I was working on my book while lunching at Blackheath’s art deco New Ivanhoe Hotel recently, and also completing my survey of local pies. This one was beef, thankfully without kidneys!
As I was gazing in bemusement at the giant side-serve of gravy (wot, no tomato sauce?), someone started playing the pub’s piano just a couple of metres away in the main dining room. And I mean playing really well…… Aussie folk songs, romantic ballads, and old Irish melodies. I was enchanted, and just had to pop around to check out the pianist. My gravy congealed a bit in my absence…..apologies to the chef for making it look like chocolate pudding. It was surprisingly tasty.
And there was a bright cheeked, smiling fellow looking rather like Father Christmas in the off-season. He had simply pulled back the piano’s dustcover, plonked his schooner of beer on top and started playing. There was no-one else around, so I had the pleasure of a personal concert.
He told me his name was Clifford Neil Hocking. Apparently he had played at the hotel during Jazz at the Ivanhoe one night about ten years earlier and ‘accidentally’ won a talent quest. I could understand why.
And now for the ‘national anthem’, he said, launching into Waltzing Matilda with a cheeky grin.; ‘Once a jolly swagman, camped by a billabong…..’
Oh, here’s a song you might like, he told me…and choked me up with a rendition of Danny Boy, a song my mother used to sing.
Before I left I asked if he lived in Blackheath and he said, ‘No, I don’t actually live anywhere, I’m a Swagman , like the bloke in the song. I just roam all over Australia.’ He looked very well presented for a gentleman of the road. I checked the internet later, and sure enough, there he was, snapped arriving in a country town with his billy and his bedroll.
I asked if he had any smaller instruments to play when he was on the move and he said he had a little harmonica.
Here is a link to an interview with the Swagman at Glen Innes in 2018. He confessed that it could be a very hard life and that he picked up work wherever he could. Oddly enough he didn’t mention his musical talent. CLICK HERE TO PLAY
Thanks for the serendipitous interlude Clifford.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.