Echoes of the past accompanied by music resonated through Forbes Cemetery on Sunday.More than 50 people were delighted by the Musical Mystery Mausoleum Meander event of the Forbes Heritage week as Rob and Olya Willis lead the group to six gravesides of people connected with the collec- tions of The National Library of Australia. They had either been recorded for the oral history and folklore section or have manu- scripts or images in the collection.
“Today is part history lesson and part folk parade,” said Rob. “There are many important and relevant people in Australian music, and we have some of the most important buried here in Forbes.
“Back in the late 1800s many musicians couldn’t read music. It was like they learned the tunes by osmosis. Music then was like a game of Chinese whispers, so it was hard to capture,” said Rob.
Ebb Wren was “a musician and singer who could also spin a yarn about his life as a bushman and steam loco driver”. He played the piano and loved repairing and tuning them. Luckily Ebb had an amazing memory for the words of songs that he learnt from older performers so today they are preserved for future generations.
Rob and Olya performed one of Ben Hall’s ballads, which according to noted folklor- ist and bushranging authority, Professor Graham Seal, is among the best outlaw ballads in Australia. Olya shared a poem about Kate Foster (Kelly) that sent chills down everyone’s spines about the ‘Cold, cold water,’ written by Lady Cutty of Canowindra.
“Kate Foster (Kelly) is buried only 25m from Ben Hall in the Forbes Cemetery. Where else in Australia would you find two of the best-known bushranging dynasties so close?” mused Rob.
Harry Schaefer’s grave had been re-vamped for the day by his family. “Harry was the ultimate musician who had the ability to play both by ear and by sheet mu- sic. He was instrumental in ensuring that tunes from his era were preserved as he would go home and write them down.” Rob and Olya played the Schaefers waltz, and then broke into a polka which got everyone’s toes tapping.
Dave Mathias may have been legally blind but “he was the master of the ditty and the Dad and Dave yarn,” said Rob. In addition, he was “a champion accordion and mouth organ player and fixer of everything”. Interestingly his song, ‘He played his ukulele as the ship went down,’ was banned after the Titanic sank.
Paddy Godden was in his hundredth year when he passed on. “Paddy could pull people’s legs no end,” laughed Rob. “Paddy also went back to the era of many of the old forgotten dances and had the tunes for mazurkas, polkas and the quadrilles. These would all have been lost but for Paddy.”
All Rob’s stories were enthralling and brought to life when he and Olya sang and played the concertina and piano accordion. “We sometimes don’t realise the history we have here in our town of Forbes,” said Rob.
By Dianne Collie