THE POWER OF THE SONG
I attended many of the folk concerts on campus and was exposed to the songs of protest evolving with the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements. The power of a song, sung by one voice accompanied by a single guitar, had an indelible influence on me. Gary Shearston’s Australian Broadside LP introduced me to Australian writers such as Don Henderson, Dennis Kevans, Dorothy Hewitt, Kath Walker and Mona Brand, as well as Gary’s own songs. The power that a song could possess in peacefully presenting a certain viewpoint was demonstrated at the rallies, marches and protest concerts I attended concerning Vietnam and the Australian Aborigine.
These were Australian voices responding in song to things that concerned them and were affecting our country. They were singing from an Australian experience, not just rehashing ideas from overseas. The realisation of this, along with the readiness of these writers and performers to confront and challenge the prevailing feeling that anything home grown was either substandard or suspect, had a profound influence on me.
Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War led to the introduction of a limited form of conscription. All twenty year old Australian males had to register for National Service. In 1968 my birth date was drawn in a lottery style ballot for military service. I had my call-up deferred while I finished my university studies. I had also registered as a conscientious objector. Around this time I was writing prose and poetry. Often this literary expression resulted from the need to find some way of understanding the uncertainty facing the world and my own life.
During 1969, when studying for my Diploma of Education at Sydney Teachers’ College, I bowed to an urge that had been building up in me for some time. I bought myself a guitar and, with a few instruction books, began in earnest to teach myself the fundamentals. My practice time was usually late in the evenings, after I had finished my studies. I found the acoustic guitar a very calming instrument and very conducive to reflection. Around this time I started composing my own songs, basing the melodies around chords and finger styles I was learning. Some of my early songs were of a religious nature. I wrote one song about the Vietnam War and military service.
In January 1970, my case for conscientious objection was heard in Sydney and I was granted exemption from military service. These were not the easiest or happiest of times. My relationship with my parents and certain friends had been strained considerably. So when I was subsequently given a teaching appointment to Binnaway, I knew it was the right time to be leaving Sydney.