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The History of
Australian Rock 'n' Roll

Pre Rock 'n' Roll in Australia


An overview from the forthcoming Starlite Records' publication..
'The Roots of Australian Rock-n-Roll'



In the mid 50's radio in Australia was mainly made up of individual stations that were run as small businesses with the exception of maybe one or two stations in the each of the capital cities. Areas outside the cities usually had just one commercial station that covered large areas of land and many towns rather than just one town. They were owned usually by rural landholders or local town businessmen and the returns were quite minimal. They were there to serve a promotional purpose for local businesses and that's exactly what they did. Purely as a local advertising and news outlet with little connection with the outside world except for the news and some major sport events.

These outside connections were usually there as part of a network whose only function was to supply daily world news bulletins and help snarl some larger national advertisers. The major one was The Maquarie Network based in 2GB which was arguably Sydney's largest commercial station. At it's peak it had virtually 80% of Australia's provincial stations under its banner. It supplied daily live quiz and music programs with the leading personalities of the time. 2GB like other major Sydney stations such as 2UW and the ABC, had it's own theatre where live 'recorded' shows would be performed to capacity audiences two or three nights of the week.

Radio 2CH was part of a network owned by the Anglican Church as was 2SM which was a Catholic enterprise. 2UE was owned by a wealthy family, 2UW was another Christian owned station and 2KY was owned and operated by the Labour Party. The same type of system existed in all other cities as well as Sydney.


The music content of the stations was very wide and rather than a station having a particular style format as today, they had special programs for individual styles of music or for the music of a particular star. For example most main stations would have aJazz style program, a Top 8 or Top 10 Hit Parade, Country music in the very early mornings and a mix match of all styles throughout the day. The announcers who later became 'Disc Jockeys' chose their own records from the library and played virtually whatever they wanted.

The larger stations also broadcast a mix of live bands of varying size and style together with comedy or cabaret programs that were broadcast 'live' from the stations' own theatre.

There was really no definate music format as such, except to play whatever was released. Sometime in the mid 50's some stations decided to create half hour programs dedicated to various music forms such as jazz or Irish ballads etc. There were also programs for popular artists such as Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra. These programs were helped along by the artists' fan clubs who naturally enough all tuned in to hear their idol's songs. Sydney's radio 2KY was the racing and sport station and once a week provided an outlet for live Australian country music with programs hosted by Reg Lindsay or The McKeon Sisters.


Hit Parades as such did not start until the mid/late 50's and like America the first ones featured a popular big band with staff singers singing the supposed most popular songs sold as sheet music. Some of these staff singers such as Bing and Frank spun off to become major stars and that started the emphases on the singer rather than the song.

After a while radio audiences wanted to hear the singers singing their own recorded songs rather than a live bands' interpretation of them, so someone started playing the top 8 vinyls and we know what this led to ! Top 40's...Top 100's and so on ! The music industry STAR system was born!


In the 40 and 50's Australia's music tastes were satisfied by a blend of English and American music and the first Australian recorded music stars were country bush balladeers such as Tex Morton. The most popular and long lasting of these is Slim Dusty. Until his recent stroke, Reg Lindsay was also still very much on the tour circuit. Their very different styles can be summed up in their major areas of live performance, Slim relied on the outback and Reg mainly played the more urban areas. Both however were and are, very popular recording artists in their own right.

Other than Australian country music, some big bands did a little recording and the first actual 'Hit Parade' style of performer was the Les Welch Band with 'They called it Dixieland', in May 1956. The Red Perksey Band came in second with a song from the then new movie 'A Town like Alice' in Sept '56 and another Australian movie song in Dec..'Smiley'.

Band singers Darryl Stewart and Jimmy Parkinson could possibly take the honour as being Australia's first 'star' recording artists. They all performed on the ballroom dance circuit as well as radio shows, 40's style nightclubs and theatre shows. Whilst there was a little happening, it was nothing compared to the big bang that Rock 'n' Roll started. 1956 the egg was laid, 1957 it hatched, 1958 it started to move and in 1959 it was on its way... Australian style Rock-n-Roll was born...

The Starlite publication of 'The Roots of Australian Rock-n-Roll' will be released early 2000 to coincide with the Anniversary of Australia's music industry...If you are would like to be on the e-mailing list to be notified when it is due for release,
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Original upload March 1996 and last updated 1st June 2002