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More Than a Life: John Meredith and the Fight for Australian Tradition

344 pages, 225 x 150 mm, 20 colour plates, 80 b&w, and DVD

9781925078145, $39.95, Hardcover

Keith McKenry

Available: Now

John Meredith (1920–2001) was for decades the leading warrior in the fight to preserve and celebrate Australia’s unique folk heritage. Between 1953 and 1994 he recorded from ordinary Australians thousands of songs, tunes, recitations, folk medicines, superstitions, sayings and yarns, documenting a rich canon of traditional lore which at the time few believed—and many denied—existed. He was also a key pioneer in folk song performance, establishing in 1952 the original Bushwhackers Band and performing in the landmark Australian musical Reedy River. A political radical throughout the Cold War years, he fought all his life against poverty, cultural toadyism and official indifference. Writing or co-authoring many books on Australian tradition and history including the classic Folk Songs of Australia and the Men and Women Who Sang Them, still easily the most important single volume in the field, he achieved official recognition late in life, his original field recordings becoming an acknowledged national treasure. Unlike however the great song collectors in other English-speaking countries he did not have the benefit of a good education let alone formal musical training for he was forced by poverty to leave school at age fourteen at the height of the Great Depression. In 1944, having neither qualifications nor prospects, he mounted his pushbike and left the New South Wales township of Holbrook where he was born and rode into the sunrise, determined to make his fortune. This is his story.

A one-time environmental scientist, career public servant and Assistant Commissioner of Taxation, Keith McKenry is a leading member of Australia’s small clan of folklorists. He chaired UNESCO’s Special Committee of Technical and Legal Experts on the Safeguarding of Folklore and was a member of the Commonwealth Committee of Inquiry into Folklife in Australia and co-author of its 1987 report, Folklife: Our Living Heritage. His more recent publications include Australia’s Lost Folk Songs and The Folklore of Terrorism: Songs, Poems and Sketches from a Crazy World. He was for eight years President of Australia’s National Folk Festival. He is also Director of Fanged Wombat Productions and a persistent performance poet. His solo CD Bugger the Music, Give Us a Poem! won the prestigious Golden Gumleaf for Album of the Year at Tamworth. He lives with his wife Jenny on their farm in central Victoria, where they breed alpacas and Wiltshire Horn sheep.