11 September 2019

John Williamson sings Vegemite again after Bega Cheese take over

| Ian Campbell
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John Williamson has started singing ‘Vegemite’ again when performing his anthem ‘True Blue’ on the back of the $460 million Bega Cheese take over of the iconic spread.

Part of the soundtrack of our nation for the last 35 years, ‘True Blue’ is a tune that stirs many Australian’s out of their seat and into song.

Often it’s like someone has flicked the switch to autopilot, just the first few chords will awaken lyrics buried in our brain.

The words come easily and sung with a crowd are delivered with escalating passion as the four minutes and six seconds roll along with – “knocked off for a smoko”, “is it Mum and Dad”, “standing by ya mate when he’s in a fight”, and “sell us out like sponge cake”.

Vegemite got a mention in the first version of the song and again in the 1986 version tied to the ‘Australian Made campaign‘:

“True Blue, is it me and you – is it Mum and Dad – is it a cockatoo – is it standin’ by ya mate when he’s in a fight – or just Vegemite.”

They are still the words most Australian’s will sing but John Williamson stopped singing them after Kraft, the American owners of Vegemite at the time, refused to contribute to the Australian Made campaign, despite benefiting from it.

John told About Regional this week he was annoyed with Kraft’s attitude.

“They were eligible to be called ‘Australian Made’ but wouldn’t donate to the campaign,” John says.
“So I thought damn ’em and when I rerecorded the song I left it [Vegemite] out.”

True Blue, the 1986 version featuring Vegemite. Pic from 45cat.com

True Blue, the 1986 version featuring Vegemite. Pic from 45cat.com

The revised lyrics became:

“Is it standin’ by ya mate when he’s in a fight – or will she be right.”

At live shows, in recent years John has added a different yeasty spread to the song, a spread made by a long time Australian family owned food manufacturer – Three Threes:

“Is it standin’ by ya mate when he’s in a fight – or just Mighty Mite.”

The relationship between Three Threes and John Williamson stems from the company’s sponsorship of John’s car in the annual Variety Club Bash which raises money for sick kids

John feels great loyalty to Three Threes and says he’ll still be singing ‘Mighty Mite‘ but has already started slipping ‘Vegemite’ back into performances – swapping between the two yeasty spreads.

“It depends on how I feel, but I am just delighted, I am very proud of the fact that Aussies own Vegemite again,” John says. “I am half hoping Bega Cheese might contact me about it.”

The song itself holds a special place for John.

“True Blue is my calling card and always will be,” he says. “I’ve been offered lots and lots of money for it to be used in advertising but I’ve always refused.

Mighty Might. Pic from Three Threes

Mighty Might. Pic from Three Threes

“Someone is buried to the song every week, it means a lot to me and to lots of other people, I’d never do anything to jeopardise that,” John says.

When it comes to 2017 and the year ahead for this Member of the Order of Australia and Golden Guitar legend, John Williamson says he’ll probably do about 50 shows and the odd festival.

“I am trying not to over do it anymore, but I am still writing and the shows are going better than ever,” he says.

“And every year at Springbrook, where I am now, I’ve got a big shed, and in the first week of June, I do shows.

“Just 200 people each time, they get to see all my memorabilia and one of the nicest views on the land we’ve got here,” John says.

Just like the view he invites fans to experience, John Williamson is uniquely Australian and as I hung up from our phone call this week, his genuine delight in the Bega Cheese take over of Vegemite was still ringing in my ears.

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