THE SCOTTISH roots of Australian rock legends AC/DC are well-recorded, lesser known, though, is their families’ reasons for emigrating to the other side of the world in the first place.
Original frontman, the late Bon Scott, grew up in Kirriemuir, Angus, while the Young brothers emerged from a rough and ready housing estate in Glasgow’s Cranhill.
Bon Scott’s family were the first to make the 9,000-mile trip and for them and the Youngs, their decision to move would have been partly a financial one, regular employment being scarce for their respective households.
“He (their father) was out of work for years,” explained one of the elder Young brothers. “It was a chance. There were job opportunities, so the next thing we were all on our way. We saw brochures and it looked phenomenal.”
But the Youngs had another impetus to escape to Oz: the so-called ‘big freeze’ of 1963. The heavy, persistent snowfall that winter prompted a chain of events that would change the course of rock history.
The big freeze
Blizzard-ridden 1963 brought one of the coldest winters on record, with snowfall in some parts measuring more than two-and-a-half metres deep.
The snow arrived on Christmas Eve 1962 and didn’t relent until the following spring.
Brought on by a combination of crystal clear skies and biting Arctic fronts, January saw temperatures plunge. It was so cold that lakes, rivers - and even coastal seas - froze as far south as Kent. Braemar in Aberdeenshire witnessed the mercury drop to a positively cryogenic minus 22.2C.
Cranhill in East Glasgow was also freezing, and for the Young family, fed up of being perennially broke with many mouths to feed, the relentless onslaught of wintery weather must have been the final straw.
Move to Oz
Television advertisements and brochures made Australia look like the promised land and when the snow thawed in June ‘63, fifteen members of the Young clan began packing their bags, taking advantage of the Australian Governments cut-price immigration scheme that offered adults the one-way tickets for just a tenner, while kids travelled for free. It became known as the Ten Pound Pom scheme.
In his book AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, Mick Wall wrote: “It was the winter of 1963, the worst on record, given its own rotten name, the Great Freeze, snow up to the top of the front door, ice causing all the pipes to burst. The idea of swapping such heart-stopping drudgery for a life on the beach, as the Youngs thought of Oz, suddenly seemed like a bloody good one.”
A good idea it may have been, but the Young family’s initial arrival in the Southern Hemisphere wasn’t the life-changing opportunity they might have hoped for.
Shacked up in temporary tin shelters in a Sydney suburb migrant hostel, they faced six straight weeks of rain. It took a while for the family to find their feet.
But find their feet they did, and within a matter of months one of the elder brothers, George, who would later produce AC/DC, had managed to secure a management deal with his band The Easybeats. All five members of the group were from immigrant families. Basing their sound, name and look on Merseybeat, they would go on to pen Australia’s first international rock and roll hit, Friday on My Mind.
Inspired by their older brother George, Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC in 1973. The name was taken from a voltage label stuck on the side of their sister’s sewing machine.
The band would go on to fill stadiums and rule airwaves worldwide, selling an incredible 200 million albums in the process.
The band never forgot their native land, taking to the stage in tartan and Scotland football jerseys and peppering many of their tracks with the shrill of the bagpipes.
And, in 2009, when AC/DC played Hampden, Angus Young took a detour to his childhood home at Cranhill, joking that he wanted to rename the district ‘Angusland’ and paint the band’s famous lightning bolt logo on the Cranhill water tower.
After more than four decades as an active band, AC/DC continue to periodically tour and make music.
Guitarist Angus Young is now the only original member. Malcolm Young hung up his axe in 2014 amid health concerns, dying last month at the age of 64. Older brother George died in October.
Australia enabled AC/DC to confidently spread their wings as a rock act in the late 1970s and carve out a lasting career. Had the Young brothers remained in Scotland, it’s likely they would’ve been caught up in the punk tsunami instead, or, perhaps, skipped a life playing music altogether.
Scotland’s ‘big freeze’, we salute you.