Dr Sternlove has, in the past, made unkind remarks about one of my favourite washing up songs: Don Walker’s “Harry was a Bad Bugger.” As she hears it the song comes right out of the “what’s that skip? There are terrorists in the shrubbery and we need to call the cops” school of Australian cinema and television that feel the need to make sure the audience knows where the story’s going and should never find itself in the position of having to wonder.
There is a little justice to her complaint but secretly I believe she’s never noticed all that the song doesn’t say.
When I listen I hear a confessional, a man making excuses for the thing he’s done. And what’s he done? Well the song never says but to me it is simple. Harry steals away the narrator’s high school sweetheart and he nurses the wound for years, and following the mark, Harry, he kills him one night having cornered him alone in a Brisbane bottle shop. All the rest, all the many details are just context for the exculpation of Harry’s murder.
Dr Sternlove has some issues with Australian narratives but the I believe that the very quietness, the paint by numbers crime novel vocabulary, the flaccid deadpan delivery have obscured some of the gentleness “Harry” has at its core. Real beauty, a shy hopefulness that never says its piece.