Wongawilli Colonial
Dance Club Inc.

PO Box 17,
Albion Park,
NSW, 2527
 

email

Secretary
David De Santi
0409 57 1788

Traditional Australian Bush Instruments

by Bob Bolton (with supplementary material by Alan Scott)
Publication copyright: Bob Bolton; 1985, 1997 and 1999 except material marked (AS), which is copyright: Alan Scott; 1962.

Illustrations: Bob Bolton.

Distributed through: The Bush Music Club Inc., PO Box 433, Sydney NSW 2040.


The original composite text that I published in 1984 was based on the text of a lecture delivered by Alan Scott at a WEA Folk Lore weekend, 15th July, 1962. This was expanded with my separate notes covering new insights into the instruments and styles covered so well by Alan and some additional areas and instruments that had come to light in the intervening years or had attracted the interest of folk performers (particularly myself!).

A lot of material has come to light since 1962 and I have tried to unify this text by rewriting entries in my own words, but there are a few areas where Alan?s original entry covers the ground well - and no significant new information calls for any change. I offer those unchanged entries with the notation (AS) with the greatest respect and no intention of plagiarism.

The very term Traditional Bush Instrument requires qualification. For a start, it is very risky to maintain an artificial distinction between bush and city dwellers in the period of our interest. The typical Australian of the latter half of the 19th century was remarkably mobile. This is one of the distinctive characteristics that shapes an Australian style in entertainment and in temperament. Australians were then prepared to hoist their swags and look for a better job, or town, or boss, or patch of land. This defined what we now call Bush instruments. The restless, mobile bush worker might have a home back in town and even access to classical or orchestral instruments but most of these don't pack well in a swag.

The instruments that were in popular use for entertainment and recreation in the countryside of Australia were those that were compact enough to travel the tracks and robust; both hardy enough to endure a rough life and loud enough to play solo for a makeshift dance in kitchen or woolshed. These instruments tended to be featured by the early bands of the 1950s Bush Music revival - based on the original Bushwhackers who featured in the 1953/4 Sydney production of the New Theatre's musical play Reedy River and this created a distinct, if slightly artificial, image of what a Bush Band should look like and this image still influences such bands today.

The energy, rhythm and ?punch? of the newly invented portable, self-harmonising free reed instruments of the 19th century - the concertina, accordion and mouth organ - ensured a place, indeed a strident voice, in the shaping of a distinct Australian music in our formative years. In combination with the older small instruments - violins, mandolins, whistles, flutes, even the occasional clarinet or cornet - and such makeshift percussion, rhythm and bass instruments as could be created from any unclaimed tin-plate, canisters, boxes or lumber, this new, and often ill-assorted, band gave form to the hardy, working music that we think of as Bush Music.

We should remember that dances did not only happen in wool sheds and kitchens. In many small towns the School of Arts, Mechanics' Institute, Memorial Hall or even church halls were the centre of popular entertainment. Dances held in them were often the only regular entertainment available, the only chance for town and station workers to get together on a social basis, and the places for the courtship of many of our ancestors. Australian literature describes many of these social occasions. There is a description of a primitive one preserved in Ralph Rashleigh. Henry Lawson describes another in A Bush Dance and dances and dancing often feature in Steele Rudd's On Our Selection.

The music and instrumentation for these bush town dances was often different from the woolshed and home party. It was a matter of pride for towns to fit out their spanking new hall with a piano - a clear mark of respectability. This was rarely found to be strictly in any established pitch. The long journey by bullock dray (or even by pioneering steam train) played havoc with strings and tuning keys. As well, there were often a half dozen competing pitches that might be found in any assorted bunch of tuning forks. The best one could hope for was that the piano was in reasonable tune with itself. The pianist at town dances tended to be accompanied by those strings - violin, mandolin, banjo and (later) guitar - or small orchestral wind and brass instruments (cornets, clarinets, flutes etc.) that could tune to the piano. Concertinists and accordionists who were determined to play in country towns needed to be adept at piano tuning (as many of those with traditional bands were!).

This did lead to some differences in style between town and station but we should remember that both were just as valid as each other, somewhat interchangeable, and both are interesting parts of our colonial heritage. The musicians at any of these events needed to be able to work with whatever was at hand, fitting together a programme from what tunes they knew to suit the particular requirements of the popular dances of the day: set dances like The Lancers, the Quadrilles and the Waltz Cotillions and couple dances such as the Varsovienne, Polka Mazurka and Schottische.

Each dance had its own requirements for rhythm and timing. There may have been specific set tunes for some dances but the skilled bush musician boasted that he could fit any tune to any dance. Some of these changes have survived as distinctive Australian treatments of tunes known elsewhere in different forms.

There was also a tradition of solo step dancing inherited from the British Isles and kept alive here by the circumstances of shearing life where men were isolated from women for months at a time. The tradition seems to have migrated to the pub as the bush developed towns with an Australian tradition of ?Cellar-flap Dancing?. This was a competition between a dancer and a musician where the rules restricted the dancer to the resonant area of the bar's hatchway over the cellar. Step dancing is done to Hornpipe and Jig tunes or fast reels and many of these tunes have been preserved for us owing to this.

An accomplished Bush Musician was a important local figure. His or her skill determined the success of the only social occasion many bush workers were able to attend. A feeling for the rhythm of the popular dances and the ability to supply suitable tunes, keep the timing correct, mark out the separate figures and adapt to the ability and needs of the dancers was the hallmark of those great musicians still remembered in many a country district.

 

The Mouth Organ

One of the simplest instruments was also very important. The simple diatonic mouth organ was common in the bush and often the first instrument of those who went on to excel on the German (or Anglo-German) concertina or the button accordion. The mouth organ shares with these bellows instruments a diatonic scale, arranged so that you blow on one note and draw on the next. The scale seems illogical to a strict melody view because it is arranged to accommodate simple harmony.

The entire ten holes, when blown, form a ten-note chord in the tonic key. The draw holes seem to get out of step but this is to allow a dominant seventh chord at the low end, followed by the related dorian minor chord and a partial sub dominant. On a 'C' mouth organ, this gives an extensive C major chord: CEGcegc1 on the blow with a G major (7th): GBd(f) on the first three (four) draw holes, D minor: dfa, on draw holes 4 to 6 and holes 5 and 6 give the first two notes of the subdominant fa(c). The upper holes (those beyond #6) are not used for chords.

This arrangement allows notes blown together (separated by cunning use of the tongue to block some holes) to sound in chords, thirds, fifths or octaves. The player can block off holes with the tongue and sound single notes for the melody and rhythmically withdraw the tongue to sound several notes as a chord. The combination of these movements, with single notes on the down beat and chords on the up beat is known as 'vamping' or 'putting in the bass' and is the usual bush way of playing.

A common effect was to hold a tin pannikin across the instrument to increase resonance. Hohner used to sell tin-plate (and later plastic) 'Echophones' that did much the same thing and other manufacturers had similar devices. Sadly, the sound of the 'Echophone' is no longer heard in the land but you can still find tin pannikins in country stores and these, especially the oval pannikin from a traditional 'Quart Pot', are ideal for producing that haunting echo effect.

The Button Accordion

The button accordion predates the developed mouth organ and offers the extension of bellows power and simple 'automatic' chords. The same blow and draw is involved, but translated into push and pull, with the bellows supplying the wind. You still have the means to play the chords with the right hand - but in addition you have bass chords for the left hand.

The bass buttons of the button accordion are simplicity, itself; in the simplest forms just two metal 'spoon' valves sounding tonic note and chord on push and dominant note and chord on pull. With these, every note in the diatonic scale may be given a simple harmony sufficient for dance accompaniment and playing most simple British folk songs and the player cannot create a real discord. Many bush accordionists extended the instrument with a style of playing that used a great many chords played with the right hand.

Larger models add first the sub-dominant and then minor chords but still in a form which is played automatically - without need to read musical notation. The accordion is much bigger than the mouth organ and consequently not so easy to carry around, but what you lose in portability you gain in volume and range.

Button accordions come in a couple of different shapes. There is a 'German' style with stops that can be drawn up to engage additional sets of reeds. These are usually found with simple 'spoon' basses. The 'Vienna' style is more streamlined and has a fuller range of bass buttons and this is the type most commonly seen today.

The mouth organ and the button accordion are related, using much the same ten hole/button layout and the same scale. The German and Anglo-German concertinas also share this arrangement (split between the two hands) that is the equivalent of the 'three chord trick' of beginner guitarists and can provide automatic accompaniment to most simple folk tunes. The concertina (German or Anglo-German) is usually in a two row basic form where the second row of buttons is in another diatonic key, a fifth above the first and thus provides additional useful chords quite readily. Because of these advantages, this group of instruments have always been favourites of the 'ear' player with no formal musical training and thus were the mainstay of much Bush Music.

Concertinas

The next reed instrument is the Concertina, which was developed at the same time as the accordion, during the 1820s with further developments throughout the middle of the 19th century. There are three major classes of this instrument with several sub-groups. One technique that would seem to be unique to this instrument is the practice of swinging it over the head while playing to produce a 'ringing' tone.

The English Concertina

The original, the 'Rolls Royce' of the concertina world, was the English Concertina; designed by eminent scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone as a quality instrument for the musically literate, serious player. Generally it is smaller than the accordion and the notes are laid out in a unique but logical fashion.

The diatonic scale of notes in the centre rows of studs; C on one side of the instrument and D on the other. Notes progress up the scale from side to side and row to row. You get the same note on push and pull, so you don't have to worry about running out of wind and any notes can be played simultaneously. Adjacent notes in the home keys are in thirds and fifths, so chord playing is relatively simple. The English Concertina is a chromatic instrument; the sharps and flats taking up the outside rows of buttons, so playing accidentals or changing to a different key is only a matter of practice.

The English models are more apparent in the folk revival than in folk traditions where the German and (to a lesser extent, Anglo-German) concertina were the common instruments. One reason for this, in the Australian folk revival of the 1950s and later, was a matter of misunderstood terminology. Many bush players used the terms 'German' and 'English' to denote country of manufacture, not tuning system. When they recommended to young enthusiasts that they look out for a good 'English concertina', they meant a high quality Lachenal or Wheatstone Anglo-German instrument. Enquiries about English concertinas with the renascent English Concertina Association produced Wheatstone's English system, and many of our early enthusiasts thus found themselves expert on a system of concertina that was virtually unknown in the bush.

English system instruments that did come to Australia have also survived disproportionately well. Being from the expensive end of the catalogue, they were more likely to be owned by persons of refinement and musical skill rather than by shearers or other itinerant workers. They were probably far less often played than the popular German styles and kept in better conditions.

British Concertina bands used the English system almost exclusively for playing band parts, usually in 'Brass Band' keys. When band players migrated to Australia they often brought their personal instruments but there was far less of a concertina band movement in Australia - apart from the Salvation Army. The English was also popular with the Stage virtuosi of the vaudeville stage and the incredible skill shown in this arena is only a memory today.

The German Concertina

If the English concertina was the 'Rolls Royce', the Germans quickly developed the 'Volkswagen'. They admired Wheatstone's compact instrument and, around 1840, shrank their accordion by leaving out the basses and splitting the two rows of its right hand between left and right sides of a smaller box - originally rectangular, like a smaller accordion. At least one English manufacturer actually copied this style, using Germany's simple construction methods and wooden keywork to produce a far cheaper concertina than Wheatstone's English.

Sometime around 1850, Louis Lachenal (the Swiss toolmaker who had set up Wheatstone's factory) struck out on his own. Using improved production methods (and fully utilising the outwork system) he made a specialty of what became known as the Anglo-German style instrument. This had the German system combined with the distinctive hexagonal body of the concertina and a modular construction that allowed repairs and modification.

The musical possibilities of the Anglo-German instrument are not as sophisticated as those of the English system, but it was far more robust as a dance instrument, perfectly capable of the normal range of folk dance tunes and in fact was the one most widely played throughout the bush. The demand for extra capabilities was met by adding extra buttons - either at the end of the existing two rows or in a third row. Anglo-chromatic instruments exist with as many as 44 buttons. These were initially a few semitones for modulation into other keys and alternate positions and directions for commonly played notes, to allow more precise chording.

Lachenal instruments are the most common surviving today and far outnumber other brands (most of which, other that Wheatstone, are partly or fully of Lachenal origins, anyway). It is common to find old instruments that have been played almost into the ground, with finger holes worn into the end plates, makeshift straps and bellows patching that provides a potted history of the adhesive tape industry?s past century.

Its interesting to note that at least three manufacturers of concertinas operated in the last century; at Bathurst and Sydney, NSW. and Ballarat, Victoria. Although there is evidence that the makers often played English system concertinas, the models made for sale were commonly the 20 key German system.

Concertina Revival

Since Alan Scott gave his talk to the WEA in 1962 (the origin of this article) quite a body of Concertina lore has been uncovered, mostly by players taking part in a concertina revival parallel to the Folk Revival of recent years. It seems that concertinas were around in a surprising number of forms; the English, with its left-right alternation of notes sounding identically in or out suited the musically learned and even crept into classical music. The German, for reasons outlined above, was favoured in the Bush, where its simplicity and firm chords suited dance music.

Those who sought more sophistication found it in the Anglo-Chromatic which was a British attempt to maintain its robust simplicity while allowing accidentals and some extension of key range; in recent years this has become the favourite instrument of revival players and well restored examples fetch prices as high as those of good English patterns.

Beyond these stand an individualistic group of at least three, unrelated Duet concertinas all of which share the characteristic of having a treble scale on the right hand and a bass scale on the left hand with buttons sounding the same note each way and arranged in similar patterns on each side. These were to facilitate simultaneous melody and chordal playing possible but difficult on the English and musically limited on the German. The known forms are:

the Wheatstone Duet (or its variant, the McCann Duet, developed by a skilled player who was a manager at Wheatstone's). Identified by having six vertical rows of buttons rather than the English four. This system has a small band loyal followers in the revival, despite (due to?) the oddities of its layout(s). (I sold my example back in the early 1970s and financed a solid shift into the push-pull boxes that were the bush favourites.) As restored English system instruments become rarer in the market, keen soloists are beginning to investigate these duet systems.

the Butterworth (inventor)/Crane (introducer to Salvation Army)/Triumph (Salvation Army brand), adopted enthusiastically by soloists in Salvation Army groups and identified by having five vertical rows of buttons. Although this system is not as fast as the English, it has a beautiful simplicity. You usually have to wait for an owner to die before one of the few examples comes on the market!

the Jeffries, developed by a manufacturer of professional grade Anglo-German instruments and looking like an Anglo with more than forty buttons in four horizontal rows but sounding the same notes on push or pull. There must be virtues to the system (especially if you are an Anglo system player looking for expanded capabilities) but I only know of one player of Jeffries Duet - and she likes peculiar systems!

Of all these types only the German remains in wide production, mostly as cheap, tatty Chinese lantern' styles made in Germany, Italy and China. Dedicated British craftsmen turn out painfully few English and Anglo styles at vast price (?1000 - ?3000) and remote delivery. Hohner have a line ranging from a better grade of 'Chinese Lantern' to a beginner's English or Anglo-German type but enthusiasts seek good restored late l9th and early 20th century models from Wheatstone, Lachenal or Jeffries, costing (1997) $500 - $2000.

There are four people I know in Australia who have made concertinas. All of them only made the Anglo-Chromatic types in their basic 30-key form. Two of these will make instruments to order at prices starting around the low end of those charged by the British makers.

The Tin Whistle

The tin whistle (once known as the penny whistle) is pretty well neither today. The common models are made of cylindrical brass tube, either varnished or chrome plated. They are still made from tin plate by one English maker but their latest models are painted and have plastic mouthpieces.

The Tin Whistle is a simple form of the recorder or English flute, with a diatonic scale produced by six single finger holes. A note can be flattened by half closing a hole but this is seldom done except for accidentals. Cross-fingering can also create semitones and this is most commonly seen in the Irish style where one tin whistle, in the key of D, is used for both D and G - flattening the F# by lowering a finger two holes below the F# position.

Tin whistles are available in several different keys and, since it is almost as easy to carry six as it is to carry one, ?bush? player usually change key by picking up another whistle. By overblowing you get at least two octaves out of a good whistle. Old tin whistles (until the 1950s!) had a mouthpiece made of lead. Most new whistles have a plastic mouthpiece. This takes away the antique charm (and possibly the sweet tone) of old tin whistles but avoids the danger of lead poisoning.

Some small production makers produce whistles in a variety of materials, ranging from high quality wooden models from flutemakers through assorted modern alloys and plastics. The light weight of aircraft aluminium makes it popular for large whistles, as long as you don?t worry about rumours of Alzheimer?s Disease

Violin

The violin or fiddle has been a mainstay of most folk music since the 17th century. It is a fine instruments for dance music and some players achieve great artistry on it. Joe Cashmere, whom John Meredith recorded in 1956, had a trick of placing a bowl of a clay pipe under the strings behind the bridge to increase the resonance and also when playing the fiddle to sound like the bagpipes.

The main thing to remember is that fiddle (the style of playing folk music) is quite different from classical and orchestral playing. The hallmark of fiddle technique is the loving use of open string techniques that are anathema to the classicist. This love of varying tonality is a clear divider of folk style from formal music.

Banjo

The banjo was presumably introduced into Australia by the minstrel shows that followed the gold-seekers from California to the Turon fields and thence Ballarat and Bendigo. They are not mentioned to any extent in our literature, but if they would have been played to accompany songs as well as dances. Alan Scott mentions a lady who recalled that her ex-shearer father sang as he played the banjo. Banjos are common in four and five stringed styles. The two that this ex-shearer had in his possession were five-stringed banjos, but both had the fifth string removed. This instrument was played as a four-stringed one with a melody technique, quite different from that used in playing the five-stringed instrument. Ralph Pride and I met an old-timer in Tasmania (who knew an orally passed on version of Frank the Poet?s Seizure of the Cyprus Brig) who had played banjo around the turn of the century for local dances. He also used a five string model without the fifth string but used a strumming technique for dance music.


We know that other stringed instruments were used in the bush. The mandolin and banjo mandolin were quite widespread by the 1890s. Zither guitar and Autoharp variants are common in country town museums and collections and seem to have been favoured by teachers - who were required to play a melody instrument to instruct their classes in songs. The guitar was not common in bush regions in the 19th century because it suffered badly from weather variations, either cracking or breaking at joints glued with traditional animal glues. The great spread of guitar in the 20th century has been made possible by modern adhesives and plywood. The versatility of the guitar in accompaniment for singing has assured it an unshakeable place in bands but it was rare in the pioneering days - more often found as a parlour instrument for genteel young ladies on the coast.

Bush Bass

The next member of the string family is the Bush Bass which is made from a tea chest or from an oil drum. The stick is any convenient sapling or broom stick and the string can be cord, wire or ordinary string. Different notes are obtained by increasing or relaxing the leverage on the stick, thus changing the tension of the string. The range is pretty limited but the notes are too low pitched for any discord with the melody to be obvious.

The Tea Chest Bass was and is popular here and there in the bush, while it and the oil drum bass are well represented on board ships on the Australian coast. The instrument was taken up by skiffle groups when that style of music was in vogue. (AS)

Bones

The playing of bones has a long history in British folklore. Their widespread popularity with bush musicians would appear to be prompted by visiting minstrel shows but the Negro traditions of bones playing only appear in African countries formerly under British rule. Playing bones are usually short pieces of bullock ribs that have been boiled, scraped and dried or else similar pieces carved from hardwood. One is locked rigid against the next finger by the thumb or forefinger and the second bone is held more loosely between the next two fingers. A rocking action of the wrist causes the bones to click together to the rhythm of the music.

Some virtuoso players can play bones in both hands at the same time with three or four bones in each hand. Cross and counter rhythms are possible and vaudeville stage performers could produce an astonishing array of sound effects to train stories and the like. Dance music is better served by starting with a good solid beat from one pair of bones before making things difficult for yourself.

It becomes increasingly difficult to get a good set of playing bones. The sort of beast slaughtered for beef these days is much too light to give a good firm set of bones. An old ex-butcher I knew had worked as a boner back during the days of vaudeville. He told me of the stage players sorting through the bones looking for 'the ivory ones' - the hard heavy bones best for playing ? and that was back in the days when cattle still walked in to market! What hope have we now they are chauffeured in by road train? Your best bet is to ask your butcher for about l70 - 180 mm of the heaviest rib bone he can lay his hands on and make sure you knock up some spares at the same time.

Alternatively you can try making some out of wood. Some old-timers insist Tasmanian Oak, Gidgee or some other hardwood is the only one that will do. One vaudevillian I interviewed said the only way to make a good set of bones was to carve them from 50-year-old Jarrah floor boards! Another timber loved by stage performers was lignum vitae. You needed to know someone at the Naval Dockyards to get scraps but it does make some really good ?bones?. Unfortunately, it is now restricted by CITES (Commission against International Trade in Endangered Species) legislation. Some really hard Australian hardwoods - particularly the desert mulgas - are too damn hard to comfortably play as bones!

Lagerphone

The Lagerphone is the instrument that once seemed the hallmark of the bush band. It was originally made with the bottletops from bottled beer (in the early days, always lager). The name is what it was called by when Brian Loughlin and John Meredith first heard it in the Riverina. Alan Scott reports one ex-bushman saying that the first time he saw one was in 1912. Crown seals, (bottle tops) were invented in 1892 in USA and not used in Australia until around 1905.

Despite this recent history, the lagerphone?s ancestry goes back to the Turkish Crescent. This was a rhythm instrument of great antiquity in the Middle East that was first adopted by military bands in the late 17th century. It consisted of an ornate stick with brass and silver bells that was played by shaking it in time with the music. The British Army called it the Jingling Johnny and it was taken up by the popular military bands of the 19th century.

Australian ingenuity quickly adapted it to new materials. The bottletops came free and we added a notched bow or rattle stick with which to create a more interesting rhythm. Someone then slipped on a rubber cap from a pair of crutches or a chair-leg and gave it a fundamental bounce and the sound was reinforced by adding a few panels of planking to carry more bottletops - plus an array of folly bells to give some interest to the offbeat.

The Lagerphone deserves to regain its place as the hallmark of the Bush Band It is capable of producing quite a sophisticated rhythm accompaniment. The stressed beats are played by firmly tapping the stick on the floor (the rubber crutch tip saves the floor from damage and imparts a satisfactory bounce) and the subsequent beats are made by first hitting the stick with the bow and then rubbing along with the notches cut into the bow. With practice and moderation an excellent beat is the result. The notches in the bow should be rasped and sandpapered smooth, otherwise you will quickly saw the broomstick in half!

Improvised Instruments

Alan's talk covered the instruments played by the bush bands of the early revival. Obviously this grouping is not representative of any specific band in any area of the bush. People used whatever was at hand and would improvise, particularly for rhythm and percussion. The Lagerphone, Bones and Bush Bass all are results of the use of materials close to hand. Some other improvised instruments have been described and I shall provide a short selection.

Cigar Box Fiddle

Very little was wasted in the bush and back when fine wooden boxes came with cigars the idea of using the box for a musical instrument was natural. A wooden neck was attached and a gut string passed over a bridge on the box to a tuning peg in the neck. This could be played with a horsehair bow in the style of simple oriental fiddles (which may have inspired it)

Kerosene Tin Dulcimer

When John Meredith was collecting folk lore in the Mudgee area, he came across this instrument, made by Cyril Abbott, a local bushman and bush musician. Made from the once ubiquitous four gallon kerosene tin (similar to tins in which olive oil is bought in bulk) and a broomstick. The tin bears no strain and needs only be lightly nailed to the broomstick which has a nail or screw to attach the strings which pass over a bridge at each end and are fixed around crude tuning pegs made from screws and wing-nuts. The strings are Steel Guitar strings and are played like the Hawaiian Guitar, with a 'steel' to stop the strings and a plectrum. The strings are tuned with two in unison and the third slightly sharper to give a 'Tremolo' effect. Sound holes may be cut into the kerosene-tin, either at the ends or in the surface below the strings.

Barcoo Dog

Collector Ron Edwards notes that this is not really a musical instrument but a tool used in yarding sheep. Simply a crude type of rattle with pieces of tin or the push-in lids from tins of Golden Syrup etc. threaded onto a piece of fencing wire either tied in a loop or strung between the ends of a forked stick. This was used when yarding sheep by rattling it at the sheep ? who might be foolish enough to run in the opposite direction, into the yards. It wasn't as good as a sheep dog but it wasn't likely to be cooling off in the creek when you needed it!

For musical applications it could be shaken along with the tune to, provide a sort of Bush Tambourine. You should go softly at first; when I made one it was immediately banished by the rest of the band! I remember seeing a couple of musicians who, when they played for children, would scatter a few Barcoo Dogs (the type made with bottletops, small lids and forked sticks - about the size of a child's shanghai) for the children to rattle along with them.

Cake Tin Banjo

When I was young, my father made playable toy banjos for my brother and me with old cake tins dowelled to an improvised neck. The dowel formed a simple tailpiece for the fishing line strings and screw-eyes made fairly good tuning pegs.

My brother Eric became seriously interested in the banjo in the early ?60s and we constructed a better grade cake tin banjo (with a new 8" cake tin and a hand made banjo neck, complete with proper wire frets and tuning heads). It wasn't likely to put Vega Banjos out of business but it gave Eric a start.

When a Bluegrass Society started in Sydney in the early ?70s I went along to call some dancing for them? Lo and behold! there were several cake-tin banjos! The mystery was solved when I read their newsletter and found thanks extended to one of the Bush Music Club's old members who, at their inaugural meeting, had shown his cake-tin banjo to the society. I do remember his keen interest in ours all those years before.

Interesting Instruments?

The information that goes into a publication like this must come from ordinary people - that?s what folk music is about; the music (and all the other folklore) of ordinary folk. If you know of interesting musical instruments, maybe in your own family or just something you may have stumbled across, I ould love to hear from you.

Bob Bolton

Bush Music Club Box 433 GPO Sydney NSW 2001, (02) 9569 7244 (h), bbolton@energy.com.au

Further Reading

If you want information and sketches on specific bush improvisations the best book is Ron Edwards ' Bushcraft 2, Rams Skull Press (formerly Skills Of The Australian Bushman, Rigby, 1979). Very little else is to be found. All of Ron?s Bushcraft books are worth reading - just to see how so many people got along when there was no corner store, hardware shop, etc.

An American publication, How to Play Nearly Everything, Dallas Cline, Oak Publications, New York, 1977, ISBN 0-8256-0199-1, (then distributed world-wide by Music Sales) gives good information on how to make and play bones, as well as good articles on playing spoons, saw and washboard. I notice that Dallas Cline also had another book entitled Homemade Instruments, from the same publisher. This is mainly aimed at children.
 

 
Copyright © 2002 - 2009 Wongawilli Colonial Dance Club Inc. All Rights Reserved