HENRY LAWSON: A Life in Words & Music

24 Apr 2022
  • Media Release
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

On the centenary of Henry Lawson’s death, September 2, under the baton of Luke Dollman, one of Australia’s finest songwriters, John Schumann, together with The Vagabond Crew and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will perform Henry Lawson: A Life in Words & Music in the Festival Theatre. They will be joined on stage by narrator Richard Roxburgh paying tribute to one of Australia’s most revered writers and poets.

John Schumann, a writer himself, is one of the very few songwriters who has actually changed the way a nation thinks. Best known for his leadership of the legendary folk-rock band Redgum, and his Vietnam veterans’ anthem, I Was Only 19, John Schumann has received almost every award the industry has to offer – some twice over.

John Schumann has recorded ten albums and toured the UK, Europe and Ireland where his songs are still played.

In recent years John and the Vagabond Crew have been on five ADF Entertainment Tours – East Timor, Afghanistan (twice), the Solomons and Tanzania.


At the instigation and with the invaluable support of close friend David Minear, in 2005 John Schumann released Lawson, a highly acclaimed album of songs drawn from the poetic works of Henry Lawson. The album has become an Australian classic and is regarded as the best musical interpretation of Lawson’s poems.

“David and I embarked on this project because we think that writers like Lawson remind Australians where we came from. And if we don’t know where we came from, we can’t know where we’re going,” John Schumann said.

Acclaimed composer and long-time Vagabond Crew member, Julian Ferraretto has been commissioned to write the orchestral arrangements for the ASO.  Julian’s highly refined music symphonic sensibility will layer and enhance John’s original songs with the might, power and unparalleled splendour of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Julian says, “Henry Lawson, John Schumann and the ASO are the perfect combination; Henry’s evocative poetry, John’s elegantly simple melodies and the almost boundless musical palette of ASO to paint the landscape and the characters. 

“When I hear the ASO, I hear the wind rustling through the blue-grey Australian scrub in the late afternoon. I hear the endless sky and the sunburnt horizon. I hear Australian bushmen and women past hoping – but hoping still. The arrangements will add breadth and depth to the landscape, the characters and the emotion inherent in each song.”


Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson was born on 17 June 1867, in a tent on the goldfields of Grenfell in Central New South Wales, Australia. His father, Peter Larsen, suffered from an advanced case of “gold fever” which eventually broke the family. When Henry Lawson was just a child, he lost his hearing as the result of a severe ear infection. By the time he was 14, he was profoundly deaf. Yet, despite this disability, Lawson’s short stories and poems elevated him to be one of the most important figures on the Australian literary landscape.

Laconic, passionately egalitarian and suffused with a deep humanity, much of Lawson’s verse was marked by pathos, humour and a moral eloquence. His fearless Australian sense of justice and fair play gave birth to poems like “Faces in the Street” and “Second Class Wait Here”. These songs of social protest work just as hard today as they did when they were written. But alongside the righteous anger, Lawson was also capable of warmth, empathy and gentle affection.

The Narrative

The musical program will be narrated by acclaimed Australian actor, Richard Roxburgh, well known for his role as Cleaver Greene in ABC’s highly successful legal series, Rake.  

 Like many Australians, John was captivated by Cleaver Green in the series. John saw in Cleaver a brilliant but flawed and self-destructive criminal defence barrister who had much in common with Lawson himself.

Richard says, “I’m super excited to be involved in this project. While many Australians are familiar with Lawson’s name, they probably aren’t as familiar with his actual work. We revere our sportsfolk in this country, but tend to scratch our heads about our writers and poets, which given their astonishing variety and talent, is an incredible shame. This concert will remind us that we actually do have a national literature of which we can be extremely proud.

“ I’m looking forward to meeting and working with John. Everyone knows him as a singer-songwriter who has made his own pretty significant contribution to our national culture, and the pairing of his songwriting with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the wonderful words of Lawson will be a night to remember, I reckon”.

The linking narrative was written by John Schumann and his erstwhile university teacher, Professor Brian Mathews, an internationally recognised authority on the life and works of Henry Lawson.

The script is, at once, evocative, perspicacious and unforgiving where it needs to be. It gives the audience an insight into Lawson’s critical contribution to our national literature and, indeed, our national identity.

Tragic, brilliant – and a national treasure, “Henry Lawson is one of Australia’s national treasures,” said John Schumann. “Sad eyed, brittle and intermittently brilliant, Lawson was flawed, dysfunctional and defeated. He was a failed husband and a lousy father. But he had a rare gift. Henry Lawson found our voice and he showed us how to listen to it. For that alone, we owe him.”

Henry Lawson: A Life in Words & Music

Friday 2 September, 7.30pm

Festival Theatre  

Cheree McEwin, Publicist Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
08 8233 6205 / 0416 181 679 / mcewinc@aso.com.au

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