Eleven pieces of outstanding audio content that have resonated with Australians over the past 96 years have been added to the National Film & Sound Archive’s unique Sounds of Australia registry.
The 2023 additions include popular music, advertising jingles, symphonic broadcasts and a 21st century concerto from a multi-instrumentalist master.
The Slip Slop Slap advertising campaign from the early 1980s changed Australian attitudes to sun protection. Robyn Archer’s 1978 Menstruation Blues makes the list, championing the right of women to speak publicly about their bodies. Wilma Reading’s I Only Came to Say Goodbye launched the jazz singer’s stellar international career, while the output of Harry Williams and the Country Outcasts has been recognised for its development of Aboriginal Country music. The Loved One, the first single by Melbourne R&B band The Loved Ones, cemented their reputation, while Howzat by Sherbet, fronted by lead singer Daryl Braithwaite, was the band’s most successful single. Joseph Tawadros’ Concerto of the Greater Sea is recognised for its ambition, technique and range, and the beloved I Am Australian is included for its involvement in many significant national events.
The 2023 Sounds of Australia, in chronological order, are:
Eleven new sounds, instead of the more usual ten, were added in 2023 following a tie for tenth place following voting by a panel of audio and industry experts. Australian audiences nominated hundreds of different sounds for inclusion in June this year.
The NFSA’s Sounds of Australia registry was established in 2007. The NFSA selects sounds annually on the strength of their cultural, historical and aesthetic relevance, and their ability to inform or reflect life in Australia. Popular music, advertising themes, spoken word, radio broadcasts and any sound recordings are all eligible, as long as they’re Australian and more than ten years old.
‘These eleven extraordinary sounds reflect the power of audio to chart Australia’s social, cultural and political development,’ said Nick Henderson, the curator of the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia project. ‘Together, they join the definitive list of Australia’s recorded sound history. It's a huge privilege to preserve this audio celebration of Australian life for the enjoyment of future generations.’
The National Film and Sound Archive holds the national audio collection of more than 300,000 items. The NFSA’s work to preserve fragile audio has led to the digitisation of more than 100,000 at-risk pieces. The complete Sounds of Australia list (1896-2012) is available on the NFSA website here.
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Anvil Chorus, P. C. Spouse – 1927
Percival Claude (P.C.) Spouse (1885-1970) was Australia's most successful harmonica player from the 1920s to the 1940s, with Anvil Chorus, released by Regal Records (G20160) in 1927, becoming his bestselling record. In early 20th century Australia, the egalitarian harmonica, or ‘tin sandwich’, was perhaps the closest thing to a national instrument. A sign of its significance was the various popular state and national mouth organ competitions in the 1920s and 30s. P.C. Spouse was the most successful soloist of this period. A travelling shoe salesman who entered the inaugural Australasian Boomerang Championship in Ballarat in 1925, he became the first officially crowned mouth organ champion of Australia. He returned to reclaim the title in 1927, 1928 and 1935. He enjoyed a successful recording career between 1926 and 1936; and was likely the third person in Australia to make electric recordings. Spouse is credited as a pioneer within the local recording industry, who popularised the harmonica in Australia and New Zealand through music publisher J. Albert & Sons, and more recently as “one of the greatest vamping style harmonica players in history” by the Australian Harmonica Archives. Spouse’s quintessential ‘vamping style’ is evident in Anvil Chorus, where the melody is accompanied by a vamped chord playing in a different rhythm.
Title Number: 190551
Sweet Nell of Old Drury, Nellie Stewart – 1931
Nellie Stewart (1858-1931) is arguably the most popular Australian actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who made her debut in her signature role of Nell Gwynne in the stage production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury in 1902. Stewart revived the role on several occasions, including in the lost 1911 silent film by Raymond Longford. On 24 March 1931 Stewart and others recorded extracts from Sweet Nell of Old Drury for Columbia Graphophone Company at their studio in Homebush, Sydney. These recordings were released on two 78s, with the first record (DO346) featuring Nell Gwynne’s entrance in Act 1, and the Finale in Act 4, with Nellie Stewart as Nell, Nancye Stewart (Nellie’s daughter) as Lady Olivia, and Mayne Lynton (Nancye’s husband) as Charles II. In the play, Judge Jeffries tries to persuade Lady Olivia Vernon, his ward, to marry Lord Rochester, but she refuses due to her love for Sir Robert Fairfax. Rochester calls guards to arrest Fairfax and he runs away, meeting with Nell Gwynne, the orange seller, who helps him escape through her skills in mimicry. The recordings have been described as reflecting the ‘emphatic, sometimes sentimental, performance style of the early 1900s’, and offer a unique opportunity to hear a star of the stage and screen in her only known set of recordings.
Title Number: 307950
The Death Of A Wombat, Ivan Smith (author), George S. English (composer), ABC (broadcaster) – 1959 (1961)
The Death Of A Wombat is an award-winning radio documentary by writer and producer Ivan Smith and composer Geroge S. English. Created for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the documentary tells the story of a wombat's day, a bushfire, and the effect of the bushfire on the animals of the area, including the death of the wombat. The radio documentary was initially broadcast in 1959, and subsequently re-recorded and released by RCA in 1961 (mono) and 1977 (stereo) and continued being rebroadcast by ABC throughout the 1960s and 1970s. An illustrated book version, with artwork by Clifton Pugh, was published in 1972. The 1961 recording, which accompanies this listing, features Alastair Duncan as the narrator, supported by The Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicolai Malko. The 1959 broadcast won several international awards, including coveted Italia Prize, and has been described as ‘a vivid and deeply moving word picture which sets a standard for imaginative feature writing’.
Title Number: 366622
I Only Came To Say Goodbye, Wilma Reading – 1961
Wilma Reading spent most of her singing career abroad, with little fame or recognition back in Australia. Born in Cairns, to a musical family, to an Aboriginal (Kalkatungu)-Torres Strait Islander mother and an English-Irish father, where she began her career singing with her two sisters in The Reading Sisters trio, before starting her solo career in Brisbane in 1959. In 1960 she relocated to Sydney, where she had a regular gig at the Latin Quarter in Kings Cross and recorded for the Rex record label. Reading released three 7” single records with Rex, featuring jazz and lounge vocals, the third of which included I Only Came To Say Goodbye (A-side) and That’s How I Go For You (B-side). Both songs were written or co-written by the musical director of Rex, Franz Conde. Reading’s vocals were described as ‘honeyed’, and were backed by lush strings, chorus and orchestra, giving the recordings a big band and nightclub glamour. Shortly after the release of this single Reading headed to Tokyo and then Las Vegas where she launched her international career, performing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, touring with Duke Ellington, performing with the national orchestras of Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Germany, and even performing at the reunification of East and West Germany in Berlin.
Title No: 315918
The Loved One, The Loved Ones – 1966
The Loved One was the debut single released by the Melbourne rhythm and blues band The Loved Ones. The band was formed in October 1965, and was fronted by the charismatic London-born Gerry Humphrys. The band immediately gained popularity quickly, with a striking mod style and good looks. Over its short two-year existence, The Loved Ones released five singles, an EP and an album. The Loved One was written by Humphrys and fellow band members Ian Clyne and Rob Lovett and featured a distinctive two-beat hand clap rhythm and repetitive guitar backing. Humphrys’ growling blues-influenced baritone distinguished them from other local pop acts. The song reached number 2 on the Go-Set National Top 40 charts. INXS later recorded the song twice, and in 2001, the song was number 6 on the Australasian Performing Right Association's (APRA) list of Top 30 Australian songs of all time.
Title No: 798901
Howzat, Sherbet – 1976
Howzat was rock band Sherbet’s 16th and biggest selling single, and their second Australian number 1 following its release in May 1976. Written by band members Garth Porter (keyboard) and Tony Mitchell (bass), who were inspired by the cricketing term bowlers would shout when appealing for a wicket. The song was produced by former Beatles recording engineer Richard Lush and released by Infinity (Festival). In addition to Australia, the song topped charts in New Zealand, South Africa, and Israel, and reached the Top 10 in many European countries. Howzat also won Most Popular Australian Single at the Australian 1976 King of Pop Awards. Howzat has subsequently been covered by a range of artists from Norman Gunston to the Tony Eyers Singers and has even been recorded in German and Finnish by local artists. Sherbet was one of the most successful Australian rock bands of the 1970s. The Sydney band recorded 10 studio albums, with more than 20 singles reaching the Australian Top 40 charts.
Title No: 314105
Menstruation Blues, Robyn Archer – 1977
Robyn Archer is a versatile Australian singer, writer, stage and artistic director. One of her most prominent songs, Menstruation Blues, featured in her debut 1977 album ‘Take your partners for the ladies' choice’. The song uses the traditional blues style to sing about a generally taboo subject, and reflects the challenge made by women’s liberation to bring visibility to women’s rights to social and economic equality, the rights to contraception and birth control, as well as the right to speak about their bodies. In addition to its groundbreaking subject, the album also broke ground as the first Australian record produced by women (Robyn Archer and Diana Manson). The song remained a staple of Archer’s live sets, and it was included as part of her cabaret Pack of Women in 1981, which toured Australia in 1983, and subsequent ABC TV special, the soundtrack for which won the inaugural ARIA Award for Best Original Soundtrack or Cast Album.
Title Number: 139169
Harry Williams and the Country Outcasts, Harry and Wilga Williams and the Country Outcasts – 1979
Harry Williams (Wiradjuri) (1927-1991) and Wilga Munro Williams (Kamilaroi) (1943-) performed together with the Country Outcasts band during the 1970s and 1980s, touring widely throughout Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Canada. They released two singles and two full length albums. Country Outcast members included Bill Brunswick, Debbie Williams, Ian "Ocker" McKie, Carole Fraser, Ian Johnson, Harry Thorpe, Laurie Ingram, Claude "Candy" Williams, Mac Silva and Auriel Andrew. Their self-titled debut album was released by RCA in 1979, following the release of two singles in 1974 and 1975. Both Harry and Wilga sang on the album, which includes tracks such as Streets Of Old Fitzroy, which draws on the history and challenges of living in the suburb of Fitzroy, which became the largest Aboriginal community in Victoria, as well as the social and political hub of Aboriginal Melbourne. Harry and Wilga Williams started a national Aboriginal Country Music Festival in Canberra in 1976, and a radio show, Country Music Shindig, for 3CR. In 1981 they were recognised in the Country Music Hands of Fame in Tamworth.
Title No: 235611
Slip! Slop! Slap! jingle, Phillip Adams (writer), Peter Best (composer) and Cancer Council Victoria (publisher) – 1981
‘Slip Slop Slap’ was a jingle for the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (now Cancer Council Victoria) campaign to combat high rates of skin cancer in Australia. The campaign for TV, radio and print is widely credited as playing a key role in the dramatic shift in sun protection attitudes and behaviour over almost four decades. The Council approached advertising agency Monahan Dayman Adams to come up with a campaign that would encourage Australians to protect their skin. The agency trio behind the earlier ‘Life. Be in it.’ campaign, Phillip Adams (creative director), Peter Best (composer) and Alex Stitt (designer/animator), adapted a jingle from a Queensland Cancer Fund campaign, Slip Slop Shove, and created the ‘Sid the Seagull’ pilot television ad. So successful was the pilot that it was adapted for radio and print and was picked up by other states and the Australian Cancer Society. The campaign ran until 1987, when it was replaced by the Sun Smart campaign, but it was subsequently revamped for use in 2005, with the message extended to ‘Slip, Slop Slap, Seek, Slide’. An alternate version known as ‘Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap’ was used in NZ, where the mascot was a tiger prawn named Tiger.
Title Number: 198800
I am Australian, various – 1997
I am Australian (also known as We Are Australian) is one of the most recognisable patriotic Australian songs, written in 1987 by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton. Its lyrics feature many references to Australian and First Nations history, environment, and culture, from red soil plains to Albert Namatjira. The song was initially released on Woodley's 1987 double album ‘Roaring Days / I Am Australian’, with vocals by Woodley and his daughter Claire, but it is perhaps more widely known through the 1997 cover version which featured Judith Durham (1943-2022), Russell Hitchcock and Mandawuy Yunupingu (1956-2013), which reached number 17 on the ARIA Singles Chart. The song was used by the Australian Republican Movement in radio and television ads during the 1999 republic referendum, and has regularly been covered for significant national events, such as the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 2008 Olympic Games, and 2009 National Day of Mourning for the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires.
Title Number: 321473
Concerto of the Greater Sea, Joseph Tawadros – 2012
‘Concerto of the Greater Sea’ is the ninth studio album by Egyptian-born Australian, multi-instrumentalist and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros. The album was self-released in February 2012, and won the ARIA Award for Best World Music Album. Tawadros performs in a range of styles and is renowned for bringing the oud into the realm of jazz and classical music, out of its traditional Middle Eastern setting, often collaborating notable musicians in these genres. In ‘Concerto of the Greater Sea’ Tawadros draws on Khalil Gibran’s description of the human spirit as “a boundless drop to a boundless ocean”. The six movements of the suite composed by Tawadros feature oud, viola, violin piano and percussion and are interspersed with shorter pieces recorded with the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s full complement of strings. Tawadros performs on oud, with his younger brother James on req and bendir, Richard Tognetti on violin, Christopher Moore on viola, and Matt McMahon on piano. Reviews of the album cite Tawadros’ dynamic tonal range, dazzling technique, and ease of stylistic integration achieved through years of collaboration.
Title Number: 1053312