the horrific tales behind the songs we sing to children

Johnny only makes one penny a day,
Because he can’t work any faster.


I read that “Daw” means “a lazy person”, so the rhyme I can understand is about two minimum wage workers who deserve to be paid little due to their low productivity.

Who is writing these things? Australian Business Council? Gina Reinhart? Why is Nana sharing this right-wing propaganda with her young grandson?

Pip was exhausted when we got home, so I tried singing him to sleep. I reach for the classic: rock baby.

Rock-a-bye-baby, at the top of the tree,
When the wind blows, the cradle will shake.
When the branches snap, the cradle falls,
Babies, cradles and everything will fall down.

So, in this enchanting melody, I invite my grandson to drift off to sleep and imagine himself stranded in a tall tree on a forecast windy day. At first, the wind will only shake the cradle in which he rests. But as the wind increased, the branch on which his cradle was resting would snap, and his cradle would fall, falling haphazardly to the ground, with him in it.

So, Pip, you just relax and go to bed.

Mind you, not every song I sing for him is filled with dire narratives. Along the road to Gundagai Imagine a young traveler returning to his childhood home to experience the joys of family and friends. I love the sweetness of the imagery, and often sing it to my own children:

“My mother and father are waiting for me,
And my childhood friend, I will see you again. “

I’m guessing that the reason why the young man was forced to leave Gundagai may have a dark backstory, but it’s not revealed in the song.

Oh, I just looked it up. According to some sources, the song “lively tells the stories of those who fought in the great war, many of whom never came home.” I found that the original lyrics include this oft-omitted couplet :

When I get back there, I’ll be a kid again—
oh! I never think about sadness or pain.

So, Pip, relax while your grandfather conjures up all the horrors of World War I, one of the most brutal conflicts in human history, and the broken men and women who somehow survived.

I feel even more irresponsible now. Of course, I can do better.

about what Waltz Matilda? Oh, yes, the suicide of the sheep thief.or how Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport? One question: its creator, Rolf Harris. Also, the lyrics feature a dying breeder instructing his friends on how to dispose of his body after his death: “When I’m dead, let me hide, Fred”.


By the way, this instruction is then carried out by the breeder’s partner. “So we tanned his skin after he died, Clyde, and that’s what hung over the shed”.

Ah yes, of course we know how to pick popular songs for kids.

or have Ring a Ring o’ Rosie Ring, some (but not all) said it was about the Great Plague of London.or oranges and lemons, in which we follow a condemned man on the road to his execution.or Pop Goes the Weaselwhich details a trip to a London pawnbroker due to some mounting financial problems.

As Malcolm Fraser said, “Life is never easy”. Yes of course. But can we hold off on the news, maybe, until they’re 10?

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