Check out Ted’s website here http://bitly.com/3ddub48
0.00 – 0.20
Wayne: G’day and welcome to Wayne’s Wonder World. This podcast will be mainly about musician’s entertainers and pretty much anyone else that I find interesting. Hope you enjoy the podcast please head to Wayneswonderwold.com and please feel free to follow me on my Facebook page Wayne’s Wonder World.
0.20 – 02:29
Wayne: Ted Egan welcome to Wayne’s Wonder World
Ted: G’day there Wayne
Wayne: G’day Ted how’s it going?
Ted: Pretty good, I’m here in Alice Springs and talking to you in Perth or WA and it’s a big distance between us but there is a great level of affection. I live in Alice Springs and my wife Nerys is here with me and we met in WA so I am looking forward to this talk together so let’s do it.
Wayne: Fantastic Ted welcome to Wayne’s Wonder World. So let’s start with our first question and that is who are you Ted?
Ted: Who am I? Well I’m Ted Egan I’m 88 years of age born in suburban Melbourne in 1932 the son of Grace Brennan who married Joe Egan in 1922 and they had 5 fortunate children and the children were all beneficiaries of kind loving, poor but honest parents who sacrificed everything in order that we would have a better chance in life that the 5 of us have. We have gone onto good happy uncomplicated lives and I am forever grateful for the parentage that I enjoyed in Melbourne but I was always encouraged by my parents to learn to stand on my own 2 feet. Although I was well educated I had a Victorian matriculation by the age of 15 which was unheard of. I did a couple of years in preparation, worked as a bank johnnie in Melbourne for a while then decided I would go up to Queensland for some experience, worked in a horse yard and sheep’s station for some pastoral experience. Came back to Melbourne went digging spuds for 3 months and earned incredible money doing that, had a pretty healthy check I gave half to mum and I headed off with my mate Ronnie Smith to Darwin in 1949.CLICK HERE READ MORE HERE
02:29 – 04:31
Wayne: Ted can you tell me where your interest in music came from?
Ted: Well we were lucking as I said at the outset I was bred by 2 parents who were victims of the 1930 depression, I was born in 1932 and for the first 5 years of my life my father was out of regular work. He used to ride his bike into Melbourne every day to seek to get a job, sometimes he would get a days work otherwise he would be on what was called the “susser”, the sustenance, which today is called the dole. But we were never hungry, we were never cold, we were always loved, and we were read and we didn’t have any money but we knew lots of songs. Our family was 5 children, 3 girls then me then my younger brother Tim. The 3 girls in our family all could play the piano two extremely well the other who learned the piano but was nowhere near as good as the other two. We had a piano given to us by an aunt. My father played the pancordion very well but my parents both encouraged us to sing and to enjoy music and then the war came along eventually and my dad was pinned full time work and of course with our Irish Catholic relations our house was always bursting at the seams with young nephews and a few nieces who joined the armed forces who were going to or coming from the war. So there was lots of music around our house. I to this day, tend to sing whether people want me to or not. We were read on music and we were all shelves who had their various party pieces. Life was great couldn’t have had a better childhood.
Wayne: Okay, and could you tell me how you ended up on a ship to Fremantle?
Ted: Well I went to Darwin at the end of 49 then at the end of 50 I had a cousin working on one of the state ships that used to ply the West Australian coast from Darwin to Fremantle calling in at all the ports Broome, Wynham, Derby etc so he stowed me away on the ship, took me down on a trip to meet my rellies in Perth. I had a great time and then did a wheat harvest at Wagin down in the south west there. Then after that I stowed away with another cousin back to Melbourne with my on the Duntroon and realized I was home sick. I wasn’t home sick from Melbourne, I was home sick for Darwin which I had come to love as a place and still do. So I made my way back to Darwin and lived for many years in the top end thereafter.
Wayne: Right so Darwin became your new home?
Ted: Yeah, and into the second bottle, or the third bottle of red wine I’m a Darwin boy. I live in Alice and I love Alice and it’s a good town in many respects but I as I say in one of my songs “there is a place where I misspent my years Darwin is its name.” I tend to write songs to express my feelings Wayne so you have to live with me.
06.14 – 15.56
Wayne: That’s alright, can you tell me about your time in Yirrkala?
Ted: I went there very late in life, I was head teacher at Groot Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria and because I had pretty strong affiliations with the Aboriginal people in north east of Arnhem Land there was a proposal to start a big oxide mine, there was going to be lots of controversy so I left Groot Island I went to live just near Yirrkala which was a Methodist mission in those days serving the people of Arnhem Land who call themselves Yolngu, it’s not a tribe it’s a word. It basically means, we “We Who” so I worked among them for the next 3 years as the mining town. All the problems stared to unfold and reveal so yeah that was my time at Yirrkala 66 to 69.
Wayne: Okay, wow
Ted: A lot of things happened in the year between.
Wayne: Okay well what major events did happen in that time?
Ted: Probably the most important thing that happened to me in my life was when I went to Darwin I was a very strong practicing Catholic, I was also a boy from Melbourne who was an Aussie Rules football player so we used to kick a footy around. We lived in a camp where they subsequently built the Catholic cathedral and I used to kick the footy around and get ready to participate in the local competition. And out emerged these aboriginal fellas and were they any good. I said “Gee who do you fellas play for?” And they said “We don’t play in the local competition.” So I started a team we started off another team but I had these kiwi aboriginal people on my mind and I was very pleased when the bishop of Darwin called me in one day to the Bishops palace and he said “I want you, and I know who you are you attend the church and you play for works and jerks in the footy” and he said “I want you to start a new team to enable the kiwi aboriginals from Pathas and Northern Islands to have a chance to show just how good they are in the local competitions.” So that I think was the most important thing that happened in my life, I was one of two founders with a young priest called Father Collins of a team called St Mary’s football club in Darwin which is incredibly famous today won 45 premierships and they’ve produced all the champion players that everyone in Australia knows and particularly in WA all the Riolis, and all the Long’s and all the Basil Campbells and the Legonas all derived from St Mary’s footy club in Darwin and the fact that I was the first captain and premiership captain for St Mary’s footy club and that had stood me an amazing stead ever since. Principally one day after the footy in Darwin when St Mary’s new team had a win and I was much maligned but sometimes revered a West Australian man Paul Haslack used to visit Darwin regularly because he was interested in aboriginal matters and also footy. He had heard me give the pep talk in the kiwi language at half time and he came to me after the game and said “You were interesting, would you like to work among aboriginals and I said “Bloody oath I would” so he said come and see me on Monday at my office. So I go down and work on what was in those days called the “Native Affairs branch” and I was classified as a cadet patrol office I was declared to be a protector of aboriginals but one who needed protecting was me because I was young and inexperienced in bush life and in my job I suddenly found myself needing to know and understand the vast Australian landscape. My many aboriginal friends who had developed over those initial years were always kind to me and my life was full of learning and laughed and I marveled at being able to be paid to do the job. So that started me on a career that went on for the next 22 years doing various things in different outback posting and life was fantastic but eventually after, and I finished up working for another famous West Australian there are so many of them. Dr HC Nugget Coombs the man who started the commonwealth bank, the reserve bank, he was the director of post war reconstruction he was head of the treasury just a truly amazing dedicated public servant. I worked for him for 3 from 69 to when he appointed me I was at Yirrkala still and he appointed me. He said to me “Come and work for me in Canberra” so I went to live in Canberra but during the next 3 to 4 years I saw more of the Northern Territory than I had in the rest of my life because he wanted me to kept abreath of all the issues around land rights and mining and things that are affecting the lives of aboriginal people. So that was one of them. So I was involved as a minor player but you know I had my contribution in the establishment of various principles in aboriginal affairs. None of those have been positively brought to fruition none the less the principle was established that the land rights for aboriginals are a possibility and it’s still only a possibility despites all the things that have happened since. There is still a lot of work to be done. But I realized at that point that I had reached the level where a white bloke like me should stand aside and let aboriginals organize their own rights rather than have the old worn practice of white people who know what’s best for you. I was driving from wave hill in the northern territory into Catherine northern territory having just visited Vincent Lingiari the famous Gurindji man and I had broken the news to him that he was going to get a lease over his block of land and I thought time for you to go, so I pulled up the car part way between wave hill and Catherine I wrote a 3 line letter of resignation and I had posted it at Catherine and at that point had left the Commonwealth government. So life went on, but I knew what I was doing. I was a level one public servant on a pretty handsome salary but it was time to go because I was confident at that point that I could make a living from singing songs because although I had this busy life through the bush all through the northern territory for 20 odd years I had met all these larger than life characters and participated in all these amazing incidents that began to start me writing songs and here I am 30 old ones later talking to you today Wayne. And in 72 after the Woodland government had come in and these various principles had been recognized for the aboriginal people I had already at that point I had 2 albums both of which were gold albums and that was unbelievably in those days I don’t even think Slim Dusty had a gold at that point. But I had a couple because I used to sell themselves at that point. “Wanna buy a record wanna buy a cassette?” I had established quite a reputation in bogan country music circles for selling merchandise quite aggressively I just remind all your listeners that I do have a webpage and I do have a substantial body of merchandise that I am very happy to keep selling books, cd’s, dvd’s you name it give me a ring.
15.56 – 17.30
Wayne: That’s great there Ted, can we also talk about, there was a song I believe you recorded called “Gurindji Blues”?
Ted: That’s right, that’s the one I had when I had visited Vincent on that day in 72 I had written the song and lyrics recorded it with him and Galarrwuy Yunupingu of national fame. The three of us went to the studio in Sydney and recorded 2 songs “Gurindji Blues” about the “Gurindji Cause” about the land rights, the Yirrkala land rights of course and recorded both of those. At that point I’d sort of embarked on this other career now that I was going to sing songs for a living. So yeah the Gurindji Blues is to this day evokes a fair bit of interest. Every 3 months or so I get a letter or a request from somewhere “May we publish the words from your Gurindji Blues song in our book/magazine or whatever?” So it gets a lot of attention and Vincent, I was with Vincent only a couple of days before he died. He couldn’t walk anymore and he was just about blind. He held my hand and he said “Sing my song for me Ted?” and I say it and I shed a few tears as I sang it but it’s essentially, well you might be able to play it on the podcast.
Wayne: As a matter of fact we are just going to take a listen to it now.
17.30 – 18.50
Gurindji Blues – Ted Egan plays
18.50 – 23.04
Wayne: Wow that was fantastic Ted, I believe that you originally sold around 15,000 copies. Is it true that the proceeds from this helped fund the aboriginal tent embassy?
Ted: Yep that’s correct because while I was responsible for the sales but I approved of the move because there was a man named Chicker Dickson in Sydney who was, I wish he was still alive because he was the smartest operator I had ever met in aboriginal affairs. He was always taught ahead, years ahead of his thinking of everyone else. When I did the recording with Galarrwuy and Vincent Chicker as we called him Chicker Dickson said “We are gonna get this and we are start this tent embassy” I’m not sure but it was certainly thousands that we sold. We would sometimes be given $20 for a $2 single record as a donation. Because it was attractively packaged and it certainly financed the aboriginal tent embassy.
Wayne: Speaking of nicely packaged, I believe that single was actually one of the first ones from RCA to be pictured?
Ted: Well they put it out in a very attractive little package, and I think they put a photo of Galarrwuy and Vincent on the label.
Wayne: That’s right yeah.
Ted: I have the original somewhere but I wouldn’t know where to find it today. It’s still around, anyway so that’s that. Then I started off as how do I make a living now that I have given up that job and the superannuation and all that. So I knew where to go, I knew I would go straight to Alice Springs where tourism was at its peak in those days and thousands and thousands of mainly Australian tourists would come on recognized coach line’s like Casey’s from WA, Australian Pacific, Centralian course from Melbourne and people would come in groups of 40 and 50 to Oz Springs for a week or central Australian for a week and they would camp, one of the things they would visit the rock and they would visit all of the local sites. A standard night during that week was always a Ted Egan show, so I sometimes have you know 8 to 10 coach loads of tourists at my show so I did very well financially and in terms of recognition of an artist at Stuart Arms in Alice Springs and I would do my show there for the next 30 years. Every year I would all through the tourist season from April to October I would be there sometimes 7 nights a week and then sometimes I would go south to record. I used to record an album every year. I would go to, and I’m not seeking to engrace myself but quite a few albums were done in Perth. I came to identify with the musos in Perth, and still to this day Nerys and I are planning a visit to Perth in September October this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our meeting at Toodyay Western Australia in 1981 and to do another very serious podcast style recording but this will be a musical all over it. That will be in Perth so if any of my folky mates are listening we going to get in touch with you because we need singers and musos and lots of enthusiasm. We are having a big party and at the same time celebrating our 40th anniversary together.
Wayne: Is it true that you have released 30 albums so far and have recorded over 300 songs?
Ted: Yeah, we did a check once and the vast majority of my songs are about people. I usually don’t seek to write people to put anyone down but if I see admirable qualities in a person I often seek to interview them and ask them intelligent (hopefully) questions. Because sometimes you just get that one liner that’s a gem you think got ya! So I write songs about, I’ve never written one about a politician specifically but I write songs about old grandmothers and old drovers and interesting people. People who are liars or rogues or likeable crooks or whatever, so I am still on that kick. We at the moment are hoping to get some mileage for a song that I have written called “Our Golden Girls” about all the wonderful female athletes we have had in Australia for many many years for their participation in world sport. That’s for channel 7 at the moment it has no future as a song if it can be presented as a film clip with our words and our singing behind it. It’s a bit like “C’mon Aussie C’mon” and “Up There Cazaly” and that type of song. Hopefully with the marvelous images of Shirley Strickland, Marjorie Jackson, Betty Cuthbert all those kind- here I go with Western Australians again Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland. But WA just does feature so predominantly in Australian life and may it ever be like that.
Wayne: Fantastic, well sounds like everyone I know loves your songs Ted. Now here comes a tough questions for you but with all the songs you have recorded do you have a favourite?
Ted: I have songs that I- I’d never have a song list when I start my show. I have an opening song called the “Characters of the Outback” which contains about 6 verses of different characters, some are old, some are young, some are black, some are white, some are male, and some are female. Because I don’t have any great gimmickry going for me, I don’t have strobe lights, I don’t dance, I don’t have a band and I don’t play conventional musical instruments I have to watch the eyes for reaction and I work out from that a response to those verses they got that line, they didn’t, they missed that line. I know where I gradually go to my shows and I sing a provocative one, and a serious one and then funny one just all the time judging what do I do next? There are songs that invariably work. There are probably 2 that never fail to work and never fail to evoke a lovely warm healthy response. One is the “Sayonara Nakamura” about Broome Western Australia and the Japanese divers in the pearling industry and the other is about an old Chinese woman in Darwin called “Granny” I always like to get a bit of authenticity and when I chuck in a little chorus in Cantonese you just spot that one set of eyes in the audience that says “Yes go ya!” So I sing:
Ted: *Sings in Cantonese*
Ted: Means nothing to most listeners because most of the song is in English. And when I song “Sayonara Nakamura” I sing:
Ted: *Sings in Japanese*
Ted: and it’s usually, they invariably go well but I have got other songs that I love to sing if I’ve got an audience that can appreciate it, understand it and like it. A good example is a song that I wrote called “The Hungry Fighter” it’s about one of the old standard boxing tent stories of take a club “Roll up, roll up over here Ladies and Gentlemen” and I wrote it about Ron Richards arguably the greatest boxer Australia has ever produced. He was an aboriginal bloke from Roamer in Queensland who at one stage we was a middle weight in terms of actual weight, but her was a middle weight, light-heavy weight and heavy weight champion of the British empire in the 1930’s and he beat 2 Americans who visited Australia and subsequently went on to be World Champions and he beat both of them easily. But he finished up Punch Drunk and really tragic figure and I wrote my song, I was prompted to write it after I actually saw him. I was in the Sydney markets and I saw someone and I thought “That’s Ron Richards” because I knew his face and he was checking out the rubbish bins. I walked over and I said “May I shake your hand?” and he said “Yeah!” So I slipped him 10 bob and he tweaked and he said “Thank you boy” then I wrote my song, it doesn’t always work because it’s a long song and people are sometimes a bit mystified by it but I would love to sing it on appropriate occasions. I did have a couple of songs that are in sort of English but they are in “outback English” and I delight in singing them because most audiences haven’t got the faintest clue what I am even talking about. One especially is called weeye quie capramunda and you need to know what a weeye is and what a quie is and what capramunda means. But it’s got a line in it and if you’re a bushy you know exactly what I am talking about. If you’re not your scratching asking “What is he talking about?” It’s a delight that I don’t have a fixed set of songs that I have a choice of and because I have them all in mind I have them in my mind as photos and I say “Turn the page” in my mind and “Go on to verse 3” “don’t forget verse 5” so I rarely slip up on words or whatever. I might have had a drink too many occasionally by verse 2. But no life has been very good to me Wayne.
31.00 – 34.38
Wayne: Well fantastic, sounds like just from the timber of your voice that every song you’ve done has been recorded with passion and love and as we’ve heard there is always a story behind each that you make.
Ted: The album that I am most proud of in the 30 is the ANZACs album. I did my album “The ANZACS 100 years on” in the year 2013 against the prospect of taking it round Australia, getting hopefully significant recognition for it and I was very disappointed that didn’t eventuate. I was let down quite badly by 2 bodies, the Australia War Memorial and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The DVA rang me and said why would you do an album like this? My mother had 3 ANZAC brothers how’s that for a starter? He said “You needn’t bother we are going to cover, all the things the department will be doing” and they never did. The War Memorial said you are only out to make a quid out of the ANZACs so we won’t be supporting in any way. I recorded it in Perth, and here I go again, we recorded principal songs with the Brass band that was at the time the number 1 brass band in Australia. That is WA Brass who practice and perform at the WA show grounds in Subie there. The recording we did is just first class. None of my, most of my career would happen without yet another West Australian a young fella called Eric Kowalski because Eric was born and raised in Perth. He is classically trained, but he delights in working in all forms of music and he and I are so different in that he derives what I call “Dots on Lines” and I wouldn’t know one key from another or one cord from another. But I work with Eric when I want to do a song and he will be my musicaly director in September or October this year when we come back to do our musical balls and chains. Eric is just one of those delightful people. He is just flawless in his knowledge of musical requirements. He wrote the parts from the ANZACs he had never worked with a brass band before but I asked “Can you do it?” And he said “I’ll have a go” so he bought books on brass band harmonies with his own colossal knowledge he wrote parts and the band members we’re like “geez who wrote these?” He is just so accomplished. A lot of life time friendships developed from Eric helping me to do all these albums over so many years so roll on WA.
34.38 – 39.24
Wayne: fantastic Ted can you tell me where the idea came from to use an empty beer carton as a musical instrument?
Ted: Well I can’t play anything looking like a traditional musical instrument, I wish I could but I can’t. Indeed I don’t understand- people say to me “What key do you sing?” I say “I don’t know” and what are the chords, I wouldn’t know what a cord is. I know the cord is designed to present pleasant music. And I know if I hear a discordant note at any time, I’ve got a terrific eye to listen to what other people have written or composed. In my first recordings in Sydney I was lucky enough to have for the first 6 album that I did the services of the renowned guitarist George Collar 35.40 whose name will be known to many people up in especially Jazz guitar music George is one of the scholars in Guitar Jazz playing. George doesn’t do studio work but he was engaged from my first album and he loved it. He said to me at one of the breaks “Ted don’t ever let anyone try to teach you the fundamentals or music, you don’t understand the rules, you break all them and it seems to work for you.” So I took that as high praise indeed coming from George Collar. I’m a finger tapper, I played drums in the school band when I was a school boy. I didn’t play a kit of drums just a kettle drum as they were alled in the school marching band. So I am a finger tapper and I tend to sing whether people want me to or not. I just tap away on anything. Usually just a table and I’ll break into song I don’t need a guitar because I can sing in tune, doesn’t matter if I start a bit high I’ll just sing high today and sing it lower tomorrow. Whatever key happens on the day, that’s the key for me. So I’m a pretty hefty drinker, I went to Darwin age 17. Got into pretty serious drinking in Darwin and we used to often, eventually we would get big wooden boxes of beer and eventually they came packed in cardboard boxes. So we would club in our money get a carton and a block of ice and get into it and sing a few songs. So I just grabbed the carton and tapped away on it and everyone said that’s your instrument. And of course we drank fosters beer wherever we could I’d be able to call my instrument the fosterphone. It’s accompanied me on 30 albums of songs over 60 years so I feel pretty good about being the world champion fosterphone player.
Wayne: Have you ever been sponsored by fosters Ted?
Ted: Interesting question. I know a lot of people have written to fosters saying “We just heard this very different bloke” but people say to me “Does fosters sponsor you?” and I say “No I sponsor them.”
Ted: There has never been a call other than a trip to Canada, I did a trip to Canada for the tourist bodies and they provided quite a few cartons of free fosters for me to distribute on their behalf. So they did give that free. But it’s just I can sing on a cooperphone, I sing in the key of C and an emu box I suppose I sing in the key of E if there is one. Key of S for swan. Occasionally lapse into four X but it depends on what you drink on the day, that’s called the tuning process.
39.24 – 44.04
Wayne: Moving on a bit in time I believe you once presented a documentary series, a fantastic documentary series called “This Land Australia” what was this opportunity like for you?
Ted: I loved every minute of it. I was working with a very delightful company, they were the most progressive, highly organized, they were honest they paid me well. They said look let’s do this series at it’s best. If there is a helicopter shot needed we’ll have a helicopter shot. So we did 13 episodes of this Land Australia. I loved every minute of it. I still have the DVDs and rather nicely the right to sell those DVDs from those days. It was just so enjoyable. We did things like North Oak Islands, Torres Strait Islands. Broome, the Barossa Valley, Snowy Mountains, the Tropical North. Cape York Peninsula. Things like that. Sadly, even though it was with channel 10 their ratings were 4 they were dreadful at that time but when my show came on their ratings could go from 4 to 28 straight away because people wanted to watch. Soon as it was over it would go back to 14 because a lot of people would switch off. Channel 10 elected not to do more than the one series because they were told by their so called expert’s because their attention span of the Australian viewer is 3 minutes. The cricket is perfect because there is an over, a couple of commercials, an over and a couple of commercials and they said “No, there is no room for this 1 hour show.” So we were discontinued. No hard feelings, but we could have gone on for a couple more years. The films that I have, I can send you a couple if you like, they speak for themselves the quality of the camera work, the sound work, the research put into the project, it has never been equaled in Australia. There is one of my favourite songs “This Land Australia, try to understand Australia, take her as she is, her moods, her mysteries, mother of us all, beneath the southern cross in her frame of peaceful seas.” So that goes on from that. It’s a song that I love to sing, people quite often pick up and join in the chorus second time. So it’s a joy to have had experiences like that which leads to the creation of songs like that. Which leads to financial advantage to songs like that. The absolute pleasure I get from presenting, I love to. My dear old mate Bill Hardy people say to me “have you ever?” And I say I’ve got a song about that. I can tend to be a bit over bearing at time but if people tell me to shut up I do.
Wayne: I saw some clips of the series on YouTube Ted and it reminded me of the Leyland brothers just a real country feel about it.
Ted: Yeah it’s a different approach. The Leyland brothers used “Aren’t we practically young fellas” and I’m not. I’m not a bush mechanic, I’m okay as a bushman myself but I’m very aware of what constitutes good knowledge in the bush and I am constantly on the lookout for it. If I see it I quite often record it in a song. My power in life has always been as an observer. Our approach was quite different from that of the Leyland brothers who I never met though I know they did quite admirable work in the early days.
44.04 – 47.02
Wayne: Fantastic now speaking so much of your music Ted I believe in 1995 that you were inducted in the Australia role of Renown at the country music awards of Australia, what was this honour like?
Ted: Oh it was as I often do, I was a bit bewildered. I said surely on the day there are people with greater qualifications for this award and they said well you’re our choice for this year. I usually take that stance, not from an egotistical base but from a pragmatic base because so often real heroes are not recognized. In country music circles I’ll mention a name of a mate of mine who’s very well known in WA Terry Gordan. In 1995 at that point I became a member of the group of previous winners so they said “Who of the following would you give tick for next year’s award?” I wrote in and said until Terry Gordon appears I’m not voting. I refrained from voting for the next 10 years until they realized that Terry Gordon had been around country music for a lot longer than I and was totally deserving. Terry has done so much for country, he had a television show going in the late 50’s. Television only starter in 56 in 1959 he had a television country music show going. He’s toured Australia with all the great artists. He has toured United States with much approval from audiences just presenting his nice basic Aussie music. He’s the best organised man I know in country music in Australia today, he is a dear friend but he is now on the rocks at Tamworth with me and all the others. It was a great honour for me, a bit earlier than I should have got it. I’m pleased to be there now along side people like everyone on the rocks I know. I have known on a personal level back to Slim and Joy and Buddy Williams. The only one I never met was Tex Morton, I spoke to Tex on the phone once but I didn’t ever physically meet him but he’s the only on in country music recognized history that I didn’t physically know. But all the others Smokey Dorson, John Williamson and Stan Costran all those others I have known and worked with them and enjoyed the fun of being around them.
47.02 – 52.20
Wayne: In 2000 you won video clip of the year for your song “the Drovers Boy” at the country music awards Australia we are just going to take a quick listen and then we are going to have a bit of a chat.
*The Drovers Boy Plays*
Wayne: Wow that was fantastic Ted. What can you tell me about the song?
Ted: It’s the only gold guitar I’ve won. I didn’t win it for the song itself but I won it for the video clip I organized. It’s a video clip covering the song itself of course. but I recorded the Drovers Boy in 1981 as my contribution to the many hundreds of aboriginal women and girls who in the supposedly romantic days of the cattle movements, the biggest cattle movements the world has ever known that took place in Australia between 1880 and 1950. I wrote my song as a tribute to them and I was a finalist in Tamworth with my song in 82 or 83 and I didn’t win the award but 3 years later about 85 or 86 John Williamson did a cover of it and he did win a gold guitar and at the awards he said “This guitar shouldn’t go to me it should go to Ted Egan” nowadays there would be 2 gold guitars there would be one for John and one for me for writing the song. But the next morning he came to the pub in Tamworth where I was working he said I just came to give you your gold guitar. So I have 3 gold guitars on my shelf looking at me right now on as I speak to you, one is awarded to John Williamson for his song the Drovers boy, 2 is awarded to Ted Egan for best video clip for the Drovers Boy and 3 is the life time award presented to Ted Egan in 2014 at a beautiful ceremony in Tamworth where 15,000 people clapped and I felt suitably embarrassed by all the accolades and it was a lovely night. There are people who have done it better than I but I’m very happy to take the award. Drovers Boy is probably the best known song that I have done on an international level because people are aware of it around the various parts of the world. A few other people have done cover versions. Reg Pool has, Tania Kernaghan has and I know a lot of people do it just as a straight poem and that’s fine as well. I’m glad I wrote the song because it is a recognition of the amazing role the women played sometimes voluntarily sometimes unwillingly but all with great level of achievement and as I discovered over many years a great sense of pride in the knowledge they had contributed so much to Australia’s history and they are still largely unrecognized and that’s one of Australia’s great pities that we don’t have a fair appraisal of who does what in our society. It’s usually the more powerful people who get the applause and the minor achievers get over looked. But anyway we are working towards a better life.
52.20 – 57.18
Wayne: Indeed, in 1993 you were made a member of the Order of Australia and then in 2004 you were promoted to an Officer of the Order of Australia.
Ted: Well again you don’t nominate yourself for the order of Australia award so a body of people who are usually sworn to secrecy are combined to put in a nomination. I nominate lots of people every year for the award for various awards. Somebody who to this day I don’t know who was on the panel that initiated this but I was very thrilled to be, the citation was awarded the Order of Australia AM for services to the aboriginal people of Australia and to a lasting place to the history of Australia through song and verse and then in 2003 I was appointed the administrator of the Northern Territory. At the end of my 30 year Ted Egan outback show era in 2003 I was appointed the administrator which is the same as the governor so Nerys and I went to live at government house Darwin for the next 4 years and had this totally demanding but eccentric and exhilarating life because there wasn’t a negative second in the 4 years and my dear wife Nerys who is a good wordsman said this is a “Geriatric Fairy Tale” and we gave it all we had for 4 years and it was demanding 7 days a week but it was so fulfilling and we’re so glad, we know we did a good job. It was appreciated because it’s a very positive job, you come to realise just how many good people there are in the word. People constantly pinning medals on people and giving awards for this level or that level of bravery or long service. It’s just delightful. All I had to do was show up in this flash set of clothes, I would say I am not going to give you a speech, I’m going to sing you a song at government house. One night we had the Fijian ambassador so I say
*Sings in Fijian*
He loved it. A boring speech, you’d have heard all the boring speeches but it wouldn’t have heard too many governors sing. I love languages and I am fascinated by languages because they are all so inexplicable and all so different and you wonder why in the hell? And people think I am a lot better than I am in fact on languages. I can for example sing about 20 songs I know in flawless German and people hear me sing and they ask me a question in German and I have to say no I can sing the song accurately because I have learned it accurately but I can only order 2 beers in a real life situation. I can always order 2 beers. With respect of aboriginal languages because I am fascinated by the fact there are so many and they are all so different. I have learned small talk a few languages, I can read and write 2 of the traditional Australian languages extremely well and I can deliver a speech which I sit down and somewhat labourisly write from my knowledge. And they ask “Gee is that your first language?” and I say no just delivered the speech. I love it and Nerys says of me I’m a good parrot. So as administrator I would always say if we had a Fijian man or a Welshman I would always sing in their language. It works better than boring speeches so I’ll keeping singing Wayne whether you want me to or not.
57.16 – 1.04.23
Wayne: Fantastic. You have written 10 books so far what are these books about and what is your latest book?
Ted: The latest book is my autobiography called “Outback Songman” and yes it is available in shops and through mail order from me. Either as a paper book quite a lovely production from Allen and Unwin or then I did it as an audiobook as well under my own seem so that’s available. That’s the last published one. I got to tread wearily here because I’ve apparently the taste for content in books has changed drastically and I have to acknowledge that Outback Songman was as successful as Allen and Unwin thought it would be. It was a good seller but not a spectacular seller. Where someone like Jimmy Barnes and god love him, love his work. I’ve never met him but I’d love to meet him. His book has sold many many thousands mine has sold 3-4-5 thousand something like that. So I’m probably past the point of appeal with the books that I might write because I tend to want to write about aboriginal issues and I’m told by publishers and very knowledgeable people who opinions I respect don’t waste your time as a white fella writing about Aboriginal issues because anything you say will either be discarded, disbelieved or vilified, treated as though you are some colonial wastral and they won’t be acted upon and I have to acknowledge that a book I wrote in 2008 which was called Due Inheritance was the most controversial book ever written in Australia about aboriginal issues and I wrote it feeling fairly confident it would go well. It sold okay, not spectacular, we didn’t have a big budget but it sold okay. We couldn’t get it reviewed anywhere no one wanted to review it. This book the most controversial book ever written on aboriginal issues has never provoked a statement of consequence for or against its content. You think god I wonder if anyone is aware of the comprehensive issues that Australia should confront and if so if anyone is interested in doing anything about it. I have written history books, I have written illustrated song books with all my famous Australian albums like the ANZACs, the over landers, the aboriginals, the shearers. I wrote a detailed book because I needed to show that not only had I done the album of usually 15 or so songs but I had researched the material and all to write the songs to a level that was hopefully worth recognizing. They still sell slowly somewhat surely but the word is slowly. People are just not rightly interested it seems in too many meaningful books. People will always go for a great novel or a provocative book but mine I have got to say that I have never had a rip roaring success of a book ever.
Wayne: I think I might place an order for one, it sounds quite interesting.
Ted: Well the webpage is TedEgan.com.au it’s an easy webpage, they’re there.
Wayne: And that’s where people can buy I think your music as well and CD’s?
Ted: Well in the songbooks people are delighted to find that via Eric Kowalski my famous friend in WA that sheet music is there for piano, guitars whatever instrument you want to play you just sit down and there it is ready to play the song. There is one I will throw in though Wayne. On the ANZACs album one of the most meaningful songs I wrote was titled “A Song For Grace” I said at the outset today that my mother’s name was Grace Brennan who married Joe Egan and my mum I usually called her Grace rather than mum. I would just say Grace and she liked that because she had 9 brothers and 3 of them went to the war and 1 died of his wounds at Gallipoli he was a stretcher bearer, a light horseman at Gallipoli without his horse so he became a stretcher bearer and he was shot while out bringing another man to safety and he died of his wounds. Another brother was at Gallipoli and he went out the Middle East but came back to Australia shell shocked. The other brother was 3 years on the Western Front and was gassed and really badly treated by the war although he came back very very sane and got married and had a happy family life. His life was never quite the same again after the war. My mum was the most antiwar person I ever met in my life and she after her death sadly I wrote a song the song for Grace which Nerys recorded. It’s probably the best song on the album, it’s been covered by Sara Storer who sold 100,000 or it, Tania Kernaghan still sings it most ANZAC days and it’s getting quite a bit of appreciable publicity on ANZAC days as an antiwar song and that’s what we need to be playing as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and my We are the ANZACS song. But the one we should concentrate on is A Song For Grace. So that’s all on the ANZACs album and that’s perhaps the song that I am most proud that I did right because it’s dedicated to my wonderful mother.
1.04.23 – 1.09.04
Wayne: Wow that sounds so nice and I think it’s song that everyone should have a listen to. And of course they can find that from your website.
Ted: All of my stuff is on Itunes if people are into that new fangle thing, I don’t know how to work these new systems.
Wayne: I think it’s on Spotify too, so if people are into their music streaming it’s on Spotify.
Ted: Thanks Wayne.
Wayne: Wherever people get their music I am sure they can find it. Now sounds like Ted in your life so far that you have never stopped. Your life sounds like a bundle of different things from different roles and it sounds like you never really retired and you just spend time doing what you believe in.
Ted: Yeah I have never really contemplated the word retirement because I have been retired all my life in that I have just concentrated on doing things that I enjoy doing. The amazing thing is that people have paid me money to do all those things haha.
Wayne: Do you have any stories you would like to share?
Ted: That I went to Darwin and started St Marys footy club because so many things happened as a consequence. As a result I was recognized as a positive rather than a starry eyed supported of aboriginal issues but I am positive, pragmatic and I don’t get carried away but I have recognized as hopefully a fair supporter in their quest for justice so all of that has occurred as a consequence of the footy in the first place.
Wayne: Do you have any interesting things about you that not many people may know about?
Ted: I am pretty ordinary. Born in Australia, I love Australia as a country but I’m very critical of it. I think at the moment we have a lot of things militating against a happy society in this country of ours and I am very concerned about that. I am usually A political but I do contemplate political issues on a daily basis and I write to a lot people and I speak a lot among friends and to the right people so I’m always active even though I am aware that there is not much point in trying to force my opinion on people who are not going to accept them, but none the less I put things down for posterities sake and to get things off my chest. I’m sort of average looks, average height, average level of intelligence, possessed a great positive outlook and a great zest for life as a consequence of the people who have been a part of my life with me. My brothers, my sisters, my dear wife Nerys, my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren all of them we are in daily touch with. We all speak to one another and enjoy one another’s companies. I’ve got a few health issues, I won’t boil you for details of those I’m in very good hands in all of those issues so life goes on at 88. I don’t want to live to 100 but I’d can see a couple more, in fact I am looking at 2021 is going to be one of the busiest years of my entire life. I planned a tour or singing up the Queensland coast singing from Brisbane to Cooktown with Terry Gordon the man I mentioned earlier. Then a trip to WA to record that musical and a trip from Alice to Darwin in May this year and all the writing I do on a daily basis, writing to various interested people and interesting people on the issues that I find in need of contemplation and study and research.
Wayne: If you had your time again Ted would you change anything that’s happened in your life.
Ted: Oh yes. I would do quite a few things differently. In my bush career among aboriginal tribes as we called them in those days I was too imbued with the work ethic and I concentrated wherever I went on encouraging a lifestyle work ethic at a place called Yuendumu in central Australia I was there for 4 and half nearly 5 years. These were pretty much still Stone Age people at the time a lot of them bones through their noses and massive scarification on their bodies and at night although they all wore clothes at night they would all take their clothes of and sleep naked on the ground. Among them I encouraged them to the notion of starting their own, construction of their own houses on their terms with their hands and the establishment of market gardens and outstations and we by the end of my term were running a very successful cattle station and I am proud of all that I did during those days but I didn’t do what I had done in earlier days out in the bush where I had just sat down and teach me some language, teach me some songs and become familiar. I was the boss, and that was quite an erroneous way of doing things. I would do it like this was our team and let’s work a basis of consensus. I used to get my will across in this work ethic stuff because I had the key to the ration store. I won’t say that I abused the power, but I did have considerable power that I like to think I used beneficially and people still talk with great affection about those times when we ran the cattle and why don’t we do that anymore and that sort of thing. So I am proud of what I did but I would have done it differently. Specially concentrating on language because until some white fellas and there are plenty of white fellas but until white fellas learn to speak and listen to the hearts and minds of aboriginal people they will never achieve what needs to be achieved. Unfortunately aboriginals on their own are powerless, they have no power. Constantly being conned by white authorities governmental and otherwise and they are aware of their precarious and unenviable position in life. You keep hearing people say we’re the worst educated, least wealthy and most imprisoned and its true. It’s gotta be better than that and only they with our assistance, and our sympathy and pragmatism can come to terms with those huge issues. It’s the biggest social issue that Australia has.
Wayne: Some really powerful words there Ted. This is my final question, I think I have said that once before, but what would you like your legacy to be with all the work that you have achieved?
Ted: I’m hopeful that the hundreds of songs that I have written will not just be screwed up into a bundle and stuck in the dump when I die. But they’ll be around and someone will sit around one day and try to understand the total works that I have had the opportunity to undertake in my 88 years of life and my 70 odd years of living in the Northern Territory. I am very conscious of the word legacy. It’s on my mind on a daily basis. Everything I do is geared towards the chance for my legacy to be a good one.
Wayne: Wow fantastic, and just a reminder for our listeners if they would like to purchase any of these songs your website is TedEgan.com.au
Ted: Yep TedEgan.com.au
Wayne: Well thank you for your time today Ted I’ve learned a lot more than the internet could teach me. So it’s been a pleasure and all the best for the future.
Ted: Good to speak to someone in WA because we’ll be there hopefully in September, October and the more people know about that the more I’ll like it. My musical is called balls and chains and it’s written about the convict era. Here’s a question for you Wayne? When did the last transported convict die in Australia?
Wayne: I would be guessing but the early 1900s?
Ted: 1938. His name was Samuel Speed. He was transported to Western Australia in the late 1950’s for burning a hay stack somewhere in the UK. He didn’t die in WA but he was the last transported convict to die in Australia. So there you go Wayne that’s the end of our interview.
Wayne: Fantastic there Ted that was a pleasure today. Hope you enjoyed the podcast. Please head to www.wayneswonderworld.com and please feel free to follow me on my Facebook page which is Wayne’s
- How old is Ted Egan?.
Ted is 88 years of age.
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