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BAI, Crystal (460322069) Research Essay.

The concept of Australia as a nation varies through time as historical and cultural events
unfold. Because of this, the definition of Australian popular music is influenced by factors
from outside forces that ultimately derives from colonialism, but despite this, Australian
popular music is crucial to the Australian identity and nation-building. To support this claim,
two of many iconic figures of the Australian popular music genre and their work will be
explored and studied. Although representing two different genres of popular music, Slim
Dusty, real name Gordon Kirkpatrick, and Midnight Oil link the idea of an Australian nation
to their oeuvre and delivers their respective narratives through their own individual
methods. Exploring how Australia as a nation manifests in the two artists works will be
paralleled by understanding their subject position as it influences the reception of the
songs, and therefore, the musical analysis will be focused primarily on the text of Slim
Dustys End Of The Canning Stock Route and Midnight Oils Blue Sky Mine.

To provide a single and concrete definition for Australian popular music proves to be
difficult as this broad genre has not developed a distinct characteristic in sound that is
inherently Australian. As a given, this was because of the colonisation of Australia dating
back to the late eighteenth-century, and subsequently, Australia as a nation was
predominantly European-based. Also, Philip Hayward explains that Historically Australia
does not seem to have developed regional and/or subcultural critical masses sufficient to
produce specific ethnic music forms.1 Combining these two variables, it is undeniably true
that one cannot specifically pin-point a particular element of music which can be thought of
as epitome used to identify what is and what isnt immediate Australian popular music. As a
result, Australian popular music has been principally derived from imported models.2 One
of these imported models is the ballad tradition, and it is a form of story telling of one main
event. And as a result, while dying out in England and Ireland, the ballad tradition id and
flourished in Australia, and has been a key component in the formation of an Australian
popular music sensibility and nation. The ballad tradition is very significant since the essence
of its definition can be clearly seen in both Slim Dustys End Of The Canning Stock Route
and Midnight Oils Blue Sky Mine as they both are the telling of a single narrative through
the usage of I.

Despite having a loose definition, the genre of Australian popular music still serves as a way
of representing Australia as a nation. As Marcus Breen poses the question, should we care
about Australian popular music?3 And to which he answers immediately after that the
answer to that question is crucial to a sense of identity, localised youth culture and nation-
building.4 Although Slim Dusty and Midnight Oil both cater to a slightly more mature

Philip Hayward, From Pop to Punk to Postmodernism: Popular Music and Australian Culture from the 1960s to
the 1990s (North Sydney, N.S.W.: Allen and Unwin, 1992), 4.
Ibid., 6.
Marcus Breen, Rock Dogs: Politics and the Australian Music Industry (Sydney, N.S.W.: Pluto Press, 1999), 2.
Ibid., 2.
audience, that is, these musicians are not a musical focus of the youth culture5, their
intentions are similar: that they in fact are one of the many significant figures that produced
music which could also be named under unofficial anthems6, and these songs may very
well be a part of the repertoire that gives Australia a sense of identity and the idea of
nation. Although more applicable towards Midnight Oil, many of these songs that are
considered unofficial anthems songs like Jimmy Barness Working Class Man, Paul Kellys
Leaps And Bounds, Yothu Yindis Treaty and Midnight Oils Blue Sky Mine because
they are manifestations of Australian Rock, and in a broader respect, Australian popular
music.7 This then brings up the question of rather than What is Australian popular music?
but instead What does Australian popular music mean? Shane Homan and Tony Mitchell
states that although it can mean music that is widely accessible, such a definition cannot
hope to represent the diverse range of musical activities and attitudes found in Australia
today8 and comes to the conclusion that we do not segregate popular music from
popular culture; instead, we argue that one constantly informs the other.9 To link this
back to the Australian nation, since popular music and culture will inevitably parallel and
influence each other, one can come to the fact that, Australian popular music does indeed
serve to represent Australia as a nation, as nation by definition can encompass the people
and their culture despite constantly changing.

Slim Dustys End Of The Canning Stock Route was released in 1976, which is 14 years
before Midnight Oils Blue Sky Mine which was released in 1990. The instrumentation of
both End of the Canning Stock Route and Blue Sky Mine are simple and have
characteristics that immediately distinguish themselves into their genres: country and pub
rock respectively. The subject position of Slim Dustys song is that of a distant I, and it is
the retelling of a legend as he did not personally experience this, and is revealed in the lyrics
in the first verse Now the cannings but a legend just a lonely desert land and its doubtful
if the Munjongs want it back. Also, by using the personal pronoun you, for example in the
second verse An oasis in the desert you can find at Durba Springs implies an inclusion of
the listener into this narrative that Slim Dusty sings about, and it is effective as if he is
welcoming the audience to become a part of the narrative and experience. Because of the
simple accompaniment and form of the song in the ballad-style, the lyrics in turn become
the focal point and so the narrative is conveyed clearly to the audience. Also, while the
melodic line is limited in range and variation, the text is quite colourful and descriptive,
almost, if one might say, emits a sort of romanticism laced with Australian imagery. This
may have very well been influenced by the works of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson as

Marcus Breen, Rock Dogs, 2.
Shane Homan and Tony Mitchell, Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now: Popular Music in Australia (Hobart,
Tasmania: ACYS, 2008), 2.
Ibid., 2.
Ibid., 5.
Ibid., 6.
well as the bush ballad tradition to which he was exposed to throughout his childhood 10 For
example, in the third verse, Two elusive lands that few men ever found are located on the
canning down that lonely desert track where to be this very moment would be worth a
thousand pound and in the fourth verse But my wish is just a daydream which can never
be fulfilled implies something that is unachievable in nature, a theme that is very central
to romanticism of the 19th century. Although Slim Dusty may not have necessarily been
exposed to Western art traditions, his fathers diverse repertoire included key elements in
the music of British and Irish settler culture of the 1800s and early 1900s.11 But above all
the analytical characterisations, Slim Dustys voice and musical style shows a familiar and
everyday ordinariness and so retains a humility and direct connection to the communities
and individuals he celebrates in song that epitomises a particular kind of essential
Australianness12 which ultimately connects the Australian nation to his works as he
embodies the people, the peoples experiences and stories, and the culture.

In comparison, Midnight Oil is a highly outspoken and politically fuelled Australian rock band
where their oeuvre aims to bring attention, nationally and globally, of the working middle
class of Australia and the indigenous Australians. Because of this, it easily carries an aspect
of Australia as a nation as Midnight Oil takes the economic, political, and social happenings
and applies themes of deceit and disasters while also focusing on the Indigenous population
of Australia. The subject position of Midnight Oils Blue Sky Mining also uses a distant I
in that it describes the disaster of the Wittenoom mine tragedy. It holds the belief of anti-
establishment, and connotes conspicuously the unbalance of the middle class to companies
and its corruptions. The lyrics are striking and, much like the simplicity of accompaniment in
Slim Dustys End Of The Canning Stock Route, the accompaniment and structure for Blue
Sky Mining is relatively simple in that it does not disrupt the focus of the lyrics. Such
examples of lyrics include My gut is wrenched out, it is crunched up and broken // My life
that is lived is no more than a token affirms the corruption of the higher class and becomes
more effective as the lines Whos gonna save me repeats several times, further implying
such themes. The chorus But if I work all day on the blue sky mine // Therell be food on
the table tonight is the most effective not only it repeats itself, as a chorus should, but the
lyrics reveal the inner conflict which the miners had to deal with. To extend this to a broader
sense, it can also be applied to the middle class workers of other fields in that eventually
there will always be a need to compromise in order to have the pay in your pocket
tonight. The pronoun you is also used in the "Blue Sky Mine, and although it also serves
as a way of including the audience just as End Of The Canning Stock Route, its implications
are different from that of Slim Dustys song. On another level, the backing vocals that sing
and reverb Therell be food on the table tonight // Therell be pay in your pocket tonight //
And the company takes what the company wants can be interpreted as the voice of the

Jon Fitzgerald and Philip Hayward, At the Confluence: Slim Dusty and Australian Country Music, in Outback
and Urban: Australian Country Music edited by Philip Hayward (Gympie, Q.L.D.: AICM Press, 2003), 31.
Ibid., 31
Ibid., 52.
company answering the questions of the middle class, which then entirely dismisses the
effect of you as inclusion. The language in End Of The Canning Stock Route is descriptive
and romantic, while Blue Sky Mine is direct and jarring. Rather than including the
audience to imagine a legend, it is a song that speaks from the collective mass of the
people who have experienced the disaster and at the same time to show the disparity
between the working class and the company. Midnight Oil is an example of connecting the
notion of Australia as a nation to business and politics, which are only two facets of the
Australian culture.

By analysing End Of The Canning Stock Route by Slim Dusty and Blue Sky Mine by
Midnight Oil musically through subject position and paired with personal circumstances, it
can be concluded that these two songs certainly reflect Australia as a nation in their own
ways, specifically focusing on subject position as this influences the way it is perceived and
understood. It is important to take their personal histories into consideration as well as the
significance of their relationship and role with the rest of the world. Nation is certainly a
variable and malleable term as a theme or framework that is subject to change, but it is
important to note that it is due to the circumstances of economical progression and the
developing Australian nation.


Breen, Marcus. Rock Dogs: Politics and the Australian Music Industry. Sydney, N.S.W.: Pluto
Press, 1999.

Elder, Catriona. Being Australian: Narratives of real Identity. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen and
Unwin, 2007.

Fitzgerald, Jon, and Philip Hayward. At the Confluence: Slim Dusty and Australian Country
Music. In Outback and Urban: Australian Country Music edited by Philip Hayward, 29-54.
Gympie, Q.L.D.: AICM Press, 2003.

Hayward, Philip. From Pop to Punk to Postmodernism: Popular Music and Australian Culture
from the 1960s to the 1990s. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Allen and Unwin, 1992.

Homan, Shane and Tony Mitchell. Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now: Popular Music in
Australia. Hobart, Tasmania: ACYS, 2008.

Smith, Graeme. Singing Australian: A History of Folk and Country Music. Sydney, N.S.W.:
Pluto Press, 2005.

White, Richard. Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980. Sydney, N.S.W: George
Allen & Unwin, 1981.