Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Young, Douglas Gary (Dougie) (1933–1991)

by Jeremy Beckett

This article was published online in 2014

Douglas Gary Young (1933-1991), Aboriginal songwriter and singer, was born on 30 August 1933 at East Mitchell, Queensland, sixth child of Queensland-born parents Frank Young, white labourer, and his wife Olive Kathleen, née McCarthy, a Gurnu woman. His father was a pious Christian. Most of what is known about Dougie—or ‘Youngie Doug’ as he often styled himself, satirising the way the police entered names in charge books—comes from the songs he wrote. He rejected school and left early to become a stockman. This work took him away from home, and eventually to New South Wales.

In the early 1950s Young arrived at Wilcannia. On 11 December 1955 at St Therese’s Catholic Mission Church, he married Christina Johnson. A riding accident in 1957 put him in hospital in Adelaide for many months, and ended his career as a stockman. He turned his talents to singing and songwriting.

Wilcannia, then a town of some eight hundred residents—about half of whom were Aboriginal—was a lively community, with much music and much drinking. The law forbade most Aboriginal people to consume alcohol, but they obtained it anyway, and the police spent a great deal of time looking for Aboriginal drinkers and locking them up. These circumstances were the theme of Young's first composition, ‘Cut a Rug.’ ‘Pass Him the Flagon’ and ‘They Say It's a Crime’ followed about 1960. ‘Scobie's Dream’ and ‘Victor Podham and His Rusty Hut’ appeared by 1964. ‘Old Wilcannia Town,’ in which he whimsically imagined what would happen to the town if the Aboriginal people stopped drinking, came a year or two later. The early songs were about him and his male friends; he sang affectionately about them as well as for them. The chicken-stealing exploits of Frankie in ‘Frankie and Jonesy’ emulated those of a real-life Frankie. Women—unfaithful in ‘Wilcannia Song,’ and censorious in ‘Cut a Rug’—never attended the men’s drinking parties.

The compositions were often parodies of the songs of white country-and-western singers, but the message was always Aboriginal. Young communicated the experience of being Aboriginal in the days before land rights and civil rights. His drinking songs expressed defiance of a discriminatory law, mockery of pompous magistrates, the miseries of gaol, and scorn for whites who became rich (in his words in 'Old Wilcannia Town’) ‘supplying darkies with grog.’ As he said in one of the few explanations he offered, ‘It’s experience.’

Later songs, such as the classic ‘The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards’ and ‘I Don't Want Your Money’ were political in the strict sense. ‘Half-Caste,’ a troubled and troubling song composed about 1966, examined the stereotypical idea of a person caught between two races. But ‘The Treaty’ (1979), his last song, resolved the problem, declaring: ‘There are many different colours now in the Aboriginal race.’

Young's early songs were transmitted by word of mouth among Aboriginal people. Some, quoted in a journal article (Beckett 1958, 38-40, 42), were taken up and reproduced in other books and articles. Young also became known to travelling country-and-western singers who performed at Wilcannia. On one occasion, his son Robert recalled, he stood in when Chad Morgan was indisposed. Athol McCoy bought and issued recordings of ‘Scobie's Dream (Hangover)’ and ‘The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards’ and, as a consequence, Young derived little financial benefit from either song. Wattle Recordings produced in 1965 an extended-play vinyl disc of songs taped at Wilcannia the previous year. In the same year, folk singer Gary Shearston recorded ‘The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards,’ the detailed sleeve-notes for the first time bringing Young’s name before a wider audience (Walker 2000, 94–95).

In 1967 Dougie and Chrissie’s marriage was breaking down, and one day he left without warning. He was seen at Bourke and he also spent some time at Balranald, adapting ‘Old Wilcannia (Balranald) Town’ for his friends there, and composing ‘Alf Kelly’ for the family with whom he lived. In 1979 he was in Sydney, giving the lie to a newspaper report that he was dead, and making his last recording—the only one in a studio.

By this time, Young was a sick man, and he was hospitalised in Melbourne for a lengthy period. He then lived quietly with a daughter at Newcastle, New South Wales. Shortly before his death, he was reunited with his other children at Wilcannia and travelled with them to see kinfolk at Cunnamulla, Queensland. He died of heart disease on 1 April 1991 at Wickham, Newcastle. His children arranged for him to be buried, following a Catholic service, at Wilcannia. In 1994 the National Library of Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies issued The Songs of Dougie Young, a recording on compact disc and audiocassette of all but one of his works, and an accompanying booklet with the lyrics of all of them.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Beckett, Jeremy. ‘Aborigines Make Music,’ Quadrant II, no. 4 (Spring 1958): 32-42
  • Beckett, Jeremy, ‘“I Don’t Care Who Knows”: The Songs of Dougie Young.’ Australian Aboriginal Studies, issue 2 (1993): 34-38
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Walker, Clinton. Buried Country: The Story of Aboriginal Country Music. Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press Australia Ltd, 2000

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jeremy Beckett, 'Young, Douglas Gary (Dougie) (1933–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-douglas-gary-dougie-16283/text28225, published online 2014, accessed online 19 November 2017.

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