Ted Egan: Outback Songman
Allen & Unwin, 2019
Review by Nadine Maloney
During my nine years in the Northern Territory I’ve interviewed writer, musician and former NT Administrator Ted Egan numerous times for the ABC. Always informative and entertaining, he makes a great radio guest because his natural conversational style of language is very descriptive. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time editing his interviews and I’ve become very familiar with his voice. And not just the rich tone and clear enunciation, but also the sing-song way he delivers his cracker yarns.My familiarity with that distinct voice made reading the paperback version of his latest book, Outback Songman, a slightly disconcerting experience. It honestly felt like I had a secret audiobook version, with Ted Egan himself narrating each page.
The book is a rollicking read, as you’d expect from a well-known raconteur. There are details of his working-class roots and Catholic upbringing, with some very funny descriptions of puberty and first crushes. The tales of sweeping adventure of Ted Egan as a young man criss-crossing the country set up the profile of the Ted Egan we know today, as many of his most real and raw connections came after he arrived in the Northern Territory and often were with First Australians he lived and worked alongside in remote communities. There are some lovely anecdotes about invitations to special initiation ceremonies while living in Borroloola in the late 1950s, and a broader theme of lifelong friendships formed through making music with and for Indigenous Australians.
Some might think Ted Egan’s life is already an open book and a lot of the ground covered in Outback Songman is well-known. That’s a problem that comes with his legend status, I guess. For a better understanding of the man, not the legend, this is a great read with genuine laugh out loud moments.
Ted Egan AO is an Australian folk musician, former TV presenter and was administrator of the Northern Territory from 2003-2007. Nadine Maloney is the Mornings Presenter on ABC Local Radio, based in Alice Springs.