Music has long echoed through the Australian bush, and we’ll move to its rhythms for a long time to come.

Story Ken Eastwood

When Northern Territory horse trainer and former stockman Tom Curtain rides a horse, he hears music. “Different horses have different gaits and a longer or taller horse is going to have a different rhythm,” he says. “Some have a bluesy sort of rhythm.” Swirling through Tom’s mind, these rhythms build into songs, which are then recorded and performed across Australia.

Tom started writing songs when he was working on Mount Sanford station 17 years ago. “It was all just in my head. Tunes would just come to me while I was out mustering cattle,” he says. “As I was trotting or cantering along, definitely I’d get the rhythm.”

Head stockman at the time, Martin Oakes, was a country music singer, and taught Tom three guitar chords. Every night Tom would practise his three chords and sing around the stock camp fire. “The other blokes would say, ‘You sound horrendous. Get your own fire and go and sit over there’,” he says.

Tom laughs and self-deprecatingly says he still only knows about two-and-a-half chords. Yet he is now a revered country artist, having won two Golden Guitar awards at this year’s Country Music Festival in Tamworth. His Katherine Outback Experience show entertains thousands of people every year, and his songs are loved nationwide. Many are about funny characters and have a Territory focus. “I think in songwriting you try to embrace the Aussie, the laconic nature, or the characters – it’s very Aussie out here in the bush,” he says. For example, one song describes two blokes who bet each other $50 to swing from the top of a windmill. Another tells the story of a fella who ended up with a cold frog in his jocks. It’s called ‘Billy don’t like no hip hop’. “People want to come in off the land and forget about the drought and the cattle prices, and my job is to make them smile,” Tom says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #120

Outback Magazine: August/September 2018