Simon McDonald was a well-loved and well-known Creswick character, who lived on the family property at Springmount, close to Creswick, for all his life, 1906-1968. He eked out a living from gold fossicking and agricultural work, and was a fixture at local pubs, particularly The American Hotel, where he would sing after work for beer and food. At a time when ‘The Folk Wave’ was on, when folk music was the Rap music of its age, Simmy was called ‘the best traditional singer in the British style ever recorded in Australia’. There are still friends and relatives of Simmy’s living in Creswick.
With an LP of his songs made in 1964, and a book on his life published soon after, there are also about 30 hours of reel-to-reel tapes in the National Archives of Australia in Canberra, recorded between 1959 and 1967, of Simmy talking about his life in Creswick and surrounds, and singing the songs he learnt from his father and grandfather in a house with no electricity, where the entertainment was conversation, story-telling and singing the family songs from Ireland and Scotland.
Neil Adam has been on a journey into Simmy’s life, which has put him in touch with his relatives and local people who knew him, turning up some great and touching stories, and the end result is an intriguing show which played to sold-out houses at the Creswick Courthouse during Cresfest 2022 and 23. The show ranges through tales of gold-fossicking around Creswick and grape-picking in Mildura, to songs that have their origins in Napoleonic Europe, Burl Ives and the 1960s Folk Wave. Half family and local history, half Simmy talking and singing about his life from the tapes, half Simmy’s songs re-sung. It’s a show and a half!