The Shiny Bum Singers

Work Songs of the Public Service

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The Shiny Bum Singers perform the traditional work songs of the public service in traditional working dress. Here we are at the National Folk Festival in Canberra before a packed house of 600, most of whom joined in the choruses.

The Shiny Bum Singers can be contacted at .

We have published five songbooks.

The Tiny Shiny Bum Songbook, A5, 20pp. ISBN 1 876668 00 8. Price: $5.00 (Australian dollars)
It's Been a Long Year, A5, 40pp. ISBN 1 876668 02 4. Price: $7.00 (Australian dollars)
They'll Go Ape at Our Procedures, A5, 36pp, ISBN 1 876668 03 2. Price: $7.00 (Australian Dollars)
Have You Been Told Lately?, A5, 28pp, ISBN 1 876668 04 0. Price: $5.00 (Australian Dollars)
Am I Not Busy Enough?, A5, 36pp, ISBN 1 876668 07 5. Price: $7.00 (Australian Dollars)

Shiny Bum Singers Package - All five books for $25

We have also published a selection of Christmas carols drawn from the above books:

Silent Office - Christmas Carols, A5, 16pp, .ISBN 1 876668 10 5. Price: $5.00 (Australian Dollars)

To Buy the Songbooks

If you want to order on-line, please go to . This a secure site where you can pay by credit card. Prices include postage within Australia. For overseas postage, please add $5.00 to the total order price.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Group

Who are the Shiny Bum Singers?

Most of us are public servants (or were), but we also have outsourced representatives from universities and the private sector who bring specialist skills (e.g. an ability to sing). There are currently 16 of us, including an accompanist. We also have 9 songwriters and a built-in publisher.

Where does our name come from?

Shiny Bum is a nickname for people who work in offices, used by people who don’t. It refers to backsides polished from too much sitting on seats (and these days too much squirming?).

Why isn’t there a photo which shows all of the Shiny Bums?

1. The glare from polished posteriors creates a mirage into which group members vanish without trace;
2. with turn-over, members AWOL, etc, we are seldom all there at the same time; or
3. one of us was holding the camera.

The Songs

What do we sing?

The songs are parodies about the public service, based on folk and other well-known songs. We perform them with actions in traditional working dress, and project the chorus words for the audience to sing along. We sing mostly a cappella, some songs with keyboard or accordion.

Who writes our songs?

We do, with a few from other songwriters. Ten of us (Chris, Frankie, Jane, David W., Jim, Shane, David M., Kerry, Maria and Therese) have written songs. We circulate early drafts, then the whole group workshops a song at rehearsal, suggesting lots of changes. Some songs are adopted instantly and others are canned, some creep into the repertoire later, some hang around but never make it. The songs in our books have all been performed in public by us, or extensively rehearsed with that intent.

Where do we get our ideas from?

The public service. We couldn’t think of a better source of inspiration. Lunch also helps. Some songs are written for special occasions, and not usually published.

The History

How did we start?

The idea arose from three Canberra public servants, Chris, Pat and former “Bum” Julie Barnes, who attended Danny Spooner’s traditional singing workshop at the National Folk Festival in 1998, and decided that work songs of Canberra’s local industry should be represented. In the best public service tradition, a task force was set up to locate (or create) the traditional songs of the service — Chris with Jane, Frankie and David W., who had written performance poetry and prose but not many songs. Public service revues provided some songs but most were too “in-house”, and we found other songs circulating on email. But we wrote almost all our material, new words to old songs, in the best tradition of folk music. Chris, Pat and Julie recorded a demo tape, and to our horror our tongue-in-cheek application for the 1999 National Folk Festival got up, leaving us two months to write the rest of the songs and form the group, which did not yet exist. Of the first ten members, few had sung in public or in a group.

First Performance

The one scheduled performance at the 1999 National Folk Festival, at an ungodly hour in a small, out of the way venue was intended (hoped?) to be our only performance ever. After the obligatory disastrous dress rehearsal, our performance target was an audience no bigger than the group, but we practiced shouts of “Encore” just for fun. And just as well, because the venue was packed out with hundreds turned away, and the sing-along choruses were massive. A second performance was hurriedly arranged and also packed out. The rest, as they say, is history. The National Film and Sound Archive (now ScreenSound Australia) requested our tape of the performance, which included huge choruses with many of Australia’s strongest folk voices in the audience. These songs are in our first book, The Tiny Shiny Bum Songbook.

First Year

Our instant but entirely unexpected cult status led to our adoption by a local news columnist as an icon of the public service, publication of the (first) Tiny Shiny Bum Songbook, several radio spots on ABC and community radio, and gigs every three or four weeks. We performed amongst others for government departments, farewell dinners, a womens’ forum, and a Christmas debate. We also wrote a flood of new songs, which has not abated. Members left, joined, rejoined. Altogether we have hardly had time to draw breath.

Another Year

We performed again at the National Folk Festival in Canberra, this time in a big venue (capacity 600) to packed houses. We performed at Major’s Creek folk festival (near Braidwood NSW). We entertained numerous public service events from happy hours to conference dinners. We joined a massed public service choir (terrifying) that sang one of our songs in four parts at an Eisteddfod. We got on radio, and even TV, and then supported them by singing to 10,000 at the Friends of the ABC Rally in Canberra, where we even sang to John Howard (aka Bob Jelly). However, our crowning glory was heading The Loaded Dog folk club’s Christmas bill in Annandale, Sydney.

Since Then

Many more gigs. Many more songs. A few changes in personnel.

Performance Evaluation

As with all Public Service Instrumentalities, the Shiny Bum Singers are required to undergo periodic performance evaluation based on rational, quantifiable and reproducible criteria. In the interests of accountability, sustainability, transparency, credibility and freedom from information, a suitably edited version of the Shiny Bums latest evaluation follows.


The appropriateness of plundering our musical heritage to pillory the Public Service is not in question. The review established that there is an ongoing need for the Shiny Bum Parody Program, to address continuing bureaucratic bigotry, bastardry and bullshit. The Shiny Bum Singers score highly against all performance indicators for selection of targets, including squirming, nervous titters and howls of joy.


The effectiveness of the Shiny Bums can be measured through public awareness (the one person asked had heard of them), media coverage (including the Canberra Times, a national TV appearance on the ABC’s Radio Pictures, Artsound and 2XX), missionary activity in distant climes (gigs at the Majors Creek and Jamberoo folk festivals and a return visit to the Loaded Dog folk club in Sydney), and the insidious influence on other singing groups (at the 2002 APS combined choirs concert, RhAPSody, a number of other groups also featured parodies).


The Shiny Bums are experiencing the usual Public Service dilemma of having to do more with less, particularly in the lower registers, but helped by the emergence of a number of new writers, have achieved a continuing stream of topical, relevant and entertaining songs. A suitably high song per bracket density, with a minimalist approach to four part harmony and unnecessary ornamentation, achieves succinct delivery of the Bums’ message.

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