Don Henderson Project

The Songs of Don Henderson: Review by Maurie Mulheron (June 2010)

Published in Education (NSW Teachers Federation Journal): 28 June 2010 p.32

A few years ago at the National Folk Festival, the Don Henderson Project was launched to collect and preserve the songs of a remarkable figure of the Australian folk-music movement. The result is a new two-CD collection, "The Songs of Don Henderson". One of the project's aims was to ensure that new generations of singers and songwriters were aware of the many songs Don left behind after his death in 1991; songs that spanned most of his working life from the late 1950s until the late 1960s.

And it was largely his working life that provided the rich material that inspired him to write in a style that might be compared to the legendary Woody Guthrie but which probably owes as much to the traditions of Paterson and Lawson.

And during the folk-song revival of the 1960s in Australia, Don Henderson's songs were there. lt's On, a beautifully sardonic song that achieved a life of its own, was sung on the streets during the anti-Vietnam War protests:

And if governments think that it makes better sense
To save on education and spend on defence;
Could easily be argued, on the same grounds
That elections should be, the best often rounds!
And its on!
All reason and logic are gone!
Winning the fight won't prove that you're right,
It's sad, it's true, but it's on!

There are 40 songs in the collection. The first CD contains original Don Henderson recordings, and the second contains his songs interpreted by other artists. The songs represent the depth and breadth of Don's life, and his loves and concerns, from a 'talking blues' about miners striking at Mt Isa and a ballad about the collapse of the Westgate Bridge, to the humorous Washday Monday Blues. Of particular interest are demo versions of two songs written in collaboration with British progressive rock musician John 'Poli' Palmer and writer Craig McGregor for a rock opera Hero, performed by the Australian Opera in 1976.

I particularly like Mark Gregory's version of Boonaroo. But then again the story of the Boonaroo, the merchant ship that members of the Seamen's Union refused to sail on because it was carrying weapons to Vietnam, has always been one of my favourites. It's a story about another courageous union that took a principled, moral stand and refused to be bullied.

Many individuals and a host of organisations such as the Queensland Folk Federation, the Brisbane Labour History Association, the Illawarra Folk Club and the CFMEU became sponsors. But it is Gregory who should take much of the credit for coordinating this extraordinary project. The CD can be bought online from

Maurie Mulheron teaches at Keira High School.

dhproject: email