Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Irvine, Moreton Bay and the history of Australian gulags

Listening to Andy Irvine's dazzling version of the Australian convict ballad Moreton Bay from his 2000 CD Way Out Yonder I am reminded that Australia has a long history of creating "gulags" away from the prying eyes of the citizenry where the authorities inflict cruel and inhumane treatment on detainees.

From convict settlements to internment camps to Aboriginal reserves to prisons and to modern day immigration detention centres.

Moreton Bay**
I am a native of the land of Erin
That was early banished from my native shore
On the ship Columbus went circular sailing
And I left behind me the girl I adore

On the bounding billows that were loudly raging
Bold sea mariners our course did steer
We were bound for Sydney our destination
And every day cold irons wore

O Moreton Bay you’ll find no equal
Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie
And all Time Places in New South Wales.
When I arrived it was in Port Jackson
And I thought my days would happy be
I soon found out I was greatly mistaken
I was taken as prisoner to Moreton Bay
For three long years I was beastly treated
And heavy Irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging it was lacerated
And of times painted with crimson gore

Like the Egyptians and the ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke
Till a native Black there he lay in ambush
And he gave the tyrant a mortal stroke 
Now fellow prisoners be exhilaratedThat all such monsters such a death may find
And when from bondage we are liberated
Our former suffering shall fade from mind

(Trad. Arr. Andy Irvine) information about the song written by Andy Irvine

**This is one of the best known Australian Convict Ballads. Captain Patrick Logan was the cruel Commander of Moreton Bay Penal Colony between 1826 and 1830 when he met his death at the hands--and spears--of a party of Aboriginal Hunters. He was found buried face downwards in a shallow grave--"Looking at Hell, where he was surely bound". The convicts at Moreton Bay went nearly insane with joy at the news of his death. My good friend Kevin Bradley, who is Sound Archivist at the National Library of Australia in Canberra invited me to learn and sing this song at the Woodford Festival in Queensland in 1998. The original was recorded by Simon MacDonald of Creswick, Victoria who lived from 1907-1968.

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