Meet Ted Egan, the bush balladeer and outback living legend. Ted is one of Central Australia’s most recognisable icons. He has been writing, recording and performing both in the Red Centre and around Australia for almost half a century. Through his music and poetry, Ted has brought the beauty of Central Australia and its people into the national and international imagination.

As one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, the world heritage listed Uluru is undoubtedly the Northern Territory’s biggest icon. Standing at 348 metres high, Uluru is one of the largest rock monoliths in the world and is over 600 million years old. This ancient sandstone rock is sacred and spectacular.

The first time musician and author Ted Egan saw Uluru; he felt an instant connection.

“My first contact with Uluru was totally spiritual,” Ted said.

“I was in the company of a man named Paddy Uluru, an old Aboriginal fella who was named after the rock, he told me his beliefs and attitude towards the rock and that has stuck with me.”

Ted’s connection with Uluru is as profound as his connection to Central Australia and its people. He has spent the past 40 years writing, recording songs, filming and is the author of 10 books. Ted also served as the 18th Administrator of the Northern Territory from 2003 to 2007. He has been listed as a ‘Living National Treasure’ and Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) for an outstanding record of service to the Aboriginal people and an ongoing contribution to the literary heritage of Australia, through song and verse.

Born in Melbourne 1932, Ted had humble beginnings. He came into the world during the Great Depression. Nations both rich and poor were affected, including Australia. Ted’s father was out of work for the first five years of his life. He and his four siblings grew up poor, but happy. “My parents were standard victims of the Depression but we had a very happy childhood – there was much love, lots of music and enough food,” Ted said. Ted’s father was an accordion player and although his mother didn’t sing or play, she loved the arts and encouraged her children to be passionate about music.

“We used to sit and listen to the radio, my three sisters could all play the piano so my mum would hear a song on the radio and say put that on the repertoire girls! And they would go and play it by ear on the piano - music was such a dominant part of our lives,” Ted said.

When Ted finished high school at the age of 15, he was unsure of his life’s path. He was musical and a great wordsmith but at that point directionless. A chance encounter on a tram changed that. Ted was a paperboy to assist with the family income and one day while selling newspapers on a tram, he came across two New Zealand soldiers in uniform.

“One was a Maori man and the other man was white but they were both singing in Maori and they were both very fluent,” he said.

“I stood there enthralled listening to them singing on the tram, so when I went to Darwin many years later, it occurred to me that I could be like those New Zealanders,” Ted said.

Those uniformed men inspired Ted to learn language (he is now fluent in Tiwi and has knowledge of Arrernte), sing for a living and instilled in him a lifelong interest in the history of the Anzacs and the people whose lives were affected by the wars that Australians and New Zealanders fought in. The interest in Anzac history also stems from Ted’s mother’s personal story. He came home from school one day and found his mother in tears.

“I asked my mother what’s wrong? And she said she always cries on Anzac Day,” he said. “She told me the story of her three brothers in WWI – one was killed at Gallipoli, the other one was gassed and the third brother came home shell shocked.”

This personal recollection inspired Ted to write The Anzacs: 100 Years On in Story and Song, which weaves personal stories and songs into the history of the Anzacs. The book features soldiers, nurses, wives and mothers who lost their sons or welcomed them home damaged. “I’m a historian, but not one that relies on statistics”, he said.

“I like to convey historical messages that are accurate enough and take the challenge of presenting a person or an incident through four minutes of a song.”

Ted has also just completed a Ph.D. His thesis was on John Gilruth, the first Administrator of the Northern Territory and a controversial figure. A published book will soon follow. At the age of 82, Ted is as busy as ever and he has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He is a regular on the performing circuit with his next major appearance scheduled for the 2015 Tamworth Country Music Festival. Over the past 40 years of his performing career, he has written and produced 30 albums and over 350 songs. The common theme present in Ted’s songs and books is the characters.

“About 300 of those songs are about people of the Northern Territory”, he said.

“I can’t paint portraits or take photos but I delight in writing songs about people that I admire,”

“They’re the people who have escaped the attention of historians – the little old Chinese grandmothers, old drovers, people brave in war – that’s who I write songs about,” Ted said.

This bush balladeers’ passion for people extend to his passion for Central Australia. From the moment he landed in the Territory at the age of 16, Ted knew that this was home. And he only needs to look up at the outback desert night skies to reaffirm his place in the world.

“It’s a spiritual experience and moments like that will change your life and those around you,” he said. Along with Uluru, Kings Canyon, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Devils Marbles - Ted is an outback icon with rugged charm, depth, history and lots of stories to tell.


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