K is for Kookaburra

K

And she said, “Do you come from a land down under?

Where women glow and men plunder?

Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

You better run, you better take cover”

Men At Work – Down Under

I need to be particularly particular about referencing this quote. I’m sure Men At Work are probably all over anyone attempting to plagiarise their creativity. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, you’re probably unaware of the Kookaburra scandal that beset the Aussie wunderkind a few years back.There’s a certain delicious irony in the case. A song referencing the stereotype of the Australian convict ancestry contains a melody stolen from the Girl Guides. Still not with me? Listen to this:

 

Did you catch it? This clip isolates the riff in question:

So how did this all come about?

Back 1934, the Girl Guides Association of Victoria was running a fund-raiser to build a new camp ground. Local music teacher Marion Sinclair heard of the contest and submitted a song she had written a couple of years earlier. That song was “Kookaburra“. Since then the song became one of the iconic songs of Australia. Marion died in 1988, so the song is still under copyright. Australian laws passed this right to Larrikin Music.

Men At Work penned “Down Under in 1981, and the song was a worldwide hit. However nothing was noted about the apparent plagiarism until 2008 – 27 years after the original release. A TV quiz show highlighted the connection by asking, “What children’s song is contained in the song Down Under?” Larrikin became aware, and sued. They initial ask? 60% of all royalties, from the song’s release date.

The final settlement was a much more modest 5% of royalties from 2002 onwards. But the repercussions rambled on. many commentators felt the ruling was unjust and unfairly targeted Men At Work. “Kookaburra” was thought to be a public domain song, and the lack of vigorous policing of the copyright ownership no doubt impacted the final settlement.

But the greatest tragedy was human.

The songwriter, Colin Hay, still insists that any plagiarism was wholly unintentional. The questionable passage was added during a jam rehearsal session, when flautist Greg Ham improvised the riff. It is likely he subconsciously recalled “Kookaburra“.

The trial had dragged on for several years, and Greg Ham’s name was dragged through the media. Following the final verdict he became very despondent, convinced that his only legacy would be the plagiarism conviction. He became withdrawn and reclusive, and turned to drugs and alcohol. Greg was found dead in his Melbourne on 19 April 2012.

Greg-Hamm

Greg Ham 1953 – 2012

 

Submitted in memory of a great musician, and for the letter K in the AtoZ Challenge.

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One comment

  1. Down Under was the second single I bought with my hard earned pocket money – I loved this song. I had no idea about the copyright case and the resulting tragedy. Maybe no one noticed the riff for so long because it seemed so flawless and fitted so perfectly into the Australian theme of the song – we probably all subconsciously recognised it – certainly as soon as I began to read your post I did. So sad 😦

    Like

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