Flame Trees

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"Flame Trees"
Cold Chisel Flame Trees.jpg
Single by Cold Chisel
from the album Twentieth Century
ReleasedAugust 1984
Format7" vinyl
GenrePub rock
Songwriter(s)Steve Prestwich and Don Walker
Producer(s)Mark Opitz
Cold Chisel singles chronology
"Twentieth Century"
"Flame Trees"

"Flame Trees" is a song by Australian pub rock band Cold Chisel from their 1984 album Twentieth Century. It is one of their best known songs, and was written by drummer Steve Prestwich and organist Don Walker. It reached No. 26 on the Kent Music Report Singles Chart[1] originally but also resurfaced in August 2011 due to download sales (peaking at No. 54 on the ARIA chart).


According to the band's official website, Walker's inspiration for the lyrics was a combination of his memories of Grafton where he had lived as a youth, and of his romantic dreams. The music had already been written, on a bass, by Prestwich. Walker liked the music so much he requested to write some lyrics for the piece, to which Prestwich reluctantly agreed. Ian Moss said, "The next day, after having like an hour's sleep, Don came in with this fantastic story. Don's one of those uni student dudes who's like, 'This project's got to be in, so I'll get it done by hook or by crook.'"[2] Prestwich said, "When I heard Don's lyrics, I told him, 'Mate, I don't know if they're right for the music.' I've grown used to them now."[3]

Walker later said, "In my mind it’s a northern New South Wales song. But there’s a lot of people who love that song and in their minds it’s set in their home towns. A lot of people finish up away from where they come from."[4] Elsewhere, Walker noted that the song was, "not fiction",[5] and about, " returning home after some success in the big city."[6]

The reference to flame trees instead of the jacarandas for which Grafton is famous, due to its annual Jacaranda Festival, is partly because of a TV miniseries, the BBC's The Flame Trees of Thika (1981), starring Hayley Mills, "an old flame of the lyricist's dreams".[7] However, Grafton is well known for its many specimens of the Australian native rainforest tree Brachychiton acerifolius, commonly known as the Illawarra Flame Tree, which along with the more pervasive, introduced poincianas and the town's famous (also introduced) jacarandas, set its streets ablaze every spring. Bassist Phil Small played a fretless bass on the track whilst guitarist Ian Moss used a chorus effect on his electric guitar. Moss' then-girlfriend, Megan Williams, provides backing vocals.

Prestwich had been replaced by Ray Arnott for the album Twentieth Century, but "Flame Trees" was one of three songs to feature Prestwich, based on a demo he had recorded before his departure.[8]

Music video[edit]

a screenshot from the music video

The video of the song (directed by Kimble Rendall)[9] was filmed in Oberon, New South Wales. It portrays a young man returning to his home town, meeting old friends, and remembering a past lover. The members of Cold Chisel have bit parts, except for Barnes, who only appears courtesy of some footage from The Last Stand. Barnes said, "The band was arguing so much that Flame Trees and the making of the clip, well, they never even told me, that's why I wasn't in it - the band weren't even talking to me at that point."[10]

Recording credits[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

"Flame Trees"
Single by Sarah Blasko
Released18 March 2006
FormatDigital download
GenreIndie pop, Soft rock
LabelDew Process
Songwriter(s)Steve Prestwich and Don Walker
Producer(s)Jim Moginie & Wayne Connolly
Sarah Blasko singles chronology
"Don't U Eva"
"Flame Trees"

In the 2005 Australian film Little Fish, the song is sung by The Sacred Heart School Choir from Cabramatta. The children in the choir appear in the film performing the song during a pivotal scene, and their version is repeated during the closing credits. This version was released as a single in 2006.

Don Walker said of this version, "A children's choir like that, it can't miss; they'll break your heart no matter what they sing." Of the scene in the movie, Walker said it was, "uncomfortable to watch for anyone who's ever shared accommodation where heroin is part of the commerce."[11]

Singer Sarah Blasko also recorded a cover version for Little Fish, which was released as a stand-alone download-only single on the Australian iTunes Music Store, and later included on the 2007 tribute album Standing on the Outside: The Songs of Cold Chisel. The Blasko version of "Flame Trees" was voted in at number 15 in the 2005 Triple J Hottest 100 songs. Blasko later said, "It’s still probably the most asked-for song at my shows, much to my annoyance because of course everyone wants to be known for their own music. But it’s a testament to its resonance and place in Australian culture."[4]

The song was featured in a documentary on the "Choir of Hard Knocks", a Melbourne choir comprising a group of homeless people. It was also performed by The Whitlams' Tim Freedman on an episode of The Panel. Jimmy Barnes recorded an acoustic version of the track on his 1993 album Flesh and Wood.

The song was also covered by The Killjoys in 1994 on a compilation CD titled Earth Music, which featured many prominent artists covering well known songs.[12]

Jessica Mauboy covered the song on her 2016 album, The Secret Daughter: Songs from the Original TV Series.


  1. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, New South Wales: Australian Chart Book. p. 72. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  2. ^ Mark Opitz; Luke Wallis; Jeff Jensen (2012). Sophisto-Punk. North Sydney: Ebury Press. p. 186. ISBN 9781742757933.
  3. ^ Anthony O'Grady (2001). Cold Chisel: The Pure Stuff. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. p. 265. ISBN 1-86508-196-5.
  4. ^ a b Brigid Delaney (6 October 2015). "Cold Chisel: writing Australia's unofficial national anthems since 1973". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  5. ^ Colin Gore. "Here's As Good As Anywhere". Neighbourhood Paper.
  6. ^ "Bio". texdonandcharlie.com. Archived from the original on 8 September 2017.
  7. ^ Creswell, Toby. "Cold Chisel – Petrolheads". Cold Chisel Official Website. Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. Retrieved 9 September 2014. Note: The wording of the source indicates that Walker had previously fantasised about a romance with Ms Mills: not that there was actual romantic involvement between the two. The source contains spelling errors: instead of "Thika", it calls the work The Flame Trees of Thaw; its author, given as "Tony" Creswell, is Toby Creswell. He is named in another part of the site (see History Archived 30 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.).
  8. ^ Jimmy Barnes (2017). Working Class Man. HarperCollins. p. 244. ISBN 978-1460752142.
  9. ^ "Music Video Database entry on Kimble Rendall". mvdbase.com. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  10. ^ Jimmy Barnes (2008). Icons of Australian Music: Jimmy Barnes. Springwood, New South Wales: roving eye. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-9804495-0-1.
  11. ^ Angus Fontaine. "Walker on the Wild Side". The Bulletin. Sydney, NSW: ACP Magazines (22 November 2005): 65.
  12. ^ "Various – Earth Music". discogs. Retrieved 11 September 2015.

External links[edit]