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Obit: Chris Kempster (Jan 24 2004)

Margret RoadKnight 23 Jan 04 - 09:51 PM
Helen 23 Jan 04 - 10:03 PM
freda underhill 23 Jan 04 - 10:29 PM
cobber 24 Jan 04 - 03:03 AM
Hrothgar 24 Jan 04 - 03:24 AM
JennieG 24 Jan 04 - 05:47 AM
Sandra in Sydney 24 Jan 04 - 06:39 AM
Sandra in Sydney 25 Jan 04 - 06:17 AM
Bob Bolton 25 Jan 04 - 06:25 AM
GUEST,Peter B 02 Feb 04 - 07:42 AM
Sandra in Sydney 02 Feb 04 - 08:33 AM
Bob Bolton 02 Feb 04 - 10:03 PM
Teresa 02 Feb 04 - 10:52 PM
Sandra in Sydney 03 Feb 04 - 08:18 AM
Dug 04 Feb 04 - 07:33 PM
Bob Bolton 04 Feb 04 - 09:22 PM
Sandra in Sydney 09 Feb 04 - 08:41 AM
freda underhill 06 Jan 07 - 10:32 PM
Bob Bolton 08 Jan 07 - 06:46 AM
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Subject: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Margret RoadKnight
Date: 23 Jan 04 - 09:51 PM

Australian musician/ collector Chris Kempster, 70, died Sat Jan 24 2004 in a Blue Mountains hospital, from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Chris first set a Henry Lawson poem - Reedy River - to music when he was sixteen. He continued to set, collect, perform and publish Lawson songs over the decades.
He'll be sadly missed from the Australian folk scene.
(info from Margaret Walters).

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Helen
Date: 23 Jan 04 - 10:03 PM

Chris also edited the Henry Lawson song book, and was influential in bringing music, including a healthy serve of folk music, to Oz schoolkids through the schools broadcasts.

Thank you Margaret, for letting us know about Chris's passing. I only met him once, briefly, at the Newcastle launch of his Henry Lawson song book, but he struck me as being a genuinely nice person, and his musical contributions to Australian society will probably never be fully appreciated.

I have a couple of old Australian schools broadcast books somewhere from when I was in primary school, and Reedy River is one of the songs in there. So I can count myself as one of the many people who was introduced to making music and singing together, thanks in great part to Chris.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: freda underhill
Date: 23 Jan 04 - 10:29 PM

It's very sad to hear that Chris Kempster has died. He was a lovely man and his contribution to Australian folk music was immense.

Many of us enjoyed early bush music because of people like him, john meredeith and alex hood.

Chris had a love of Australian music and poetry. In the seventies Henry Lawson's poems were put to music by Chris and became popularised as Australian folk songs. In 1989 his compilation of The Songs of Henry Lawson was published by Viking O'Neil. This includes tunes for over 100 of Henry Lawson's poems.

Henry Lawson's poem beginning 'Ten miles down Reedy River' was fitted with a melody by Chris Kempster, and formed part of a successful bush ballad opera, called 'Reedy River'. Chris performed in the original New Theatre's Sydney production of Dick Diamond's play Reedy Rive in the 1950s.

Chris was an original member of the Bush Music Club, which performed, collected, published and promoted from under the one hat.
The tune of the wonderful Flash Jack From Gundagai/A Bush Lullaby (Trad/Essen/Kempster) is by Chris Kempster.
Some of Chris'work is held in the collection of rare materials held in the Wattle Collection in the National Library of Australia. There are 28 tracks from the original Rambleers - Harry Kay, Alex Hood and Chris Kempster, who were later joined by Barbara Lisyak and Denis Kevans. The original Rambleers made only 2 33rpm records in the late 1950s. This CD contains all the material from the 10-inch gramophone recording, The Old Bark Hut (1958) and all but one of the 7-inch recording, Waltzing Matilda. It also contains almost all of the unpublished studio recordings of songs by the larger group.
Chris wrote the haunting tune to the beautiful "Sailor Home from the Sea", a poem by Dorothy Hewett, and sung by Margaret Walters on "For the Future and the Past".

Chris Kempster made a great contribution to australia and to australian musical history.

His lovely partner Alison must be feeling bereft, and will be in our thoughts.

freda (Amalina)


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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: cobber
Date: 24 Jan 04 - 03:03 AM

I never met Chris but Reedy River was one of my top three favourite songs that we recorded with Cobbers. I hope the royalties bought him a cheery pint or two.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Hrothgar
Date: 24 Jan 04 - 03:24 AM

Lovely man. We can't really spare him.

One of his most endearing characteristics was his willingness to share music and songs - especially the Lawson material - with anyone.

Peace, Chris.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: JennieG
Date: 24 Jan 04 - 05:47 AM

Chris felt very deeply about the Lawson poems and that book was a labour of love. He was such a nice bloke and will be very much missed. Let's hope he gets to yarn a bit with Henry Lawson.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 24 Jan 04 - 06:39 AM

I really got to know Chris & Alison at the 2000 National Folk Festival. They were camped close to me & I joined them for brekkie when some f###wit put his tent so close to mine that I could barely get out the door.

I have some great pics of Chris performing at different festivals, including several of Chris & Alex, and of the Rambleers. Getting the Rambleers together was like trying to herd marshmallows & when I finaly dragged Alex away from his admirers there were at least 6 other cameras behind me.

Chris's influence on the folk revival was immense & his stories of the early days were fantastic. I only knew him for a few years but I will miss his quiet voice & cheery smile, & the Australian folk scene has lost a giant.

sandra (Secretary Bush Music Club)

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 25 Jan 04 - 06:17 AM

from Jan Nary, Publicist, National Folk Festival & Radio presenter.


In 2001 I taped a combined interview with Chris Kempster and Alex and
Annette Hood, prior to the 2002 presentations of Reedy River and The
Bushwhackers Reunion at the 2002 National. The tape captures the
humour, directness and warmth of the man, as well as his deep perception
of our history and some of the interchanges between Chris and Alex are a
real chuckle. Gary is currently editing the interview with some music tracks
and Brian Hinselwood and I will be playing it on tomorrow night's Bay FM
Acoustic Harvest as a tribute to a very special person. If radio presenters
would like a copy please contact Gary at

I listened this morning to some of Chris' tracks from the National Library's
re- issue CD of The Rambleers and was taken by a line from The Cockies
of Bungaree..."But now that job is over, And I'm at liberty..."   A job well
done, mate.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 25 Jan 04 - 06:25 AM


I can onlt be slightly consoled by the fact that Wayne Richmond (Sydney music and IT fanatic) really worked hard to dig out video and (separate DAT) soundtrack of The Bushwhackers Band's 50 anniversary Reunion at the 2002 (Australian) National Folk Festival. This was an utterly packed event before a new performance of Reedy River - an iconic musical play that first let the Australian public see what a treasurehouse of songs we had been ignoring.

The Bushwhackers provided the songs and music in the 1953/4 Sydney production (after Melbourne's New Theatre had used a small pit orchestra and a choir!) ... and thus created the prototype "Bush Band" of the folk revival ... and, for a while, the copies all called themselves "Bushwhacker Bands"! The enthusiasm they created launched the Bush Music Club and the (shorter-lived) original Australian Folklore Society.

I'm glad that we were able to get Chris - and his family and friends - together to see the video ... before we lost Chris. Damn - the Biblical three score and ten was not enough Chris for us .. or Chris! The sure knowledge that Chris was dying before our eyes was far worse than the single shock of an unexpected death can be.

Regards to all you who loved Chris and what he gave us,

Bob Bolton

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: GUEST,Peter B
Date: 02 Feb 04 - 07:42 AM

Chris was a great man whom I feel privileged to have met. I was at his Henry Lawson presentation at the National in Canberra a few years ago. In a packed-out room I was in the front row on the floor. It was I think the most moving "workshop" I've ever experienced at a festival - absolutely fantastic. He put his whole being into it. He later obtained for me a copy of his Songs of Henry Lawson which was by then out of print, for which I was hugely grateful. I always looked forward to his impish smile and saying hello at subsequent Nationals.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 02 Feb 04 - 08:33 AM

from ausworldfolk -

Jan Nary's radio tribute to Chris Kempster was missed or
inaccessible to
many of us. Jan has agreed to make the recording
available to the
electromagnetically challenged. You can hear it at:

Don't miss it!

Steve Bullock

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 02 Feb 04 - 10:03 PM

G'day all,

Alex Hood left a message to the effect that he would be on the ABC's Australia All Over programme, next Sunday morning (8 Feb), reminiscing about Chris Kempster - and the original "Bush Band" - the real original Bushwhackers Band, 1952/57. Alex was a bit of a late starter (1954) - and the youngest of the "Bushwhackers".

Definitely worth listening in (who's that over there plugging in a recorder ... ?).


Bob Bolton

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Teresa
Date: 02 Feb 04 - 10:52 PM

RIP ...

I am saddened to hear this news, and also glad to know of one who was responsible for keeping the music alive. I live in the States, and I have loved Henry Lawson's poems ever since I heard recordings of them as songs. Thanks, Chris, ... thanks to all the song-gatherers of this worls. :)

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 03 Feb 04 - 08:18 AM

bit more info on the Alex Hood interview - I'm not usually awake at 8am on Sunday, guess I'll just have to log off earlier than usual!


You know by now that Chris Kempster died at 70 years of
age of emphazima in
Katoomba Hosptial in the early hours of Saturday 24
January. His funeral on
Friday 30th showed the great love and respect accorded
Chris by his family
and innumerable friends. We are "ten times less by one
who had sailed out
under the morning star and under the rising sun."

Alex Hood phoned on the weekend wanting me to let people
know that he will
be talking about Chris Kempster to Ian MacNamara on ABC
Local Radio on
Sunday morning 8 Feb at 8am.

You can catch the program on the internet too for the
subsequent week, I think.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Dug
Date: 04 Feb 04 - 07:33 PM

Chris Kempster was my mate.   I live in the UK and I've only just heard that he died. He was the most big-hearted and generous bloke that there could be. He was warm and humorous and if I needed his help as I did sometimes- he was there straightaway. Last time I saw him was to say goodbye- the usual bear-hug -but I didn't think it would be the last.

Doug Jenner

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 04 Feb 04 - 09:22 PM

G'day Doug,

It came as a shock to all of us - just back in November Chris held a combined 70th Birthday Party / Housewarming for the place he and Alison had built (in Henry St, Lawson!) ... Chris was a fit and happy as ever. A few weeks later he came down with a bronchial tract infection whilst travelling and was in emergency care at Blue Mts Hospital ... and they said that, when the infection cleared,up he should be fine.

First weekend in December I called in - and he was on an oxygen concentrator ... and the infection hadn't cleared. A few weeks later and he was back in hospital ... and the emphysema was not clearing ... circulatory problems arising ... and then it was goodbye!

The Memorial Service was at Leura Memorial Gardens: the Chapel was full, with all standing space filled - and people outside standing round all the windows and doors. Bob Fagin MC-ed the 2-hour memorial and it was a combination of good memories and songs. It's a pity Chris could not have enjoyed it!


Bob Bolton

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 09 Feb 04 - 08:41 AM

Obituary from the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 6th Feb


Socialist folk singer set Lawson to music
February 6, 2004
Chris Kempster, Musician, 1933-2004

When war drums rattle, when equality is challenged or when the working class is threatened with a thrashing, the song- writers are usually the first to rally. Chris Kempster, guitar in hand, was often in the frontline of struggle, ready to lend a song and sing a rebel chorus. He wore his socialist banner proudly for all of his adult life including his formative years as a member of the Eureka Youth League.

Like many eager political beavers, his political position mellowed over the years to where it finally sat with a humanitarian stance, viewing the old enemies, especially rampant capitalism and aggressive imperialism, with a knowing and disappointed eye. Kempster, who has died aged 70, was a compassionate man who carried the "banner with Hannah" because he believed in a better world and that mankind was worth the fight.

He was passionate about Australia, especially the Australia as portrayed by Henry Lawson, for he saw this era as the turning point of the nation, as the population shifted from the bush to the cities and the changing of the century struck the bells of Federation. It was undoubtedly Lawson's voice for the common man that cried out to Chris as a songwriter. In truth, Lawson's poems cried out for a sympathetic working partner, someone who could fashion tunes to carry the words.
The Eureka Youth League was the favoured meeting place for radical youth in the 1940s. Essentially it was the Communist Party's youth group where sport, music and protest came together under a flying red banner. Folk singing was a major part of EYL gatherings and, understandably for an organisation interested in cultural protection, singing Australian songs was an important element.

A glance through any of the socialist songbooks of the time shows bush songs sitting side by side with Solidarity Forever and The Internationale. By the late 1940s folk music had also been "discovered" by tinpan alley, and by the early 1950s it was booming.
Chris was born in Bellingen, but, because his father was a schoolteacher, the family relocated to the cement town of Portland, then Forbes, Sydney, Broken Hill, and then back to Sydney when Chris was 14.

While Chris was working as an electrician, he had joined the Bush Music Club in Sydney and had been persuaded by its driving force, the collector, visionary and fellow Eureka Youth league graduate, John Meredith, to join the club's pioneering bush music performance group and so he became a member of the Bushwackers in 1953.

This was the first visible band, complete with button accordion, tea-chest bass, tin whistle and harmonica, to interpret Australia's bush dance and song tradition, but it was definitely not the last. Chris played guitar and performed on the Wattle label's 75-rpm release of The Drover's Dream which sold an astonishing 20,000 copies in 1956.
In 1953 the Bushwackers joined the cast of New Theatre's production of a new work by Dick Diamond called Reedy River. Originally commissioned by the Melbourne New Theatre, the play is set in the aftermath of the 1890s shearing strike, one of the most monumental labour strikes of our history, which saw the Shearers' Union almost destroyed, its leaders jailed and its membership dazed.

Reedy River is full of colourful characters, great songs and high drama as it tells of the union's struggle and solidarity. Kempster's lasting contribution was to set a wonderful tune to Henry Lawson's poem Reedy River.

In 2002 four of the original Bushwackers - Alex Hood, Cecil Grivas, Harry Kay and Chris Kempster - performed in a Reedy River reunion at the national Folk Festival, Canberra, celebrating this landmark play's 50th anniversary.

Chris kept putting poems to music, contributing some of the classics of the Australian folk revival including Sailor Home From The Sea, a collaboration with Dorothy Hewett, Cane Killed Abel - But it Won't Kill Me, a collaboration with Merv Lilley, and a whole catalogue of Lawson works, which he eventually edited into a book, The Songs of Henry Lawson. With his usual self-effacing style and generosity of spirit the book included the Lawson songs of other contributors, which Chris transcribed, adding historical notes and illustrations.

Chris also kept performing, especially when he retired from his schoolteaching days, and moved to a most appropriate address: Henry Street, Lawson. In the 1980s I invited him to join my group The Larrikins. Chris was a natural larrikin and toured with the group and made several ABC radio productions.

He was also the ideal band member with a "she'll be right" attitude and a strong music line that complemented the group's serious attempts to redefine Australian traditional music.

Chris is survived by his partner Alison Jones and daughter Meghan and all the songs that were touched by his magic.

Warren Fahey

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster
From: freda underhill
Date: 06 Jan 07 - 10:32 PM

The Songs Of Chris Kempster has finally been released and is a great tribute to Chris and his contribution to Australian folk music. This double CD includes previously unreleased taped recordings of Chris and others from as early as the 1980s; his songs presented by other singers on their own commercial releases, and recordings made especially for this project.

this mudcat thread has more info.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Chris Kempster (Jan 24 2004)
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 08 Jan 07 - 06:46 AM


Re-reading the text posted of my review, back in June 2006, I realised an incorrect ascription slipped through for the singer of The Water Lily. That second paragraph should read:

There are several of those songs written by Henry Lawson and others with a sensitivity to the women of pioneering Australia: Chris singing his own setting of The Drover's Sweetheart… Priscilla Herdman presenting Chris's tune for Louis Esson's Bush Lullaby… … through to Chris's version of Dorothy Hewitt's words for her husband Merv Lilley The Sailor Home from the Sea. Henry Lawson's troubled life combines with Chris's talent in tune-writing to produce masterpieces like Bertha… (addressed to Henry's daughter) stunningly sung here by Margaret Fagan while her daughter Kate beautifully sings Chris's tune for that enigmatic verse The Water Lily. We have the brilliant refutation of lesser rhymers' carping Do You Think I do not Know? as it was first interpreted by Declan Affley, ... that piercing observation of Darlinghurst Gaol (Keep Step) One Hundred and Three… sung by Len Neary … and that song of acceptance and resignation to fate that Henry wrote only months before his death: On The Night Train… – brilliantly sung by Chloë Roweth.

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