John’s homecoming

A True Blue Mallee boy through and through, John Williamson is one of the most famous names in the Australian music industry.

After 40 years succeeding in the the business, he is what you would call a true national icon.

Releasing his best of album His Favourite Collection last year, Mr Williamson will be returning to his roots next weekend for a special performance at the Swan Hill Town Hall.

He said his passion for music all started in Quambatook during his childhood.

“My mum and dad were always involved with anything to do with shows in Quambatook,” Mr Williamson said.

“Dad was in a local band and mum was always interested in putting on shows to raise money.

“Both of them had their voices trained, so I was really surrounded by music.”

Mr Williamson was one of five sons, but the only one who really took an interest in music.

“Dad taught me to play ukulele when I was a little kid and I taught myself how to play harmonica,” he said.

Mr Williamson said he had fond memories of the Mallee region.

“Swan Hill was actually my stamping ground,” he said.

“I had a girlfriend who lived there and we used to go the movies or bowling.

“I was sad to learn that the Quambatook Primary School recently closed.

“I have very fond memories of it; it was a great little school.

“I’d love to buy one of the old schoolhouses and take it up to my property to keep the nostalgia going.”

After attending schools in both Quambatook and Kerang, he travelled to Melbourne to finish his schooling.

It was there Mr Williamson discovered his true calling.

“When I went to Melbourne for school for a few years I got into folk music and that’s really when I took a serious interest in music,” he said.

“I was never really interested in rock and roll, or even country music at that stage.

“Once I heard Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and a lot of the American folk music I thought this was what I wanted to do.”

He said he loved folk music because songs were about a place and time, but also had a lot of humour as well.

“It was just a genre that I liked,” he said.

“So really my music is a mixture of folk and country, but obviously it’s very Australian.”

After he moved from Quambatook up to North West NSW, Mr Williamson penned the classic comedy tune Old Man Emu at the age of 23.

He went on to perform the track on TV talent quest New Faces, securing first place.

“At 23, I was older than most pop artists who get their start much earlier,” he said.

“I didn’t even really think about writing until I wrote that song as an answer to Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.

“It was a novelty song, but it got me out of farming.”

Mr Williamson said he didn’t write anything “really decent” until 16 years later when he released the smash hit album, Mallee Boy.

“When that album took off it was amazing, it will always be the peak for me,” he said.

“There are a lot of songs on there that I always have to sing and are always in the show.

“They’re all standards of the show; it’s pretty hard to write an album with that many standards now.

“I guess it was at the age that people were ready for me and everyone was ready for Australian songs like they hadn’t been before.”

During the course of his career, Mr Williamson has been inducted into the prestigious ARIA Hall of Fame and won 25 Golden Guitars.

His albums have gone platinum and gold with more than four million album sales to name, but awards have never been his measure of success.

“Really, it’s the fact that people go out and buy the records - not so much getting an award for the record - that’s important,” he said.

“That’s what I’m proud of most; the fact that these albums are in people’s collections means a lot to me.”

To read more about this story, grab a copy of Friday's Guardian (May 5).