Early Tasmania part6


TIME FOR KINGS AND HEROES: THE FOLK REVIVAL IN TASMANIA 1964-1972

 

Malcolm J. Turnbull

 

PART 6

 

A word about Brumida itself. A loose collective of aspiring writers, playwrights, artists, poets and musicians, the organisation was the brainchild of a gifted young would-be entrepreneur David Paulin, recently arrived with his family from England, and settled in the cultural wilderness of Ulverstone. While a final year high school student in 1966, he and two other enthusiasts, Michael Raine and Bruce Fraser, founded Brumida in an attempt “to encourage almost anything creative among young people”. (The word consists of the first letters of the boys’ names). Fraser dropped out of the proceedings early on, but the group attracted the interest of other young locals like poet Philip Clifford, Neil Gardner and – in time – John Lavery, Suzette Salter, Malcolm Turnbull, Jacquie Raine, Anneliese Smith, Louise Dunham, sisters Nelly and Teny Jager, and Paulin’s younger brother Ian, most of them distinctly out-of-place within the politically conservative, fundamentalist Christian, sports and RSL-oriented coastal environment. (Even today, the Devonport-Ulverstone-Burnie triangle presents as a complacent holdover from the 1950s, its major social problems notwithstanding). 

    An irregular roneoed journal Peter Finke provided the opportunity for members (and sympathisers) to publish their own poems, essays or short stories and, in September 1968, the group organised a season of original one-act plays at the Devonport Adult Education theatrette, collectively titled Brumida on Stage, and sponsored by the Adult Education Board and the Ulverstone and Devonport Repertory Societies. The production earned praise in the local press, journalist Ellie Close paying tribute to the participants’ versatility.

    David Paulin subsequently found work in TV production with TNT 9 in Launceston and Brumida’s activities were suspended. Impressed with the enthusiasm engendered by the June 1970 festival in Burnie, and recognising that a number of former Brumida members and associates were already participating in whatever live folksinging activity was around, he reactivated the organisation and launched a series of folk events. As noted above, the first was a modest afternoon and evening “festival” at the Eastside. Acknowledging that inevitable comparisons were being drawn between the Burnie and Devonport functions, Greg Pullen apprised Advocate readers:


It seemed to have a different atmosphere. The place was small and crowded, the coffee shop’s interior decoration was well suited (including a couple of Moratorium placards in the corner) and the audience, although not very responsive, was appreciative … The entertainment was first class.

    Profits were directed to the Aboriginal Advancement Lreague, a spokesman for which, Harry Penrose, addressed the audience during the proceedings. The undoubted highlights of the show(s) were Hetty Van Der Aa’s a cappella airing of the Baez standard ‘Once I Knew a Pretty Girl’ and a rendition by John Lavery of his moving ‘War Song’; its refrain “I don’t want to go to Vietnam” inevitably struck a chord with the youthful audience, many of its members just pre-conscription age. Compere Paulin tackled The Rolling Stones’ ‘As Tears Go By’, Teny Jager (from Ulverstone) sang ‘Deportee’ and ‘The Golden Vanity’. Guy Carey led the audience in ‘Hava Nagila’. Malcolm Turnbull performed the Scottish murder ballad ‘Edward’, Suzette Salter delivered Dylan’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ and Graeme Turner’s ‘Susie’s Song’, and a visiting mainlander, calling himself “Billy Jay”, revelled in a couple of “rough-as-guts” blues brackets. Alex Tkaczuk lifted the mood a little with a gentle reading of the whimsical ‘Finnegan’s Wake’.

    With its first such venture successfully under Brumida’s belt, Paulin set his sights on larger events – two open air concerts in Burnie and a two-day “happening” in Launceston. This was the Woodstock era, of course. Julie Paulin recalls that considerable charm had to be exerted on local authorities before Brumida was permitted to stage the first festival, at the sound-shell in Burnie Park in early December 1970. She remembers (laughingly) that coastal policemen were recalled from leave in case the “hippy event” got out of hand. Alex (Tkaczuk) Myers remembers:

>People were starting to dress a little bit like hippies by this stage. We all had clothes made out of psychedelic patterned cloth, hideous garments when you think about it, tent dresses were all the rage. I had a little headband made of plaited leather with straps all sort of hanging down the side of my face and people wore big floppy hats and ponchos. This was normal accepted gear. I mean, folkies always looked a bit different … a bit more outrageous than the average run-of-the-mill people … We went to Burnie in an old Humber. When we pulled into a service station, people said “Have you got any drugs?” … We stood there and laughed. Because I don’t think at this stage, well some people on the fringe may have been smoking a little bit, but I don’t think any of us took drugs or anything like that.

    A surreptitious drug-search at the concerts yielded nothing. The police clearly preferred to overlook (or failed to recognise) the fact that more than one nervous artist was imbibing Stone’s Green ginger wine (and lesser aperitifs) before going on stage. An estimated 700 people attended during the course of the afternoon show, most of them lingering on for the evening half. Aside from a visit by a carload of local hooligans who threw rocks on the roof of the sound-shell and heckled the performers towards the end of the evening program (earning an ill-advised but heartily applauded dressing-down by Joe & Hetty, then on stage), the event was trouble-free.

    A similar event, on the same site, in February the next year, drew an estimated 2000 people over the course of afternoon and evening. Advertised as offering “true folk, folk blues, rock and country & western”, the February festival featured a by-now standard roster of performers (most of them having performed at the previous Brumida events): Salter, Tkaczuk, Joe & Hetty, Marita Eastley (from Ulverstone), Turnbull, Carey, Joe Van Tienen, Lavery, Brooks, Raine, Gardner (who debuted an irreverent ‘Talking Blues’ and material from his forthcoming first LP Anthem for Wednesday), John Fulton-Stevens, the Chatwin Trio, and 15-year old Ian Paulin (making his first appearance as a singer-guitarist).

    The two well-attended Burnie events bracketed another “festival” a few days before Christmas 1970, one which was (in my opinion) the most exhilarating, atmospheric and ambitious of the series – notwithstanding that it was disappointingly patronised. More than one participant cites friendships/relationships initiated or forged over that weekend as having changed their lives. Ian Paulin, for instance, describes the event as the catalyst for his own career – “an epiphany … my first experience of the coming together of an extraordinary array of human beings who played music”. The Launceston Folk Festival extended, in effect, over two days, and consisted of an afternoon and evening concert in the stunningly beautiful grounds above Cataract Gorge, a Sunday afternoon hootenanny in the grounds of TNT 9 television station, and a live TV program Brumida Folk, aired as part of the Northern Lights fundraising telethon. The concerts were distinguished by almost perfect weather, the highly vocal presence of the site’s resident peacocks, and an intense camaraderie between performers and audience (many of who gathered for an impromptu picnic, between shows, in the back yard of Alex Tkaczuk’s house in nearby West Launceston, or stayed overnight at a couple of open-houses). Participants in the TV program, which was hosted by broadcaster Philip French, were Joe & Hetty, Tkaczuk, Turnbull, Salter, Lavery (who debuted his own beautiful composition ‘Memories’), Carey and Robert Van Der Elst, a visitor from Victoria (who delivered an immaculate version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’). The singers came together for a finale, led by Salter, of Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’.

    Subsequently David Paulin (via Brumida) mounted concerts and/or folk nights in Launceston, Ulverstone, Deloraine, Savage River and Devonport, offering (in his words) “the cream of Tasmania’s folk artists” (i.e. Brumida’s regular performing roster, in various combinations). Paulin also managed to establish a weekly folk club, initially as a business deal with Ray Hanley, proprietor of the Tavern, an Ulverstone restaurant. Ever the optimist, he reportedly had visions of the venue doing for local folksinging what “the Cavern did for pop in Liverpool”. The enterprise started well, with a New Years Eve come-all-ye and a couple of other well-patronised and vibrant evenings, but it collapsed when Hanley abruptly closed the cafe. Paulin transferred activities to the Family Rest Centre in the centre of town and, for about two months, the Brumida Folk-Inn offered listeners a series of intimate Sunday soirees featuring (Ian) Paulin, Raine, Turnbull, Marijke Rhee (Mike Raine’s fiancee and sometime singing partner), Salter, Tkaczuk, guitarist John Mamonski (from Devonport), Lavery, Gardner, and anyone else who dropped by. The Folk-Inn barely made ends meet and – in the long run, and despite the excellence and seductiveness of some of the performances – was a self-indulgent venue. The artists effectively played for themselves and a handful of friends. (An entry in Alex Tkaczuk’s diary reads: “14 March. Went to Ulverstone tonight, Folk Inn, and we had a good time singing. But there was no audience so we had a jam”). Where else, even then, would an audience have been likely to listen spellbound to such esoteric innovations as John Lavery’s musical setting of Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’ or his Tolkien-influenced ‘Wizard of Winter’?

    David Paulin’s enthusiasm for acoustic music, and for the seeming potential of a number of his peers, significantly increased the performing options available to Tasmanian folkies although some of his more ambitious schemes failed to take off. At one point he proposed the formation of a pop-folk quintet (along the lines of The Seekers), built around Tkaczuk’s voice and looks, and drawing on original songs by other Brumideans. (The plan was scuttled at a preliminary meeting, mainly because the mooted participants had very definite ideas about how they wanted their music presented). Similarly, a planned documentary on the then virtually-unvisited former penal settlement Maria Island (to include original songs by Neil Gardner, performed by Tkaczuk, Turnbull, Lavery and Raine) failed to materialise. Disappointing attendances at the later Brumida concerts (including the Third Tasmanian Folk Festival, staged by Paulin at Burnie in June 1971) dampened his zeal somewhat. Citing mixed reactions to the folk-offerings, and recognising that the tiny local audiences may have been exposed to too much folkmusic in too short a time, he branched out again into theatre. Collaborating with Ted Myers, John Lavery and others, he staged The Kill, a topical analysis of the student killings at Kent State University, as part of the Tasmanian Drama Festival. The play’s title was drawn from a song by Neil Gardner, recently released on his first album – after Patsy Biscoe’s debut, one of the earliest recordings by a Tasmanian folk artist. Gardner recorded two LPs  – Anthem for Wednesday (1971) and Said the Blackbird (1972) – and an EP for Nick Armstrong’s Spectangle company. Material on the albums included comic gems like ‘Does Your Daughter Still Ramble at Night?’, ‘Rosie Lee’ and ‘One-legged Soldier’, together with the haunting ‘Weaver’s Song’, ‘1968’ and the bittersweet ‘Marianne’. The EP, The Colony Sings, four songs about the convict experience, commissioned by the Tasmanian Tourist Board, was released on Van Diemen Records in 1972.         

   David Paulin moved to Sydney to further his television career early in 1972. Other Brumida musicians moved interstate (or were about to) or to Hobart around the same time, and Brumida’s contribution to Tasmanian folk music ended. Its last gasp was a farewell concert at the Devonport Town Hall in March 1972. The concert was a surprise financial success – if not the artistic high point of the series – due to the presence in town of an American ship (and the distinct lack of anything much else to do in Devonport that weekend). Compered by Ted Myers, the line-up was predictable: Mike & Marijke Raine, Alex (Tkaczuk) Myers, Joe & Hetty (all recently married), Mal Brooks & Greta Lambert, Malcolm Turnbull, Neil Gardner, Ian Paulin, John Lavery, Joe Van Tienen and Billy Jay. Sadly, the farewell concert is one of the (very few) early Tasmanian events of which a good quality tape exists. Listened to today, thirty years later, the tape in question shows up the strengths and weaknesses of individual performances, yet remains a touching tribute to the youthful earnestness of the participants. In tandem with Neil Gardner’s early Spectangle recordings, it serves, also, as a fitting coda to this survey of the early Tasmanian contribution to the folk revival. 

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