The Wongawilli Band was originally formed in 1987 to promote, preserve and perform Australia’s rich tradition of music, song and dance. Since that time they have continued to revive old songs and tunes and to create new ones in the style. It has basically had two ensembles and is now entering a third lineup. Past members have included Neil McCann, John Harpley, Chloe Roweth and Jason Roweth The new musicians joining Graeme, Tania, Reg, Samuel and David are Johnny Spillane, Tim Kendall and Miffy Ryan. Jane Brownlee is still part of the group while she is overseas and joins the band when touring.
In recent years the band has performed outside Australia on a number of occasions thanks to support from the Australian government. These have been in China (3 times), Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, New Zealand and the UK. The band has become well known throughout Australia with performances at all major folk festivals in all Australian states including events at Woodford, Port Fairy, Victor Harbour and the National Folk Festival in Canberra on 18 occasions.
The band has aimed at trying to be different from the average bush band by performing unfamiliar yet entertaining music. This formula has received national recognition with 16 awards at the Australian Bush Music Festival and Bush Band Championships.
In particular the band’s singer, Graeme Murray, received the 1991 Australian Bush Music Awards Best Male Vocalist ahead of John Williamson and Alan Scott. He repeated the award in 1993 and 1994.
The band’s accordionist, David De Santi, received the 1992 Australian Bush Music Heritage Award, a Commonwealth Government Centenary Medal in 2003 for services to the folk music industry in Australia, was the editor of Australia’s national folk music magazine Trad&Now and Illawarra Folk Festival Director since 1996
Jane Brownlee and David De Santi were awarded the 2004 National Library of Australia Folk Festival Fellowship which involved further researching of Australia’s song and music tradition.
The group includes young Samuel De Santi on fiddle and also a wizard on the Irish bodhran since the age of 5!
The band takes its name from the old coal mining village of Wongawilli which is at the foot of the Illawarra escarpment, south-west of Wollongong, NSW. The village has a community hall at which the band members still play for a weekly bush dance.