Mulga Bill’s Mouth Organ

Our harmonica scout in Okriftel Germany, Mark Hand has done it again – he’s gone and discovered another Aussie harp held at the Museum in Trossingen Germany. With the aide of the museum’s curator Martin Haffner we have a few more photos – one that displays the maker’s mark, another of the top of the box and one which identifies the year it was produced. Prior to the arrival of these photos I searched the archives for any mention of this rare, unknown harmonica.

There was only the one, but that’s all we needed. There in The Western Australian dated 29th June 1927 is an advertisement for Mulga Harp Mouth Organs at Billy Edwards Music Co. Ltd. It all matched up – the harp was produced for Billy Edwards.

Okay you say, who is Billy Edwards and why is the mouth organ named The Mulga Harp? Damn good questions. Identical propositions I asked myself before delving into the records.

Firstly, William ‘Billy’ Edwards was born in Brighton, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria in 1889 and he passed this mortal coil in 1972. His potential as a pianist was discovered by virtuoso Herr Benno Scherek at the ripe old age of six. From there Billy was groomed to continue his study in Leipzig, Germany, but sadly this didn’t eventuate when his Dad died when Billy was only fifteen. His future now headed towards a career in commercial enterprises. Billy commenced working with Allan & Co a music publishing company in Melbourne and he would compose many tunes that the firm would later sell. In 1910 he peregrinated to Western Australia with the Branscombe’s Dandies Co. Not too long after the outbreak of war in Europe he enlisted in the AIF’s 28th Battalion. Returning in 1919 in good health he ventured overseas again to India and the Far East with Sydney James‘ Pierrot Pie, where he tickled the ivories and conducted the orchestra. As the new decade commenced he worked for Allans in Sydney before heading off to the west this time to settle permanently. He formed a musical group named The Specialty Four, who performed regular gigs and recorded John Sargeant’s, Hey Watchman What Of The Night.

At one point of time Billy would be an employee of Perth’s Musgrove’s Lyric House, who by the way sold their own brand of mouth organ the Monarch. Billy teamed up with fellow Musgrove’s worker James McCully and establish Billy Edwards Musical Company at 182 Murray Street, Perth. The store opened its doors in September 1926 to much fanfare. Their prize items included the American Cable -Nelson player, the German Ulrick piano and their pièce de résistance the locally made EDMAC gramophone named after the lads. The companies early successes were quick diminished with the onset of the depression and they were placed into liquidation late 1931. The last I knew of Billy was as a Sales Manager for Sydney Atkinson Motor Ltd.

Now why the Mulga Harp? Let us begin with the indigenous shield, shaped from the Mulga (Acacia aneura) tree which is referred to as a mulga. That would be a mighty fine reason. A habitat that consists of woodland dominated by the Mulga tree is referred to as the Mulga. Possibly. The Mulga tree is a close relation to our national floral emblem the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) and Seydel did trademark the name Golden Wattle in 1911, but no such harp has appeared on the horizon. We also had the Native Waratah mouth organ at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yeah maybe, however I like the idea it originates from Banjo Patterson’s poem of 1896, entitled Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, which ties in with Billy Edwards moniker and the well known phrase, Mulga Bill.

“Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze. He turned away the good old horse that served him many days.”

Was it Mulga Bill from Brighton who caught the mouth harp craze, turning away from his good old piano that served him many days?

Here’s the pics. The flip side of The Mulga Harp displaying M Hohner trademark, the top of the box and its flip, with writing – when translated reads “Produced May 1927”.

All photographs of The Mulga Harp (Junior) courtesy of Martin Haffner and Deutsches Harmonikamuseum. Thanks Martin.

Ch EssDawg 

PS: Here’s our Acacia pycnantha flowering amongst the gum trees in July.

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