Kookaburra Song "Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree"

Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree is usually referred to by its shortened name of the Kookaburra Song. This simple and merry nursery rhyme is a whimsical tale of an Australian kookaburra bird happily eating gumdrops. Written by Marion Sinclair, a music teacher, for the 1934 Girl Guides Jamboree it was adapted by the Girl Guide movement and soon gained world-wide popularity.

Related Article: Listern to the Kookaburra Song

Kookaburra Song Lyrics Words to "Kookaburra Sits In the Old Gum Tree"

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
Save some there for me!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Counting all the monkeys he can see.
Stop Kookaburra, Kookaburra stop.
That's not a monkey, that's me!

Meaning of the Words Used What Do the Words Mean?

Listed below are some of the words in the 'Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree' which may not be familiar to some readers.

Kookaburra – The kookaburra is a large Australian kingfisher bird. It is sometimes also referred to as the Laughing Kookaburra because it makes a sound like a human laughing.

Gum Tree – This is another name for the Eucalyptus tree which is very common in Australia.

Bush – The people of Australia refer to any part of the country outside the major cities and towns as "the bush". The phase probably originated because there are lots of bushes and scrub when you go into the Australian country-side.

Gay – Until about the 1955 the word gay meant to be" happy and carefree". So when this song was written it meant "happy and carefree". Since 1955 the word has taken a different meaning and is no longer used to mean happy. The word is today means a homosexual or sometimes used by the younger generation to mean "lame" or "stupid". (In 2010 the principle of the Le Page Primary School in Cheltenham, Victoria dropped the word "gay" from this iconic nursery rhyme and replaced it with the word "fun". He said he did this because many young people today associate the word "gay" with lame or bumbling or incompetent. His decision made world-wide news. "Political correctness is to the fore in schools and sometimes we rightly or wrongly err on the side of caution," he said. He caused such an uproar that he had to reverse his decision and go back to the original version of the song).

Gum Drops – When some types eucalyptus trees are damaged by insects, they ooze blood-red sap (like humans ooze blood). This sap forms large drops that harden when they dry. The dried sap from a gum tree is called gum drops. You can't eat sap. You would get sick if you did. Actually kookaburras don't eat them either. Gum drops are also a type of candy. So in this song it means candy.

Monkeys – There are no wild monkeys in Australia. The closest animals that climb trees in Australia are koalas or possums. The word was probably used because it rhymed well.

Related Article: About the Kookaburra Bird

Listen to the Kookaburra Song What does the Kookaburra Song Sound Like?

(Fast Tempo)

This version of the song has a faster tempo with better animation.

(Slow Tempo)

This version of the song has a slower tempo with sing-a-long (Karaoke) words.

History of the Kookaburra Song How the Song was Written

Kookaburra Postcard with correction by Marion Sinclair
(courtesy Australian Folklore Unit)

The song 'Kookaburra' also known as 'Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree' was written by Marion Sinclair in 1934. She actually titled the song Kookaburra Sits in an Old Gum Tree but over time it evolved into its present name.

Marion Sinclair (1896-1988), was born on 9 October 1896 in Werribee, Victoria. She was educated at home until the age of 14 and spent a lonely childhood without much contact with other children. She found comfort in playing the piano and writing her own stories and rhymes. She attended Toorak College between 1911 and 1913. In 1920 she joined Toorak College as a music and drama teacher and also involved herself with the Girl Guides group at the school. Marion obtained a diploma of Music from Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music in 1924.

In 1934 Marion entered her own composition Kookaburra Sits in an Old Gum Tree in a Girl Guides competition for 'a typically Australian round' (a home-grown Australian song). She won the contest. It was sung later that year at a Girl Guides jamboree held in Australia. Visiting guides and scouts liked it so much they took the catchy tune back with them. It was soon gained world-wide popularity and was translated into many languages.

Marion left Toorak College in 1943 and worked in many welfare roles, mostly with the YWCA. While not officially taking out copyright, throughout her life Marion frequently acknowledged ownership of the song and frequently gave permission to others to use it. In 1987 she assigned copyright and ownership of all her private records to the Libraries Board of South Australia. Marion Sinclair died on 15 February 1988. The Libraries Board of South Australia sold the copyright to the Kookaburra song to Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd. for a sum of $6,100. Larrikin Music was bought by Music Sales Corporation in 1988.

The Court Case - Was It Plagiarised? Copyright Infringement Court Case

Comparison of Kookaburra Riff

This little Australian nursery rhyme was recently involved in a major court case. The legal episode started in 2008 when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV show Spicks & Specks asked the question "What children's song is contained in the song Down Under?" The answer supplied was Kookaburra. Only becoming aware of the similarity when raised by the TV show, Norman Lurie, the managing director of Larrikin Music, which had acquired the copyright for the song in 1988, launched the legal action claiming copyright infringements – namely plagiarism.

On 6 July 2010, the court ruled that the flute riff in the song Down Under was indeed a copyright infringement as "Down Under reproduced a substantial part of Kookaburra". The band was ordered to pay royalties backdated to 2002 and future royalties at the rate of 5% to Larrikin Music. (It should be noted that Larrikin was acting within the law in trying to protect its copyright). Because of the negative publicity generated by the court case Larrikin Music, in 2014, changed its name to Happy as Larry.

Related Article: About the Song - Down Under by Men at Work

Is the Kookaburra Song based on an Old Welsh Folk Song?

There are claims that the tune for the Kookaburra Song actually came from an Welsh folk-song "Dacw ti yn eistedd, y 'deryn du". But recent research suggests that there are no known recording of this Welsh tune before 1989. It has been suggested that the kookaburra tune was copied instead. Here is a YouTube clip of the Welsh song.