Don Henderson – A Quiet Century 100 Songs & Poems


DON HENDERSON 1937 – 1991

Don was born in 1937 and grew up in Maidstone, a suburb of Melbourne. As a child he listened to Tex Morton on the radio, and saw him live at a buckjump show when he was 6 or 7 years old. He recalls being impressed by songs which spoke of the reality of the life Tex Morton lived.

Don was encouraged to learn the violin but later changed to the mandolin and subsequently the guitar, as he became interested in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll.

He served his apprenticeship as a Fitter and Turner at Henderson’s Federal Springworks and later used his skills as a craftsman to make and repair musical instruments.

In 1957 Don was called up for National Service but was discharged and decided to do something different. Getting a ride to Queanbeyan, he ended up working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme for a few months. Later, when he had decided to go on the road, he returned to the Snowy and wrote the song ‘Rural Electricity’, subsequently titled ‘Put A Light In Every Country Window’.

When Don was 21 he moved to Sydney, where he was introduced to the songs of Woody Guthrie. Don had written verse since childhood and later song lyrics but hearing Guthrie was a revelation. He said in an interview with Edgar Waters, “When I first heard Woody Guthrie sing ‘Tom Joad’, I realized that this man had put John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ into 17 verses and rhymed it all the way through. I could see there were endless possibilities.”

He pursued those possibilities and during the 1960s was very well known as a songwriter, folksinger and instrument maker, particularly on the Sydney scene. Some other widely known songs from this time are ‘It’s On’, ‘Basic Wage Dream’, ‘Plastic’, ‘Rake and Rambling Man’ and ’11 Million People’, the latter written in 1966 and subsequently updated by Don to 14 million. It has been recorded by other singers as 13, 16, 18 and 20 million.

In 1961 Don met Geoff and Nancy Wills in Brisbane and a lifetime friendship and collaboration of ideas was forged. They were founding members of Union Singers and through them the first LPs of Don’s songs were produced. In 1965 he went with Geoff to Mt. Isa and wrote several songs about the lockout.

In 1971 Don moved to England where he continued to write songs; played solo and with a band at local clubs and wrote the Rock Opera ‘Hero’ in collaboration with Craig McGregor and Poli Palmer.

Returning to Australia in 1979, the family settled in Lota. Don was an active member of the Queensland Folk Federation; he taught instrument making and repair at the workshop held every 2nd Sunday under the Wills’ house and was a co-founder of the 291 Folk Club. He also performed at peace rallies, Labour Day marches and festivals such as Maleny.

Don died prematurely in 1991 –

‘Leaving more than time gone by behind him’. ( a line from one of his own songs)

In his book ‘People Politics and Pop’ 1968, Craig McGregor wrote of Don –

‘Despite his commitment to the Left, Don Henderson’s songs rarely degenerate into mere propaganda. Most of them are not even protest songs, in the strict sense: they are, rather, sardonic commentaries on contemporary Australian life….He can be as zany as Dylan, as straightforward as Pete Seeger. The characteristic note is one of understatement, irony rather than declamation.’

‘A Quiet Century’, the reprinted edition of 100 of these songs and poems, first published in 1994, is representative of his work over a period of more that 30 years. The book is complemented by the double CD set on which Don is singing 20 of his songs, with a further 20 performed by 14 different singers.

The CD set and the songbook are available separately for $20 each or as a package for $35.

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SKU: TN1915 Category:

Additional information

Weight .500 kg
Dimensions 28 × 20 × 1.5 cm