Fred Smith – Dust of Uruzgan


Fred Smith was the first Australian diplomat to be posted to Uruzgan in July of 2009.

His main job was to build relationships with tribal leaders in order to improve cooperation and understanding between the local community and the Coalition Forces and to act as a bridge between these two vastly different cultures. This put him in a unique position to understand both. He served most of his 18 month tour of Uruzgan province living and working on the Multinational Base in Tarin Kowt and more recently at a Forward Operating Base in the Chora Valley.

Whilst in Afghanistan, Fred wrote a collection of powerful songs about his experiences and the realities of life for soldiers in this difficult war. These songs are now being released on an album called Dust of Uruzgan. Mr Smith played regular concerts on the main base in Tarin Kowt. His comic ditty Niet Swaffelen op de Dixi, consisted of entreating Dutch soldiers not to do unspeakable things in the portaloos around the base became a hit with the Dutch military and he toured Holland in November 2010 based on the strength of it.

Fred Smith is known on the Australian and international festival circuit for his comic performances, and there is a thread of dark humour running through Dust of Uruzgan. It serves as a counter weight to the darker territory explored in many of the songs, and opens up the listener to a more personal and three dimensional understanding of the experience of soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. Dust of Uruzgan is effectively a collection of 12 stories from the war in Afghanistan. Some are written from personal experience, while others draw on keen observation of the realities of soldiers and civilians serving in this complex war, as well as Afghan perspectives. While Smith sings most the songs on the album, some of these perspectives are delivered through guest vocal cameos from long-term professional partner Liz Frencham, Dutch singer Carola van Houwert, and American folk maverick Jonathan Byrd. From Trad and Now Vol 10 No 6


Dust of Uruzgan – Fred Smith CD Review by Ian Dearden

Iain Smith (as he’s known by his mum), Fred Smith (to the rest of us who know him as one of Australia’s leading songwriters and folk performers), has just released his tour de force –

“Dust of Uruzgan”. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten years, you would be aware that Uruzgan is a province of Afghanistan, a country where, for better or for worse, Australia has a substantial troop commitment, which has in recent times suffered significant casualties. Fred Smith has forged two apparently disparate careers – one as a songwriter and performer of wry, hard hitting but quirky songs, another as a diplomat working in various troubled areas of the globe, including Bouganville, Solomon Islands, and now Afghanistan.


For some 18 months, Fred worked as a political adviser on behalf of Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department in Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan, seeking to support its fragile democracy in the wake of the overthrow of the Taliban. From that experience has come this extraordinary album, sounding a little like a cross between a World War I soldier-poet and a Vietnam war correspondent. The twist is that these ‘‘letters from the front line”, although all penned by Fred, speak to us (both literally and metaphorically) in a host of different voices, all jostling to be heard. There is the US soldier heading home for two weeks holiday after a year’s rotation (Taliban Fighting Man), a US Marine battling on the front line (Zeebrugge FOB); the Australian soldier who has lost both a foot, and a mate, to a landmine (Dust of Urazgan); the Afghani woman who has lived through the Russians, the Taliban, and the current regime (A Thousand Splendid Suns); and another Afghani woman who has fl ed as a refugee to Pakistan along with 3.6 million other Afghanis (Trembling Sky).

Tucked in there we also hear the voice of Fred himself, putting melody to lyrics lifted straight from his diary entry for 20 August, a tragic day when two Australian soldiers lost their lives (August 20 (FOB Mirwais)), then giving us a sense of the oddness of a festive season spent in Afghanistan (Christmas in Kandahar). With assistance from guest vocalists Jonathon Byrd, Carola Van Houwert and Fred’s long time collaborator, the exquisite Liz Frencham, as well as a raft of other instrumentalists too numerous to namecheck, this album brings together its elements (voice, song and instrumentation) in a deeply emotional and moving tribute to the men and women living in, serving in, and trying to survive in Afghanistan.

Please forgive the risk of hyperbole – this album is, without doubt, a masterpiece. As the ringmaster, Fred has pulled off the ultimate highwire trick (there’s a mixed metaphor for you) and turned a grim and serious conflict into an extraordinary artistic statement. Along the way, that wry and quirky sense of humour lurks not too far below the surface (Fred’s plea to Dutch soldiers, Niet Swaffelen op de Dixi, translated roughly as ‘Don’t do unspeakable things in the portaloos” being a classic example).

There are excellent, comprehensive liner notes (with explanations of the various acronyms that litter the lyrics that are also helpfully included). This is the real deal – speaking truth to power, wrapped in the cloak of the minstrel.

You can find out more about Fred at his website, www., where you can also fi nd details of his other albums, including collaborations with the Spooky Men’s Chorale, and the delightful Liz Frencham (did I mention how beautiful and talented she is!!).

Don’t miss him if he is anywhere within a day’s drive of where you live – the journey will be worth it.

2 in stock (can be backordered)

SKU: TN1792-43 Category:

Additional information

Weight .200 kg
Dimensions 22 × 16 × .50 cm


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