Australia - Full Moon 34 - 07/28/99
The Encyclopedia of
Australian Rock and Pop
Allen & Unwin
Australian ROCK legitimized
At last, after decades of waiting, a decent reference book on
Australian music! Ian McFarlane's book is obviously a labour of love,
and is, for him, a culmination of many years working in music journalism
in this country. It is a sprawling text covering a huge range of performers
and spanning forty years of Australian rock.
How do you assess the quality of a reference work such as this?
There are a number of ways that come to mind summed up in the
How does it rate to other texts of its type?
Well, as there are no other exhaustive texts of this type around I
guess it stands as a clear winner here. Noel McGrath attempted the task
in the late seventies (Noel McGrath's Australian Encyclopaedia Of
Rock, Outback Press, 1978) and published the occasional update
over the next half dozen or so years, but it was, comparatively, of poor
quality with very brief entries for the artists he chose for inclusion.
McFarlane, of course, has had the luxury of being able to use material
from the ensuing 20 years - a period which has seen the Australian music
industry flourish spectacularly. Other specific texts on the Australian
music scene have suffered from cheap production values and poor
research, resulting in thin and unsatisfying publications that have,
understandably, sold poorly and have rarely troubled the reprinters
before sinking into oblivion. McFarlane's book is one of substance and
will become the benchmark from now on. He has made a stand and
announced, through this publication, that it is time to take the local
industry, and the often exceptional talent working within it, seriously. It
succeeds in proving the legitimacy of 'Oz rock' once and for all.
How inclusive is its content?
McFarlane clearly states his criteria for inclusion at the outset and
has as a result left out some notable artists and acts who do not clearly
fit into the parameters of the 'rock and pop' genre. This is fair enough. He
has also left out a number of New Zealand acts that would normally come
under the umbrella definition of 'local'. The 'Australian' in the title is not a
collective term for all Australasian acts as is usually the case. This is a
shame, I was hoping for entries on The Bats, The Chills and other quality
New Zealand acts but looked in vain. McFarlane does however draw the
readers' attention to John Dix's text, Stranded In Paradise: New
Zealand Rock & Roll 1955 - 1988 (Paradise Publications, 1988),
for information on such performers, which goes some way to excusing
him for this decision.
So that leaves our focus directly on the Oz rock music scene. Mc
Farlane has included over 800 entries in this book - and these provide a
reasonably exhaustive coverage of the major players of the last four
Is there an entry for Chetarca?
With books of this type a good test is to think of the most obscure
artist you can think of and see if you can find an entry for them. Repeat
this process a dozen or so times and see what your strike rate turns out
to be. If it is high then the bets are that you have a book put together by
an author who has tried to be as thorough and complete as possible.
Chetarca, the band, were a non-event really. I have one single 7"
record by them that they released in the early seventies. They were a sort
of poor quality copy of Emerson, Lake & Palmer if I remember
Page 118. A reasonably lengthy paragraph detailing lineups and
band history and record releases (one single and one album) - and the
fascinating news that one member went on to work with John Paul
Young's band ("Love Is In The Air") and another became a member of
Men At Work!
Rabbit's Wedding and The Sea Monsters don't make the cut but
Martha's Vineyard, La Femme, The Odolites, The Mad Turks From
Istanbul and The Paradise Motel all have substantial entries. McFarlane
clearly passes the test.
Does the book tell you anything new about well-known
Yes it does. McFarlane scores well on this point. In particular, there
is a lot of fun to be had reading through the text and working through the
incestuous way that personnel changes took place. Australia is a big
place, geographically speaking, but it has a reasonably small population
and it is therefore easy to play the game 'Six Degrees of Separation' with
the artists detailed in this book - you rarely have to go beyond two or
three links to relate musicians from any Australian state to others from
His detail on Australian independent artists is considerable and is
perhaps the book's greatest achievement. His research into artists from
the late fifties and early sixties is an important addition to the body of
literature on this subject also.
All things considered, this book is well worth the money. If you can
also get hold of Chis Spencer's Who's Who Of Australian Rock
(Five Mile Press, 4th Edition, 1996) then you will have as exhaustive
coverage of the topic as you could possibly want.
The final recommendation for any reference text comes from the
simple statistics on how often you refer to the text after you purchase it. I
have had it for four weeks now and it has spent more time off the shelf
than on it. It may well prove more indispensable than I first thought!
Copyright © 1999 Ken Grady