The image of Australian Crawl as fun-loving, sun-worshipping, playboy musicians radiating a healthy aura and rebellious charm did much to instil a deep attraction and sense of loyalty into the band's many fans. That, and a series of finely crafted, accessible albums and singles, ensured that Australian Crawl became one of the most successful bands of the 1980s.
The members of Australian Crawl all hailed from the Mount Eliza area on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Australian Crawl came together in late 1978 after James Reyne and Simon Binks' first band Spiff Rouch broke up. Cheerful, gangling -guitarist Brad Robinson was the son of Justice James Robinson. Bill McDonough (ex-Loose Trousers) replaced David Reyne. The band's accessible sound bore a particular Melbourne resonance, with its fresh and appealing combination of wry social observation, bright guitar licks and vital energy welded to a sweaty backbeat. EMI Records put the Crawl in the studio with producer David Briggs from the Little River Band. The sessions yielded the debut single `Beautiful People'/`Man Crazy' (#22 in November 1979) and the album The Boys Light Up (April 1980).
The Crawl made one of the most memorable debuts on the ABC-TV pop show Countdown (performing `Beautiful People') when James Reyne appeared with both his arms encased in plaster. He had been hit by a car, an episode chronicled in the track `Indisposed' on the debut album. Reyne also became noted for his idiosyncratic, clipped vocal style which the lyrics to `Beautiful People' tended to accentuate. The Boys Light Up reached #4 on the national album charts and went on to become one of the most successful Australian debut albums of the 1980s. It remained on the charts for an unbroken 104 weeks, eventually selling over 280 000 copies (four times platinum). Two further singles were hits: the raunchy `The Boys Light Up'/`Boot Hill' (#22 in May 1980) and the reflective `Downhearted'/`Why I've Been' (#12 in July 1980).
Singer/guitarist Guy McDonough (Bill's younger brother) joined in October 1980, adding his songwriting and vocal flair to the band's established sound. The Peter Dawkins-produced Sirocco (named after Errol Flynn's yacht) reached #1 in July 1981 (also achieving four times platinum sales). `Things Don't Seem'/`Big Fish' (#11 in June 1981), `Errol'/`Easy On Your Own' (#18 in October) and `Oh No, Not You Again'/`Lakeside' (November) kept the band on the national chart.
Sons of Beaches (recorded in Hawaii with expatriate Australian producer Mike Chapman) boasted a rougher, rock'n'roll edge than its glossy pop rock predecessors. It reached #1, but of its three singles, `Shut Down'/`Creating Monsters' (June 1982), `Daughters of the Northern Coast'/`King Sap (and Princess Sag)' (August) and `Runaway Girls'/`Santa Claus is Back in Town' (November), only `Shut Down' reached the Top 40 (#17 in July). EMI issued the album in the USA.
Around 1982–83, James Reyne undertook extra-curricular activities. First he sang with The Party Boys, then starred with Rebecca Gilling and Wendy Hughes in the television miniseries Return to Eden, which was screened in September 1983. Reyne appeared in the role of playboy tennis professional Greg Marsden, and later declared he was not very good in the part, declining many acting offers since. His only other acting role to date was playing the part of Australian manager Roger Davies in the US telemovie Tina, based on the life of singer Tina Turner.
Bill McDonough left the Crawl in 1983. Ex-Angels drummer Buzz Bidstrup played on the Semantics EP which contained the sparse and chilling `Reckless (Don't Be So . . . )'. Semantics reached #1 on the national singles chart during October. John Watson (ex-Kevin Borich Express) came in as a permanent replacement for McDonough. The live mini-album Phalanx was something of a stop-gap measure between studio albums, but it reached #4 during December nevertheless. The Crawl's biggest overseas break came when English new romantics Duran Duran took the band as support on a UK tour.
In early 1984, prestigious US label Geffen signed the Crawl and issued Semantics (a compilation of tracks from past records) for the American market. The band was forced off the road when Guy McDonough was admitted to hospital. He died in June 1984 of viral pneumonia. Prior to his death, he had recorded demos with his brother Bill, Sean Higgins (synthesisers), Nigel Spencer (bass, synth), Mick Hauser (sax) and Michael Bright (lead guitar). Bill assembled the tapes and Wheatley Records issued Guy's album, My Place (April 1985), and singles `My Place'/`Things Don't Seem' and `What's in It for Me'/`Hook, Line and Sinker' in honour of his memory.
Australian Crawl re-grouped, adding Mark Greig (guitar; ex-Runners) for live dates in late 1984. The band recorded Between a Rock and a Hard Place with English producer Adam Kidron. As well as costing a staggering $400 000 to produce, the album was a mishmash of styles and a commercial disaster (it peaked at #12 in August but slipped out of the Top 40 two weeks later). The band had to tour for the next year to pay off the debt. The album produced the flop singles `Two Can Play'/`Two Can Play' (June 1985), `If This Is Love'/`You Told Me' (September), `Trouble Spot Rock'/`Newly Weds in the Morning' (November) and `Two Hearts'/`Across the Way' (January 1986). Harry Brus (ex-Kevin Borich Express) replaced long-standing bass player Paul Williams in May 1985. Nevertheless, the band had run its course and Australian Crawl broke up at the beginning of 1986. The band's final concert on 27 January 1986 produced the album The Final Wave which came out in October.
In seven years, Australian Crawl sold over a million records in Australia. James Reyne went on to pursue a successful solo career. Brad Robinson moved into television, first as a presenter with the Page One current affairs show, then as a presenter and co-producer of documentaries. In the 1990s he managed James and David Reyne, and worked as an agent for the Advantage Sports Management Group. He died on 13 October 1996 following a three-year battle with lymphoma, only weeks after Australian Crawl had been inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame.