Don Henderson Project

The Songs of Don Henderson: Review by Dale and John Dengate (February 2010)

Shortly after Don Hendersonis death in 1991, I had to attend the QFF Annual Dinner, on behalf of the Australian Folk Trust, to bring recognition of the fine role played by volunteers at the Maleny Folk Festival. I suggested to Bill Hauritz that we acknowledge Hendo’s powerful contribution by starting the evening with that quintessential of vernacular Australian songs – 'It's On'.

Before we'd sung two lines, all present stood and sang with passion, laughter and tears in their eyes, the whole song; this was just as well as Bill started in a very low key. Hendo’s words brought back memories of the strength of political song writing in the 1960s and 70s when we did not need to rely on overseas imports to find words to express our ideals and protests.

Although Don chose his musical inspiration from folk, country, blues, jazz and even rock, his words came from the Australian experience of union struggles for safer work conditions and songs of justice and peace. Many of these were sung at anti-war rallies and this was a time when street demonstrations were banned in Queensland. I still recall the thrill of singing together, as Don’s songs encouraged everyone to sing out loud- 'I can Whisper' [aka Listen].

Listening to the recently produced CDs - one of Don singing 20 of his songs and the second with top folk performers singing and playing another twenty of Hendo's composition, brings back vivid memories of past folk gatherings and parties. What an incredible influence Hendo had on this period of Australian music and his song are still relevant and entertaining. He covered so many aspects of the workingman’s life and the topical events that this collection of songs forms a brilliant social history of the time. The range of insights extend from the powerful 'Come to the Meeting' 1979, 'The Prosecution' 1970, to the whimsical 'Basic Wage Dream' 1963, to the reflective 'The Kids will Grow' 1968 to the philosophical 'What makes the Grass Grow?' 1971

Mark Gregory and Sally Henderson have done an amazing job of bringing together so many songs and recordings of top rate folk singers. It is an encyclopaedia of the folk revival in Australia. Hendo had a sharp eye for life around him, a great turn of phrase and he wrote songs that made you want to sing.

Dale and John Dengate

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