This was a very dangerous
subject to take on. If I got
it wrong it would explode
in spectacular fashion
was a very
subject to
take on. If I
got it wrong it would explode in spectacular fashion. So I just sat down
and started writing words that made no particular sense in isolation.
Justin hook
ICEHOUSE’s 1982 hit, Great Southern Land, is one of those songs
that defy classification. It’s a song inextricably linked to the idea of
Australia but doesn’t once mention beer or kangaroos. It’s anthemic
without being chest-beating. It’s also very elusive; eerie drifting
synths, arid rhythms, rainy harbours, burning deserts and streamof-conscious, imagery-laden lyrics that sound quite specific but are
actually loose and tangential.
It sounds mystical but, as is normally the case, reality is far more
prosaic according to the song’s author, Iva Davies. ‘I was starting the
process of writing ten new songs for another album. It was a process
I’d never been through before and everything rested on it.’ Those new
songs would be the Primitive Man album and the pressure came from
the band’s record company, keen to follow up the success of their
debut release, Icehouse.
The song itself was born out of a plane journey across Australia,
where Davies felt the pang of homesickness and the awe of viewing
the vast continent from a new perspective. But writing something
to encapsulate an entire country is tricky and Davies knew it. ‘This
‘I left myself with quite disconnected phrases. The reason they
survived was because I believed they were evocative of a number of
things; there are a number of different ways to interpret them. So I
deliberately wrote this song with multiple meanings. I wanted to make
the sum of the parts larger than the five minutes into which I could fit
things.’ It seems odd now, but Davies had no idea what he had on his
hands. ‘The eight-track demo sounds remarkably like the final version.
When I took it to the record company they reacted immediately in a
way I was not expecting. I was just delivering proof of what I had done
so far. It was just one in a collection of songs I was obliged to write.’
Thirty years on, the song has experienced many lives. It’s been
re-released numerous times and a re-imagined version was a
centrepiece at millennium celebrations in Sydney. It’s probably the
song people think of when they think of Icehouse. This hasn’t always
been the case, though.
‘It’s fantastic to recognise how important this song has become to
a lot of people. But for a long time I was utterly convinced that my
life was going to be defined by a song called Electric Blue [from 1986
blockbuster Man of Colours] because that was the one everyone
talked about all the time. Great Southern Land had disappeared,
apparently. It’s quite peculiar to have this turnaround to a song so
much older.’ And with that, order had been restored to the universe.
In celebration of the 2012 release of Anniversary Editions of Man of Colours
and Primitive Man, Icehouse will bring their Primitive Colours tour to
Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden, on Tuesday October 30, 8:30pm.
Tickets are sold out.