That was one of the greatest moments of my whole life
ERNIE Constance has had six of his songs recorded by Slim Dusty, but his latest song “Milestones” pays tribute to his wife Deb, their family and the wonderful friends he has made through a very full life.
The mates I’ve met along the track/ My family and my wife/ They’re the Milestones/ By the highway of my life.
For the singer/songwriter, time spent on his Monaro property and working in woolsheds has been the source of inspiration for many of his lyrics.
I started out real early trapping rabbits/ Then spent a lifetime shearing sheep/ I think I did it well, seldom stopping for a spell/ Spent the proceeds buying country that was cheap.
“There was never a plan”, Ernie recalled as he sat in the woolshed of his property, “Burrunga”, Peak View.
“It all evolved … I first starting writing songs before I could play a guitar.”
He was talking about his journey as a song writer, writing about the things that were happening in his life working on farms and in shearing sheds.
“I was always inspired by the songs Slim Dusty sang,” Ernie said.
“In my early twenties I bought my first Slim Dusty album, and it was a revelation to find he didn’t write all of the songs.”
Realising the work of song writers like Stan Coster, Mac Cormack and Joe Daley were recorded by Slim Dustry, encouraged Ernie to send some of his early lyrics to the legendary songster.
“It wasn’t instant success … he sent quite a few back before he started keeping some,” Ernie recalled.
“He was my idol, and I was always very interested in what both he and Joy were doing, especially singing about the bush and the people who were working on the land.
“He was a great bush balladeer and I grew up listening to ‘Gum trees by the roadside’, and ‘When the rain tumbles down in July’.”
They were particularly evocative for a young man working on the Monaro, and inspired Ernie to keep plugging away with his lyrics.
I grew up with a love of country music/ I still love it with a passion deep and strong/ I always loved old Slim (still do) and sent some verse to him/ Now they know me ‘round the traps as Currawong.
Ernie recalled sending his latest batch to Slim in 1975, during a period when his Monaro property had a big rainfall, recording 400 millimetres over four days, completely isolating he and his family.
“We were cut off and when I was eventually able to ride the seven kilometres through the rain out to the mailbox, a letter from Slim was waiting for me,” Ernie said.
“He was recording ‘Things I see around me’… That was one of the greatest moments of my whole life.”
Slim Dusty was singing long before Ernie was born, but he will never forget that trip to the mailbox on his horse.
“I had been trying to write bush ballads in the style of Stan Coster and Joe Daley, about the outback and places I had never seen,” Ernie said.
“Then the penny dropped … I had to write about the things I see around me!”
And 40 years later, Ernie is still writing songs and singing about the things he sees around him as he travels through the bush.
Writing lyrics doesn’t come any easier with time, Ernie pointed out: but they can come at odd times and can occur at a moment’s notice.
“In the early days, we ran wethers in our bush country, and as i was riding along mustering the mob, something would come to me and it would go around in my head until I stopped and wrote it down,” he said.
“The next morning I would be milking the cow and it would all come out … in a bit of a jumble, but I would work on it.”
Ernie remembers learning the structure of songs from studying those Slim had recorded.
“You must have rhythm and I think mine have … you can’t get away from rhythm,” he said.
He continued working on his lyrics yet he couldn’t play a guitar and it wasn’t until the late 1970s when Hugh Packard came to the Peak View district.
“He was a young bloke and he taught me a few chords and how to develop the melody for a song,” Ernie said.
“Once I learnt to play the guitar I started to do a few local charity concerts.”
His singing career went from playing in the country halls around the Monaro to Tamworth where he tried his hand busking in the streets during the annual Country Music Festivals, and eventually secured a recording contract at the Lindsay Butler Studios.
“I started recording in 1993 when I had a backlog which Slim hadn’t used nor had any of the other artists I had sent my songs to,” Ernie said.
“Lindsay Butler was an independent producer and he was the one to go to if you wanted to record a good bush ballad,” Ernie said.
“Once I had an album, I then had to attend shows and get myself to festivals so I could promote the record.
“It was just one step at a time.”
Ernie has recorded seven albums and continues to write as the muse strikes.
“It is much more difficult now because there is not enough room in my head and not enough time to practice,” he said.
“I started out as a shearer but now I have a fairly substantial farm business and a lot to do.”
I’m proud to have a true and loving family/ They’ve walked the straight and narrow as they’ve grown/ Two daughters and two sons, a credit to their mum/ Now they’re out there building milestones of their own.