Vocalist John James Villiers, with piano accompaniment, performs a song which features imitations of chooks. 'The Hen Convention’ was recorded in 1896 and is the earliest known Australian sound recording.
This recording was made on a wax cylinder, the earliest medium for recording and reproducing sound. It is hard to hear the lyrics but the raucous sounds of the chooks are surprisingly clear. Though it is difficult to discern the words in the recording, the score was published in Allan’s Australian Music Books in the 1920s, which were popular with carousing students who enjoyed making silly noises during drinking sessions. Audio historian Chris Long has been able to date The Hen Convention as being recorded prior to 15 January 1897, based on an article of that date in the Warrnambool Standard newspaper.
This song is performed by Mr John James Villiers, a Warrnambool crockery store owner who was a leading amateur theatrical artist in the town. Perhaps this recording is a standard piece that Villiers performed on stage and was suggested as a suitable choice to demonstrate a ‘Machine that Talks, Whistles, Laughs, Sings’. Rosemary Szente, his great, great, granddaughter, says that Villiers was well known for his active role in amateur dramatic performances and as an accomplished vocalist his ability to cackle like a hen is unsurpassed. See Extras for several photographs of Villiers.