||Year End 2003|
Interview: Robbo’s Rules
Unions: Fightback 2003
Bad Boss: Madame Lash Whips Tony
Politics: United Front
Economics: Looking Back - Looking Forward
International: Net Benefits
History: The New Guard
Poetry: What is the PM singing this Christmas?
Review: Culture That Was
The Locker Room
Backs to the Wall
Looking The Otherway At Christmas
Folk You Mate
When there's a struggle for social justice, when human rights are being eroded or unions are being attacked, the first ones to pen, paper and protest are the folkwriters. Some of our most powerful and lasting poetry, story and song has come from the hearts and experiences of working people joined in struggle.
The link between the trade union movement and songs of protest is one that has fascinated Mark Gregory since he was ten, when he first heard his parents' recordings of Paul Robson singing Joe Hill and Solidarity Forever, classics of the Industrial Workers of the World, the "Wobblies".
"The more I listened to the songs, the more interested in their origins I became. It grew into a life- long interest," says Mark. "Recently I was given the opportunity to do some intensive research into the field and I jumped at it."
Mark's research has grown into a performance presentation of selected songs backed up with projected graphics sourced from ScreenSound, the Waterside Workers Federation, the Australian Miners Union and old recordings, magazines and songbooks. He describes it as a comprehensive overview of trade union songs over the last fifty years.
Mark quotes the bush songs and the songs of the great shearers' strike, including the powerful Ballad of 1891 (Helen Palmer, Doreen Bridges) that became the central song of Dick Diamond's stage classic Reedy River, and the miners' songs and history that were celebrated on stage in "Come All Ye Bold Miners!" by Mona Brand and the New Theatre team.
New Theatre, "the little theatre of the left", was the theatre that staged such plays and was the focal point for many of the people involved in Australia's first folklore societies.
"The WWF proved a rich source of material, " says Mark, "as did the Miners Union and the building unions, particularly during the days of the Green Bans, when building workers refused to destroy "green" areas in the name of development."
Mark goes on to say that some songs, like those that came out of the Green Bans, are related to a specific struggle in a specific industry.
"The battle waged by Patrick Stevedoring with the MUA in 1998 is a classic example; songs are really heartening when you're on a picket line," he says. " I was able to collect 30 songs from that struggle alone, and even source the people who had written them.
"Some of these songs tend to fade into obscurity when that incident's over but others are taken up and passed along and some have been preserved by being translated into theatre."
Mark quotes the bush songs and the songs of the shearer's strike, including the powerful Ballad of 1891 (Helen Palmer, Doreen Bridges) that became the central song of Dick Diamond's stage classic Reedy River, and the miner's songs and history that were immortalised for stage by Mona Brand.
The theatre that staged such plays was the New Theatre, the "little theatre of the left", which attracted many of the people involved in Australia's first folklore societies.
"Those first collectors of our lore were motivated by a real concern for protecting Australian songs and poems against increasing encroachment from other cultures, " says Mark. "They, like the trade unions, had a strong sense of presenting a working class view of the world . Most of the literature and songs up 'til then had been written from the viewpoint of the ruling classes; Lawson was one of the first to shift our literature into the vernacular and to speak out for the national identity embodied in our workers, the ones who actually make the wheels go around."
Mark also refers to the songs that are timeless and "freestanding", songs such as the Wobblies' classic Solidarity Forever and Bump me Into Parliament, and such genres as anti- war songs, songs in support of such issues as Aboriginal rights and equal pay that have been taken up by the trade union movement.
That Mark has done his bit in helping preserve and repopularise some of these songs is evident. A selection of songs from the wharves was recently released on the CD With These Arms , which will be launched at the 2004 National Folk Festival. The Festival has a long and proud association with the trade union movement and presents an annual Trade Union Concert under the auspices of the CFMEU. Mark's stage presentation will be a featured event at the 2004 Festival, and will include such respected singers as John Dengate, Peter Hicks, Margaret Walters and Danny Spooner. It promises to be a truly uplifting event.
The National Folk Festival is held in Canberra every Easter; 8-12 April 2004
ph 0262 49 7755 e-mail [email protected]
web site; www.folkfestival.asn.au
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