Archives for July 2011


Laugh, Kookaburra, Laugh!

Photo: Jake Williamson

Almost every child who has grown up in Australia over the last 50 years or so learned a song in primary school called “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree“.

How many of you remember singing this one waaaaay back all those years ago, as I do? And it’s still taught to primary school children today, as in this YouTube video made in 2009.

What you may not know – as I did not until a recent controversy – was that the song was penned 79 years ago by a Melbourne school music teacher, Marion Sinclair.

She wrote the song in 1932 and later entered it into a competition run by the Girl Guides Association of Victoria in 1934. The rights to the winning song in this competition were to be sold to raise money for a camping ground (which became Britannia Park). The first performance of the song was at a Girl Guides jamboree in 1934, held at Frankston in Victoria, to which the Baden-Powells (founders of the Guiding and Scouting movements) also came.

Fast forward 54 years … Marion Sinclair died in 1988, when publishing rights to the song passed to Larrikin Music.

Meanwhile, in 1979 and 1981, an Aussie band called Men at Work had written and performed a song called Down Under. The song became very popular, gaining heaps of airtime on many radio stations.

And for many of us who remember the 80s, Down Under became almost as much an Aussie icon as the Kookaburra song we learned at school. :)

Simple so far, yes?  But here’s where things get more complicated  …

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