North + South: The Songs

1. Plains of Emu

Lyric by John McGarvie, music traditional, arranged by Jane Sheldon,  4:43

2. Tommy Tanna 

Lyric Anonymous, music by Martin Wesley-Smith,  2:44

3. Maa Bonny Lad 

Traditional English, arranged by Andrew Ford,  4:17

4. She Moved Through the Fair 

Traditional Irish, arranged by Jane Sheldon,  2:57

5. Black is the Colour…

Lyric traditional, music by Luciano Berio from a melody by J.J. Niles,  2:58

6. Moreton Bay

Traditional Australian, arranged by Ann Carr-Boyd,  3:25

7. I Wonder as I Wander

By J.J. Niles, arranged by Benjamin Britten,  3:25

8. Cattle and Cane

By Grant McLennan & Robert Foster, arranged by Jane Sheldon,  3:35

9. I Never Will Marry 

Traditional English, arranged by Jane Sheldon,  4:06

10. The Dying Stockman  

Traditional Australian, arranged by Jane Sheldon,  3:26


Lyrics, and more about each song

Plains of Emu

Oh farewell my country, my kindred, my lover

Each morning and evening is sacred to you.

While I toil the long day without shelter or cover

And fell the tall gums, the black-butted and blue.

Full often I think of and talk of thee, Erin

Thy heath-covered mountains are fresh in my view

Thy glens, lakes, and rivers, Loch-Con and Kilkerran

While chained to the soil on the Plains of Emu.


The ironbark wattle and gum-trees extending

Their shades under which rests the shy kangaroo

May be felled by the bless’d who have hope o’er them bending

To cheer their rude toil though far exiled from you.

But, alas! without hope peace or honour to grace me

Each feeling was crushed in the bud as it grew

Whilst “never” is stamped on the chains that embrace me

And endless my thrall on the Plains of Emu.


Hard, hard was my fate far from thee to be driven

Unstained, unconvicted as sure was my due

I loved to dispense of the freedom of Heaven

But force gained the day and I suffer for you.

For this land never broke what by promise was plighted

Deep treason this tongue to my country ne’er knew

No base-earned coin in my coffer e’er lighted

Yet enchained I remain on the Plains of Emu.


But your names shall still live though like writing in water

When confined to the notes of the tame cockatoo.

Each wattle-scrub echo repeats to the other

Your names and each breeze hears me sighing anew.

For dumb be my tongue, may my heart cease her motion

If the Isle I forget where my first breath I drew

Each affection is warmed with sincerest devotion

For the tie is unbroken on the Plains of Emu.

The lyrics of this song were published as “Exile of Erin,” by “M” (John McGarvie) in the Sydney Gazette, May 1829. The tune is traditional Irish, known as “Savourneen Deelish.”


Tommy Tanna

I love your strong and brawny arm,

Your glossy hide of ebon,

Your pretty little freehold farm,

Your purse, the dress, the ribbon.

I can endure your charming smell,

For you are still a man a lady can admire quite well,

My darling Tommy Tanna.


The planter in his mood of sin

Has still an eye to cast on

A buxom, comely island gin,

To whom he fastens fast on.

And you’re a planter, though you’re black,

You swear your love.

How can a white girl turn on you her back,

Dear wealthy Tommy Tanna.


For you’re the saviour of our land,

Our industry you cherish.

Were you from Queensland ever banned,

The sugarcane would perish.

I love the country. I love you.

Come to my arms Alanna.

You’ll find me constant, leal and true,

My darling Tommy Tanna.

From a poem published anonymously as “From a White Woman to Her Kanaka Swain” in The Bulletin, Sydney, 1895. The music is by Australian composer Martin Wesley-Smith.


Maa Bonny Lad

Have ye seen owt o’ maa bonny lad

And are ye sure he’s weel-o?

He’s gone ower land wiv a stick in his hand,

He’s gone to moor the keel-o.


Yes, I’ve seen your bonny lad.

Twas on the sea ah spied him.

His grave is green but not wi’ grass

And thou’lt never lie aside him.

Traditional Northumbrian song. This arrangement was commissioned from Andrew Ford for North + South.


She Moved Through the Fair

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind,

And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kine.”

Then she stepped away from me and this she did say,

“It will not be long love till our wedding day.”


She stepped away from me, and she went thro’ the fair.

And fondly I watched her move here and move there.

And then she went homeward with one star awake

As the swan in the ev’ning moves over the lake.


One night she came to me, she came softly in,

So softly she came that her feet made no din.

And she laid her hand on me and this she did say,

“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

Traditional Irish song, arranged by Jane Sheldon.


Black is the Colour…

Black, black, black is the colour of my true love’s hair.

His lips are something rosy fair.

The sweetest smile, and the kindest hands

I love the grass whereon he stands.


I love my love and well he knows,

I love the grass whereon he goes

If he no more on earth will be

‘Twill surely be the end of me.

Lyrics from a traditional song, probably Scottish in origin. Music by Italian composer Luciano Berio, using a melody by American J.J. Niles.


Moreton Bay

One Sunday morning as I went walking

By Brisbane waters I chanced to stray.

I heard a convict, his fate bewailing

As on the sunny river bank he lay.

I am a native of Erin’s Island

And banished now from my native shore.

They tore me from my aged parents

And from the maiden whom I do adore.


I’ve been a prisoner at Port Macquarie

At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,

At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie

At all those settlements I’ve worked in chains.

But of all the places of condemnation

And penal stations of New South Wales.

To Moreton Bay I have found no equal.

Excessive tyranny each day prevails.


For three long years I was beastly treated

And heavy irons on my legs I wore.

My back with flogging is lacerated

And often painted with my crimson gore.

And many a man from downright starvation

Lies mouldering now underneath the clay.

And Captain Logan he had us mangled

At the triangles of Moreton Bay.


Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews

We were oppressed under Logan’s yoke

Till a native man lying there in ambush

Did give this tyrant his mortal stroke.

My fellow prisoners be exhilarated

That all such monsters a death may find

And when from bondage we are liberated

Our former sufferings shall fade from mind. 

Australian folk song, perhaps by the convict “Frank the Poet,” arranged by Australian composer Ann Carr-Boyd.


I Wonder As I Wander

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus our saviour did come for to die

For poor ornery people like you and like I.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.


When Mary birthed Jesus twas in a cow’s stall

With wise men and shepherds and farmers and all

But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,

And the promise of ages it did then recall.


If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,

A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,

Or all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing,

He surely could have had it, for he was the King!

Written by J.J. Niles, using a fragment heard in 1933 in North Carolina, USA, arranged by English composer Benjamin Britten.


Cattle and Cane

I recall a schoolboy coming home

Through fields of cane to a house of tin and timber.

And in the sky the rain of falling cinders.

From time to time the waste, memory wastes.


I recall a boy in bigger pants,

Like everyone, just waiting for a chance.

His father’s watch, he left it in the showers.

From time to time the waste, memory wastes.


I recall a bigger, brighter world.

A world of books and silent times in thought.

And then the railroad, the railroad takes him home

Through fields of cattle, through fields of cane.

From time to time the waste, memory wastes.

Written by Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, released by the Go-Betweens, 1983. Selected by APRA in 2001 as one of the 30 best Australian songs of all time.


I Never Will Marry

One morning as I rambled all down the seashore

The wind it did whistle, and the waters did roar.

I heard a fair damsel make a pitiful sound

It sounded so lonesome in the waters around


I never will marry or be no man’s wife

I expect to live single all the days of my life

The shells in the ocean shall be my deathbed

The fish in deep water swim over my head


She plunged her fair body in the ocean so deep

She closed her blue eyes in the waters to sleep

My love’s gone and left me, the one I adore

She’s gone where I never will see her any more.

English song, 19th century or older, also known as “The Lover’s Lament for her Sailor.” This version was arranged by Jane Sheldon based on versions by A.P. Carter (of the “Carter Family”) and Murry Hammond.


The Dying Stockman

A strapping young stockman lay dying,

His saddle supporting his head.

His mates all around him were crying

As he rose on his elbow and said,

“Wrap me up with my stockwhip and blanket

And bury me deep down below

Where the dingoes and crows cannot find me

In the place where the coolibahs grow.”


There’s tea in the old battered billy.

Place the pannikins out in a row

And drink the last health of the stockman

Who soon will be going below.


Oh had I the flight of the bronze-wing

Far over the plains I would fly

Straight back to the land of my childhood

And there I would lay down and die.


And oft in the shades of the twilight

When the soft winds are whispering low,

And the darkening shadows are falling

Sometimes think of the stockman below.


Traditional Australian song, arranged by Jane Sheldon.



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