Jack O'Hagan

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Born in 1898, Jack O'Hagan was by far the nations most prolific song writer of the first half of the twentieth century, his career lasting from 1916 to 1961.

When he began celebrating Australia in song, World War I was in full swing, Billy Hughes was Prime Minister, James Joyce finally published Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, the new sinful music, jazz, was sweeping America, Gough Whitlam and Morris West were born and Sasanot won the Melbourne cup which had to be held on a Saturday due to torrential rain during the week.

When Jack penned his last work, JFK became President of the USA, sir Robert Menzies was re-elected as Prime Minister, Moon River was the pop song of the day, Four Corners was first screened on the ABC, Sydney saw its last tram, bikini wearers were fined 3 pounds for obscenity and Lord Fury won the Melbourne cup, again in the rain some Melbourne institutions never change.

Jack was educated by the Jesuits at St Patrick's college and later at Xavier college. He began his musical career as a song plugger in Allan's music store in Melbourne, his duties being to play sheet music for potential customers. When radio was introduced to Australia, Jack was one of the pioneer broadcasters at 3LO. But it was as a song writer that Jack established his reputation. Highly influenced by musical styles and trends in America, Jack became Australia's own one man tin pan alley. He wrote under versions of what they were singing Up over and over there.

He was proud to be Australian and took every lyrical opportunity to say so. He chose as his subjects Aussie places, Aussie heroes and Aussie achievements. The resolution of most of his ballads was the common theme, "Aussie is proud of you", and it must be remembered that throughout the time Jack was writing, Australia tended to define itself by reference to what happened "over there". We only thought of ourselves as legitimate when what we did somehow replicated or echoed the European or American matrices. Indeed, the wonder was that we rose to the challenge oF singing about ourselves at all.

Thanks to Jack o'Hagan, Australia toasted its celebrities in song: Ginger Meggs, Kingsford smith, Don Bradman, Marjorie Jackson ..... you name them, Jack had a song about them. And if Gundagai wasn't on the map in every Australian's mind, Jack put it there well and truly, with a dog sitting on the tuckerbox for good measure. It actually mightn't be going too far to say that not a bad definition of an Australian is someone who when they hear the first four bars of Along The Road To Gundagai can whistle or sing the last tour.

 

In the 40s and 50's, Jack wrote scores of radio commercials as well as songs by the swag. His biggest wartime hit was When A Boy From Alabama Meets A Girl From Gundagai, while carry on and tide ships Will Sail Again also captured the public's imagination and had them singing along. Not far behind in popularity were Things Is Crook In Tallarook and I'm off To Woop Woop, works of art never destined to leave these shores. Let's Take A Trip To Melbourne also sold well south of the Murray.

 

The combination of TV and rock and roll put an abrupt end to Jack o'Hagan 's long career as Australia's national song writer. Jack's folksy, melodic ("Where Have I Heard That Tune Belore?"] uncomplicated and unashamedly patriotic style suddenly became amusingly dated in the early 50s and the man who had a nation humming his prolific works for over thirty years was quickly lorgohen by an industry that had no time for nostalgia.

 

Jack's later years were devoted in varying proportions to the turf and the bode. Generations of Australians grew up knowing only one of his songs. Along The Road To Gundagai, though few could name its composer. In 1961, Jack wrote a national anthem, God Bless Australia, to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, but the piece sounded self conscious and old fashioned, and Australia wasn't interested. Less than recognised for his major contribution to Australian popular music, not to mention dinkum Aussie pride and identity, Jack O'Hagan died on July 15th, 1987, aged eighty-eight.