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Australia

[ Roud 1488 ; Ballad Index FaE012 ; Bodleian Roud 1488 ; trad.]

Bob Hart sang the transportation ballad Australia on his 1973 LP Songs from Suffolk; this recording was also included on the Topic anthology Hidden English: A Celebration of English Traditional Music. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Transportation to Australia was a popular theme for sentimental balladry throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Like most of the convicts, most of the songs came rather from the towns than the countryside. So with this one, by the sound of it. Though probably widely sung in the past, the song has dwindled almost out of sight and earshot now, and as far as I know, Bob's is the unique version, unreported elsewhere. It has acquired a verse from Van Diemen's Land (The farmers they stand with their whips in their hand / They yoke us like horses to plough up their land.)

Cyril Poacher sang Australia in a 1974 home recording by Tony Engle and Keith Summers on his Topic album The Broomfield Wager: Traditional Songs from Suffolk and on his 2004 Musical Traditions CD Plenty of Thyme.

Rod Stradling sang Australia in 1971 on Oak's album Welcome to Our Fair; it was included in 2003 on their Musical Traditions 2 CD set, Country Songs and Music. He commented in the latter's booklet:

Rod learned this from Bob Hart; he and his neighbour Cyril Poacher both had this song. Cyril learned it from Bob Scarce, who probably learned it, as did Hart, from Walter “Yinka” Friend—with whom both had worked for many years in Snape Maltings; he was said to have been the first person in the area to have sung it.

It is one of a considerable number of transportation songs in the traditional repertoire, but is unusual in the nature and motive of the crime—highway robbery, “to keep her like a lady”; more often it's poaching, brought about by necessity. Also, and contrary to certain record sleeve-notes, the song owes little to Van Diemen's Land, but is clearly derived from a much earlier song called Virginny (a fragment of which was collected from Mrs Goodyear, of Axford, Hants, by George Gardiner in 1907), with the transport's destination having been changed to Australia when this became current (i.e. post “First Fleet”). This explains why the song is unusual; in the 18th century highwaymen were transported to Virginia—in the 19th they were topped!

The process of keeping songs up-to-date goes on—there is a version on tape where Cyril Poacher sings the second stanza of the first verse:

For when I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to been serving Elizabeth, our Queen …

Steeleye Span lost the first verse in their recording of Australia on their 1998 CD Horkstow Grange. Bob Johnson commented in the sleeve notes:

Initially, people were sent there as a punishment. Later, in the 1950's, families were offered financial assistance to go there and settle. Now, it is a heavily advertised holiday destination, a mere day's flight from Luton airport to the Barrier Reef. This song is dedicated to Nigel Pegrum, our ex-drummer, who “fell in with a damsel” and now lives there.

Chris Foster sang Australia in 2004 on his CD Jewels.

Andy Turner sang Australia as the October 2, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his blog:

This is a song from the Suffolk singer, Bob Hart. I learned it from Roy Palmer’s book, Everyman's Book of English Country Songs, although I subsequently heard it on the Topic LP Songs from Suffolk.

A different recording can be heard on Musical Traditions MTCD301 Bob Hart: A Broadside.

It is clearly a later rewrite of the song Virginny which Martin Carthy recorded on his album Crown of Horn but the change of destination lacks some historical accuracy. As Rod Stradling explains in his notes to the Musical Traditions CD, most transportation songs concern poaching rather than highway robbery; for the simple reason that in the eighteenth century highwaymen were transported to Virginia, while in the nineteenth century the punishment was hanging.

Lyrics

Oak sing Australia

Come all you young fellows wheresome'er you may be,
Come listen awhile to my story.
For when I was a young man, my age seventeen,
I ought to be serving Victoria, our Queen.
But those hard-hearted judges, oh, how cruel they be
To send us poor young lads to Australia.

I fell in with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected my work more and more every day,
And to keep her like a lady, I went on the highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Where the judges, they stand with their whips in their hands,
They drive us like horses to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows, working in the gaol-yard,
Oh, how hard is the life in Australia.

Australia, Australia, I would ne'er see thee more,
I'm worn out with fever, cast down to Death's door,
But if I live to see, say, seven years more,
I would then bid adieu to Australia,
I would then bid adieu to Australia.

Steeleye Span sing Australia

I fell in with a damsel, she was handsome and gay,
I neglected my work more and more every day,
And to keep her like a lady, I went on the highway,
And for that I was sent to Australia.

Chorus:
Australia, Australia, I would ne'er see no more
Worn out with the fever, cast down to Death's door,
And if I ever live, say, seven years more,
I would soon bid adieu to Australia.

Now the judges, they stand with their whips in their hands
And they drive us like horses to plough up the land.
You should see us poor young fellows, a-working in the gaol-yard,
How cruel is our fate in Australia.