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“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” is a song written by Australian singer Rolf Harris in 1957 which became a hit across the world in the 1960s in two recordings (1960 in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom for the original, and 1963 with a re-recording of his song in the United States). Inspired by Harry Belafonte’s calypsos, it is about an Australian stockman on his deathbed. The song is one of the best-known and most successful Australian songs.
Harris originally offered four unknown Australian backing musicians 10% of the royalties for the song in 1960, but they decided to take a recording fee of £28 among them because they thought the song would be a flop.
The recording peaked at No. 1 in the Australian charts[dead link] and was a Top 10 hit in the UK in 1960. In 1963 Harris re-recorded the song in the UK with George Martin as producer and this remake of the song reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent three weeks atop the easy listening chart in 1963. Harris re-recorded his song a second time along with The Wiggles in 2000 with the introductory verse and the verse mentioning the stockman’s death omitted. It is still popular today as a children’s song.
The distinctive sound of Harris’s original recording was achieved by the use of an instrument of his own design called the “wobble board” —a two-by-three-foot piece of hardboard Masonite.[dead link]
The opening recitation by Harris:
is similar to the first verse of a song, The Dying Stockman, collected by Banjo Paterson and published in 1905:
In Harris’s version, a dying Australian stockman instructs his friends to take care of his affairs when he is gone. The first of these is to watch his wallabies feed, then to tie his kangaroo down, since they jump around (which is the chorus). “Sport” is an Australian term of address, alluding to “good sport”, which often, as in this case, praises someone for carrying out a small favour one is asking of them. The lyrics mention animals and things associated with Australia, including cockatoos, koalas, platypuses, and didgeridoos. His last dying wish is “Tan me hide when I’m dead, Fred”. By the end of the song, the stockman has died and his wish has been carried out: “So we tanned his hide when he died, Clyde, and that’s it hanging on the shed”.
The fourth verse caused some controversy in 1964 because of its use of the word “Abo”, an offensive slang term for Aboriginal Australians. The lyrics of this verse (not found on Rolf Harris’s official website) were as follows:
The stockman thus emancipates his indigenous offsider at his death, when he was “of no further use” to him. This verse does not feature in more recent versions of the song and, in a 2006 interview, Harris expressed regret about the racist nature of the original lyrics.
Many parodies, variations, and versions tailored for different countries exist of the song, and Harris performs excerpts from some of them on a 1969 live album released only in the UK called Rolf Harris Live at the Talk of the Town (EMI Columbia SCX 6313).
Rolf Harris performed the song during the Opening Ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia with a special verse of lyrics written for the event, they are as follows:
3:01 • Radio show
Unofficial live • Released in 2003
3:10 • Live