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John Oxley Library

Rediscovering music from the War

By JOL Admin | 26 November 2014

In September this year, around thirty 3rd year History students from the University of Queensland came to State Library, armed with First World War research assignments, and ready to investigate our heritage collections.  One of the students, Sandy Bickerton, decided to investigate the patriotic music of the period, and agreed to be a guest blogger. This is the first in a series of posts, each an examination of a different song.

Guest blogger: Sandy Bickerton, University of Queensland

The Queensland State Library holds a sheet music collection of Australian songs produced during World War 1. Some were successful enough to be recorded on phonograph cylinders, though you would be very lucky to find one these days. Most of the songs lay unappreciated in collections around Australia, and absent from the awareness of scholar and citizen alike.


Britannia needs you like a mother would you turn your mother down? / words by Grant Clark ; music by Jean Schwartz

Some of the most popular of these songs were Britannia Needs You Like a Mother and Australia Will be There. The more popular songs owed their success to the publisher Dinsdale’s Pty. Ltd., who specialised in wartime music during the First World War. It was Dinsdale’s ability to produce phonograph cylinders and advertise sheet music that allowed this music to really take off. They were marketed mostly for private use on a home piano, but occasionally would be picked up by performers such as those in the Tivoli Revue, or used as performance items in military ceremonies on home soil, such as the welcoming home of returning soldiers.
It wasn’t long after the war that Australians lost interest in these songs. Since they were focussed on a time of upheaval, the benefit they served was no longer relevant after war’s end. This may be why Dinsdale’s was deregistered in 1923, and the songs disappeared from Australian culture. The Second World War did not pick up this kind of music, owing to the change in musical interests of the general population, the advancement of recording technology, and the decrease in competent composers.

Australia will be there! http:/​/​​nla.mus-an5434562

As a result, they lay hidden in these archives, unappreciated and lacking the former life they possessed. As we commemorate the centenary of World War 1, a number of questions arise. What were these songs like? Where were they performed and by whom? What purpose did they serve? What stories lay hidden behind the sheet music?

This series of blogs aims to revive a few of these unique pieces of history and to answer these questions. Each song will uncover unique information about Australia at the time as well as the song’s own outlook on the war.

A letter written by Mr Dinsdale

Deregistered on 04/04/1923 according to ASIC database, courtesy of the VIC State Library

All pictures are accessed via unless otherwise labelled. The full scores can also be accessed via trove.


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