Goanna first rose to national prominence in 1982 with the release of the hit single `Solid Rock' and the confident album Spirit of Place. The band toured constantly and issued a second album in 1985, Oceania. The group had actually come together in Geelong, Victoria, six years prior to the release of `Solid Rock'. Although the line-up was constantly shifting, the group essentially evolved around ex-folkie Shane Howard.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Howard formed The Goanna Band in late 1977. An important member, Rose Bygrave (keyboards, vocals), joined in 1979, after which the line-up became Howard, Bygrave, Warwick Harwood (lead guitar, vocals), Ian Morrison (vocals, harmonica), Carl Smith (bass) and Gary Crothall (drums, ex-Redhouse Roll Band). That line-up of The Goanna Band recorded the independent Broderick Smith-produced four-track 12-inch EP `Livin' on the Razor's Edge' (issued on the EMI Custom Press label).
In 1981, Goanna signed to WEA and scored the support slot to James Taylor's Australian tour. Goanna issued the anthemic `Solid Rock'/`Four Weeks Gone' in October 1982. `Solid Rock' was a damning indictment of the European invasion of Australia. WEA was reluctant to issue it as the first single, and indeed the band felt it had little commercial appeal. Howard insisted on its release to make a statement, the public caught on and it reached #3 on the national charts. Much later Goanna contributed `Solid Rock' to the Various Artists album Building Bridges on CBS (1989).
In December, the album Spirit of Place (produced by Trevor Lucas) entered the Melbourne charts at #1 first week in, as well as reaching #3 on the national charts. The second single, `Razor's Edge'/`On the Platform', reached #30 in April 1983. The Goanna line-up on Spirit of Place was Howard, Bygrave, Harwood, Marcia Howard (backing vocals), Graham Davidge (lead guitar; ex-Little River Band, Stephen Foster Band), Mick `The Reverend' O'Connor (Hammond organ; ex-Broderick Smith's Big Combo), Peter `Brolga' Coughlan (bass) and Robert Ross (drums), with Billy Inda contributing on didgeridoo. In the meantime, Harwood had left the band, and Suzie Dickinson joined as backing vocalist. In May 1983, Goanna issued the single `Let the Franklin Flow' under the pseudonym of Gordon Franklin and the Wilderness Ensemble. The single was in support of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society's campaign against the proposed damming of Tasmania's Franklin River. The single reached #12 on the national charts. By late 1983, journeyman guitarists Ross Hannaford and Russell Smith (ex-Billy T) had replaced Davidge and O'Connor, while Geoff Bridgeford (ex-Groove, Bee Gees) took over from Robert Ross. Bart Willoughby (ex-No Fixed Address) also joined on percussion and didgeridoo.
Goanna's third single was `That Day (is Coming Sooner)'/`Comes the Rain' (October 1983). The album Oceania (April 1985) produced the singles `Common Ground'/`Oceania' (December 1984), `Dangerous Dancing'/`Shadow of Your Love' (May 1985) and `Song for Africa'/`Zanzibar' (September). The line-up for that album was Shane Howard, Marcia Howard, Bygrave, Brolga, Hannaford, Bridgeford, Brian Holloway (guitar; ex-Somebody's Image, Esperanto) and ex-Little Feat member Billy Payne (who also produced the album) on keyboards. Mal Logan (keyboards; ex-Healing Force, Renée Geyer Band) appeared on one track and toured with the band upon the album's release.
Oceania managed a relatively disappointing #20 on the national chart during May. The final two Goanna touring line-ups were a): Shane, Marcia, Bygrave, Simon Curphy (lead guitar), Spiro Phillipas (bass) and Derek Pellici (drums; ex-Little River Band); and b): Shane, Marcia, Bygrave, Curphy, Joe Imbrol (bass), Dave Stewart (drums; ex-Daniel) and Coloured Stone member Bart Willoughby who was a guest on didgeridoo and percussion.
In September 1985, while Goanna was still on tour promoting Oceania, Shane Howard was reported missing. The band had to cancel $20000 worth of bookings. It was believed that Howard became disillusioned with the marathon touring schedules the band undertook in order to pay off debts caused by high overheads, to say nothing of the band's unstable line-up. It transpired that Howard had travelled to South Australia with Willoughby. His departure naturally signalled the end of Goanna. He went on to pursue a solo career. Rose Bygrave issued a solo single, `Maybe Midnight'/ `Protection' (June 1989). She commenced work on a solo album but nothing eventuated.
In 1998, Shane Howard, Rose Bygrave and Marcia Howard reformed Goanna in order to record a new album, Spirit Returns (issued in November), and to tour. Guest musicians on the album included Kerryn Tolhurst (guitar; ex-Dingoes), Bill Jacobi (bass) and Greg Sheahan (drums). The songs on the album ranged from the bluesy ‘What Else is a Life’ (issued as the first single) and the country-inflected ‘This Old Town, to the politicised ‘Song for East Timor’. With Tolhurst’s guitar playing a prominent role in proceedings, the album also included a cover of the Tolhurst-penned, Dingoes classic ‘Your Song’. As part of the Spirit Returns tour, Goanna performed at the Melbourne Festival in October.
In the meantime, Rose Bygrave completed her debut, solo album, White Bird (February 2000). With the album she recorded in 1989 having never seen the light of day, White Bird found the singer/songwriter producing a fine, contemporary set of simple, Celtic-infused folk, pop and reggae songs. Guest players on the album included Shane Howard, Kerry Tolhurst, Chris Bekker, Dave Steel, Archie Cuthbertson and Michael Santamaria.