As you may probably know, I am quite interested in music and its origins. Some years ago I wrote a blog about the genesis of a popular Christmas song. I have decided this year to enlighten you about the circumstances that generated another one.
One of the frustrations of most of us at Christmas is that the Christmas songs tend to be focussed on the northern hemisphere with snow, sleigh rides and mistletoe. The song whose origin I am about to relate to you is very distinctly Australian.
Let me tell you what happened which inspired a famous song to be created.
Our scene is outback Australia. The story is focussed on the little town of Beefsteak.
Beefsteak came into existence because it lay on one the more frequently used stock routes. The town was built on the stock route which traversed the town and in fact was its main street. Because the road was a gazetted stock route it had never been sealed.
But life and commerce moves on and Beefsteak became the beneficiary of coal seam methane development which caused the local economy to flourish. The town was becoming wealthier and began to shrug off previous associations with the cattle industry. In fact those citizens who seemed to think they were more sophisticated expressed some rancour when the occasional herd of cattle was driven through the main street with the ensuing dust and liberal deposits of cow manure!
But the pastoralists insisted that they were within their rights to push the herds through town. The principal advantage was with the cattle properties to the north of town. The local abattoir was located on the southern outskirts of Beefsteak and the stock route provided the most direct access for the properties to the north. The local geography was such that if the pastoralists were denied the use of the stock route the drive to the abattoir was far more difficult.
Eventually the issue became a hot topic with the local council. The progressives wanted to close the stock route and in its place construct a pedestrian mall in the main street. But this was resisted of course by the pastoralists.
The cattlemen began to organise to beat off this threat. Their leader was one Wally Williamson. Wally had a large cattle station to the north of Beefsteak which had been in his family for three generations. Every year in mid-summer when the cattle were in good condition it had been the family tradition to march a herd of their prime animals down the cattle route, through Beefsteak and to the abattoir.
However, this year things were different. In June the local council had been enveloped in a crisis. The commercial interests in town had decided that the interests of the locals would be better served if the stock route through town was closed and the main block in the centre of town converted to a shopping mall. Although the rural constituents took great exception to the proposal in the end the councillors representing the town’s business community won the day.
In defiance of the town’s legislators Wally was preparing to make his annual cattle drive to the abattoir. The stock route was now partially blocked with the mall’s construction underway. But Wally was determined to carry out his cattle drive anyway.
It was Christmas Eve and the cattle had all been assembled at Wally’s station. The word had gotten out to the pastoralists round about and to show their support they had ridden from miles around to accompany Wally on his fateful push. It was not only the men that congregated at Wally’s place but women and children too – in fact almost anyone who could ride a horse was there.
The sun had just risen when the party set off – a hundred or more steers being driven by a small cavalry of riders, all decked out in their riding gear and wide brimmed hats. In order to keep their spirits up they sang and chanted as they rode.
By eleven, the town was in sight and as they approached they could see the Christmas decorations festooning the half constructed mall.
Then of a sudden somebody began singing a little chant. The words were contagious and it was soon taken up by the entire group of riders. As they approached the mall a crescendo of passionate voices rang through the town.
The journalist and country historian Algernon Neville Oscar Nettlefield, (generally known by his initials ANON) anticipating this was to be a significant historical occasion had ridden with the group into town. He immediately sensed the significance of the newly composed anthem in the notebook he habitually carried with him.
And the words that they sang, as you have probably guessed, were of that famous Australian Christmas song which begins:
“Wreck the Mall with Cows of Wally – Fa la la la la, la la la la.”