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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Alistair Hulett (1951–2010)

by Bruce Elder

There is something admirable about those people of deep political conviction who, in their youth, rail against the unfairness of the world and maintain that rage for the rest of their lives.

The great Scottish-Australian folk singer Alistair Hulett was a gentle man with a wonderful sense of humour who never deviated from his deeply held belief in the essential decency of the working class and the exploitation of those workers by capitalist elites.

So it was appropriate after his death in Glasgow from an aggressive cancer at the age of only 58, that his wife, Fatima Uygun, would describe Hulett as a "singer, songwriter, international socialist, revolutionary, ecologist, community activist". He was also a man who had and deserved the admiration of his fans.

Alistair Hulett was born in Glasgow on October 15, 1951, and was to be named Michael, but his grandfather, James Robertson, a Freemason, objected to a name with Catholic connotations and insisted on Alistair.

Hulett's parents, Harry, an aircraft engineer, and Annie, settled in Renfrewshire, Scotland. When Alistair was 11, his uncle gave him a guitar. He taught himself to play from a handbook written by the great American activist-folkie Pete Seeger.

He was never interested in mainstream pop and by the age of 12, when he was starting high school at the John Nielson Institution in Paisley, he was already showing an interest in the African-American blues men.

When he was 14, Hulett's parents moved to Christchurch, New Zealand. For the teenager, this was like being sent to the end of the world, although by the time he was 16 he was making his first tentative steps into music.

Phil Garland, who ran the Folk Centre in Christchurch for many years, has said: ''I still remember Alistair's first appearance at the Folk Centre back in 1967 and the stir he caused. I have never before or since come across a 16-year-old singing Childe ballads and Ewan MacColl songs, let alone sing them so well. His was an immense talent.''

By the time he was 18, Hulett was ready to leave New Zealand. He planned to go to Europe via Australia but a romantic entanglement with Jane McDonald, which led to marriage, led him to settle in Sydney for a year before returning to New Zealand, where he formed a band named Croodin Cant, which included his sister, Alison.

He eventually left New Zealand again and spent some time in India where he met the Dalai Lama and became a lifelong admirer of Buddhism. It was around this time that his marriage fell apart.

In 1979, Hulett returned to Australia, where he started to play around the Sydney pub scene with an American bluegrass mandolin player, Hunter Owens. Slowly their unlikely blend of rockabilly and bluegrass with a punk edge morphed into the hugely important folk-punk band Roaring Jack. Their first album, Street Celtability, was released in 1986. It reached the top of the local indie charts.

The band's popularity continued to grow, supporting overseas folk acts including Billy Bragg and the Pogues. Their second album The Cat Among the Pigeons (1988) was nominated for an ARIA. They established a passionate fan base on the folk and festival circuits.

By the end of the 1980s, having recorded a third album, Through the Smoke of Innocence, which was also nominated for an ARIA, Roaring Jack was disbanded and Hulett began the solo career which, with occasional forays into short-lived side projects, he would continue until his death.

He recorded his first solo album, Dance of the Underclass, in 1991. From this point he moved effortlessly between the folk punk style of Roaring Jack — he formed a fiery outfit called the Hooligans just to record and perform some songs he had left over from the Roaring Jack days — and the more overtly folkie sound that he explored with the great English fiddle player Dave Swarbrick.

Hulett and Swarbrick met in Australia in the mid-1990s when Swarbrick was living in the Blue Mountains. The connection was established simply because Swarbrick told a mutual friend he would like to work with the songwriter who wrote The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away. The partnership endured. They toured together and released three albums.

Returning permanently to Scotland, Hulett continued to write and perform. He toured Australia in December 2008 and January last year.

Alistair Hulett is survived by Fatima, his sister, Alison, and his parents.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bruce Elder, 'Hulett, Alistair (1951–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 October, 1951
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


28 January, 2010 (aged 58)
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Cause of Death

cancer (liver)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism