House Music at Your House

Play along with us

For the past few months, all over the world, people have been participating in home activity in unprecedented numbers. Stuck indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have entertained ourselves, family and friends by making music, playing games and telling stories.

In many ways, this newfound focus on making and sharing music at home echoes life in 19th-century NSW. Imagine a world with no recordings, radio, television, phones or internet to pass the time! Just as we do now, people in 19th-century NSW enjoyed collecting and sharing their favourite songs. They bought sheet music from shops in town, spent hours copying out tunes by hand, or passed down songs from person to person in an oral or folk tradition. Some may have been able to afford a piano, or perhaps they accompanied themselves on a violin, whistle, accordion, guitar, flute or drum.

Playing with music across time

We invite you to join us in a new musical experiment, bringing the music of the 19th century into the 21st century. We’ve delved into the hundreds of popular songs that survive in the collection at Rouse Hill Estate in north-west Sydney to bring you the top 20 hits of the 1840s and 50s – songs played across NSW, Australia and overseas. We’ve also asked some brilliant musicians to help you explore these pieces of music from their homes and in our historic houses.

Every week we’ll post online the music score of a song enjoyed by the Rouse family and their friends, along with a video, a sound file or guitar chords. The words of these 19th-century songs may seem strange and quaint today, but many of the underlying sentiments are familiar, touching on unrequited love, emigration, a longing for home, separation from loved ones, and even the experience of impatiently waiting for the postie!

We would love YOU to update these songs for the 2020s and make your own cover version of each week’s song, turning music from 19th-century Rouse Hill House into music at YOUR house in the 21st century. Watch this page as our selection of songs grows.


Share your musical or creative response

We invite you to share your response with us, and we’ll share the best responses across our website and social media. We want to highlight the ways in which music making at home is for everyone, by everyone – just as it has always been. The more ‘homely’ and amateur your recordings are, the better! 

Make your version in any style or format you like – perform it straight or turn it into blues, country, rap, hip-hop, slam poetry, K-pop, Bollywood or any other style; rearrange it for different instruments, voices or electronics; sing it, play it, dance it, write about it, photograph it or paint it. 

Share on Facebook or Instagram

Upload your video, or photo, picture, or written response of your response to your own Facebook or Instagram and tag us with @sydlivmus #SLMhousemusic
By tagging Sydney Living Museums on social media you agree for your work to be possibly shared across SLM’s website, Facebook or Instagram accounts. 

Share via Youtube or Soundcloud

Upload your recording to your own Youtube or Soundcloud and share with us by completing the below form and provide links to the recording. 

Please note: if submission is by someone aged under 16  years, a parent or guardian must complete the below form.


Song selection

‘Gii, Gundhi (Hearts and Homes)’

Yuwaalaraay storyteller and musician Nardi Simpson shares her version of a 19th century parlour song.

‘Too Late! Too Late!’

Keeping it in the family - we could say that this comic song is a ‘cousin-by-marriage’ of one of our previous songs.

‘The Ballad Singer’

Romanticised themes of antiquated English traditions continued to feature in songs popular in Australia in the mid-nineteenth century.

‘The Postman’s Knock’

The introduction of colour television was life changing, and the arrival of coloured sheet music covers probably felt quite similar in the 19th century.

‘Willie We Have Missed You’

Australian domestic culture has been impacted by American popular music for longer than many people realise.

‘Hearts and Homes’

Little-known today, composer and music publisher John Blockley was well-represented in the drawing rooms of Sydney in the 19th century.

‘All Things Love Thee, So Do I’

There was often a strong connection between music publishing and retail and entrepreneurial composer-producers. 

‘London Bridge’

This copy of ‘London Bridge’ was published in around 1879 and is later than most of the music we have been exploring in the house music program.

'Australian Flowers'

Given that much of the music played in Australia in the 19th century had been imported, one might ask what constituted an ‘Australian’ piece of music?  

‘Castles in the Air’

The term ‘Castles in the Air’ appears in many works of poetry, long form literature and song, from the late 18th century to today.

‘Robin Red-Breast’

For many emigrants coming to New South Wales in the mid-19th century the notion of ‘home’ belonged to places far over the seas in the northern hemisphere.

‘I Love Thee Still’

Even the simplest, shortest tunes could be a florid affair in the 19th century when a performer put their mind to it.

‘Annie Laurie’

The tune to this ‘old’ ballad ‘Annie Laurie’ may not have been quite as old as the Rouse family thought.

‘Katty Darling’

This song reveals a cheeky disregard for copyright and how trying to identify the national identity of a tune can lead you down a slippery slope!

‘The Light of Other Days’

‘The Light of Other Days’ is from the opera ‘The Maid of Artois’, which premiered in London in 1836. Our version was found at Rouse Hill Estate in the Dowling Songbook.

‘The Letter’

Originally written for voice and piano, ‘The Letter’ is one of a dozen tunes from a series called the ‘Superstitions of Ireland’ originally published in London in the late 1830s.

‘Home! Sweet Home!’

It may come as a surprise that the expression ‘home, sweet home’ originates from a song title.

‘Sweet home’

This answer to Henry Bishop’s ‘Home! Sweet home!’ appears to have been a top seller in Sydney in the late 1850s. 

Share your version


Meet the musicians

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