A Taste of Sounds of Australia
A Taste of Sounds of Australia
Here are 25 of the Sounds of Australia: recordings with cultural, historical and aesthetic significance and relevance.
Each year, the Australian public nominates new sounds to be added with final selections determined by a panel of industry experts.
See the complete Sounds of Australia list.
Although not the first song about the enforced separation of Indigenous children from their families, Archie Roach’s song, based on his own life and experience, was released at a time when there was increasing public focus on the Stolen Generations.
The significance of the song also resonated outside the Indigenous community with Roach winning ARIA Awards for Best Indigenous Release and Best New Talent in 1991. Took the Children Away received an international Human Rights Achievement Award, the first time that the award had been bestowed on a songwriter.
Archie Roach (1956–2022) was a Gunditjmara (Kirrae Whurrong/Djab Wurrung), Bundjalung Senior Elder. To learn more about his life and work, explore the curated collections Archie Roach and Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter.
Notes by Beth Taylor and Adam Blackshaw
Adelaide hip-hop artists Hilltop Hoods first gained widespread attention with this track in 2003, which propelled the album The Calling to become the first Australian hip-hip CD to be awarded Platinum. The song was listed 9th on triple j’s Hottest 100 for 2003, and 17th in the Hottest 100 of all time (2009) – the highest-placed Australian song. The trio’s subsequent three albums reached the top of the ARIA charts, cementing the band as a major and ongoing force in the Australian music scene.
A popular radio jingle advertising an Australian brand of jelly crystals. The song was recorded in 1938 and broadcast on Sydney radio in the 1940s – up to 100 times a day.
Summary by Maryanne Doyle
The voice-over announces 'the male koala grunting’. We hear a series of deep-voiced grunts similar to the sounds of a large pig.
Summary by Maryanne Doyle
Image from: Koalas - The Bare Facts (1990), Creator: Paul Scott, © NFSA. All Rights Reserved
An international hit for John Paul Young in 1978, ‘Love Is in the Air’ reached No. 3 on the Australian charts, No. 5 in the UK and No. 7 in the US.
The song was written by songwriting and producing partners Harry Vanda and George Young (Vanda and Young). In 1992 it became the theme song to Baz Luhrmann's debut feature Strictly Ballroom; the ‘Ballroom Mix’ climbed the Australian charts and helped make ‘Love is in the Air’ the 'Most played Australian song overseas' according to APRA.
JPY has performed it at many significant events including the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and most recently at a Marriage Equality street party in October 2017. The song is also an unofficial anthem for supporters of Dundee United football club in Scotland, who regularly sing it at matches.
Kevin Carmody and Paul Kelly discuss the song 'From Little Things Big Things Grow’. They also discuss the Wave Hill walkout, when the Gurindji people – led by Vincent Lingiari – went on strike to get their land back from British Lord Vestey. Black-and-white footage of the actual strike is juxtaposed with the interview with Carmody and Kelly.
TNT was the second studio album from AC/DC and defined their style of hard edged, riff-based rock music. The first track on the LP, 'It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n’ Roll') has become an anthem of this genre of music, and the phrase has become part of the Australian language. It is also notable for the use of highland bagpipes in rock music. TNT was an Australian-only release with most of the tracks being released overseas on High Voltage (Atlantic Records) which included a slightly shorter version of 'It’s a Long Way to the Top'.
‘Not Pretty Enough’ was the third single from Kasey Chambers’ second album Barricades & Brickwalls.
According to Macquarie University academic Brifget Griffen-Foley, Chambers wrote the song as a commentary on the reluctance of commercial radio stations to play her music, despite her being an established performer.
The single became Chambers' commercial breakthrough: it was a No.1 hit in Australia, awarded double platinum sales, and reached No.4 in New Zealand. Casey subsequently won Best Country Artist, Best Female Artist and Album of the Year at the 2002 ARIA awards.
In this recording, Fanny Cochrane Smith talks about being the last of the Tasmanians. She then sings in both English and her own language. It is part of a series of recordings made between 1899 and 1903.
Summary by Sophia Sambono
Christine Anu’s, Island Home was released in 1995, as the second single from her debut studio album, Stylin' Up. It is a cover of a track written by Neil Murray, and originally released by the Warumpi Band as a single from their album Go Bush in 1987.
Anu’s version made some changes to the lyrics; rather than moving to the desert, she compares island life to the city life, and tells the story from a female perspective.
The work won Song of the Year at the 1995 Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Awards, and was listed in APRA’s Top 30 Australian songs of all time in 2001.
While I Still Call Australia Home reached only No. 72 on the charts when it was first released, it has become firmly cemented in the national consciousness. Allen recorded this song in Sydney in 1980 and it was originally released only as a 7-inch single with a vocal on the A side and an instrumental version on the B side. There was no LP release until some years later on a ‘best of’ compilation.
Its adoption by National Panasonic and later Qantas in long-running advertising campaigns exposed more Australians to the song, as did its inclusion in the musical, The Boy From Oz. Todd McKenney starred as Peter Allen in the Australian production of The Boy From Oz; Hugh Jackman played the lead when the musical transferred to Broadway.
The Fairlight CMI was the world’s first polyphonic digital sampling synthesizer, invented in 1979 by Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, based on a dual-6800 microprocessor created by Tony Furse in Sydney. The Fairlight grew to become one of the most widely-used synthesizers in music, being used by musicians from Kate Bush to Brian Eno, and film and television composers such as Peter Best.
The four sounds featured in this clip, with examples of 1980s hits in which they were used, are:
- SARARR (AKA ARR1) as featured in 'Shout’ (Tears for Fears, 1985)
- ORCH5 (AKA ORCH2) as featured in 'Owner of a Lonely Heart’ (Yes, 1983)
- GLASMASH as featured in ‘Babooshka’ (Kate Bush, 1980)
- LOWSTR2 as featured in ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ (U2, 1984).
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.
Summary by Maryanne Doyle
Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car is the title track from the ninth album by The Wiggles, Toot Toot, released in 1998. One of The Wiggles' most popular songs, it describes the band riding in their Big Red Car, and what each Wiggle does in it. The song and its accompanying video clip showcase the rhyming and associated dance that is so important in childhood development, and features strongly throughout The Wiggles’ music. The album was released during the band’s push into international markets, in particular the USA, where they performed in venues from church halls to Disneyland. The album went on to win the 1998 ARIA Music Award for Best Children's Album.
In this clip, Oodgeroo Noonuccal reads her poem ‘We Are Going’ in full to an appreciative audience at the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney in 1986.
Summary by Michael Weir
‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ is a pop song written, recorded, produced and performed by Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye – the stage name of Wouter 'Wally' De Backer and featuring New Zealand singer Kimbra.
The song was the second single from Gotye's third studio album, Making Mirrors, released by Eleven Music on 5 July 2011.
‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ was written and recorded by Gotye at his parents' house on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and draws on his relationship experiences.
The song was a huge commercial hit, topping the charts in Australia, as well as the USA, UK and 23 other national charts.
It topped the year-end US and UK charts as the biggest hit of 2012 and also became the most successful song of the 2010s by an Australian artist in Australia.
‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ was voted number one in the triple j Hottest 100 for 2011. The song also won ARIA Awards for Single of the Year and Best Video, Gotye was named Best Male Artist and Producer of the Year and Kimbra was voted best Female Artist of the Year.
In 2013, the song also won two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year.
Cover image: Detail from poster promoting Making Mirrors Australian Tour, 2011. NFSA title: 1526622.
A man, identified by British Library records as ‘Maino of Yam’, sings a traditional song entitled Yamaz Sibarud. He sings the song a capella. The recording fades out as the man continues to sing.
Summary by Rhianna Patrick
‘You're the Voice’ was released by John Farnham as a single in September 1986, in advance of his album Whispering Jack. The song was one of the biggest hits of 1986 in Australia, topping the singles chart for seven weeks. The associated album held the No.1 position for a total of 25 weeks, and is still the 2nd-highest-selling album in Australian history.
Both the single and the album had top ten success internationally, including reaching No. 1 in Germany and Sweden. The song has been covered by numerous artists from Estonian Marju Länik in 1987 to US rock band Heart in 1991.
Cover image: John Farnham. NFSA: 359376
You can discover more material on the phenomenal career of John Farnham in our extensive online curated collections, John Farnham and More John Farnham.
‘Don’t Change’ was released as a single from INXS’ third album Shabooh Shoobah, in October 1982. Along with the single ‘The One Thing’, it has been described as the band's breakthrough international single. Peaking at number 18 on the Australian charts, it reached number 80 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 17 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart.
Following the success of Shabooh Shoobah, INXS undertook their first US tour in early 1983 as support for Adam and the Ants. The band remained on the road in the US for most of 1983, supporting Stray Cats, The Kinks, Hall & Oates, The Go-Go’s and Men at Work; by mid-1983, they were headlining venues such as The Ritz in New York.
The song has subsequently been covered by many bands including Everclear, Goo Goo Dolls and Grinspoon.
Dame Nellie Melba’s early recording of 'Chant Vénitien’, a song composed by Herman Bemberg, who accompanies her in this recording. It was made for the Gramophone Company in London on 20 October 1904.
Summary by Graham McDonald
Actor, scriptwriter, accompanist, compere, television host and radio presenter – Binny Lum was a pioneer whose extraordinary career in radio and television broadcasting spanned five decades, from 1934 to 1984.
She hosted Channel Nine's first ever daytime television talk show, Thursday at One with Binny Lum, in 1957. Binny went on to host one of radio's first magazine format programs on 3XY in Melbourne, where she interviewed many high-profile people before venturing overseas to New York and London, interviewing Barbra Streisand, Dame Joan Sutherland, Richard Attenborough and, most famously of all, The Beatles (extracted here).
The Binny Lum Collection includes over 175 interviews recorded throughout her career. Listen to Binny Lum interviews and recordings on SoundCloud.
On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the Australian Parliament to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and in particular to the Stolen Generations.
The delivery of a national apology was instigated by recommendations in the Bringing Them Home report, produced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1997.
The apology was the first item of business when parliament opened in 2008, following the election of the Australian Labor Party under Kevin Rudd the previous November.
Presented as a motion to be voted on by the House, Rudd followed the apology with a 20-minute speech about the need for action.
Leader of the Opposition Brendan Nelson also delivered a 20-minute speech. After the ceremony, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted the proposed apology motion.
The apology was witnessed by the thousands of people gathered in Canberra for the event and was broadcast via radio and television across the country.
Cover image: Kevin Rudd official portrait, c2007. Courtesy Department of Parliamentary Services
This chart-topping single was originally written as a 60-second jingle by Mojo advertising executives to promote the second season of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket for the Nine Television Network. Written by Mojo directors Alan Morris (‘Mo’) and Allan Johnston (‘Jo’) and other creative staff in 1978, it eulogises prominent cricket players of the period. The popularity of the jingle led Mojo to recut the track, which was performed by the Mojo Singers (Mojo staff and recording studio personnel). It went on to top the charts for two weeks in February 1979.
‘True Blue’ is an Australian folk country song written and performed by singer-songwriter John Williamson.
The lyrics draw heavily on Australian slang, with the title meaning authentically Australian. The song was released in March 1982 as a single from the album True Blue – The Best of John Williamson but initially failed to chart.
In 1986, Williamson re-recorded the song for his sixth studio album Mallee Boy, and it became the lead single. This version of the song was used for the Australian Made campaign; it peaked at No. 43 on the Kent Music Report chart and was later awarded the Most Performed Australasian Country Work at the 1988 APRA Awards (Australia).
The Australian national cricket and rugby union teams later adopted ‘True Blue’ as an unofficial theme song.
Since 1970, Williamson has released over 50 albums, sold more than 4,000,000 albums in Australia, been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and won dozens of trophies including three ARIA Awards and 26 Golden Guitars (at the CMAA Country Music Awards of Australia).
John Williamson was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1992 ('for service to Australian country music and in stimulating awareness of conservation issues').
Image: John Williamson. Courtesy Festival Records, 1986.
This ballet, based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, was commissioned by the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Opera House and composed by Elena Kats-Chernin. The score was completed in 2002 in collaboration with choreographer Meryl Tankard, who also worked with Kats-Chernin on part of the opening ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The Australian Ballet premiered Wild Swans at the Sydney Opera House on 29 April 2003.
Kats-Chernin arranged a 12-movement concert suite from the ballet score. This was recorded by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Ola Rudner, with soprano Jane Sheldon, in 2004 and released on the ABC Classics label along with the composer's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Mythic. The piece extracted here is 'Green Leaf', the prelude to the Wild Swans concert suite. In 2017 the work was re-released by the ABC as part of a 10CD box set of composer Kats-Chernin’s greatest works.