An Australian Song Cycle

Words and Music: Lorraine Milne

Arranged for 3-part female choir
Copyright © 1997 / 2013

The lyrics

Intro: Woman, woman, lonely woman.
Sun in her eyes, dust in her hair,
Nothing for miles, nothing out there.
Not knowing friend or rival,
A matter of survival.

1. She delivered babies in the scrub,
Broke up the fights in the "Back o' Bourke" pubs,
Survived the fires, the droughts and the floods,
And she taught on the School of the Air.

2. She learnt to drive the battered old ute,
Flew with the Doctor to stations remote,
Learnt to ration, she learnt how to cope,
And she learnt to survive way out there.

Bridge: Woman, woman, lonely woman.
Born with a skin so fine and fair,
Sun's burnt it now, bleached out her hair.
Befriending foe and rival,
A matter of survival.

3. Men went droving, months till they're back,
Her nearest neighbour was miles down the track,
Snakes in the ceiling - deadly and black,
But she learnt to survive way out there.

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The story

A Matter of Survival goes some way to answer the question posed in Australian Air. It arose from a series of brilliant interviews conducted in the late 1990s by well-known Australian folk singer and broadcaster, Denis Gibbons. He searched out people who had pioneered the outback – the women  working as nurses, with the flying doctor, as teachers, and in outback pubs under extreme conditions. The stories Denis recorded are full of resilience, heartbreak and humour.

Kitty Coulson always wanted to be a bush nurse. Her first posting to the outback was back of Bourke, not far from the Queensland border.

“…In 1934 I went up to Bourke on the train and then went the rest of the way with the mail driver.

In those days you had your own kit – your own nurse’s bag with scissors and a scalpel and all those sort of things. The doctor was in Burke, miles away.

One time I was coming in with premature twins and I had to come all that way into town so I’ve got the little black bag in case anything happens on the road and I’ve gotta pull up and do the job. So how to keep her on the back seat of the car – it was a double-seated car – so I said, “Look I’ll get in the back here with her but can you give me a box or something to sit on so he give me a kerosene tin. I could sit there and hold her – we were up hill and down dale and no roads or anything decent. Well I’m sitting on this kerosene tin and half the time the cushion falls off and I don’t want to disturb meself in case we hit a bump and she rolls off.

When we got into town old Teddy Leven says: “How’s the patient?” and I says, “Which one do ya mean? I don’t think I’ve got a backside left!”

Transcript of interview used by kind permission of Katrine Gibbons Brown

An article from the Sunday Mail – English Rose in the Outback – tells the story of English migrant Evelyn Maunsell arriving in far north Queensland in 1912. It’s a fascinating read and can be found at: