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Long became one of Australia's most successful and popular country and folk artists in the 1960s, releasing over a dozen albums for EMI. He was also well known for his acting appearances on television programs such as Homicide.
Lionel Long was born in Burwood, a Sydney suburb, and grew up in Bondi with his mother Aileen and father Ernest who was an accomplished violinist.
After briefly working as a jackaroo in the Hunter Valley, Long returned with his family to Sydney, where he attended Hawkesbury Agricultural College, studying commercial art. He learnt to play the guitar with his long-time friend Gary Shearston. Both young men had a fondness for country and folk music and shared song verses at the Long family home at Rose Bay.
While studying at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Long's musical talent was recognised by Ron Wills of EMI Columbia and he was signed to the music label. Wills had previously produced the breakthrough Australian country hit "Pub With No Beer" by Slim Dusty and had also signed Frank Ifield to the label. Long's friend Gary Shearston also went on to fame, recording on the CBS label.
The 1950s and early 1960s saw folk music become popular in Australia with the success of American folk revivalists such as the Weavers and the Kingston Trio and, later, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter Paul and Mary. The Australian folk music scene's popularity was aided by the international success of Australian group the Seekers. Australian musicians and producers started to research and rediscover Australian folk music from the 18th and 19th centuries, such as "Botany Bay", "Bound For South Australia" and the most famous of all Australian folk songs, "Waltzing Matilda". It was this folk music revival that made EMI Columbia insist that Long move away from his love of country music and record folk music.
In 1958, Long released his first singles. Through the EMI Columbia label, he released almost a dozen albums from 1961 to 1970, meeting critical acclaim and becoming Australia's most popular performer of traditional "bush music". After his first LP in 1961, Waltzing Matilda, and his second in 1962, Wild Colonial Boy, Long had established himself as a household name. In 1963, he released his third LP, The Bold Bushrangers: Songs of Wild Colonial Days, which featured Australian artist Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly on the sleeve.
Many of Long's albums featured accompaniment by other musicians, including Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio (who emigrated to Australia in the early 1960s), guitarist and teacher Don Andrews and jazz legend Don Burrows.
During the 1960s Long's profile was boosted by appearances on many TV shows, including the hit Channel 9 music program Bandstand. In 1962, the rocker Johnny O'Keefe suffered a breakdown after disagreements with the producers of his Johnny O'Keefe Show. While O'Keefe convalesced, Long took over as host of the show, retitled Sing Sing Sing, for a year. Soon after O'Keefe returned to host the show in early 1963, Long's popularity was so strong that he was given his own TV program titled Music Time, which aired for a year. Around this time, Long married Carole Newgrosh.
In 1964, Long released another LP, this time not entirely Australian folk songs, Songs of the Sea. This album was dedicated to Long's early memories of fishing off the coast of New South Wales near Port Macquarie and his boyhood adventure of trying to sail from Sydney to Newcastle (130 km) in a rubber dinghy at the age of 10. Long was a keen sailor, having owned boats and spent much time sailing and fishing with friends, many of whom were famous recording artists in their own right.
Long appeared on TV again on 1 August 1964, as one of the stars of This Is It, a show to inaugurate Channel 0, Melbourne's third commercial TV station.
Long was also an acting teacher in the early 1980s for children and teenagers, who worked from firstly a church hall in Bankstown, New South Wales, with actress Erica Watson (who was later featured in the mini-series The Day of the Roses played by Gigi Edgley) as his assistant coach. The acting class featured in Simon Townsend's Wonder World, interviewed by Sheridan Jobbins, in late 1982. Long moved his acting school to the inner city of Sydney in 1984, working also with adults for the next few years in the Stanislavski Method of acting.
Return to music
Long Ago: Folk Songs of the British Isles was Long's 1965 album, and featured him playing a custom-made 6-string lute he purchased in the UK. A photograph of Long with his 6-string lute featured on the album cover for this LP and two later ones.
A Sunburnt Country was Long's next album, which returned to Australiana, its title taken from Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem My Country which featured on the LP as a spoken track. Banjo Paterson's The Man from Snowy River also featured as a spoken track.
In 1966, Long's next album was Amberwren and Other Folk Songs. His 1967 release Lionel Long Today included the song Follow the Wind, an unrecorded Bee Gees song.
Long's best known TV role came in 1968 when he appeared on Homicide as Detective Bert Costello. His character was planned for only a few episodes, but Long's popularity was so great that he remained on the hit show all season and appeared in 49 episodes between 1968 and 1969. His character was eventually killed in a mine collapse.
Following his success on Homicide, Long appeared on other Crawford Productions and other programs. His TV credits include:
- The Link Men (1970)
- The Rovers (1970)
- Matlock Police (1971 and 1974)
- Division 4 (1972)
- Spyforce (1972)
- Solo One (1976)
- Chopper Squad (1978)
- A Country Practice (1986)
His film roles include:
- Inn of the Damned (1975)
- Barney (1976).
In 1970, Long released one more album on the EMI Columbia label, Close Up, before signing with RCA and releasing four folk music albums, The Man From Snowy River, Australia! Australia!, Brandied Plums and The Best of Lionel Long. He also released several singles on RCA.
Long re-signed with EMI in 1980 and released his final album, High, Wild and Handsome, which featured guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, a version of "Let It Be" by the Beatles and the well-known Kermit the Frog song "Rainbow Connection".
Long also displayed visual artistic talents, producing illustrations for several books and guides.
Medal of the Order of Australia
Long died on 1 January 1998 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Darlinghurst, Sydney. He was cremated after a small service at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park in Matraville, Sydney.
Long's vineyard homestead was owned and managed for 10 years under the name Stonybrook by advertising creative Matthew Batten. Batten maintained a collection of Long memorabilia, including a distinctive country-style chair which was hand-painted by Long in a folk art style and included in the homestead property when Batten purchased it. Batten sold the property privately in 2014.
- Duncan Kimball, ed. (2002). "LIONEL LONG, OAM". MILESAGO: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964–1975. ICE Productions. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "LONG, Lionel Joaquin Paul". It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours. Government of Australia. 26 January 1993. Retrieved 18 February 2010.