or the music scene in general. I’ve no doubt that pop music scholars will have some comments to make about this arrival, and that it won’t all be favourable.

Singing Australian is available through the Pluto Press website or from good bookstores around Australia.

 
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