Wonderful Wandong

The nineteen-seventies were the launching pad for what we today regard as modern Australian country music. After the assault by Rock & Roll in the 50s and 60s, country music staged a tremendous comeback in the 70s. Underpinned by the handful of pioneers who were still active, people like Tex Morton, Buddy Williams and Slim Dusty, a whole bunch of talented new performers appeared. Wandong Festival epitomised this era of enthusiasm and discovery. The Festival, started in 1972 by the Wandong Lions Club and directed by John Knox, raised thousands of dollars for charity. Every March, this small town, 61 kms up the Hume Highway from Melbourne, became a focal point for country music artists and their legions of fans. One of the first events to present country music to a mass audience in Australia, Wandong was a fantastic experience full of energy and excitement. Jazzer Smith, the legionary chronicler of Australian country music in those days, caught this wonderful atmosphere in his original cover notes. And the artist line up reflects that excitement too. While often more focused on singing great songs than writing original material, these were the entertainers who brought city and rural audiences back to country music. Like Jazzer himself who died in 1987 and Tex Morton who died in 1983, many have passed on or hung up their guitars. But none deserve to be forgotten. Their music performed so naturally among the brown paddocks, gum trees, dust and sun of rural Wandong in 1979 is superb. So many of the great names of the era are there: 1901, Cash Backman, John McSweeny, Kevin Shegog, Les Partell, Jan Kelly, Kevin King, Gene Fisk, Lenore Somerset, Ray Kernaghan, Harry Williams, Lee Conway, Colin James, The Cobbers, The Hawking Brothers, Reg Poole and many more. There’s even an appearance by the father of Australian country Tex Morton. It’s a fine live recording of classic country music that really captures the excitement of the occasion and if you’re a long-time fan it’s odds on that you’ll hear many of your favourite songs. “Wandong Country” is a priceless slice of real-life country music and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it, way back at Wandong, in 1979.

 Max Ellis

Tamworth, 1/5/2007

see: the Story of Australian Country Music by Max Ellis & John Minson: http://www.historyofcountrymusic.com.au/soacm.html