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Sounds of Australia

Think of these ‘Sounds of Australia’ as a time capsule. These are the sounds that make up Australia’s history, the sounds that are among the most important to our collective memories as Australians.

The National Film and Sound Archive created the Sounds of Australia (also initially known as the National Registry of Recorded Sound) in 2007 to encourage appreciation of the diversity of sounds recorded in Australia since the first Edison machines appeared here in the mid-1890s. Further recorded sounds are added to Sounds of Australia each year (usually ten) through a process of public nomination and selected by a panel of experts and NFSA curators. The sounds represent landmark achievements in the way we have recorded the sounds of our history and memory.

The Sounds of Australia includes what is probably the very first sound recording ever made in Australia. There is something utterly appropriate in the fact that this is not some grandiose oration of Sir Henry Parkes, but the sound of a man imitating chickens, in The Hen Convention (1896).

Also added to our time capsule are those defining events in history: Prime Minister Menzies’s announcement that Australia is at war (Menzies Speech: Declaration of War, 1939), Sir Ernest Shakleton’s description of his journey to the South Pole (My South Polar Expedition, 1910), Bert Hinkler’s recounting of his aviation exploits (Hinkler’s Message to Australia; Incidents of My Flight, 1928), the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy (1974), Lionel Rose’s bantamweight triumph in Tokyo in 1968 (Lionel Rose Wins the World Title) and Australia’s return to gold medal-winning form at the 1980 Olympics (Gold Gold Gold: 4 × 100 Metres Men’s Medley Relay, 1980).

In Hobart in 1903, Horace Watson was recording the singing of Fanny Cochrane Smith, one of the last surviving Tasmanian Aboriginals (Fanny Cochrane Smith’s Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs). (Fanny’s contribution to recorded sound history is acknowledged by the NFSA’s annual Cochrane Smith Award for Sound Preservation.) Other notable achievements in the recording of Indigenous culture appear in The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait (1898), field recordings from the late 1940s by Professor AP Elkin (Tribal Music of Australia, 1953) and Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s reading of her poem We Are Going (1986), and extend through to the contemporary songs of Vic Simms (The Loner, 1973), the Warumpi Band (Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail), 1983), Yothu Yindi (Treaty, 1991), Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly (From Little Things Big Things Grow, 1993) and others.

Also captured are the sounds of careers-in-the-making, the first recordings of Dame Nellie Melba (Chant Vénitien, 1904), Smoky Dawson (Smoky Dawson and the Singing Bullet, 1955), Daddy Cool (Eagle Rock, 1971) and Skyhooks (Living in the 70’s, 1974), the early efforts of pianist-composer Percy Grainger (Country Gardens, 1919), country singer Tex Morton (Wrap Me Up With My Stockwhip and Blanket, 1936), rock’n'roller Col Joye (Bye Bye Baby, 1959), jazzman Graeme Bell (Swanston St Shamble; Two Day Jag, 1944) and pop superstar Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1987).

We hear important landmarks in the recorded history of Australian classical music, such as the Sydney Opera House Opening Concert (1973) and the opera Voss (1987), and pieces like John Antill’s Corroboree (1950), Peter Sculthorpe’s Irkanda IV (1967) and Nigel Butterley’s In the Head the Fire (1966), an early Australian winner of the Italia Prize for radiophonic works.

The radio has always figured prominently in the lives of Australians. The 'race that stops the nation’ had pre-television audiences glued to the wireless (Ken Howard Calls the Melbourne Cup, 1941). Radio serials like Dad and Dave from Snake Gully – Episode 1 (1937) and Theme From 'Blue Hills’ (1949) sat amidst or alongside jingles like the Aeroplane Jelly Song (1938) and the Happy Little Vegemites (1959) ditty. Pick A Box continued as a radio show after it became a television show, with television episodes simulcast over the radio airwaves (Pick a Box – Episode 170, 1963). The maiden speeches of the first female federal parliamentarians were both recorded for radio: Senator Dorothy Tangney: Maiden Speech (1944) and Dame Enid Lyons: Maiden Speech (1943). Almost every hour, on the hour, the Majestic Fanfare (1943) summoned us to the ABC News, but how many of us have heard more than 18 seconds of this familiar clarion call?

As the recording business picked up in Australia from the early 1950s, the output and range of recordings increased rapidly with influences from the USA in blues, jazz, ragtime, folk and rock.

Each year when new Sounds of Australia are announced, there is a flurry of comment over what was included and what was omitted. The NFSA can’t and won’t ever claim to arrive at a definitive list. As long as people take notice, argue and listen, the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia will have succeeded in putting us in touch with our sound history.

Nominations are always open for future additions to the Registry at the NFSA website.

Titles in this collection

The 1930 Australian XI: Winners of the Ashes 1930

Members of the victorious 1930 Australian cricket team talk about the Ashes winning tour.

Aeroplane Jelly Song 1938

The most famous recording of the ‘I Like Aeroplane Jelly’ jingle.

Along the Road to Gundagai 1931

This is a famous recording of one of Australia’s most popular songs.

Bird and Animal Calls of Australia 1968

Extraordinary sounds of Australian wildlife.

Bye Bye Baby 1959

The first big hit from Australia’s original rock’n'roll star.

The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait 1898

Yamaz Sibarud is a traditional song performed by ‘Maino of Yam’, recorded during an anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898.

Chant Vénitien 1904

This is an early surviving commercial recording made by international opera star Nellie Melba in her London home in 1904.

Corroboree 1950

Incorporating Indigenous themes, this Australian orchestral work achieved international recognition.

Country Gardens 1919

A pianola version of Percy Grainger’s ‘Country Gardens’ performed by the composer.

Curtin Speech: Japan Enters Second World War 1941

In a broadcast to the nation, Prime Minister John Curtin announces that Australia is now at war with Japan.

Cyclone Tracy 1974

Journalist Mike Hayes describes the trauma experienced by the people of Darwin post-Cyclone Tracy, 1974.

Dad and Dave from Snake Gully – Episode 1 1937

The first episode of the long-running Dad and Dave radio show from 1937.

Dame Enid Lyons: Maiden Speech 1943

Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in Australia’s federal parliament, reads her maiden speech for radio broadcast.

Down Under 1981

Released in 1981, this catchy pop song was written as a light ‘tongue-in-cheek’ dig at Australian values and became a number one hit in Australia, the UK and US.

Eagle Rock 1971

Dancing the Eagle Rock was one of Australia’s favourite pastimes in the early seventies and it still is today.

Fanny Cochrane Smith’s Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs 1899

These are the earliest recordings of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal songs and language.

Friday on My Mind 1966

‘Friday on My Mind’ was the first international pop hit by an Australian band, and a landmark in the distinguished career of songwriting team Harry Vanda and George Young.

From Little Things Big Things Grow 1993

‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ is inspired by the Aboriginal man who led the Gurindji Strike in 1966 – the catalyst for the land rights movement.

Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under 1962

Georgia Lee was the first Indigenous Australian female singer to release an album. This was also the first Australian album to be recorded in stereo.

Give a Little Credit to your Dad; Lonesome for You, Mother Dear 1939

Two songs by then unknown country singer Buddy Williams, recorded in 1939.

Gold Gold Gold: 4 x 100 Metres Men’s Medley Relay 1980

Norman May’s dramatic swimming-race call at the 1980 Olympics which has remained close to the hearts of Australians.

Happy Little Vegemites 1959

A radio jingle set to a marching tune promoting Vegemite, an Australian yeast spread.

The Hen Convention 1897

The oldest surviving Australian sound recording is a novelty song featuring chicken impersonations.

Hinkler’s Message to Australia; Incidents of My Flight 1928

‘Now I want to tell you a few things about flying …’

Honest Toil March 1924

Award-winning Australian brass band puts Newcastle on the map.

I Am Woman 1972

‘I am Woman’ by Helen Reddy was a worldwide hit and the first song by an Australian artist or composer to reach number one in America.

I’ll Never Find Another You 1964

A 1964 song by The Seekers, written and produced by Tom Springfield, which became the first million-selling record by an Australian band.

(I’m) Stranded 1976

A seminal Australian punk song.

In the Head the Fire 1966

This radiophonic piece written by composer Nigel Butterley in 1966 won the prestigious Prix Italia and set a benchmark for radio in Australia.

Irkanda IV 1967

This is a 1967 recording of the first major work by leading Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe.

I Should Be So Lucky 1987

The second single from Kylie’s debut album, Kylie (1988), penned by English pop writing-producing phenomenon Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Jack Luscombe 1953

An oral history containing the first recorded collection of Australian folk song.

Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail) 1983

'Jailanguru Pakarnu’ ('Out from Jail’) was the first rock song recorded and released in an Aboriginal language (Luritja).

Just the Beginning 1971

'Just the Beginning’ was the first Australian jazz recording to earn a gold record for sales.

Keating Speech: The Redfern Address 1992

In his famous ‘Redfern Address’, Prime Minister Paul Keating articulates injustices suffered by Australia’s Indigenous peoples and how society can redress them.

Ken Howard Calls the Melbourne Cup 1941

A 1941 recording of famous sports broadcaster Ken Howard calling the Melbourne Cup.

Kerr’s Cur 1975

On 11 November 1975, on the steps of Parliament House, the dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam delivers his now-famous verdict on the day’s events.

The Landing of the Australian Troops in Egypt c1916

A short commercial recording dramatising the Australian troops arriving in Egypt, before Gallipoli.

Lionel Rose Wins the World Title 1968

In this radio broadcast from 1968, we hear Indigenous Australian boxer Lionel Rose declared a world champion.

Living in the 70’s 1974

Unrestrained by cultural cringe, the title song of this Skyhooks album captured what it was like growing up in the suburbs of Australia in the 1970s.

The Loner 1973

‘The Loner’ by Vic Simms is regarded as Australia’s great lost classic album of Aboriginal protest songs.

Majestic Fanfare 1943

The original 1943 recording of the ABC’s much loved ‘Majestic Fanfare’, used in various forms since 1952 to introduce news broadcasts.

Maranoa Lullaby 1950

Harold Blair was the first Aboriginal Australian to achieve recognition as a classical singer.

Menzies Speech: Declaration of War 1939

The announcement by Prime Minister Menzies in 1939 that because Great Britain has declared war upon Germany, Australia is also at war.

Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy) 1972

The song ‘Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)’ saw the coming of age of Australian rock music.

My Country 1958

Dorothea Mackellar, aged about 73, reads her most famous poem, 'My Country’.

My South Polar Expedition 1910

Sir Ernest Shackleton tells how the loss of a pony affected his attempt to reach the South Pole in 1908.

Pick a Box – Episode 170 1963

An episode of the classic quiz show featuring celebrity contestant Barry Jones, who later became a state and federal member of parliament.

A Pub With No Beer 1957

Slim Dusty’s original recording from 1957 of one of his most famous songs.

Rebetika: Songs of Greece 1986

Rebetika music evolved in the 1920s, combining jail songs and hashish-smoking songs of the Greek underworld with music brought to Greece by refugees from the Greek-Turkish War.

The Sailors 1927

A theatrical comedy routine by vaudeville performers Stiffy (Nat Phillips) and Mo (Roy Rene) recorded in 1927.

Senator Dorothy Tangney: Maiden Speech 1944

A recording of the first woman elected to the Australian Senate reading her maiden speech.

She’s My Baby 1959

One of the biggest hits for Australia’s first rock’n'roll star.

Smoky Dawson and the Singing Bullet 1955

Smoky Dawson rescues his young friend Billy from two villains in this classic episode of the Smoky Dawson radio show.

Swanston St Shamble; Two Day Jag 1944

The first published recordings of Graeme Bell’s Dixieland Band made in Melbourne in 1944.

Sydney Opera House Opening Concert 1973

A magical night in the history of Australian music: the first official concert in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.

Theme From ‘Blue Hills’ 1949

This is the theme from the long-running ABC radio serial Blue Hills (1949–76).

Treaty 1991

Aboriginal pop song from the 1990s with a powerful political message.

Tribal Music of Australia 1953

These are the first commercially available recordings of Australian Aboriginal music.

Voss 1987

Voss is an opera about the fateful outback expeditions of Ludwig Leichhardt, as recreated by Patrick White in his iconic novel.

Waltzing Matilda 1926

This was the first recording of Australia’s national song.

We Are Going 1986

Oodgeroo Noonuccal reads her haunting poem ‘We Are Going’ in 1986.

We Have Survived 1981

The No Fixed Address version of Bart Willoughby’s ‘We Have Survived’ has became an unofficial anthem for Australia’s Aboriginal community.

Wrap Me Up With My Stockwhip and Blanket 1936

New Zealand-born Tex Morton created an awareness that country and western music could be an Australian form as much as it was an American form.