Kookaburra

Album: Children's Songs (1934)
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Songfacts®:

  • Also known as "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree" - after its first line - or as "The Kookaburra Round," this popular nursery rhyme/song is quite well known in the United States, and probably throughout the English-speaking world. There are four species of the kingfisher-like kookaburra in Australia; the bird is best known for its laughter-like call and song.

    The Old Gum Tree, an artifact of some importance in Australia's history, is the site of an annual ceremony held on Proclamation Day in Glenelg North, South Australia.
  • "Kookaburra" was written in 1932 by music teacher Marion Sinclair, a native born Australian. In 1934, she entered it into a competition run by the Girl Guides Association of Victoria. The rights of the winning entry were to be sold to raise money for the purchase of a camping ground, eventually chosen as Britannia Park. It was performed initially at the annual Jamboree in Frankston, Victoria, 1934, in the presence of Lord Baden-Powell - the founder of the Boy Scouts - and his sister Agnes - who helped establish the Girl Guides.
  • The song is written in 2/4 time, and the first line can also be rendered "Kookaburra sits on an old gum tree". The last line reads "Gay your life must be". It should be noted that the word gay did not have the same connotations for a 1930s Australian schoolteacher as it does for the post Stonewall generation. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above
  • "Kookaburra" was copyright 1934, renewed 1989 by Larrikin Music, which bought the rights to the song from the estate of Marion Sinclair, who died in 1988. Sinclair never enforced her copyright, so many assumed it was in the public domain. When Larrikin went looking for unauthorized uses of song, they found many, especially charts of the music for flute.

    In 2009, they launched a high-profile lawsuit against the writers of the Men at Work song "Down Under," claiming the famous flute section in that song copied "Kookaburra." In February 2010, an Australian court ruled in favor of Larrikin, but later awarded just the company just 5% of "Down Under" royalties, retroactive to 2002. Larrikin got a lot of bad press for using one Australian classic to besmirch another; in 2014 they changed the name of their company to Happy as Larry Music Publishing.
  • "Gum Tree" is also a colloquial term that refers to the eucalyptus tree, a species mainly native to Australia. Many, but far from all eucalyptus trees, are known as gum trees because many species exude copious sap from any break in the bark, for example, Scribbly Gum. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Annabelle - Eugene, OR

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