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Don Burrows part one

In their own words

Recorded 1974

Don Burrows part one
Audio: 2 minutes

It’s funny how things work right for you. Because we moved to Bondi, I attended Bondi Beach Public School. There was no such thing as a school band, and yet as fate would have it, I think I was in fourth class, when there was a visit one day to that school by Mr Victor McMahon, and Mr McMahon in those days was the newly appointed director of music in the schools. This was to be a new project where they were going to encourage the children to play and set up school bands and such things.

Up to that point my musical activity had been to belt on upturned saucepans with knives and curtain rods and cake tins and things like that, to the radio at home. I really did have a tin whistle, I’d always had my eye on this tin whistle in a paper shop - I had acquired that and I also had a kazoo. These were things that cost threepence and fourpence but to me they were musical instruments, they weren’t toys, they meant for making music and there’s a big difference between a toy and something you treasure as a means of expression – that’s a big difference. So, humble instruments but they meant a lot to me. Even the funny little drum kit thing with the pots and pans, it wasn’t just to make a racket. I knew which saucepan made which note and which had the best sound for certain sort of music. I would arrange those saucepans and cake tins and things in a predetermined manner, so that I had virtually a semblance of a scale when I struck them. So, even then it was a serious business with me. It was a fun thing but it was also done with a degree of amateur professionalism, if you know what I mean.

So that when this man, Mr McMahon, came to the school and introduced us to these instruments, these B-flat school flutes with five keys on them, they cost 18-and-sixpence and if your family couldn’t afford them, you paid them off at a shilling a week or sixpence a week; when he introduced us to those, it was the equivalent of handing a violin student a Strad. I can remember the day that man put that thing in my hand.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Don Burrows is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

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Don Burrows

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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