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John Robert Williamson AM (born 1 November 1945 in Quambatookmarker, Victoriamarker) is an Australian country music singer-songwriter. He is well-known for playing in RSL clubs at various venues around Australia. Williamson has released over thirty-two albums, ten videos, five DVDs, and two lyric books. He has received more than twenty-three Golden Guitarmarker Awards at the Country Music Awards of Australia and has won two A.R.I.A. Awards for Best Australian Country Record. Williamson has also featured in a number of television series as well as This is Your Life. Many of his albums have gone Gold and Platinum and continue to do so. He has sold more than 2,000,000 albums in Australia alone. In 1970 Williamson's first song, Old Man Emu, went to No.1 and became gold. Another one of his classics, Mallee Boy, became triple-platinum and won him an A.R.I.A. Award.

Early life

Williamson was born and raised in the Mallee district of northwestern Victoriamarker. His parents were both performing artists. Williamson is the oldest of five brothers. His influence on country music came from his 'farmland, not city bitumen' lifestyle, therefore he is often referred to by his nickname 'The Mallee Boy'. He learned to play the ukulele at age 7 and at 12 years of age graduated to guitar. Williamson was educated at Scotch College, Melbournemarker. In 1965, the family moved to Croppa Creek, near Moree, New South Walesmarker, where Williamson began performing at a local restaurant.

Early career

Williamson released his first song Old Man Emu in 1970 and it instantly hit No.1 on the Australian music charts. The song was for many people their first exposure to his music. His self-titled debut album followed shortly after. Ironically it featured Old Man Emu but was not well received. Since Old Man Emu was the only hit he had at the time, he had to perform it two - three times per show. His influences were Roger Miller and Rolf Harris.

In 1973 he took part in his first television series Travellin' Out West which ran for two years. He performed with two other acts, Ricky & Tammy and Emma Hannah. Williamson then formed his first band Crow. They performed at various clubs and hotels across Australia until 1976 when the band changed its name to Sydney Radio. Williamson performed in the band disguised as a clown named Ludwig Leichhardt. He then released his second album 'The Comic Strip Cowboy'. Album sales started skyrocketing from then on. During 1979 Williamson's band Sydney Radio was proclaimed not successful and he went solo again.

Since 1970 when Old Man Emu was first released, Williamson has been close mates with Sydneymarker radioman John Laws, who calls Williamson his 'little brother'. In 1977, Williamson recorded and released the single It's A Grab It While It's Goin' Kind Of Life, which is his musical tribute to Laws. Up until Laws retired on June 25 2007, Williamson wrote and performed a series of jingles for Laws' radio morning show on 2UE. Williamson's last radio jingle for Laws was Hey good on ya Lawsie, you pulled the plug at last.

In early 1978, Williamson released his first compilation album under the Country Greats series. This was followed later in the year by his third album Road To Town, with contributions by a handful of other musicians including Tommy Emmanuel.

Career in the 80's

Williamson's career at the beginning of the 80's attracted many more new fans to his club concert gigs and more hit songs to write. He recorded a tribute song for the ANZAC called Diggers Of The ANZAC (This Is Gallipoli) which was well received and followed by Hawkesbury River Lovin'. Before both songs were produced, Williamson was introduced to Pixie Jenkins, a talented Australian fiddle player. The two became mates and toured together for several years. Williamson was then invited to write a song for the 1980 movie Breaker Morant. The song that resulted was called The Breaker, featuring narration vocals by Charles 'Bud' Tingwell. In 1982, Williamson produced a demo version to one of his songs, "True Blue", and included it on a new compilation album under the same name, adding The Best Of John Williamson.

Later in the year, he did another album Fair Dinkum J.W., featuring old Aussie ballads such as With My Swag Upon My Shoulder, Botany Bay and Brisbane Ladies, as well as Williamson's own songs, including Country Football, Kill The Night and (You've Gotta Be) Fair Dinkum, a duet with Karen Johns. One classic song from the Fair Dinkum J.W. album is "Wrinkles".

In 1983, Williamson released his first live album "Singing In The Suburbs." It was from then until 2000 that he performed some of his comical songs impersonating Chad Morgan and Merv Currawong. Following on the success of "Singing In The Suburbs" another live album titled "The Smell Of Gum Leaves" was released the next year. It featured another one of Williamson's comic classics I'm Fair Dinkum. Since the song came out, Williamson launched his merchandise company The Fair Dinkum Road Co. in Sydneymarker. The album also included Williamson's solo cover version of the Spectrum classic "I'll Be Gone".

At the start of 1985 Williamson created his own record label Gum Leaf Recordings. That year he issued a new compilation titled Humble Beginnings featuring songs from his first three albums. He eventually released another new studio album that year named Road Thru The Heart which sold well as did the first single You And My Guitar.

In early 1986, Williamson released another compilation album called All The Best, Vol. 1. The album contained eighteen of his most-requested songs both in the studio and live. As a bonus, Williamson colloborated with daughters Ami and Georgie and Australian folk group Bullamakanka and together made the song Goodbye Blinky Bill. The song was released on the All The Best album as well as a single. Respectively, record shop customers who bought the single made a $1.00 donation to the Koala Preservation Society in Port Macquariemarker.

Later on Williamson recorded the breakthrough album Mallee Boy that reached triple platinum and many songs that have long since been deemed classics including the title track, Galleries Of Pink Galahs, Raining On The Rock and Cootamundra Wattle. The album had a new version of "True Blue" and was released as a single. The song was one of many career highlights for Williamson and has long since become the anthem for the Australia national cricket team. Ever since the Mallee Boy album was produced, Williamson has performed his concerts in a campfire setting. He commences many of his shows performing the album's title track.

In 1988 Williamson made his next album Boomerang Cafe. Fans claim it as one of his best works. The title track has been since its release, called a classic. Despite the song's lyrics, Williamson has comically confessed to concert audiences that he didn't actually meet his wife Mary-Kay in The Boomerang Cafe but actually by a water tank. He was soon invited to perform at the opening of the New Parliament Housemarker. In 1989, Williamson put out another album titled Warragul which means 'dingo'. That same year the Variety Club named him 'Entertainer of the Year' and Warragul was named Best Australian Country Record at the A.R.I.A. Awards in 1990.

Career in the 90's

In 1990, Williamson released his first family album for Australian families which was very well received, earning him another Award for Best Selling Album.

The next year the album, Waratah St., went gold before it even got to the shops. Williamson became a Member of the Order of Australia the year after, for his services to Australian Country Music and conservation issues [158023]. Later Williamson put out the sequel to All The Best, front-headed with Australia Calling, released also as a single. Another exclusive new track was the first time appearance of Williamson's studio recording of "I'll Be Gone", to raise awareness for homeless youth.

At the beginning of 1993, Williamson issued Love Is A Good Woman, a compilation of his classic love songs in one album, featuring new tracks Good Woman and Misty Blue.

After watching the official announcement that Sydneymarker was to host the Olympic Games in 2000, Williamson wrote Sydney 2000. He was then requested to perform it early one morning on the steps of the Sydney Opera Housemarker. A year later in 1994, the song was recorded on Williamson's next album Mulga To Mangoes. Subsequent singles from the album were Seven Year Itch, River Crying Out and Tropical Fever.

1995 saw Williamson celebrating his twenty-fifth year in the Australian music industry. To commemorate the occasion he released a new compilation with all his hits up to that time and two new songs Bush Town (The Lawnmower Song) and No-one Loves Brisbanemarker Like Jesus. At the same time, fans saw the release of his first book True Blue, containing the lyrics to all his songs and explanations of how they came to be written. Williamson was surprised at the book's launch party when visited by Mike Munro and invited to become guest of honour on the television show This is Your Life. Williamson appeared on the show again in 2000 when Slim Dusty was given the honouary treatment. Williamson released his second family album in time for Christmas in 1996.

In January 1997 Williamson was inducted to the Roll of Renown. His next album Pipe Dream followed a little later. Sir Don, Williamson's tribute song to Sir Donald Bradman is found on this work and the album went on to win the award for Biggest Selling Album at the Country Music Awards of Australiamarker at Tamworthmarker. Respectively since they first met that year, Williamson has performed Raining On The Rock as a duet with his Aborigine friend Warren H. Williams. The following year at the Australian Country Music Awards in Tamworth, they won the award for "Colloboration Of The Year" at the same event. Williamson soon took part in his television series on the Seven Network called The Bush Telegraph. The show unfortunately was short-lived. Following this for a moderate period, Williamson continued touring Australia and was also releasing a series of compilations.

The 1999 album The Way It Is went gold after eight weeks. The album received another three Golden Guitarmarker Awards- Bush Ballad of The Year: Three Sons, Heritage Song of The Year: Campfire on the Road and Best Selling Album of The Year: The Way It Is. By this period, Williamson started receiving new fans from the United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker and New Zealandmarker.

Williamson's career in and beyond 2000

Williamson released his next compilation album of his well-known Australian anthems in mid-2000. A new single from the album This Ancient Land was recorded with country music veteran Jimmy Little for Corroboree that year. The album also featured the more recent recordings before that time, the Wallaby Anthem A Number On My Back and The Baggy Green with vocals by cricket legend Steve Waugh. Another two highlights on the album is Waltzing Matilda 2000 and the appearance of Williamson's studio recording of the Australian National Anthem for the first time. He was soon invited to perform at the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Other invited performers were Nikki Webster, Yothu Yindi, Human Nature, Julie Anthony, John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John, Vanessa Amorosi, Tina Arena and many others.

Williamson was honoured to be asked to perform Sir Don, at Sir Donald Bradman's Memorial Service in Adelaidemarker in 2001. The original scraps of paper this song was scribbled on have been framed and now hang in the Bradman Museum, Bowral, New South Walesmarker. He also represented Australia when performing at the Opening Ceremony of Winterlude in Ottawa, Canadamarker. The following year Williamson put out his next new album Gunyah which in the traditional Aborigine language means 'home'. The opening track Sing You The Outback revealed how important the Australian outback has been in the past and how invaluable it will be into the future. The next two songs Frangipani Bay and Cape York Peninsula were written during a road trip to Australia's most northern point which was so named. The lyrics in The Devil's Boots were for bushranger Ned Kelly.

Buried In Her Bedclothes came to be written after Williamson and Mary-Kay got home after a return trip on the Indian Pacific where they met an elderly lady whose husband died six months before. The lady was so devastated that she refused to get out of bed for three months. Her family had suggested that she'd take a trip on the Indian Pacific as a remedy in bringing her back to life. As the train had travelled past the Nullarbor Plains, Williamson and Mary-Kay met the lady over breakfast and she shared her memories with them. Williamson claimed the train 'had done the job.'

2003 was known by Williamson as his 'most True Blue year ever'. He was elected President of the Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA) after Slim Dusty retired. He soon released the sequel to the 1995 album True Blue - The Very Best Of 25 Years, respectively True Blue Two which sold brilliantly. As with the original release, the album featured all his hit songs up to the Gunyah album and exclusively including five new tracks. Williamson recorded a twenty-first anniversary version of "True Blue" with an orchestra and chorale, as well as one line of the original chorus being changed a little. Other new songs were You Are Very Welcome, Keep Australia Beautiful, The Easter Bilby (only available on the accompanying DVD) and a duet with Sara Storer, Raining on the Plains. On the 12th of October that year Williamson was asked by Prime Minister John Howard to perform Waltzing Matilda at the Memorial Service for the first Anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombingsmarker.

In 2004 Williamson and Storer won 2 Golden Guitar Awards each for Vocal Collaboration of The Year and Single of The Year on behalf of Raining On The Plains. The track is also found on Storer's 2002 album "Beautiful Circle".

The year that followed, Williamson re-recorded Wrinkles as a duet with John Stephan. Shortly after, Williamson released the album Chandelier of Stars which was an instant hit with fans. The opening track Little Girl From The Dryland, tells the story of where Williamson's wife Mary-Kay spent her childhood in Tulloona Bore, south of Boggabilla, north-west New South Wales, from her point of view. The title track came from the description of the stars in the sky shortly before sunrise. Bells In A Bushman's Ear acts as a tribute to Australia's country music forefathers and The Camel Boy was about the life of Albert Namatjira. He was Warren H. Williams' great nephew.

Keeper Of The Stones which previously appeared on Williamson's live album Mates On The Road was dedicated to the thousands of indigenous people who went through the struggles of The Stolen Generation. Desert Child, another duet between Williamson and Williams is respectfully considered a bush lullabye for Aborigine children. Also on the album is A Country Balladeer done as a duet with Chad Morgan and Flower On The Water was a moving tribute to the victims of the Bali bombings.

The first four lines in Flower On The Water were inspired for by Williamson after seeing the words written alongside a photo of one of the perished victims. The lines were as follows: To hear your voice, to see you smile / To sit and talk to you awhile / To be together the same old way / That would be our greatest wish today. Williamson had long since found the lines' author and started a friendship.

The following November Williamson released the new song We Love This Country on a compilation of the same name with his favorite holiday songs to promote Australian tourism with caravans. We Love This Country became a jingle for Jayco commercials.

On the 4th of September 2006 Williamson was devastated after hearing that Steve Irwin had been killed after accidentally getting his heart pierced by a stingray barb. Williamson went down to write Irwin's tribute song Wildlife Warriors: It's Time. Fans regard it as the 'angriest' song he had ever written. He was then honoured to perform both Home Among The Gum Trees and True Blue at Irwin's memorial service in the Australia Zoomarker Crocoseum. The service was later released on DVD. Wildlife Warriors: It's Time was eventually released on a new compilation album of the same name. In addition the album included Williamson's favorite conservation awareness tracks as well as both performances from Irwin's memorial service.

At the beginning of 2008, Williamson decided to put together a musical. Based on his music and lyrics, the book by Simon Heath and directed by Bernie Zelvis, Williamson named it Quambatook - The Musical. Produced by the Fair Dinkum Road Co., the cast involved Darren Coggan, Belinda Wollaston, Josh Russell, Shardyn Fahey-Leigh, Benson Anthony, Makirum Fahey-Leigh, Reg Poole, Nicole Nicholas, Angelika Purves, Katie Ditchburn, Jennifer Reed, Alistair Toogood, Warren H. Williams, Williamson's daughter Ami and Williamson himself. On Thursday February 7th 2008, the musical was premiered at the EVAN Theater in Penrithmarker to extremely positive reviews, making it a major highlight in the history of Australian musical theatre.

Williamson's latest album Hillbilly Road was released in mid-August 2008. The lyrics for the album were inspired by his home in Springbrook. Subsequent singles that followed were Cydi, Drink A Little Love, Australia Is Another Word For Free as a trio with Warren H. Williams and Amos Morris, and Better Than A Picture. The Joy Is In The Journey was a special bonus addition to finish the album, previously appearing on the Quambatook Musical soundtrack. The Hillbilly Road album was promoted everywhere around Australia until early the next year when Warren decided to move on and pursue other musical projects, leaving Williamson to perform the rest of the tour solo. They remain mates.

Personal life

Williamson has stated in a small number of interviews that he does not like cats. Bill The Cat from the Warragul album is an hilarious serious message that points out the damage feral cats do to wildlife.

Shortly after Old Man Emu was released in 1970, Williamson married Mary-Kay Price. They have two daughters, Ami and Georgie.

On the 23rd of April that year, it was announced that after thirty-five years married, Williamson and Mary-Kay had officially divorced. They refuse to discuss each other and Williamson now refers to his new partner in some introductions between songs during concerts.

A couple of years before the marriage ended, Mary-Kay accused Williamson of not spending enough time with her at home in Sydneymarker when not on tour. Williamson has privately admitted that instead he likes to head up to Springbrook in southeast Queensland to unwind and get inspiration for future songs.

Following their marriage break-up, Williamson got together with his new partner Meg Doyle, who is one of the main organisers of Williamson's activities. They live together at his mountain hideaway home in Springbrook.

John's middle brother Robin died of cancer in 1999. Williamson's 2002 album "Gunyah", in particular the track Salisbury Street, was dedicated to Robin. Salisbury Street was the location of their second home in Quambatookmarker.

Criticism and controversy

Not all of his songs were universally popular, for a variety of reasons.

At the peak of Williamson's career in 1983, The Vasectomy Song was banned from radio airplay because of its lyrics, which many radio stations regarded as too risque. Despite the ban, his fans bought the single record in millions. The fictional song is about Williamson having a vasectomy, and then subsequently being arrested for obscene behaviour after being stopped by the police for speeding and being breathalysed. The song's humour is based on use of the term "blow into the bag" to refer to both the supply of a sample to test the success of the vasectomy, and the use of the breathalyser.

One song on the Warragul album Rip Rip Woodchip helped raise awareness and money to provide protection for Australia's forestland but it raised a controversy with loggers and lumberjacks, causing threats to sue Williamson and cut his career short. The situation came to a climax when Williamson was asked to perform the song for the Rugby League Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Groundmarker. He however protected his right to voice his opinion politically, and was quoted as saying on the back cover of the song's 7" single, "Yesterday was the right time to stop the wholesale slaughter of our forests, flora and fauna. Every load of woodchip from our ancient and rare forests is stained with the blood of unique parrots and of marsupials such as koalas and rare possums. We are rapidly losing the very thing that makes me feel very fortunate to live in Australia."

A Flag Of Our Own from the Waratah St. album sparked a controversy with a few country RSL clubs. Since the early 80's Williamson wanted to express in song that Australia needed its own flag minus the Union Jack. He received support from many people about the matter including ANZAC diggers who said they fought for Australia, not the flag. Regardless, Williamson was banned from a string of RSL clubs upon performing the song.

Fans who bought Hillbilly Road criticised two songs on the album titled Beach Of Love and Tomorrow's Worries both in which the word sexy appeared but Williamson defended his right for freedom of creative speech. The album however regardless was still well received and hit No.1 on the Australian country charts.

While Rip Rip Woodchip and A Flag Of Our Own upset a few people, both songs were causes that Williamson felt passionate about. Today while performing he continues to help the dream for the lyrics to come true in Australia's modern world.


  1. Bob Rogers Show, Radio 2CH, 11:35 AEST 23 April 2007.
  2. CD insert, Gunyah, 2002.
  3. The Vasectomy Song, track 17 disc 1, True Blue - The Very Best of John Williamson (25th Anniversary) CD, 1995.

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