Railway Life and Song

A community story contributed by Jillian Bartlett

Audio documentary produced by Jillian Bartlett. Narrated by Noel Hodda and mixed by David White

Brian Dunnett

Brian Dunnett has a strong connection to Eveleigh and the railways. He comes from a railway family, where he, his father, and two uncles worked at Eveleigh Railway Workshops. Brian’s grandfather also worked for the railways in Sydney.  Brian has actively campaigned for the interpretation and conservation of Eveleigh’s heritage, over many years.

Brian’s father, Charlie Dunnett, was an Ironworker at Eveleigh, and worked as a belt repairer in the Machine Shop where he oiled and repaired the belts and pulleys used to drive the overhead line shafts for the steam powered machinery.

Brian started his electrical apprenticeship with the railways in 1950 and trained at Eveleigh. He worked as an Electrician at Eveleigh from 1954 to 1964. He also worked at Chullora Railway Workshops and the White Bay Power Station during his career with the railways. While at Eveleigh, Brian worked in the Train Equipment section, working with train lighting. Brian recalls that even as late the 1950’s train carriages were still lit with gas lamps. However with the introduction of diesel trains low voltage generators were installed under each carriage to produce lighting for the train.

Brian was actively involved with the union movement and was a Shop Steward and part of the Shop Committees at Eveleigh.

Music has played an important role in Brian’s life, particularly folk music and the songs and music of the railways. He has extensively researched, collected, archived and presented songs and poetry written about the railways and railway working life in Australia, from its early beginnings to the present.

Brian also initiated, developed and toured cultural exhibitions such as Trains of Treasure and the accompanying cassette and CD. He has performed widely as part of the group Matilda’s Mob, as well as collaborated with other folk musicians in Australia and overseas. Brian has organised music festival events and song competitions, founded and produced the International Railway Film Festival at Eveleigh in 2012.

Brian continues to make a significant contribution to educating others on the value of preserving railway heritage and celebrating Australia’s labour history and industrial development.

Mark Gregory

Since the early 1960s Mark Gregory has been interested in lyrical commentary on working life exemplified in song and poem, tracing and collecting examples to study the origins and traditions of this material with a particular focus on Australia.

In 1984 Mark began working with Brian Dunnett on his Railway Songs collection and was involved in the recording of poems and songs associated with the Trains of Treasure exhibition.

For the last twenty years his collections have made use of the internet and the possibility of storing searchable archives of lyrics and audio files. Taken together these research archives contain over 1000 Australian songs and poems:

Australian Railway Songs

In 2007 Mark completed his MA in Music at Macquarie University – ‘Sixty Years of Australian Union Songs’ subtitled ‘The Australian Folk Revival and the Australian Labour Movement Since the Second World War.’  In 2014 Mark completed his PhD in History at Wollongong University: ‘Australian Working Songs and Poems – A Rebel Heritage.’

A considerable proportion of the material cited in this thesis results from his recent discoveries of works published in Australian newspaper reports, searches facilitated by the National Library of Australia’s Trove Project.

Mark’s Trove based research also played an important role in two recent ABC Radio National Hindsight programs, ‘Isle of Denial – William Cuffay in Tasmania’ focusing on Chartism and broadcast in 2012 (shortlisted for the 2012 NSW Premier’s Multimedia History Prize) and ‘Frank the Poet – A Convict’s Tour to Hell’ which was broadcast in Australia in 2013 and Ireland in 2014 (the poet was born in Tipperary in 1811).

One of Mark Gregory’s most acclaimed Trove discoveries has been the earliest publication of the iconic shearer’s song ‘Click Go the Shears’ (Bacchus Marsh Express, 5 December 1891) under its original title ‘Bare Belled Ewe.’ This research became the subject of a popular ABC Landline national television broadcast in 2014 which foregrounded the question of the historical connections between the song and the 1891 shearers’ strike in Queensland.

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