What’s the most significant Australian song?

Dear the Internet,

So it’s been a long, long while since I updated this site. And that reason for the silence is fairly straightforward. He looks like this:

My phone more or less exists entirely as a daily archive of JPS photos these days.

James Peter Street turned up on New Years Eve and has been busy being the best thing in the entire universe. And being awfully distracting from the many, many things his father has to do.

So, if you haven’t been following me on Twitter or Facebook – and you totally can do those things – you might assume that I’ve not been spending the fleeting hours when James is briefly asleep madly writing columns (such as the View from the Street column at the Sydney Morning Herald) and/or doing podcasts. But rest assured: that’s what’s been going on.

(Speaking of which: the next live recording of the Double Disillusionists podcast with m’self and the charming and erudite Dom Knight is at Redfern’s Giant Dwarf on Tuesday 2 May, with special guests Mark Humphries of SBS’s The Feed and the former premier of NSW, Kristina Kenneally! Tickets are on sale now, and if we do say so ourselves it’s going to be a great one.)

But on the subject of writing: I’m working on a book at the moment about Australian music – yes, the one that got mentioned about a year ago, before I got completely sidetracked by The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull – and I was wondering… what would you say was the most culturally significant Australian song ever?

Not necessarily your favourite, you understand – but the one that you think either changed things or signified a significant moment in our culture. ‘Treaty’? ‘Khe Sahn’? ‘Friday On My Mind’? ‘Cattle & Cane’? ‘Man Overboard’? ‘Down Under’? ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’? ‘Shaddap You Face’?

The book, y’see, will be the 50(ish) songs that shaped Australia, and I’ve got a long, long list which I’m still winnowing down. And you, beloved reader, could be part of that process, either by making me feel better about my choices and/or reminding me of something I completely, bafflingly overlooked.

The comments are yours: what are the songs that shaped our nation?



13 thoughts on “What’s the most significant Australian song?

  1. I Still Call Australia Home! Bloody sang it a million times as part of the Australian Girls Choir, I reckon I still know the entirety of the soprano 2 part 15 years later

  2. Tempting as it is to nominate a Paul Kelly track, I’m going with Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees. Country towns personified.
    But hey, there’s no shortage of other material.
    Apart from the tracks you’ve mentioned (all worthy)
    The oils – Blue sky mine
    The Waifs – Take it all In or Fisherman’s Daughter
    Paul Kelly – From St Kinda to Kings Cross
    The Triffids – Wide Open Road
    Australian Crawl – The Boys Light Up

  3. I would say Friday On My Mind as that was Australians doing it at/on/in the mother country, Diesel and Dust for land rights, Land Down Under for the whole Australia II thing, I’m guessing Shaddapa Your Face for European immigrant reasons (I was pretty young so I can’t really remember the context and for some reason “novelty” songs are generally excluded from the canon of Australian rock which is nuts cause there was so many of them but so I don’t know that much history about them). And heading into daggier territory, I Still Call Australia Home (cause wow a song about wanting to come BACK??), Waltzing Matilda, I’d Like To Have A Beer With Duncan, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and could there be a case made for You Just Like Me Cause I’m Good In Bed? (I hope so)

  4. Down Under. When I lived in London in the 1990s, in my social circle at least, it was the only Australian song anybody knew. Ask somebody to sing an Australian song and Down Under was what you got.

  5. Ooohhhhh – this would be a great exhibition also, I’d love to paint this top 50 (just saying). For me it would be Gang Gajang Sounds of Then. It reminds me of rainy afternoons in Sydney, where there is a bit humidity in the air and jacaranda flowers scattered around the streets and memories of being a teenager. It might not mark a significant moment in our culture, but I think it really captures the essence / feel of Australia. The song that marks the importance of social cohesion and reconciliation in Australia has to be Blackfella/Whitefella by Warumpi Band. It’s bloody terrible that the lyrics are still so relevant in highlighting issues of racism in Australia…who would have thought we still find ourselves here.

  6. I’m going to throw in ‘Tenterfield Saddler’. Deals not only with Australian country life and the experience of Australians during war, but also the Australian abroad.

  7. I’ll put my vote in for “Cattle and Cane” for significance and Australian-ness. I’d also like to vote for “Wide Open Road”, even though I gather it’s not really about the roads in Australia that are wide and generally expansive, nor is it particularly my favourite Triffids song.

    Since you mention “Not necessarily your favourite, you understand – but the one that you think either changed things or signified a significant moment in our culture” I’d probably have to throw in “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” even though I pretty much loathe The Angels. But you have to admit the audience / band interaction that has developed around that is as Oz as you can get.

    There has to be a Midnight Oil track in there somewhere, but I really don’t know which one. There have been a few votes for “Beds Are Burning” but it’s kind of obvious and overplayed, really. Maybe “Dead Heart” is a better choice.

    I’m more a Laughing Clowns fan than a Saints fan, but you’ve probably got to include “I’m Stranded” for significance.

    I am / was a big Do Re Mi fan, so I’m interested in you mentioning “Man Overboard” but I’m not so sure of its lasting significance. Maybe just for the line about penis envy being broadcast on Countdown is significant enough. But my preference is for the unpolished first version on their 2nd EP, rather than the more poppy and funky version that charted.

    Anyway, I could rattle on at great length (which Karin could confirm), so I better leave it off there. I’d really like to see something from the post-punk underground, like an M Squared or Terse Tapes classic, but I’ll be here all night if I started on those. And I guess you want things that people here have actually heard of. A lot of the M Squared stuff in particular ended up being more popular in Europe than Australia, so may not count as significant enough for this project.

    Oh, one more thing. I want to downvote any novelty song (“Shaddap You Face”, “Beer With Duncan” etc.).

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