‘Place name’ and ‘going back’ songs were popular in the early 1900s. The National Film and Sound Archive has on online gallery of songs about Australian cities and towns, the oldest in their collection dating back to 1910. You can hear the songs here www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/australia-song.
Peter Dawson singing his 1931 recording of ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’, written by Jack O’Hagan in 1921 and published in 1922. In 1936 the song became the theme for popular radio series Dad and Dave, which ran for sixteen-years, cementing Jack’s song in the Australian psyche.
Clement Q Williams singing the 1934 recording of ‘Let’s Take a Trip to Melbourne’, a song Jack was commissioned to write for Melbourne’s centenary celebrations.
Other songs of places
Jack did not dabble long with place name songs. How could he possibly follow ‘Gundagai’, the song for which he is most famous? But he did write the words and music for Dad and Dave songs ‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox’ (1938), even though it credits the character ‘Alf’ with the words, and ‘Snake Gully, Home of Mine’ (1940) also known as ‘If You Looked All Over Aussie’, for the fictional town where they lived. ‘Yackandandah’ is registered by the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA) as being written by Jack O’Hagan and Cyril Hardman, a pseudonym for Neil McBeath, in 1927.
Jack also wrote a song for Wonthaggi
Dr Phillip Goodman, president of the Wonthaggi Progress Association and organiser of the ‘Back to Wonthaggi’ celebration, commissioned a location song to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1909 opening of the State Coal Mine in a desperate attempt to attract new business to the area and fill the gap in local employment.
There had been a recent catastrophe in the mine – extraction fans were turned off, methane built up and, when the fans were turned on again, a huge explosion killed around 13 miners.
The conditions were poor and the Railways Department, responsible for running the mine, earmarked it for lay-offs and possible closure. A five-month strike by militant unionists to improve safety, conditions and their right to unionism began in 1934.
Robert Menzies, state railway minister at the time, tried to break the strike, coining the phrase ‘Red Wonthaggi’, but the threat of nationwide industrial action eventually resulted in improved conditions for miners all over Australia.
Morale booster ‘There’s a Part of My Heart in Wonthaggi’ (1934) was printed as the centre spread of a booklet published by local paper, the Powlett Express. Apparently when soldiers from the town marched home after WW2 this is the song they sang. More recently, the Coalminers of Wonthaggi commissioned vocalist Ms Leigh Moran to record and sing the song live on ABC radio for Wonthaggi’s Centenary celebrations.
‘There’s a Part of My Heart in Wonthaggi‘
Verse 1 I’ve been a rover and travelled over
This grand old country, far and wide
Yet as I’ve wandered
I’ve often yearned and dreamed
Of a spot that fills my heart with pride
And I’ve made my mind up from today
To this spot I’m going back to stay
Chorus For there’s a part of my heart in Wonthaggi
And it’s calling me, calling me home
Skies are blue, hearts are true, in Wonthaggi
And when I get back there no more I’ll roam
When I walk down the street, all my pals I will greet
On the same old corner where we used to meet
There’s a part of my heart in Wonthaggi
And it’s calling me, calling me home
Verse 2 I’m not forgetting, I’m not regretting
The fact I’ve wandered far from home
For it has taught me
As nothing else could do
What I’ve miss’d whenever I did roam
Still I’m going back again today
I’m so happy I could shout hoo-ray!