Paul Kelly

Quick Facts

  • Name: Paul Maurice Kelly
  • Born: Adelaide, South Australia, 13 January, 1955
  • Australian singer and songwriter
  • One of eight children
  • Chart stoppers include 'Dumb Things' and 'To Her Door'
  • Quote: 'Songwriting is mysterious to me. I don’t feel like I have got it nailed yet.'


Paul Kelly has been described as the poet laureate of Australian music. During a career spanning 30 years Kelly has written more than 40 songs. His lyrics reflect the everyday aspects of life, and often include references to the vastness of the Australian landscape and Australian culture. He is sometimes described as a chronicler of the times, seen as not only a musician but as a songwriter whose work falls into the tradition of Australian poetry.

Kelly’s musical career began on the streets of Hobart and moved to the pub scene in Melbourne where he quickly gathered a following for his raw lyrics and individual style. He formed the band Paul Kelly and the Dots which published two albums, Talk and Manila, before parting ways in 1982. Kelly moved to Sydney and put up the money for studio time to record the likes of 'White Train', 'Adelaide' and 'Little Decisions'. The album was a success and Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls went on to record the hit double album, Gossip, with guitarist Steve Connolly, bass player John Schofield, and keyboarder Peter Bull. This was followed by Under the Sun and a name change to Paul Kelly and the Messengers.

Much of Paul Kelly’s work also reflects his social conscience, as it comments on important social and historical events and their significance to Australian identity and life. Several of his songs highlight the plight of Australia’s Indigenous people including 'Maralinga (Rainy Land)', a song about atomic testing by the British in Australia’s outback and its effects on the Indigenous people of that area. On the album Comedy, written in 1991, Kelly co-wrote one track with Aboriginal songwriter, Kev Carmody. The song, 'From Little Things Big Things Grow', focused on the start of the Indigenous land rights movement in the Northern Territory by describing the Gurindji people’s struggle for their land. Kelly also co-wrote 'When I First Met Your Ma' and 'Rally round the Drum' with Aboriginal songwriter Archie Roach.

Paul Kelly and the Messengers disbanded in 1991 and Kelly collaborated with Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi before establishing a solo career. He’s joined many artists around the world and has toured Australia, Europe, the USA and Canada to the delight of audiences. Perhaps his greatest fear is becoming type-cast as a songwriter; this may explain his frequent changes in direction and collaborations with so many successful performers.



  • Kelly, Paul 2004, Don’t Start Me Talking: Lyrics 1984–2004, Allen & Unwin. 
  • Kelly, Paul 2010, How to Make Gravy, Penguin Books (Australia)

Notable Songs

  • From St Kilda to Kings Cross
  • Before Too Long
  • Leaps and Bounds/Bradman
  • Dumb Things
  • Pouring Petrol on a Burning Man
  • Hey Boys (with Mark Seymour)
  • When I First Met Your Ma
  • Last Train (with Christine Anu)
  • To Her Door