John Dengate was a musician, singer songwriter in the Australian traditional and folk field. His prodigious output of songs, verse and satire gave unique insight into Australian life with his comments on social and political aspects. Since the 1960s, with his wry comments and brilliant wit he was a popular performer, and as a generous, knowledgeable teacher, he had an immense influence on numerous performers and writers. From 1970 on, he won numerous awards for his writing, and accolades for his performing at Folk Festivals in every state and territory of Australia until his death on 1st August, 2013.
During 1960-90s, John presented workshops on folklore and his compositions at the annual National Folk Festivals held in a different state each year. He won many awards for his writing and performing beginning with ‘Bill from Erskineville’ in 1970, and best poet at the Poet’s Dinner in Adelaide in 1984. After 1992, he supported the move to have the National Folk Festival held in the National capital, ACT.
John became known as the Bard of Galong at the ‘Shamrock in the Bush’ conferences, for his ability to write verse or songs to introduce each of the academic papers with research on Irish Australian history.
He was well respected by folk organizations and frequently asked to be an adjudicator of folklore awards. John was awarded Life membership in NSW Folk Federation as a founding member and for his contributions to Folk Clubs and Festivals throughout Australia, being known as one of their National Folk Treasures.
In 1980, John Dengate was awarded Life Membership Bush Music Club for his songs and poems documenting historical and contemporary events in Australian life. He described people and events in the tradition of ballad writers and performed in the style of folk singers over centuries.
John’s writings and memories were recorded regularly: first by John Meredith, then by Chris Woodland and others at the Australian National Library, Oral history and Folklore Department.. He was interviewed by many people who had an interest in the origins of the Australian Folk scene. Many of the nearly 50 hours of recordings made by John are available from the Library’s website and typical of his generous attitude they are to be freely shared, at his request.
This record of his achievements is testament to the impact he had on the contemporary performance of folk music in Australia.
John has been recorded on many combined records, cassettes and CDs including BMC Australian Bush Ballads. Anniversary Dinkey Di songs, ‘Songs of Lawson’ , ‘Songs of the Shearing Shed’, ‘Rebel Chorus’, Songs of the Wilderness’, ‘I Called him a Worship Your Bastard’ and his CDs: ‘Follies of Pollies’ and ‘Australian Son’ which are now collector’s items, as are his three books:’ My Shout’,’ My Shout Again!’ and ‘ Songs, poems, satires and Shouts all the way’.
John’s influence through his writings has been substantial, and the recordings he made will continue to provide a fascinating insight into our social and cultural history for generations to come.
Written by Dale Dengate, 2014.
Check out poems and songs written in tribute via the Vale John Dengate section.