A history of country music in Australia

January is the month that is home to Australia’s biggest Country Music event (and largest Music Festival in Australia), the Tamworth Country Music Festival and Golden Guitar Awards. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it’s the second largest country music festival in the world, with Nashville coming in first. In honour of the event, we’d like to take a little trip through country music history right here in Australia.

Australian country music is deeply rooted in our general musical culture. We have a vast array of styles from bluegrass, to folk, yodelling and country-pop. It is understood that Aussie Country has been influenced by Celtic and English folk music, as well as traditional Australian bush ballads and poetry, and the American country music scene. Early pioneers of the genre in our homeland include; Slim Dusty, Smoky Dawson, Tex Morton and Buddy Williams. Themes for song lyrics often incorporate the perils of the bush, outback living in general, farming, outlaws, droughts and floods, Aboriginality, as well as romantic themes and political protests. Country music is world-renowned for telling a story, and Australian country is no different.

The history of country music in Australia can be traced all the way back to songs sung by the early settlers arriving as part of the British colonisation. And while our contemporary hits are somewhat influenced by American country music, we have our own unique and distinctive traits, thanks to our convict heritage. Beginning as early “bush music”, and propelled in popularity by the likes of pioneers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, Aussie country has its origins in ballads and poetry. This early day “country music” was often performed with instruments such as the guitar, banjo, harmonica and the fiddle, which still have a major presence on the modern day scene.

Without a doubt, Waltzing Matilda, is a quintessential example of an early Australian country music song. It is often regarded as an unofficial national anthem, and was written in 1895 by Banjo Patterson. This particular strain of Aussie country music, defined by lyrics with strong focus on strictly Australian subjects, is the definition of early bush music, and was more inspired by Celtic folk ballads than Americanisms and western music.

When Tex Morton arrived on the scene in the 1930s, country music had taken on a more Americanised tone. Tex arrived from New Zealand at 16 years of age, but eventually became known as The Father of Australian Country Music. Once he cut his first record deal, however, he notably switched from the American style country music to a more prominent Aussie country ballad genre. He would later tour the world and return home in the 1960s to a country music scene that greatly reflected the theme he pioneered decades prior.

In 1970, Tamworth radio station, Radio 2TM, organised a Bicentennial Concert to mark the 200th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s voyage along the eastern coast of Australia. Pioneers of Australian country music such as Slim Dusty, Joy McKean, Smoky Dawson, Shirley Thoms, Barry Thornton, Billy Blinkhorn and Buddy Bishop were all invited to feature in the concert that was part of the big event. It is said that this concert directly contributed to the revival of interest in Australian country music, which had suffered a major loss in interest after the introduction of rock and roll to the nation. This lead to the 1973 beginnings of the Tamworth Country Music Festival, of which we mentioned earlier- the biggest music festival in all of Australia.

The Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA) was founded in 1992, and launched in Tamworth, NSW (our country music capital). Legendary Slim Dusty served as the first Chairman, with John Williamson as the Vice Chairman, and Joy McKean (Slim’s wife and accomplished country artist herself) as Treasurer. The Association aims to develop and promote country music in Australia. Following lengthy negotiations, the responsibility of the Golden Guitar Awards was handed over to the CMAA.

Today, country music is back in the spotlight and has a consolidated position as a popular genre in our nation. Country music draws large crowds to festivals each year, and has great numbers of top-selling albums and songs. There are many crossover artists who are bridging the gap between country and pop successfully, and a number of Aussie born artists are now rocking the international country music scene in the global country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee, USA. It would appear, there’s only good things ahead for this classic, traditional style of musical story-telling.

Over the years, the most iconic country music performers in Australian include; Slim Dusty, Smoky Dawson, Tex Morton, Joy McKean, Buddy Williams, Chad Morgan, Anne Kirkpatrick, Reg Lindsay, Adam Brand, Adam Harvey, Troy Cassar-Daley, Jasmine Rae, Olivia Newton-John, John Williamson, Lee Kernaghan, Tania Kernaghan, Keith Urban, Catherine Britt, Kasey Chambers, Morgan Evans, Beccy Cole, O’SHEA and the McClymonts- among many others.

If you love country music or bush dancing, but can’t make the trek to Tamworth this year, make sure you get your country fix by booking a night out with us at Buttai Barn. We love music and good old-fashioned fun, and we guarantee you’ll have a blast. Book now!