Shipwreck Coast locals call it the house that Mary Black built - Shane Howard's $20,000 home studio The Shed at Killarney west of Warrnambool.

Howard fled the ruins of Goanna Manor - his former chart topping band's St Kilda digs in the eighties - broke and battered from the storms of life.

Then along came Irish folk star Black and Whispering Jack Farnham.

Mary recorded his family history tune Flesh & Blood in 1993 and took him on many lucrative international tours.

Black's hit reached #5 on Irish pop charts and Black mined the Howard motherlode and recorded six more of his songs.

"I should have a Mary Black wall in The Shed," Howard told Nu Country on the eve of an east coast tour to promote his seventh solo album Another Country.

< Shane Howard

"But it's also gone into education of my five daughters. It's put them all through secondary school and three of them through university. Jesse is doing a PHD at Oxford but I'm not paying for that luckily."

Howard is also indebted to national icon Farnham for hefty royalties generated by his version of Talk Of The Town revived by the writer on his new album.

"John's version of my song was a bigger selling record here," says Howard, "he's been very good to me. Other artists doing my songs have enabled me to keep me going as an artist. Mary gets my songs out to the world. Lene Siel - a pop star in Denmark - recorded Flesh & Blood in Danish with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

A lot of those songs turn up on Irish sessions but I haven't got Christy Moore to do anything yet."


Family ties have always been the major catalyst in the career of Howard - one of seven siblings reared in a cottage on the Merri riverbank in the shadows of the Nestle, nee Nestles factory, at western Warrnambool suburb Dennington.

Sister Marcia, also in Goanna, and brother Damian who co-wrote St Kilda Again for Another Country, join Shane's children in the studio choir.

Damian, leader of The Plough Boys, also performed at the launch of Marcia's second solo CD Burning In The Rain at the Cornish Arms in Brunswick.

"Basically when Goanna fell apart I started writing that song about the demise of the band," Howard said.

"I never got to finish it because it was a bit of a sore point, too close to the bone. Damian found an unfinished demo in the shed at mum and dad's. He wrote the final verse. He wrote about the broken trust. I was too close to it to be able to finish it."

Marcia Howard

But it's father Leo, an 88-year-old stroke survivor, who inspired Goanna song Factory Man - first single off Troy Cassar-Daley's fifth album Borrowed & Blue.

The country star, raised on the banks of the Clarence River, first heard the song about the Howard patriarch, who toiled in the Nestles factory for 48 years, when Goanna toured his hometown Grafton in 1983.

"I didn't know Troy had recorded Factory Man, let alone as a single, until I went to the studio to perform on his recording of River Boy," Howard, now 49, confessed.

"I was shocked and flattered when he played it to me. It's encouraging when younger blokes cite you as an influence. I must be getting old."

Little Feat pianist Bill Payne, who has also toured here with James Taylor, produced Goanna's second album Oceania in 1984-5.

In 1998 Shane reformed Goanna for third album Spirit Returns and series of concerts as part of the Melbourne Festival of the Arts.


Howard confessed his dad Leo also inspired other new songs including Cooper's Creek - the tale of Burke & Wills from the viewpoint of survivor John King.

"This record was influenced heavily by the fact Dad had a major stroke last year," Howard said.

"He's quite an old man, he's 88 now. You prepare for the finality of a significant person in your life but you're never ready. It makes you face your own mortality. When I was in the Gulf Of Carpenteria I camped a few times at Burke & Wills northern most camp. I've always been fascinated by their story. At school Burke was a hero. As you get into story you realise that the Aboriginal people had done it many times before - living off the land. Burke & Wills left Melbourne at 5 am. At 8 pm the camel train was still leaving. They had all essentials including a writing desk. John King was the only survivor. He asked Aboriginal people for help - he survived because of that.

You think of him at Cooper's Creek with these black angels keeping him alive, hovering around him. I don't think he lived long after that. He married but didn't have any kids."


Howard wrote the lullaby Don't Cry after visiting the Manhattan Twin Towers rubble while on tour with Black four months after the suicide bombing.

"We were in Manhattan on her tour," Howard recalled, "we debated whether to go. It was macabre but I'm glad we went. It actually put this television event onto a human scale. Ironically what came out of that experience was a lullaby."

But his new song Abraham, a historical parable about religious fundamentalism, took on more significance after the recent Russian massacre.

"When you start killing school children you go beyond and have lost your humanity," Howard says.

Mary Black

"We're into a zone where you know the world can descend down a slippery slide. It has historically - it's important that an artist constructs an argument for humanity.

Being asked by God to sacrifice your son. I think the choice I would make is to drop religion - not your son. I used the Old Testament, New Testament and the Koran. I took passages from there to construct my argument against all fundamentalism of any religious form.

Humanism is the right choice. Abraham had two sons. He had Ishmael first to his servant and then had Isaac to his wife. He then sent Ishmael away and he became father of the Arab nation. Isaac was the father of the Jewish nation."


Howard has been a prolific producer in his home studio The Shed.

Artists included Warrnambool Koori performer Patricia Clark, The Ploughboys and Broome band Pigram Bros album Saltwater Country.

He also produced Broome musician Jimmy Chi's Corrugation Road, Warrnambool singer Andy Alberts' Gunditjmara Land and the Dreamtime Wisdom Moderntime Vision album with the Wirrinyga Band from North East Arnhem Land.

"I'm cured of all that now," Howard joked.

"I loved doing it but a couple of years ago I did five projects in the one year. I ended up pretty burned out."

Howard also used The Shed for Another Country, produced with guitarist mate Phil Butson and featuring his Warrnambool band who will tour with him.

They are pianist Richard Tankard, bassist Ruben Shannon, drummer Jon Emry and fiddler Ewen Baker.

Shane played mandolin, harmonium and harmonica and guitarist Butson also guested on fiddle, organ, mandolin, bass and slide guitar.

Howard also roped in kindred spirit - Age writer Martin Flanagan on racing, not real estate duties, in Warrnambool - to create the love song Only You.

Two generations of the Howard clan harmonised on the only cover on the new disc - a revamp of the Don Williams-Wayland Holyfield hit Till The Rivers Run Dry.


Howard has also won acclaim as the unofficial ambassador for the musical nuptials of Irish and Koori music after Goanna topped charts in 1982 with anthemic Solid Rock, recently renovated for the Bert Newton TV show on the Ten Network.

He has spent many years working, writing, performing, touring with and producing Aboriginal musicians throughout Australia, as well as journeying frequently to his own ancestral homelands in Ireland.

He helped strengthen Irish-Australian connections, through his musical friendships with Black, Liam O'Maonlai, Stephen Cooney and many others.

Shane has been outspoken on environmental issues since the song Let The Franklin Flow, written in 1983, protesting against the building of a dam on the Franklin River in Tasmania's wild south-west.

The dam was never built.


September 10 - Community Hall, BYRON BAY
September 11 - Club Zamia - NORTH TAMBORINE
September 15 - The Basement - SYDNEY
September 16 - The Clarendon - KATOOMBA
September 17 - Frankston Arts' Centre - FRANKSTON
September 19 - Normanton Town Hall, NORMANTON
September 24 The Forum - MELBOURNE (Upstairs)
October 2 - Hepburn Palais - HEPBURN SPRINGS
December 2-5 - Eureka - BALLARAT

top / back to diary