He’s still true blue

Music legend John Williamson, with 500 country and folk songs to his credit, remains true-blue to his Aussie core.

“Being true-blue today is just the same as it was when the song was written (nearly 40 years ago),” John told me from Sydney where he’s embarking on a national tour.

“Being true-blue is being somebody who cares about our country. It doesn’t matter if you’ve Aboriginal or Chinese background. If you are living in Australia and care about Australia, you are true-blue.”

Turning 73, John has released his 20th studio album, Butcherbird, reflecting on life, love and the bush that surrounds him.

“The Butcherbird is my favourite feathered singer. They have been here longer than humans, yet their melodies are remarkably fresh. They are my mates in the garden,” he says in his promo.

Fifty years in the music industry, twice-married, father-of-two, John says he did have a notion about retiring from music writing but “can’t help myself.”

Country-born in Victoria, Scotch College-educated in Melbourne before moving to a NSW farming property, the singer now has a Queensland country retreat where he lives with wife Meg Doyle.

Amid 73 hectares of sub-tropical rainforest and grassland – where cattle had been grazed by a neighbour – he’d like to bring it all back to natural rainforest where his “magnificent trees could have a chance to get out on their own.”

A celebrated conservationist and mate of the late wildlife warrior Steve Irwin, John has fought for a number of causes including koala and coral reef protection (he became an ambassador for Protect Our Coral Sea).

When Steve Irwin died, John wrote a tribute tune, Wildlife Warriors: It’s Time, and at Irwin’s memorial service, performed Home Among the Gum Trees and True Blue for a worldwide audience of millions.

He was also a prominent performer at the Sydney Olympics and sang at the memorial service for Don Bradman.

John wrote Mates on the Road, dedicated to indigenous Australians of The Stolen Generation and a duet, Desert Child, a bush lullaby for Aboriginal children.

He wrote Flower on the Water as a tribute to the Bali bombing victims and The Camel Boy to salute the life of indigenous artist Albert Namatjira.

His album We Love This Country is a compilation of his favourite holiday songs to promote Australian tourism and caravans. It became a jingle for caravan commercials.

John is a founding member of the Country Music Association of Australia; fighting for the interests of the Australian country music industry particularly in regard to the awards.

John says he still considers himself a farmer, a country boy, but with his two daughters in Sydney, he can stay connected to the big smoke.

He’s most comfortable on his property with its huge shed where he sometimes holds performances or fundraisers.

Visitors to the Springbrook property can see aspects of his eventful life including awards and gongs: an AM for conservation and music, ARIA Hall of Fame, three ARIA Awards, 26 Golden Guitars, MO Awards, three APRA Awards, platinum and gold album accreditations.

And there are his cars displayed including 1951 and 1955 Holden utes and an FJ Holden.

Coming to his shed soon is his profile, painted by Anh Do on ABC TV recently.

“We get heaps of visitors from WA,” he said.

John has also been preparing to headline a fundraiser for farm drought victims.

On his current tour, John will perform his new material but feels compelled to sing classics from the albums that have sold more than four million copies with sales in the US, UK and New Zealand.

He agrees he’d probably be strung-up by audiences if he didn’t sing True Blue, Old Man Emu, Mallee Boy, Raining on the Rock and Cootamundra Wattle among others.

John spends more than two hours on stage with no supporting act.

“It’s hard enough now trying to squeeze in favourites and new material. It’s a job to work out what to leave out,” he said.

John also remains a strident republic supporter.

“Now that Malcolm Turnbull has more time on his hands, perhaps he’ll go back to pushing for the republic,” he said.

John believes republican Australia could adopt the Governor-General as Head of State rather than electing a president who are in it to promote themselves.

“Being a republic doesn’t stop Australia’s strong connection with Britain. We can still have Commonwealth Games and all that.” But he believes that serious push for change won’t come while the present Queen reigns.

With wife Meg, his music, his beloved Aussie bush, his shed with its memorabilia and toys, his family and fans in contact, John is happy.

There’s also his longtime hobby of acrylic painting and perhaps a switch to oil painting.

“I’ve been really lucky,” says the country music star and national treasure who could perhaps take a leaf from his own verse.

“Give me a home among the gumtrees

With lots of plum trees

A sheep or two, a k-kangaroo

A clothesline out the back

Verandah out the front

And an old rocking chair.”

Tour dates:

  • 2 October : Albany Entertainment Centre

  • 4 October: Bunbury Entertainment Centre

  • 5 October: Mandurah Performing Arts Centre

  • 6 October: Perth, Astor Theatre, Mt Lawley

For the full list visit: johnwilliamson.com.au/tour/