The Hungry Mile The Bushwackers Independent The Bushwackers have accommodated no fewer than 85 players in their 46-year existence — a veritable who’s who of Australian music that has included the Pretenders’ bass man Pete Farndon, Skyhooks drummer Freddie Strauks, Little River Band’s Steve Housden, Tim Gaze of Ariel and Rose Tattoo fame and the country’s most renowned guitar guns, Tommy and Phil Emmanuel. Yet this revolving door of an ensemble’s elevated niche in the pantheon of Australiana champions and chroniclers owes as much to the stability and leadership provided by its longest-serving members and singers, Dobe Newton and Roger Corbett, as to its astute recruitment and song selection. And so it is no surprise that the folk-rockers’ 24th studio album compares favourably with the best in their bulging back catalogue. The Hungry Mile also constitutes one of the strongest sociopolitical statements made by a band that was formed on the campus of Melbourne’s La Trobe University back in the hot-blooded protest days of the early 1970s. While the Bushies’ repertoire has always contained historical leanings and subtexts, a left-of-centre bias positively pervades the latest waxing — even if the tracklist includes a plug for a ubiquitous hardware chain. The Bushwackers latest set commences with a treatise urging caution in government policy on gas and oil fracking ( Leave It in the Ground), co-written and sung with gusto by Corbett, who, like Newton, has been a band member since 1980. The latter sings another robust song co-composed by Allan Caswell ( Giant of a Man), which pays rich tribute to Gough Whitlam and is carried by a jaunty tune that cleverly morphs into the national anthem at the tail end. Delivered in unison, another Corbett-Caswell anthem, Republic Day — complete with a Middle Eastern motif — makes the case for a new celebration of nationhood. The stirring Corbett-Newton (and Colin Gentles) co-written title track tips a battered hat to Aussie workers during the Depression. Rich Davies’s Dirt Under My Nails and Colin Buchanan’s Waltzing Australia acknowledge the considerable contribution made to the country’s development by postwar migrants, the latter song with assistance from John Williamson, Sara Storer and a 25-strong celebrity Bush Choir that includes other big names from the domestic music industry. In Australian for Broken Heart, Newton is joined on the chorus by the song’s author, Kevin Bennett. Referred to earlier, Corbett’s Another Trip to Bunnings sizzles like the sausages available most Saturdays at said franchise, although whether it’s rendered tongue-in-cheek or with reverence is open to debate. The Hungry Mile also includes a lively medley of jigs and reels played with characteristic panache by the band’s distinguished instrumentalists, and several significantly revamped versions of bush music evergreens. It’s an album that should push the Bushwackers towards a golden anniversary.