Darren Hanlon, “The Book Thief”

From the musical history project Mick Thomas Presents Vandemonian Lags

Vandemonian Lags is a beautifully executed album, driven by Australian songwriting legend Mick Thomas. We are fortunate, here down under, to have such musicians; devoted, without ego, to nurturing the industry and the art, with a deep appreciation for its collaborative nature. Based on the documented stories of the people who populated the outdoor prison camp that was Van Diemen’s Land, the whole project, housed on The Founders and Survivors website, offers a multi-genre journey into both the music made, and the subject of colonial Tasmanian peoples’ history. Primary sources, videos of historical analysis, images, family trees, copies of the album lyrics and music…

There’s a live show, too, that Mick Thomas is planning to stage again next April. A nice touch is the collection of photographs that come with the album download, of all the contributing songwriters and performers, dressed up as convicts, looking appropriately dubious. “I am what you say I am, a laggard Vandemonian” is a line from the first song on the album. Well, so are we all, somewhere in our rough colonial history.

Track 7 of the album, “The Book Thief”, is a song about a convict who once stole a book. That’s the history bit. But the writer of this song, Darren Hanlon (see the attached image), points to another truth. Badly made words shape our culture for the worse. There are countless examples of that in Australian society today. The decay of even the desire for an authentic and creative means of expression, especially on the part of those who traditionally preserve those sorts of values, (like journalists and intellectuals) is a source of personal pain.

“The laws of the land are full of words ill-writ.” And so is the language. Words are an important part of my world, as a reader and a researcher. The cultural debasement of the language bothers me a great deal, and this is why “The Book Thief” resonates particularly with me. Find out which song does the same for you, here.

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