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6 February 2007

Mallee Singer

Meet a woman who's trying to change people's opinions of the Mallee - through her songs.


PRUE ADAMS: The peeling facades and rusted back fences, typical of so many Mallee towns, are landmarks to the chequered fortunes of this part of the world.

Stretching from Victoria to Western Australia, the region is so named for its scores of species of Mallee eucalypts: multi-stemmed trees with a swollen underground mallee root.

But to those in southern Australia, the Mallee has also long been synonymous with fearsome dust storms; difficult, dry and stony farming conditions; and low productivity.

JEANETTE WORMALD: In 1902, the 'Bulletin' ran an article and it said, 'Nobody knows who made the Mallee, but the devil is strongly suspected.'

PRUE ADAMS: Whether or not the devil has had a hand in it, for Jeanette Wormald this is heaven. With her angelic singing voice, this mother of two daughters is aiming to challenge the traditionally held notions of not only the Mallee but life generally in rural Australia.

JEANETTE WORMALD: We get a little bit insulted by some of the songs that come out and say they're representing the man on the land or, you know, the tough times on the land. I really don't want to hear another drought song, so I try and write songs that have a positive spin about living in regional Australia.

PRUE ADAMS: Ironic then that her music career grew out of the worst mouse plague in 20 years. The year was 1993. Jeanette - a journalist who came from a dairy farming family but had lived in the big smoke - married Dean Wormald, a third-generation farmer from a hamlet called Caliph in the South Australian Mallee. Coming to terms with work on the farm was tough enough; then there were all those darn mice. For therapy, Jeanette picked up a guitar and wrote a song about the rodents.

JEANETTE WORMALD: I actually wrote it to cheer up Dean. I said, 'Listen to this song, it's a bit of a laugh,' and the ABC heard about it and it went national. So my career was launched by the mouse plague.

PRUE ADAMS: Since that time, she's written dozens of other songs, she's played Tamworth and many other regional and urban gigs, and produced a DVD featuring songs and images of the Mallee.

Along the way, Jeanette Wormald has attracted a small but hardcore band of followers.

JEANETTE WORMALD: This weekend we've got a group of fantastic people - they're fans and friends that have been following my music and my love of the Mallee - and they've volunteered to come up and help us plant about 600 trees.

We've got nine kilometres of trees to plant to link the two tracts of heritage scrub: this behind me and then at the back of the farm. It's just a great way of getting together with friends.

I promised them some good food and entertainment afterwards at night - we're going to have a bonfire tonight - and make a weekend of it in the country, and people have jumped at the chance. It just really helps us as well and it's a good way of just perhaps bridging the city-country gap.

ALISON TEAGUE (COUNTRY MUSIC FAN): She sings about Australia, true Australia, and that's what I love.

PRUE ADAMS: As night fell, Jeanette's groupies gathered around the campfire. The appearance of giant moths that often signal the onset of rain and a few large lazy drops raised their hopes.

JEANETTE WORMALD: (Singing) 'Monday morning, 5 a.m., Time to get out of bed again.'

PRUE ADAMS: Jeanette Wormald is one of a very small group - a female farmer who sings of her day-to-day experiences. This song borne out of the daily chores of the piggery she and her husband used to run:

JEANETTE WORMALD: (Singing) 'I've got the pig farmer blues. I've got the pig farmer blues.'


story notes

mallee
Stretching from Victoria to Western Australia, the region is named for the type of eucalyptus trees that grow there.


chequered fortunes
Chequered fortunes or a chequered history or past is a varied history - the combination of the good, bad, interesting and unusual things that have happened to something or somebody.

Example: This old house has had a chequered history.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

scores
A score is an old fashioned term for 20. Itís not used much anymore. She uses the phrase scores of to indicate there are many types of trees there; more than dozens, but less than hundreds.

eucalypts
A eucalypt is a type of Australian native tree. These are mallee eucalypts.


multi-stemmed
A multi-stemmed tree means a tree with many stems, or trunks.


synonymous with
If you say that two things are synonymous with one another, you mean that the two things are very closely connected in peopleís minds.

Example: Skyscrapers are synonomous with New York.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

productivity
Productivity refers to the amount of things that an area produces.

insulted
upset and offended

spin
Here, a spin is an angle, a version of a story. So if songs give a positive spin, they show the good parts of something.

grew out of
An idea that grows out of something else develops from it or is inspired by it.

Example: The idea for the story grew out of a dream.
more information: grow out of

the worst
Notice that the superlative adjective for bad is not the baddest, but the worst.
more information: superlative adjectives

came
Came is the past tense of the irregular verb come. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: come

big smoke
the city

Example: I'm leaving the country to try my luck in the big smoke.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

wrote
Wrote is the past tense of the irregular verb write. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: write

written
Written is the past participle of the irregular verb write. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: write

come up
travel to; go to a place
For more meanings of the phrasal verb come up, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: come up

got
Here got is the past participle of the irregular verb get. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
more information: get

getting together
To get together means to meet, usually in an informal way.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb get together, follow the link below to our language library.
more information: get together

jumped at
To jump at something is to eagerly accept it.

Example: She'll jump at the chance to go on TV.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.