Author(s): Joe Charles
This entertaining new collection of ballads in the old-time style will appeal to anyone with an interest in New Zealand folklore. Goldiggers, swaggies, shearers, drovers, rouseabouts and sailors crowd the pages, bringing the past to life. Joe Driscoll, Freddie Ambrose, Davey Gunn, Hat Rack Jack and Tex Morton compete for our attention with 'Fred's first Fordson' and the antics of 'The Parson and the Bullocks'. Joe Charles always had a firm sense of mission - a desire to record New Zealand's colourful folk-past in verse while there were still the old timers with anecdotes to tell. This is the history of the ordinary people who helped build a nation - history which is gathered in bars and shearing sheds and not gleaned from books - our oral history. From immigration to Northland, to the gold rushes in Central Otago, there is drama, excitement and tragedy as in any Wild West novel. There are rollicking ballads such as 'The Windwhistle Pub', true tales of tragedy such as 'Rapaki Track', the story of two young boys who perished on the summit road above Christchurch in a storm, and verse on contemporary themes such as 'The Conservation Ballad'. Tall stories are blended with genuine historical events. The ballads find their strength in Joe Charles's love of the land, its mountains, rivers, and wild-life, in his commitment to the history of ordinary people and his interest in their exploits - heroic, comic or criminal. Along with a powerful sense of the past he had a fine ear for the way people speak and a sure feeling for the traditional rhythms of the popular ballad. Blackberry Pie is a treasure-trove of anecdote and song.
Joe Charles was born in Timaru, his parents both from Central Otago pioneer families. Writing was in the blood - his grandfather founded the Dunstan Times in the 1860s. He wrote his first ballad at the age of ten and submitted it to his Correspondence School teacher, who expressed a wish that he put as much effort into his school work as into rhyming ramblings. Fortunately he took little notice of this initial discouragement and went on to be one of New Zealand's best known ballad writers. International folk singer William Clauson, who made a recording of 'Black Billy Tea', recognised the importance of Joe's work as a folklorist, telling him that he had a duty to continue to record the history of the nation in song. Joe Charles's interest in New Zealand folk history spanned several decades and a variety of jobs in many different parts of the country, including stints in the Air Force, as a farmer and as a publican. Joe passed away in 1991 but his legacy lives on in music recorded by such people as Phil Garland, in his first book Black Billy Tea and in subsequent use of his work by other authors.