Illustration of an Australian army slouch hat on a yellow-green background.

Australia's Tin Pan Alley

Australians score with war songs
 Nick Henderson

A news report in The Mail (Adelaide) newspaper in 1942 announced the birth of Australia's 'Tin Pan Alley', named after the popular piano-driven sheet music published in New York City in the first half of the 20th century. In May 1942, seven new patriotic songs were released that had been composed, arranged and published by Australians. You can listen to five of them below.

Prior to this time, Australian songwriters were struggling to make their mark. According to Jack Madgery of music publishers D Davis and Co., 'The local writer didn't have a chance, not because he couldn't produce popular songs, but because the difficulties of plugging his music were so enormous. In America, new numbers are plugged by live artists. In Australia 95 per cent of broadcasting is recorded music, and until recently very few recordings were made of Australian popular songs' (The MailAdelaide, Saturday 30 May 1942, p 8).

Patriotic music played an important role motivating and propagandising during the First and Second World Wars, both for Australians fighting overseas and on the home front. The advent of radio and the popularity of sound recordings in the inter-war years brought the action of war much closer to home for Australians. The rise of publishing local professional songwriters was also a significant shift from the largely amateur songwriters during the First World War.

Songs like 'V for Victory' (1941) by Peter Dawson, 'Just a Brown Slouch Hat' (1942) by George Wallace and 'Wake up! Wake up! Australia' (1942) by Alfred Hill have catchy melodies and straightforward lyrics. They were designed to be sung in fund-raising and recruiting drives, around the piano at home and by the soldiers themselves, with their simple tunes ideal for accompaniment by portable instruments like tin whistles and harmonicas.

The influence of American music, and American soldiers, became more pronounced during the Second World War, as can be seen in some of these tracks, such as George Matthews and Harry Grunden’s 'They’re Over Here', performed by Harold Williams.

In addition to the five songs published in May 1942, you can also listen to 'V for Victory' (1941) and 'Just a Brown Slouch Hat' (1942) below.

'Happy Landings' by Alice Smith, 1942. NFSA title: 190900

'Digger' by Jack Lumsdaine, 1942. NFSA title:190905

'They're Over Here' by Harold Williams, c1942. NFSA title 299273

'Our Air Raid Shelter' by Jack Davey, 1942. NFSA title: 215348

'Mr Doughboy' Jack Davey with Fred McIntosh and His Sextette, c1940s. NFSA title 317150

'V For Victory' by Peter Dawson, 1941. NFSA title 190917

'Just a Brown Slouch Hat' by Myree Parker with George Trevare's Australians, 1942. NFSA title 190405