And in the great tradition of this national treasure who has held audiences in raptures with her unique and uncompromising singing voice since she was a child, Robyn Archer’s show is full of surprises.

Archer said she’s enjoyed delving into “the almost literally infinite possibilities of Australian song”.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Australian songs. This songbook will certainly be unexpected,” Archer said. “This is by no means a best of, it’s the voice of our country.

“It’s very, very extensive, I tend to be a bowerbird in many, many areas, particularly with music. I think the show reflects my interest in politics, my interest in history, my very, very eclectic tastes.

“We go from almost rock and roll with one song by Goanna, which might be almost the only song that people recognise in the entire program.

“From Goanna we go to a couple from musical theatre to folk to a quite difficult art song, etcetera. And I think that musically we make sense of all of them with the trio I’m working with.”

Archer will channel her wealth of musical knowledge into a fearless, political and personal celebration of the way song has shaped Australian identity.

“Some of the songs I wrote, some I knew, and then I sought some that might reflect certain periods of the 200 years the list covers,” she said.

“The biggest probably on the night is Brisbane-based composer Rob Davidson’s setting of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech. It’s difficult…He’s been very kind to let us do it, and I hope he really appreciates what we’ve done with it. But it’s challenging musically. He’s a very, very clever composer.

“That one, and Lou Bennett’s beautiful song Jaara Nyilamum, which, again, arranged by Iain Grandage for the Australian String Quartet. They’re brand-new material for me, and they’ve taken a lot of work.

“Everything had to be something that I thought I would be able to sing and that I would love singing.

“There’s quite a few of my songs in there, maybe four or five of my own songs that I think depict particular moments in our development. Australian poets are featured – Dorothy Hewett. Kenneth Slessor.

“One song that I wrote with Paul Grabowsky from a large number that I’ve written with him, and, again, one with Cathie Travers, the Perth-based composer.

“And Peter Stannard, the musical theatre writer, he died just a few years ago at 86, this is his last song.”

The genesis for this world debut production came from Queensland Theatre.

“The reason for an Australian songbook has really come pretty much entirely from Lee Lewis, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre,” she said.

“When she was at Griffin a few years ago, we did…The (Other) Great American Songbook, I called it, which was a whole heap of American songs portraying through song a sort of alternative history of America, songs from the left, but including musicals and all that.

“And when I was doing that, Lee said to me, “Had you ever thought of doing an Australian songbook?” and I just said, “Well, no. I never did.” We didn’t get it done at Griffin. But then in the middle of the COVID lockdowns came this very, very welcome invitation from Lee saying, “Would you like to have a go at it?” and that’s when I started looking at all the possibilities.”

Archer will be accompanied by her long-time band of creatives, George Butrumulis (Zydeco Jump), Cameron Goodall (The Audreys) and Ennio Pozzebon (Keating: The Musical), the four artists sharing over a decade’s worth of music together.

“The focus is really on the songs themselves and very much on the lyrics of the songs,” she said.

“These three musicians, George, Cameron, and Enio; are all splendid musicians, and Cameron for instance, he’s played Hamlet…Enio Pozzebon had a starring role in Keating! The Musical, and we present one tiny song from that in the show. So musically it’s amazing.

“I have the best time with these guys, and I have to say, given that there is quite a bit of anti-misogyny feminist stuff in there … There’s one great song by Kate Miller-Heidke, a couple by me. I’m very proud to say that if there is any such thing as a feminist man, I’ve got three of them on stage with me.”

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