June 30, 2009

Dinky DIY's Guide to Kookaburra Troubles Down Under

OR Get a Laugh Outta This

I come from a land down under

Where beer does flow and men chunder

Cant you hear, cant you hear the thunder?

You better run, you better take cover

It's quite rare in the Great Southern Land, that you hear of a music industry scandal… so let's enjoy this one thoroughly.

I remember the gratingly annoying Don Spencer (that dorkus malorkus from Playschool circa 1987) bleating out the lyrics ad nauseum of Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree and maybe you do too. Or maybe you were treated to this stupid song some other way (miserable Scouts camps come to mind) because, as everyone knows, if its got a bush animal in it, the song immediately becomes part of the Holier Than Thou Australian Songbook, to be hummed along to with reverence at church fetes, school band recitals and when played at 3am on rural radio stations by all patriots.

Don't get me wrong. Some of the tunes that belong to this canonical collection are brilliant. Kookaburra just isn't. Men At Work's classic (I Come From A Land ) Down Under on the other hand, is.

That's why it went to number 1 on the US, UK and Aussie charts in 1983, won the band a Grammy for Best New Artist and help sell 30 million albums. This is also why whenever intoxicated Australians gather it creates great excitement and merrymaking when played.

When the Australia II won the Americas Cup it was the yachts anthem. One of the godawful Crocadile Dundee sequels used it and, for crying out loud, it was played at the 2000 Closing Ceremony.

It's sacred.

Get ready to laugh.

So, Larrikin Music owns the el lamo rights to Kookaburra (first penned in 1934 for a Girl Guides Victoria jamboree) and are suing Down Under songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and record companies EMI and Sony, for breach of copyright and unpaid royalties.

Larrikin claims the flute riff was ripped off from the original song`s refrain. Muahahahhhahahaha.

Here is a sample from the older jingle- please note the last line.

Can you imagine what primary school kids do to this song?

One noteworthy example:

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Screwing all the magpies he can see
Stop! Kookaburra,
Stop! Kookaburra,
That one
's got VD!

But I digress.

Apparently the commotion started when ABC TV cult music show Spicks And Specks raised the possibility of a connection between the songs in 2007. Immediately, Larrikin managing director Norman Lurie launched the court fight.

The original writer of Kookaburra is long dead and had signed the rights over to the Libraries Board of South Australia who sold out bigtime and flogged them to Larrikin, who is clearly clutching at straws here.

Anyway, this is so not about Intellectual Property. This is about an evil music manager tearing strips from a glorious Aussie icon. Larrikin needs to get hip to postmodernism and realise that even if Men at Work did copy 5 seconds of melody from this dumbass ditty, they did a damn fine job. He needs to chillax and have a Vegimite sandwich.

P.S. I am struggling with finding Luthie`s or Larrikin`s contact details. This is all I could get and would heartily commend prankings involving kookaburra laughings sounds, campfire singalongs of the song he so loves and barside bellowings of the song he seems to hate so much. Just an idea...


  1. The court was told "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree is
    a distinct and memorable Australian melody" ?

    It is Welsh.
    The same tune as the very very old Public Domain Welsh folk song "Wele ti'n eistedd aderyn du?" NOT owned by Larrikin/Festival records Australia.

  2. Marshall-Stacks has the facts!