It was during one of those cold winter nights that can be so wearisome when you are in the bush. We were in a cabin which afforded us miserable shelter from the merciless weather. The storm raged outside. The tempest roared across the open country. The wind blew with violence and whistled through the cracks in the cabin walls. The rain fall was torrential. It fell by the bucket load. We were surrounded by nature’s fury. There was no way that any of us were going to take our swags and sleep outside in this weather. The most senior member of our group was a much older man with sparkling and intelligent eyes. He had a certain elegance about him even clad in his rough bush clothes, he seemed somehow majestic. He was seated closest to the open fire which cast a reddish gleam through the interior of the cabin. He felt himself suddenly seized with an irresistible desire to imitate the convolutions of nature and to project his impressions of what was happening around us. So taking hold of a drum which hung near his bed he beat a slight rolling sound resembling the distant sounds of an approaching storm. Then raising his voice to a low growl, he softened and hardened its tone as he pleased. He imitated the howling and wailing of the wind. He projected the creaking of the branches dashing against one another and the noise produced by dead leaves when accumulated in compact masses on the ground. By degrees the rolling of the drum became more frequent and louder. He struggled and struck his instrument with extraordinary rapidity. It was a real tempest to which nothing was to escape its intensity. No beast on earth would not be affected by the raging storm and we were all a part of its magic. This old man and artists like him, have with untaught skill succeeded, in all their musings, in combining the mysterious charm of the true wilderness and natural sounds into a vibrational rhythm and pulse and combined that music with the simplicity of melody. Intelligible to every ear.
Over the years I have listened to the singing and playing styles of many distinguished artists and certainly many famed amateurs without realizing that neither the words nor the melody was of the least importance but that the person’s manner of performance was everything. Now in the excitement and enjoyment of the moment I felt and sensed that the artist had entirely forgotten himself and had been carried away by the bewildering beauty of the air and the character of the moment. There was no outer consciousness nor vanity, every note was real. I felt as if I were the performer in an encapsulated forest. This was no soulless art for the sake of art but art for direct and personal pleasure. This performance will never be the same again. It was simply the natural music to the beat of a person’s heart that brought forth this strange and beautiful song. Nothing I have ever heard in any other place could bear the slightest resemblance to this wild exquisite glee which was faultless in timing and harmony.
Although each of us introduced any verse variations which may have occurred to him, there did not seem to be any defined leader. Everyone sang according to their own sweet will. A solitary drum and grown had commenced our tune being that of our elder companion with his old-fashioned and strange use of words but then a scriptural story versified by someone else in our midst and was being sung to an air originally from his past but so completely emotionalised that no mortal would ever recognise it, which is all in its favour. The wild melodies of this place were fascinating and beyond measure. A solo expression had begun the process of creating this feeling of nature that attracted and urged other voices to take part. A guitar joined in without its owner even bothering to adjust its tuning but that didn’t matter it seemed to naturally fit. Everywhere in harmonious chorus. It seemed as if one person had devoted himself to pouring forth a ripping torrent of repetitious sounds that permeated from the walls, the roof and even rose up from the dirt floor, while others had burst into a flood of structured conformity. Some voices confined their care to the sound of a deep booming bass in a long-continued drone somewhat suggestive. Higher notes struck in. Varied interpretations from verse to verse and then a chorus of repeated refrain came bubbling in liquid melody. The singers were now in unison. They diverged as wildly as it was possible for them to do but all combined to produce the quaintest most melodious rippling glee that I have ever heard. Such was the impromptu music that I was part of that night. First one voice began with unrestricted feeling with an unnamed, unnameable understanding of nature into which went and came other voices. Some bringing one verse or no verse in unison or alone the least expected doing what was most awaited. This surprised us and called forth pearls of deep happy laughter whilst the repeating background was continuous. And still the voices rose and fell to the moment of inspiration. Until at last everything blended in a kaleidoscope of sound, then it ended.
I could not recognise at the time how much this exquisite music was extemporised. The sound of it rings in my head like a magic bell whenever I think of that night. I saw my companions from that night some time later and asked, no, I begged for a repetition but they could remember nothing of it. They could start it again on any air on the unending strain of how they had begun that night but the feelings of the previous occasion were gone with the smoke of yesterday’s fire. But the perfume of bird songs, the spirit of the wanderer feeling his music and song is never recalled in its method and sweetness only perhaps the mechanics of its being. In its effect on me I could think only of those strange bouts of excitement which thrill our most primitive nature and make us sway and burst into song. The traveller pays attention to every sound that strikes upon his ear. When the leaves are softly shaken by the evening breeze and seem to sigh through the air or when the tempest bursting forth with fury shakes the gigantic eucalyptus trees. The chirping of the birds, the cry of the wild beasts in a world where all those sweet sounds that animate the wilderness are so many musical lessons which only happen once but are so fondly remembered.