Activity: Talk or presentation types › Invited talk
Dougie Young has been called the ‘lost phantom’ of Australian country music. He lived in a remote desert community called Wilcannia and most of his recordings were made by an anthropologist with a battery-powered tape recorder in the early 1960s. Young’s songs were broadly country honky-tonk in style – inspired by Johnny Cash and Hank Williams – yet the lyrics are almost exclusively about issues of racial discrimination in Australia in the mid twentieth century. Young’s songs were particularly about the politics of drinking. Drinking alcohol was illegal for most Aboriginal people until the late 1960s, as were a whole host of other activities, including working and voting. Young’s songs describe a society where drinking could get you “ten pounds or twenty days”. Not only do his songs vividly document racial injustice, they also show the way in which Aboriginal communities often reacted to the problem: with bitter humour. This paper will consider Dougie Young’s songs as expressions of social protest for a disenfranchised community. It will also consider his musical and political legacy. While he was not widely known outside of his own community in his lifetime, Young’s songs did inspire other Aboriginal songwriters working within a country music medium to write about political struggle, and thus drew a wider (whiter) to Aboriginal justice issues.