Jack O’Hagan OBE 1898-1987
The son of a publican, O’Hagan was born in Melbourne, Victoria, on 29 November 1898.
He certainly started his musical career when he was still in his teens.
O’Hagan achieved early success with songs linked to silent films.
‘A track winding back’
‘There at last is not the slightest doubt about Australia being on the melody map,’ said
The Australian Musical News in 1923. ‘Not so long ago, Allan and Co, as the biggest music publishers in Australia, used to receive about one song a year of the popular order for their consideration. Since Jack O’Hagan made his big hit with “Gundagai” his success has provided such an impetus that the same firm now receives an average of about six popular songs a day. Australia has a lot more potential composers than anyone used to imagine a couple of years ago. They have been lured right out of their odd corners and hiding places. Some of them dwell in the remote bush, and in many cases they show in spite of crudity of musical expression, that they have a distinct turn for tunefulness’.
A ‘distinct turn for tunefulness’ certainly characterised John Francis ‘Jack’ O’Hagan. The son of a publican, O’Hagan was born in Melbourne, Victoria, on 29 November 1898. Although he was taught music, he claimed that mostly he played by ear. He also claimed that he joined up at 16 and spent the years of the Great War in the army pay corps – but there appears to be no official record of his service.
He certainly started his musical career when he was still in his teens. His first documented effort was ‘That Hesitation Rag’, for which he provided the words to Cliff W. Hanson’s melody. It was copyrighted in 1916. The following year he had four songs published; three had music by Henri Penn, who introduced him to George Sutherland, managing director of Allan’s music house. Sutherland employed him as a ‘professional manager’ – in effect a song plugger whose job it was to get Allan’s songs heard in theatres and dance halls.
O’Hagan achieved early success with songs linked to silent films: ‘Anatol’ reflected the popularity of Gloria Swanson’s The Affairs of Anatol and the Valentino epics The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse inspired ‘In Dreamy Araby’ and ‘Julio’ respectively. Many more movie songs followed, including ‘Forgotten’ for the 1927 Australian film Environment.
The popularity of O’Hagan’s ‘Down Caroline Way’ (1921) led him to attempt something more local. Though he had already had a flop with a song called ‘Blue Mountains’, O’Hagan accepted the challenge and penned his most emphatic hit. It was originally to be called ‘Along the Road to Bundaberg’, but as that city lacked a river whose name had the requisite number of syllables, the honour went to the Victorian town of Gundagai: ‘where the blue gums are growing, and the Murrumbidgee’s flowing…’
Watch this space
Peter Game: The Music Sellers, Hawthorn Press, 1976
Keith Watson: The Jack O’Hagan Story, privately published, 2005