A song that takes you off the beaten track

A song that takes you off the beaten track

Surfing through YouTube this week, I came across the novelty Australian song I've Been Everywhere, which I haven't heard for a long time. It doesn't have much of a melody, but it's fun, something we could all do with these days. It is also a useful geography lesson.

Written by Geoff Mack, it was a big hit for Australian singer Lucky Starr in 1962 and involves a traveller hitching a ride and relating all the places he had been to -- "Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullimbimby, Mittagong, Cooranbong, Grong Grong…" and so on. In all there are 94 place-names and much of the song's appeal was that most were off the beaten track.

After a brief intro the song speeds up into a tongue-twisting frenzy and Starr does an incredible job getting his tongue around all those magnificent Aussie place names. By the time he gets to the final four, "Indooroopilly, Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly", Starr must have been exhausted. He certainly deserved a few slurps of the amber nectar after that.

There quickly followed American and English versions, with the place-names naturally being changed. The North American version begins "Reno, Fargo, Chicago, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota…"

The Brits were treated to "Bradford, Guildford, Oxford, Littlehampton, Bedford, Chingford, Hereford. Wolverhampton…" Regrettably my home town of Reading doesn't get a mention, so Starr hadn't quite been everywhere.

Just about every country came up with its own effort, but the Aussie original is the best. I can't recall a Thai version, but if there is one I hope Nakhon Nowhere gets a mention.

Canadian singer Hank Snow came out with a spoof, I Ain't Been Anywhere, listing places he had never visited … and Thailand does get an honourable mention in that one.

Humpin' and totin'

Something which appealed to me in the song were the subtle changes in language of the introductory line in the different versions as the traveller sets the scene:

Australia: "Well I was humpin' my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta road, when along came a semi with a high and canvas-covered load…"

American: "I was totin' my pack on the dusty Winnemucca road…"

British: "I was peddlin' me bike on a narrow road near Brightlingsea, when along came a lorry and pulled up alongside of me..."

According to an impeccable source -- an Aussie I met in a pub -- "bluey" in this instance means a bundle of belongings. Confusingly, bluey can also mean a redhead.

Harold Stephens

Someone who had just about been everywhere was travel writer Harold Stephens whom I'm sad to say passed away recently in Bangkok at the age of 93. Long-time readers will know that Harold was a regular contributor to the Bangkok Post, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, with his fascinating tales ranging from outwitting pirates in the South China Sea to travelling across Afghanistan on a camel.

He was sometimes referred to as an "adventurer", a term he did not like. "I am a travel writer," he would emphasise, and an excellent one at that, with dozens of books and thousands of articles published.

Harold experienced an extraordinary life which this column cannot do justice to. Brought up in Pennsylvania in the late 1920s, he joined the US marines and fought in World War II in the Battle of Okinawa. He then spent four years in China before the 1949 revolution.

Third Sea

I first met Harold in the mid 1970s when he was contributing articles to the Post. He was an amiable fellow and it was always a pleasure to edit his work. You got the feeling he was a rare person who actually lived his dreams.

Someone who knew Harold well is former colleague Tony Waltham, who as features editor at the Post in the early 1970s had regular dealings with him. Paying tribute this week, Tony said he enjoyed Harold's "many inspiring articles" and was delighted when he was invited to sail on the maiden voyage of Harold's schooner Third Sea. Tony recalls, " I felt honoured to accompany him on the voyage."

With a crew of six, they sailed from the Chao Phraya wharf to Pattaya before heading south down the Gulf of Thailand. Tony recalls lack of wind made it slow-going and because of work commitments at the Post he had to be dropped off at Koh Samui and return to Bangkok.

Tony recalls that voyage was "a wonderful experience. Harold had always been one of my heroes."

Final voyage

I last met Harold at a gathering of "golden oldies" at a Bangkok hotel a couple of years ago. He was in good form and still had a few yarns about his days aboard the Third Sea. The schooner was sadly destroyed in a hurricane when blown onto the rocks in Hawaii.

That must have been a devastating blow.

For all the adventures experienced in his remarkable life, Harold was never one to boast about his exploits. He simply loved life and lived it to the full. RIP

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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