Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reedy River

Words: Henry Lawson
Tune: Chris Kempster

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Ten miles down Reedy River, a pool of water lies
And all the year it mirrors the changes in the skies
And in that pool's broad bosom is room for all the stars
Its bed of sand has drifted, o'er countless rocky bars

Around the lower edges, there waves a bed of reeds
Where water rats are hidden and where the wild duck breeds
And grassy slopes rise gently to ridges long and low
Where groves of wattle flourish, and native bluebells grow

Beneath the granite ridges, the eye may just discern
Where Rocky Creek emerges from deep green banks of fern
And standing tall between them, the grassy sheoaks cool
The hard, blue-tinted waters, before they reach the pool

Ten miles down Reedy River one Sunday afternoon
I rode with Mary Campbell to that broad, bright lagoon
We left our horses grazing till shadows climbed the peak
And strolled beneath the sheoaks on the banks of Rocky Creek

Then home along the river, that night we rode a race
And the moonlight lent a glory to Mary Campbell's face
I pleaded for our future all through that moonlight ride
Until our weary horses drew closer side by side

Ten miles from Ryan's Crossing and five below the peak
I built a little homestead on the banks of Rocky Creek
I cleared the land and fenced it, and ploughed the rich, red loam
And my first crop was golden when I brought my Mary home

Now still down Reedy River, the grassy sheoaks sigh
The water-holes still mirror the pictures in the sky
The golden sand is drifting across the rocky bars
And over all for ever go sun and moon and stars

But of the hut I builded, there are no traces now
And many rains have levelled the furrows of my plough
The glad, bright days have vanished, for sombre branches wave
Their wattle blossom golden above my Mary's grave

Notes from the Music Australia website:

Australia's first folk musical Reedy River premiered in Melbourne in 1953. The libretto, based on an historical event, the 1891 shearer's strike, was written by Dick Diamond with songs chosen by John Gray. Two new songs were written for the musical by Diamond with music by Miles Maxwell. Reedy River was inspired by the Australian traditional and folk music being collected by John Meredith, George Farwell, Vance Palmer, Margaret Sutherland and John Gray. Folk songs featured in the musical included the Ballad of '91, Eumeralla Shore and a musical version of the Henry Lawson poem Reedy River. A number of the folk songs performed were collected by John Meredith and the music to the poem Reedy River was composed by sixteen-year-old Chris Kempster, both members of Australia's first bush band, The Bushwhackers.

Reedy River, with music played by a small orchestra conducted by Miles Maxwell, was first produced by the Melbourne New Theatre on 11 March 1953, directed by John Gray. On the 5 December 1953 the musical was revived by the Sydney New Theatre with the orchestra replaced by The Bushwhackers. The band played improvised bush instruments like the bush bass (or tea-chest bass) and the lagerphone (or Murrumbidgee River Rattler) and folk instruments such as the button or "bush" accordion, mouth organ and the tin whistle, introducing these instruments to a wide audience for the first time.

The musical became enormously popular due to its uniquely Australian content, its then novel use of Australian traditional and folk songs and its affirmation of Australian bush culture and tradition. The Sydney season and the subsequent tour of NSW was seen by over 100 000 people and launched The Bushwhackers as a band. The production's popularity is regarded as the catalyst for the Australian folk music revival of the 1950s and the inspiration for generations of folklorists and folklore collectors.

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