Crossing the Line
|Crossing the Line — song list|
|1 On the Middle Ground||2 The Wind and the Waves|
|3 Assisted Passage (Whaling Barque)||4 Molymauk|
|5 Nantucket Girls’ Song||6 Packet Ship (Bounty Shanty)|
|7 Let the Lower Lights Be Burning||8 Sailors’ Consolation|
|9 Bob Marney||10 Whaling Wife|
|11 Ship Repairing Men||12 Ocean Liner|
|13 Blood Red Roses||14 Birchgrove Park|
|15 A Nautical Yarn||16 The Ballad of the Catalpa|
|17 Bringing the Beer to Broome||18 Nets Below the Gangway|
|19 At Sea (John Smith AB)||20 Rose Bay Ferry|
|21 South Australia||22 Across the Line (The Sailor’s Way)|
CROSSING THE LINE is a collection of sea songs and shanties from the southern oceans. The songs span two centuries and include less commonly known versions from original sources.
Click song title for lyrics.
- ON THE MIDDLE GROUND Don Brian 2013, Tune John Warner
The Middle Ground refers to a whaling region between New Zealand, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Don wrote the song on Norfolk while researching the many visits of American whaling ships between 1790 and 1907. Norfolk was popular for watering and recruiting, and safer than the sailor towns of Sydney, Hobart Town or Russell where captains risked losing their crew. Captains’ wives often stayed for prolonged periods, giving birth there and sharing their domestic skills with local women.
- THE WIND AND THE WAVES Simon Cocker & Matt Woolley 2010
From Loveless in Hobart Town, a folk-song cycle about the trials and tribulations of George Loveless, written and produced by the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir. Loveless, a methodist preacher and Tolpuddle Martyr, was transported to Van Diemens Land in 1834.
- ASSISTED PASSAGE (The Whaling Barque) Harry Robertson 1971
The Third Fleet of convict transport ships to Australia was mostly vessels with approval to go whaling after disposing of their human cargo. Seal skins, whale oil and bone were the first significant exports from the infant colony.
- MOLLYMAUK Bob Watson 1987
The song has become universally popular among singers of maritime songs. Its haunting tune and imagery emphasise the vastness of the southern oceans. The Mollymauks are group of albatross species found only in the Southern Hemisphere with wingspans ranging between 1.8 and 2.6 metres. Bob Watson wrote in Readifolk in 2012, “The ability of these birds to navigate in such inhospitable places gave rise to wonderment and also much legend and superstition”.
- NANTUCKET GIRLS’ SONG Eliza Spencer Brock 1855, Tune trad. ‘Lachlan Tigers’
A whimsical look at the lives of sailors’ wives from the journal of Eliza Spencer Brock. Eliza’s husband was the master of the Nantucket ship Lexington on a Pacific whaling voyage (1843-56). The words were written by Martha Ford, wife of Dr Samuel Hayward Ford, first surgeon in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
- PACKET SHIP (Bounty Shanty) Trad. pre 1820
First published in Danish in Internationale Sømands-Opsange: “Chanties” med danske Variationer, Oscar Jensen, 1923. It is a very early pump shanty predating the discovery of the Bounty mutineers at Pitcairn in 1808. This
version from Stan Hugill gives a jaunty account of the 1789 Mutiny on the Bounty and the notorious Captain William Bligh, “Billy Blight”.
- LET THE LOWER LIGHTS BE BURNING Phillip Bliss 1871
This American composition has become part of Norfolk Island’s maritime hymn tradition. We imagine whalers singing it as they rowed back to shore, their way lit by fires on the cliffs, as described in Harry Robertson’s song, ‘Norfolk Whalers’.
- SAILORS’ CONSOLATION William Pitt 1826 Tune trad.
First published in the Universal Songster, 1826 and set to the tune ‘Miss Tickle Toby’s School’ (also used for ‘Jog Along ‘til Shearing’). The song is also called ‘Jack Tar’s Yarn’ in the whaling Journal of R.E. Buffett, a Norfolk Islander sailing on the whaler Canton II in 1884. It is often attributed to Charles Dibden, who did publish this with other songs, and who also wrote a different song with the same title.
- BOB MARNEY Trad. c.1890s
Bob Marney was lost from the Grecian in 1853. Having harpooned a whale off Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s West coast, his boat was taken on a “Nantucket sleigh ride” and never seen again. This is a composite of versions from the singing of Jack Davies, a Hobart Town whaler recorded in 1961, printed verses from Harry O’May, and from Capt. Cracknell who recorded a version in 1926. His uncle had captained the Grecian. The tune is ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament’.
- WHALING WIFE Harry Robertson 1971
Harry wrote “A great number of people connected with the Whaling Industry never go whaling. In 1950-51 some twelve thousand men of various nationalities operated in the Antarctic season… So we find, scattered throughout the world, thousands of people who know of, and depend upon, the return of whaling men and the result of a good catch – such is the Whaling Wife.”
- SHIP REPAIRING MEN Harry Robertson 1995
Harry came to Australia from Scotland around 1952. He was a ships engineer in the 20th century mechanised whaling industry in the South Atlantic, then out of Moreton Bay, Ballina and Norfolk Island. He later worked at Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point dockyard. The song represents an often-overlooked side of the maritime industry.
- OCEAN LINER Barry Skipsey 1979
An autobiographical tale, written on a prawning trawler in Exmouth Gulf, 1270km north of Perth, West Australia. As a lad seeking adventure, Barry found work on a twenty-one metre Learmonth K trawler. He now lives in land-locked Alice Springs, almost as far away from water as is possible in Australia.
- BLOOD RED ROSES Trad. 1830s
Neil Colquhoun says this song was collected by John Leebrick from “the daughter of a former captain of an American whaleship which had operated around the New Zealand coast during the 1830s”. The shanty is commonly reported to be used for hauling down on stays’l halliards. It was noted in Captain R.C. Adams in On Board the Rocket (1879) as ‘Come down you bunch of roses’.
- THE BIRCHGROVE PARK Merv Lilley 1963, Tune Bill Berry
The Birchgrove Park, a ‘Miller’s Sixty Miler’ of 640 tons, was carrying coal from Newcastle to Sydney in July 1956 but foundered off the Barrenjoey Light in a southerly buster. At the time eight bodies were recovered but two others also drowned; four were saved. The hatches were not properly covered and let water in; the coal moved in the swell increasing the list from uneven loading.
- A NAUTICAL YARN Keighley Goodchild 1883, Tune trad. ‘The Dreadnought’
From Who Are You, a volume of poems by Keighley Goodchild, an editor at the Echuca Advertiser. Ian Mudie in his book, Riverboats, suggests “it is so different from the rest of Goodchild’s work that it seems quite likely that he heard it on the riverboats or in the pubs of Echuca – and wrote it down as his own”. Well-known Murray River Captain, Gus Pierce may have been the inspiration.
- THE BALLAD OF THE CATALPA Trad. c.1876, Tune ‘Botany Bay’
This ballad, telling of the intrepid rescue of six Irish prisoners from Fremantle Gaol by an American ship in the guise of a whaler, was collected by Russel Ward from Victor Courtney, for many years editor of the Perth Sunday Times. As a young reporter Courtney heard the Catalpa in a Fremantle waterside pub sung (perhaps at the risk of gaol time for sedition) to the ‘Botany Bay’ tune. Other tunes are ‘Tarpaulin Jacket’ and, more commonly, to ‘Rosin the Bow’.
- BRINGING THE BEER TO BROOME Peter Lenne 1966
Peter says he wrote the song after reading about a seafarer, Andy, who delivered beer to Broome and mysteriously disappeared at sea. In the folk tradition we take him at his word. It was first performed at the Melbourne University Song Contest in 1968.
- NETS BELOW THE GANGWAY Edwin J. Brady 1909 Tune trad.
Published in The Ways of Many Waters. In the shanty ‘South Australia’ she-oak is the term used in the 1890s for bush beer and around this time the safety nets below the gangway were known as ‘she-oak nets’.
- AT SEA (John Smith AB) D.H. Rogers 1904, Tune N. Colquhoun.
The entries in ships’ logs, listing only the time and place of a sailor lost at sea, are the basis of this song, published in The Bulletin under the pen-name of Taiwa M.L. (taiwa means ‘spud’ or ‘foreigner’ in Māori & M.L. is Maori Land.) Rogers was a Dunedin accountant, writing for Sydney papers at the same time as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. The last verse is omitted in previously recorded versions. The tune is from Neil Colquhoun’s New Zealand Folksongs, 1956.
- ROSE BAY FERRY Bernard Bolan 1973
The imaginary lives of ‘city sailors’ still resonates in the TikTok shanty generation. This song reached #1 on the charts in 1974. The Nicholson Brothers operated ferries on Sydney Harbour at that time. The ferries and the fares may have changed but the morning commute remains as enjoyable today.
- SOUTH AUSTRALIA Trad. 1876
As collected by Fredrick Pease Harlow in 1876. Harlow was on the Akbar at Melbourne and recorded his reminiscences in The Making of a Sailor (Salem Research Society, 1928). The term ‘she-oak’, for ‘bush beer’ dates this song to the 1880s. The Sandridge Railway Pier is now the Port Melbourne Pier.
- ACROSS THE LINE (The Sailor’s Way) Trad. c.1890s
Our final song is a love song to the sea and inspired the album title. Recalled by James Cowan in the New Zealand Lyttleton Times 1912 and developed by Neil Colquhoun, the poem had ‘the land where they grow mate’ (a South American herb tea), to rhyme with ‘sailors fate’. Other versions of the song were collected by James Madison Carpenter in Dundee in 1928/29 from Mr George Simpson, who sailed in the 1890s. Collectors Hugill and Doerflinger have different versions.
* Lyrics of the songs may have been “folk processed” over the years.
Produced by Christina Mimmocchi. Recorded and mixed by Greg White. Recorded at Humph Hall
Thanks to Wayne Richmond, Gial Leslie, Sue Brian & Daniel Bornstein.
Special thanks to Christina Mimmocchi for her unfailing enthusiasm. Thanks also to the singers who have influenced us over many decades, the collectors, authors of ships logs, etc., and not forgetting the shanty singers of the 21st Century who have refocussed our love of these songs.
All songs arranged Forty Degrees South
Track notes © 2021 Forty Degrees South