Only Love Survives

Song Notes by Gary Shearston (2001)

Back to Only Love Survives Go to  Album Notes by Warren Fahey

For the latter part of 1991 and early 1992, I was living in a little cottage on the banks of the mighty Murrumbidgee, just outside Narrandera. During my time there, I saw many a RIVERINA DROVER on the 'long paddock'. As I had lived away from Australia for many years, the experience reminded me of those I had witnessed on the 'long paddock' in my New England childhood days. Norm Dean was running the Narrandera Hotel at the time,known to one and all as the 'top end pub'.

The Right Reverend Dr. Barry Hunter AM was the revered and much-loved Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Riverina for twenty-one years, from 1971-1992. He flew his own single-engined plane in order to get around a Diocese that covers nearly one-third of the State of New South Wales. Of the many poems he produced over his years there, RIVERINA 1984, written to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Diocese, struck a particularly resonant chord in me and I asked if I might set his words to this tune.

PRETTY BONNIE was written in anticipation of my daughter's first visit to Australia. Having been born in England, Australia loomed as a very far and very different horizon. She wasn't disappointed.

Don Henderson was my friend and fellow Australian songwriter from the late nineteen fifties in Sydney until his premature death in Brisbane in August 1991. HEY THERE, SONGMAN, a song for 'Hendo' (as he was affectionately known to all), was written in response to a request from Don's wife, Sally, for something that could be used as a preface to 'A Quiet Century', the posthumously published collection of Don's songs and poems. I used the titles and themes of many of them to tell his story. The dedication, which accompanies the book, says, with thanks for all you gave, and in loving memory of the times we shared." It came from the heart.

During my many years living in England, particularly in London, I learned of the men from the Republic of Ireland who travelled across the Irish Sea to make the living in England that was not available to them at home. Many found work in the construction industry. Those with families had to resign themselves to not seeing their loved ones for months at a time, perhaps only at Easter and Christmas when the ferries from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire were packed to the gunwales and drunk dry before the crossing was completed. But the Irish are not the only ones. All over our bruised and battered world, men and women are forced to leave hearth and home to make a living on a FOREIGN STRAND.

Ben Hall's story has stayed with me ever since visiting in 1965 what had been his home turf. I had been preparing for the release of one of my earliest traditional song collections 'Bolters, Bushrangers and Duffers'. A gaunt, ghostly, charred old chimney was all that remained of John Walsh's 'Wheogo' homestead in the Weddin Mountains of southwestern New South Wales, where Ben Hall worked and met Walsh's daughter, Bridget, whom she later married. The police who killed Ben Hall strapped his bullet-riddled carcass onto the back of his horse and led it through the STREETS OF FORBES. Ben Hall's brother-in-law, John McGuire, was sitting outside a shop as the grisly procession went past. Though it may never be proved, and though these words are usually credited as 'traditional', there are reasons for thinking John McGuire may well have been the original author. They are here set to a tune of my own making.


The legendary American gospel and blues singer, Brother John Sellers, first came to Australia at the beginning of the nineteen sixties with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. After the Dance Company's tour ended, Brother John stayed on a while in Australia and eventually he and I were the opening artists for Jim Carter's seminal Sydney folk club, The Troubadour. We became great friends and, needless to say, he took me on many a musical journey into the heart of Afro-America. He had been on the gospel tent show circuit in the southern states of his homeland, from the age of four. He told me that they used to put up a banner proclaiming "Fire falls from Heaven when little Brother John sings!" I found that to be true. I can still see him in my mind's eye, shaking the devil out of the huge gospel tambourine he played, and bringing to roaring and compelling life songs I had only ever heard on record, or seen in song books. SING ON, BROTHER JOHN.

FORTY DAYS was written for the season of Lent in 1991. It was first sung at Christ Church St. Laurence in Sydney, whose Rector of some thirty-two years, Austin Day, became my friend and mentor.

"There is nothing permanent," said Heraclitus, "except change." THE MAN I MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a song of transition, of taking stock, of coming to terms, of reflection on the purpose of life's journey. The title comes from a Henry Lawson poem and is also found in one of Morris West's novels. At an earlier date, the English poet, Adelaide Ann Procter (1825-1864) wrote, "No star is ever lost we once have seen, We always may be what we might have been." Heraclitus, by the way, was a Greek philosopher who lived from 540-475 BC. "Upon those that step into the same rivers," he said, "different and different waters flow down."

Kimio Eto is a world-renowned master of the Japanese koto, both as a performer of the classical repertoire, and as a composer. I wrote a SONG FOR KIMIO ETO because, at a particularly dark and difficult period of my life, his music soothed my troubled soul, inflamed my weary heart, and inspired my creativity. It still does.

Ah...love. Best thing going, and that's a fact. But where human love is concerned - as I'm sure you're well aware, dear reader - you can't always predict the outcome. Nevertheless,as Robert Browning pointed out, "Take away love and our earth is a tomb." That said, LOVE, DON'T EVER MAKE A FOOL OF ME AGAIN.

When she was a baby, the chorus of BONNIE'S LULLABY was the only thing more or less guaranteed to get my daughter to sleep at night. It was generally sung while pacing up and down with her in my arms, and had to be kept going a while after she was finally in bed. Otherwise, I'd be summoned back when but halfway down the stairs.

  Site Index Recordings Join Mailing List Buy Albums What's New Contact Us

www.garyshearston.com - © Copyright 2000-2014 Aprenda Pty Limited