IMG_3402 Concert finale small

 

So how did the Unsung Heroes of Australian History show end up on Flinders Isand?

It all started with Bruce’s song The Man and the Woman and the Edison Photograph, about his great grandfather Horace Watson recording Fanny Cochrane Smith, who claimed to be the last Tasmanian. She was born a Wybalenna on Flinders Island where Tasmania’s Aboriginal population were settled in the 1830s.

Cut to Ronnie Summers, a talented and respected elder and musician who was born on Cape Barren Island (next to Flinders. He is Fanny Cochrane Smith’s great great great grandson. Bruce met Ronnie through his song, and we had the thrill of performing with him at the National Folk Festival in 2010. Ronnie and his wife Dyan have recently moved back to Flinders.

Cut to Jenny Drake, who saw UHAH at the Cygnet Folk Festival in 2012 and said we should take it to Flinders Island, where she was about to move to. Long story short – it happened.

From the moment we arrived we felt like part of the community. The delightful Sally Walker from the Regional Arts Council met us at the airport and lent us her Mitsubishi 4WD ute. Such a pity the clutch went on the Mitsubishi – not that we blame Wendy for that!

We had hardly arrived at the school house where we were staying before Ronnie and Dyan Summers had us over to her place for afternoon tea, the first of several visits. We had the honour of meeting elders Aunty Vicky, Aunty Colleen and Aunty B.  Dyan fed us so well, including the local delicacy of muttonbird.

We met a lot of the community through our music activities. We had such fun working with the local acapella group, led by the irrepressible Kathleen. They learned choral arrangements specially prepared by Wendy for two of the show’s songs, and what a brilliant job they did. Another joyous musical activity we led was a ukulele workshop. People had so much fun that there was talk of getting a uke group going.

And then there was Scottish Country Dancing – a Thursday night tradition on the island for 30 years, led by the redoubtable doyenne of dance Lady Mary MacTier. Lady Mary is 99 years old! She didn’t dance, but she spent a good deal of the night standing up ordering us about.

Wendy and Bruce did a school version of the Unsung Heroes show, plus a very fun time doing some silly songs with the littlies. The school community has a lot of very dedicated staff and helpers, including John the Juggler who helps the kids make djembes out of papier maché and wallaby skin from roadkill.

Roadkill? Well, there are about 800 people on the island and 17 million wallabies! Consequently, when you drive on the roads you only see another car every several kilometers. But it’s hard to go 100 meters without seeing an ex-wallaby, and occasionally ex-wombat. So few cars, so much roadkill! Driving at night is extremely hazardous and to be avoided if possible.

It was wonderful to have the luxury of time to do a little bit of touring. The island is full of places with great names such as: Fotheringate Beach, Palana, Tin Kettle Island, Badger Island, Big Green Island, Little Green Island, Killiecrankie, Trousers Point (don’t ask) and Lady Barron.

Wybalenna is a very sad place. Tasmania’s remaining Aboriginal people were settled there by George Augustus Robinson in 1834 to be ‘civilised and christianised’. They were forbidden to practise their old ways and were homesick for their lost country. In a very few years over 100 died there of respiratory disease, poor food and despair. All that stands there now is the reconstructed chapel and the cemetery. It is now Aboriginal land, and some in the community want to make it a place of memory. Others just want to forget.

But there are many happy places to visit. There are so many beautiful beaches and bays. You’re almost guaranteed to be the only one on the beach. The wind may be pounding in at you or it may be calm and sunny, but it’s always beautiful. There are granite mountains above and rocks and builders with orange lichen. There are wild, uninhabited islands out to sea, there are seabirds, and there may be a lighthouse.

Killiecrankie beach is a gem, with Mt Killiecrankie dominating, cray pots stacked on the foreshore, and fishing boats moored in the bay. Beautiful light, beautiful colours. We visited Judy Jacques, the wonderful jazz singer, and Sandro Sandro, jewler and trumpeter extraordinaire at their bush cottage near Killiecrankie. They fed us like royalty, with much of the food home grown.

Lady Barron is another stunningly beautiful spot, looking out over the Franklin Sound towards Cape Barren Island and a number of smaller islands. We were privileged to visit Aunty B (Bernice Condie), shell necklace maker, who lives there. She explained to us the incredibly long and slow process of collecting and preparing the shells, and of individually drilling and stringing the necklaces, which have thousands of maireener shells. Necklace-making is a Palawa tradition from before European settlement.

But of course, we were there to play music, and what fun we had! At the main concert at the Whitemark community hall we had about 10% of the island’s population! It was such a joy to share the stage with the acapella group, and of course Ronnie Summers. How moving for us to sing ‘our’ song actually on Flinders Island. We have been told that there is a bit of racism on the island, and were thrilled to be told that that performance opened a few eyes. We certainly know it brought Ronnie and his story to the attention of a lot of people who didn’t know it. If it helps build connections, we would be thrilled.  Anyway, on top of all that, we received a standing ovation. It was a memorable evening.

The other major musical event was an afternoon at the Lady Barron Tavern, with its to-die-for view. It was a real community affair, put together as a fundraiser for David William’s amazing Launceston-Hobart run to raise funds for cancer research. We raised quite a bit through donations and an auction, very skillfully conducted by Neil. But the highlight was the wonderful mix-and match musical items which had Ronnie singing some old Cape Barren songs backed by a scratch band, Judy Jacaues singing for the first time in ages due to a nagging sickness she has had, Sandro belting it out on trumpet, the UHAH mob doing various bits and pieces joined by these various people and the acapella group. This was community music as it should be, and the afternoon flew by.

Just as the week flew by.IMG_3474 Judy Sandro Ronnie Bruce at Lady Barron Tavern small IMG_3489 Sandro, Chris, Moira, Wendy Judy at Lady Barron Tavern smallIMG_3489.JPG20130915 55 Chris Neil Moy Jenny Annabel Gail Wendy at Lady Barron Tavern small

Advertisements