Michael Rutledge (Sound)

Robbie Dalton (Stage)


Dobe Newton – Lagerphone, Vocals, Whistle

Jan Wositzky – Banjo, Vocals, Bass, Bush Percussion

Mick Slocum – Accordion, Vocals

Davey Kidd – Fiddle

Louis McManus – Guitars, Fiddle, Mandolin

Pete Fandon – Bass

The Bushwackers, currently celebrating 51 years of continuous performance, are the 24th act to throw their support behind Support Act’s Roadies Fund through the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA)’s Desk Tape Series.

The Series was created by ARCA to raise funds to provide financial, health, counselling and well-being services for roadies and crew in crisis. The live recordings are made off the sound desk by a crew member – in this case Michael Rutledge – and released on ARCA’s Black Box Records through MGM Distribution and on all major streaming services.

Thanx to Dobe Newton and Greg Noakes for the photos, Nprint for the cover artwork, Michael Rutledge for the recording, Phil Dracoulis and Ernie Rose for the mastering and The Bushwackers for their incredible support for roadies and crew.

The Bushwackers are one of the great live folk-rock bands to emerge in the global folk renaissance of the early ‘70s.

They used fiddles, accordions, guitars, harmonicas, concertinas, lagerphones, tin whistles, 5-string banjos, bodhráns, bones, spoons, electric bass and drums.

They formed at La Trobe University in Melbourne in 1971, with guitarist Dave Isom, tea-chest bass player Jan ‘Yarn’ Wositzky and lagerphonist Bert Kahanoff. They were joined by Mick Slocum on accordion and Davey Kidd on fiddle in 1972.

It became a serious full-time concern when Dobe Newton joined in 1973.

Dobe Newton was playing drums in a soul-blues band in Sydney when he met his future wife Sally at a New Year’s Eve party and followed her to Perth.

While training to be a teacher, he joined an Irish folk group playing tin whistle and lagerphone.

On a trip to the East Coast, the engine in their panel van blew up, so they set up benefit shows to raise money for a new one.

Among the acts playing were The Bushwackers. They hit it off, and offered Dobe a gig.

He insisted on returning to Perth to finish his Uni course before joining them, a few months before the first of their four UK/European tours.

They initially couldn’t get a gig in an Australian folk club. They were run by UK expats who only wanted to recreate music from ye olde country.

“We developed our own gigs,” recalls Dobe.

“We took that music into the pubs, to punters who were very excited about what we were doing but they weren’t necessarily folk fans.”

It’s only apt that this Desk Tape was recorded at the Dan O’Connell in Carlton, Melbourne.

Bushwackers at the Dan O’Connell Hotel

It was one of their spiritual homes, where they played wild shows to a fervent crowd where sweat poured down walls.

“Those nights were simply mega …and inspiring,” Dobe says.

“People had such a wonderful enthusiasm, leaping on the ceiling, on tables, swinging from metal struts, it was chaos but beautiful chaos.

“It was crammed, everybody sweated. It was a joy for everyone.”

Three to five encores a night was the norm.

But the record amount of encores, of eight, was at the Embankment club near Dublin when the publican had to turn the lights off for ten minutes before the crowd stopped braying for even more.

“The crowds went nuts for them at their shows,” agrees long time sound engineer Michael Rutledge. “They were a lot of fun, boisterous and infectious

“They were musically a very good band, the whole being better than the sum, and they clicked so well.

“I hadn’t heard too much of that kind of music, so it was interesting and different and I liked it.”

The Bushwackers early setlist of Australian folk songs, some which drew back 100 years, pricked up the ears of audiences who identified.

They were about anti-authority larrikins like ‘The Ryebuck Shearer’, ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai’ from 1905, Banjo Patterson’s 1892 poem ‘The Man from Ironbark’, ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ and ‘Lachlan Tigers’ about sheep shearers from a specific part of NSW.

There were dreams about a new life (‘The Shores of Botany Bay’, ‘Ten Thousand Miles Away’, ‘Bound for South Australia’) and places like ‘Augathella Station’, a town in Queensland where cattle drovers headed, and ‘The Road To Gundagai’, and life on the road (‘Billy The Tea’)

“Many of the songs are about what Australians have always done, which is travel, mostly for work.

“There were so many variations of these songs as people travelled to Far North Queensland or Far West Victoria or the Outback.

“They took the songs with them, and changed the words and sometimes the music, to adapt to the different situations” recalls Dobe.

The Bushwackers’ rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is actually the Queensland version which varies tune-wise, and not the better known original tune Banjo Patterson composed the music to.

After the arrival of Roger Corbett in 1980, he and Newton became a strong songwriting team, with socially conscious songs as  ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ and ‘When Britannia Ruled The Waves’ fitting in between the traditional material.

Newton wrote ‘I Am Australian’ with The Seekers’ Bruce Woodley, regarded as the unofficial national anthem and which won The Bushwackers a Golden Guitar country award.

Musically The Bushwackers had always been far more imaginative than their peers, with more complicated multi-tempo instrumental passages.

This was partly for the benefit of their rock audiences, and partly because they themselves were excited by what British folk-rock bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span were doing on the albums they found in Melbourne import record stores.

They were eager to get to the British Isles to be part of this movement.

They sent letters to 300 clubs there. Only three replied. The airline tickets had been bought, so they decided to go ahead.

When they arrived in London, they headed for the cheapest hotel in Earls Court.

It was full. So they booked out the grotty basement and set up hammocks to sleep in.

They starved for the first three months. Clubs and festival gigs began to roll in through the UK and Europe, and they stayed for almost a year.

When they returned to Australia with a more electric sound, purist crowds at folk festivals were outraged.

A show at the Melbourne Town Hall was met with resounding booing, and someone took a swing at Rutledge.

At the 1987 National Folk Festival in Melbourne chairs were thrown at the stage.

Newton: “We hid in the dressing rooms and emerged only after everyone went home. We were not invited back there until 2013!”

Rutledge: “One night in the Western District someone pulled the power.

“I went backstage and found a guy gloating that he’d done the audience a favour! I shirt fronted him and slammed him against the wall.”

For Dobe, the most hostile response he ever received was at the Rotterdam Folk Festival in 1979, with Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton.

Backstage one of Dylan’s band told Dobe how much he enjoyed their set and suggested he join them for a song with his lagerphone.

Newton wasn’t sure but the man insisted, “Bob will be cool, he’ll love it!”

So Dobe waited on the wings until he got his cue, and went out and played along.

Dylan turned and gave him a furious look.

“He made it very clear he didn’t regard this as a valuable contribution and would I piss off immediately.

So I shuffled backwards off the stage. That was my eight seconds of fame. It might not even have been that long!”

Michael Rutledge got into music through a love for audio.

He was interning at a recording studio when a friend in The Bushwackers asked him to do sound on a Victorian tour for a few weeks.

He ended up staying with them for five years. In between he got a day job at Armstrong Studios while at night he mixed live sound and helped big acts build home studios.

On the weekends he did PA hire for festivals.

He started his own production company in 1978 in the garage of a rented house, with a helpful loan from his father-in-law allowing him to expand to a factory.

Work piled up, and when he and wife Sandy started a family, he quit The Bushwackers before their second overseas tour as he didn’t want to be away for another 12 months.

The company underwent some name changes – Rutledge Sound, Rutledge Engineering and Rutledge Engineering Aust— until it was bought over in April 2019 by US company Diversity.

The Bushwackers, meantime, were home to 95 members over 50 years.

Tommy Emmanuel, Pete Farndon of The Pretenders, Freddie Strauks of Skyhooks, Little River Band’s Steve Housden, Phil Emmanuel, Redgum’s Hugh McDonald and Jimmy & The Boys’ Michael Vidale were among those who passed through the ranks.

As part of The Bushwackers’ 50th anniversary, they were inducted into the Country Music Roll of Renown as part of the country music awards.

Dobe Newton and and Roger Corbett

The announcement came as a complete surprise to Newton and Roger Corbett in the audience.

Because Newton was the President of the Country Music Association of Australia it had to be kept a secret.

“Usually when you’re nominated you have a list of people to thank just in case.

“Roger and I just went ‘Holy shit!’ when they called out our name and had 25 seconds walking from our table to the stage to think of something half-intelligent.

“I still can’t remember what I said or what was going through my mind, but it was an emotional moment for us.”