The Bushwackers celebrate 50-year anniversary with induction into country's most renown group

HONOURED: The Bushwackers' Dobe Newton and Roger Corbett receiving their Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown awards at the Golden Guitars on Saturday night. Picture: Gareth Gardner
HONOURED: The Bushwackers' Dobe Newton and Roger Corbett receiving their Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown awards at the Golden Guitars on Saturday night. Picture: Gareth Gardner

WHEN The Bushwackers first arrived at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1981 to collect a Golden Guitar for instrumental of the year for Flying Pieman it was a different world.

In those days the conservative Tamworth scene was dominated by the traditional country of Slim Dusty.

Fresh from the fertile Melbourne folk scene The Bushwackers arrived in the north-west with an unique mix of history, humour and politics led by the flamboyant charisma of frontman Dobe Newton and guitarist Roger Corbett's energetic songs.

Throughout the proceeding 40 years The Bushwackers have become among Tamworth's most beloved bands.

So much so that last Saturday at the Golden Guitars The Bushwackers were inducted into the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown, the highest honour bestowed in the industry.

The Roll of Renown was instigated in 1976 by Radio 2TM with a presentation to pioneer Tex Morton.

It is awarded to people who have made a lasting and significant contribution to the country music industry and features the likes of Smoky Dawson (1978), Slim Dusty (1979), Phil & Tommy Emmanuel (2011), Troy Cassar-Daley (2017) and Kasey Chambers (2018).

The Bushwackers were in Tamworth to mark the 50 years since their inception with a series of performances and were shocked to enter the Roll of Renown.

"It was an amazing surprise and a complete honour," Corbett said. "We were blown away."

Over the years The Bushwackers have featured about 104 members. Founding member Newton and Corbett, who joined in 1980 and is the group's manager and musical director, have been the main driving forces.

Their songs like Beneath The Southern Cross and When Britannia Ruled The Waves have introduced classic Australiana folk to new generations.

"It's spoken to a whole generation of people who came to our bush dances and our gigs over the years," Corbett said.

"It takes them to that place as well and encourages them to teach history to their kids and makes them aware of what Australia was like in those days.

"That's the enduring legacy because sometimes we might have three or four generations at our shows."

In recent years The Bushwackers have adopted more progressive and socially-conscious stances with the songs Leave It In The Ground and Marijuana Australiana Rehashed, that advocate anti-coal and pro-cannabis messages.

"I think people like that mixture and people who come along to see us buy into our ethos and the politics," Corbett said, who moved to Lorn in Maitland three years ago.

The Bushwackers - Leave It In The Ground

"Not that we're crazy political, but we do advocate the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons.

"We've been singing Leave It In The Ground, which doesn't go over so well in Newcastle, but I live in Maitland and I see those trains go through day after day to the coal loaders in our harbour and obviously it's a massive issue in the world, climate change, and we want to be on the right side of history.

"We want to say our piece and get our message across."

Another issue Corbett is passionate about is the debate surrounding the changing of Australia Day from January 26 to another date more sensitive to Indigenous people, this is despite The Bushwackers performing on Tuesday in Tamworth's Bicentennial Park.

"Australia Day has been a staple for us for many years," he said. "We often get asked to do an Australia Day event, but in the last maybe 10 years it's become more and more obvious that the date isn't acceptable to a lot of people and I think it's getting more vocal and I just hope they change it by next year.

"There's good reasons to celebrate the nation, I just don't think it should be on that day and there needs to be more recognition of that and it's obviously painful for a lot of people."

In 2020 The Bushwackers released their 25th album Dyed In The Wool and Corbett said he hopes to produce another record at his The Valley Studio later this year using his predominantly Newcastle-based band, which features String Loaded fiddler player Gabi Blissett and drummer Josh Bentley and has a median age of 36.

Corbett is also the general manager of the Academy of Country Music which has produced the likes of Sara Storer, The McClymonts, Amber Lawrence, Jessica Mauboy, Caitlyn Shadbolt, Lyn Bowtell and Travis Collins among others.

This story Bushwackers join country music's most renown company first appeared on Newcastle Herald.