I am Pat Alexander, the fifth of six children born in Sydney, Australia in 1937.
Primary schooling for me was a remote one-teacher school twenty kilometres south of Oberon (three hours by car west of Sydney) and secondary schooling was at Cranbrook School in Sydney where I boarded for six years.
I have always been cared for by a good woman with my wife seamlessly taking over from my mother in 1959. We had two children in quick succession and a third after a nine year gap. Our three children came through the hazards of youth unharmed, all three married young, all three have good and sensible spouses, they have given us eleven grandchildren, and all of us have enjoyed continuous very good health. We have been brought this far and yet, all around us there are lives in a terrible mess.
At home we have a cupboard full of my silly little songs and poems. In February 1981, one of those silly little songs [that I had written in the pits – in 1974] topped the national charts to be the nation’s number one selling song for two weeks. The song is ‘Duncan’; I’d love to have a beer with Duncan, ’cause Duncan’s me mate.
Five years earlier, the song had come straight out of an experience selling life insurance, and the only good thing that came out of those two horrible years with AMP and CML, was Duncan.
I was knocking on factory office doors, in Sydney’s southern suburbs, and the owner of a heat-treatment factory invited me in – his name was Duncan Urquhart. In his late forties he was free to talk, and suggested we might do that in the pub around the corner. That pub was the Town & Country Hotel at St. Peters – on Unwin’s Bridge Road – it is still there – you can see it from the train.
I went back to see Duncan Urguhart three times before I twigged that he had no intention of buying any of my life insurance – he just enjoyed the yarn but, it was while driving home from the last of those sessions that the main verse (music & lyrics) came into being. I love to have a beer with Duncan, I love to have a beer with Dunc. We drink in moderation, and we never, never ever get rolling drunk. We drink at the Town and Country where the atmosphere is great. I love to have a beer with Duncan ’cause Duncan’s me mate. I jotted down those words and tossed it in the cupboard.
In June 1980, almost five years later, Bob Hawke made his move to become Prime Minister of Australia and prompted by this, I sent a tape to ABC TV and they sent a film crew across to the mailroom and filmed me singing The Bob Hawke Song – in the ABC mailroom.
It went on National Television, as a novelty news item, and some bloke rang the ABC switchboard and said, ‘If he was a horse you’d shoot him’ but, this got me going. I arranged with EMI to do two hundred 7′ custom pressings of me singing The Bob Hawke Song, and I put Duncan on the other side. I sent a pressing to every radio station in Sydney and 2KY was the only one to play it, to my knowledge. It was Phil Halderman and Malcolm T Elliot who played it in September 1980, and one of my mates in the mailroom rang Malcolm and said, ‘Why don’t you play the other side. It’s a much better song’.
So it was Malcolm T Elliot who first played Duncan (my demo version) in his morning show and it generated enough interest for him to interview me on air. After hearing the story, Malcolm decided to find this Duncan fellow so he sent out regular calls, day after day, for someone to find this Duncan Urquhart.
Duncan himself happened to hear one of these calls and as he said, he very nearly drove off the side of the Gladesville Bridge in shock but he phoned in. He was a good sport, and that was great fun. [Ironically and sadly, not long after the song became a hit, Duncan Urquhart died suddenly of a heart attack leaving a wife and two teenage kids. I do not know whether or not his life was insured.]
Back to the story, I got home one Saturday afternoon in October 1980 to the stunning news that Slim Dusty had rung. I had sent one of my discs to Slim Dusty’s post office box address in Parramatta where they received truckloads of rubbish from hopeful songwriters like me, but that morning his wife Joy McKean happened to play Duncan, and she like it. She asked Slim to listen, he didn’t like it at first but she made him listen again – as every good woman should.
They were recording at Studio 301 in Castlereagh Street, Sydney at the time, so on Monday morning they took Duncan in and knocked up some chord charts for the band. The second take was pressed by EMI as a single, and in November 1980, Radio 2UE listeners heard John Laws play it eleven times on the first morning. It put Slim Dusty on Countdown for several weeks in early 1981, it put me into songwriters’ heaven.
From the very beginning almost everyone has just assumed that Slim Dusty wrote Duncan. In the very early days my kids would come home very upset when their school mates wouldn’t believe that their dad wrote Duncan. ‘Yes! And my dad wrote Puff the Magic Dragon.’ In fairness to Slim he was in no way responsible for this; in fact he attempted early on to distance himself from Duncan because it was not his kind of song and because of that, he really didn’t want it to become his signature song.
Slim Dusty is a monument in Australian culture – every Australian knows that – and I am very much aware, that what Slim Dusty did for Duncan is beyond measure but, the song itself, somehow, mysteriously captures the character of Australian mateship. God alone knows how that happens.
We have had so much fun with that song, but do you know? The most amazing thing is the reaction we get when people find out that I wrote it. And the more involved people are in the music industry, the more animated is their reaction. I met The Wiggles when they toured Wagga Wagga in 2001, (soon after they had recorded ‘I’d love to have a dance with Dorothy’) and they were thrilled to meet me. They know: all people in the business know only too well just how many original songs there are that never get recorded, let alone released, let alone get on the charts, let alone get into the top ten, let alone get to number one!
People often say to me, ‘Oh, you wrote the lyrics did you?’ Or ‘You wrote the tune did you?’ And when I say ‘No, I wrote the music and lyrics’ they quiz me, as if I’m having them on, ‘You wrote the lot?’ I love it when people shake their head and say ‘I don’t believe it’. Duncan remains a wonderful gift to me personally.
These days, I am often introduced to people as the bloke who wrote Duncan, and I enjoy it very much. The person introducing me enjoys it. The person I am being introduced to enjoys it. And of course I enjoy it. I love being introduced to people as the bloke who wrote Duncan. Those introductions are truly wonderful experiences for me personally, but listen to this for an introduction. I believe that on the day that I take my last breath; I believe that Jesus has already said…’Father, this is Pat Alexander. I died for him.’