Union Songs

Loveless in Hobart Town

Article by Margaret Walters

The title might lead you to some interesting web sites if you Google it but fear not it's the name of a historical drama about the experiences of convict, George Loveless, in Tasmania - and it was one of the highlights of the Cygnet Folk Festival this year. (The festival at Cygnet is held annually in January in the lovely Huon Valley in the south east of Tasmania. This year it happened in coincide with the Illawarra Folk Festival in NSW, but that's not usually the case.)

Tasmanian Grassroots Union ChoirThe performance was by the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir who not only researched, composed, acted and sang but did so in costume a triumph of teamwork. This was the debut of the show and it is to be hoped that it has many more airings.

George Loveless was one of the six agricultural labourers who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. These six were transported to Australia in 1834 from Dorset in England for seven years. These men had had their wage, reduced again and again and tried to form a trade union to improve their lot: part of the ceremony of joining the union involved swearing an oath and this - with the collusion of local officials and landowners - was the technicality on which they were convicted. George Loveless was the only one to end up in Van Diemen's Land. There were numerous protests hack in England and the men were eventually, pardoned but it took some years before they were aware of the situation and their passages home arranged.

In the local production. "Loveless in Hobart Town", the story unfolds in a series of songs and extracts from primary sources including court documents and correspondence between Loveless and his wife, and between the bureaucrats in London and Hobart. Loveless is revealed as a calm, steadfast man, determined to stand by his principles and refusing to be a pawn in the political games between the Whitehall and Governor Arthur. Loveless worked at the Government Farm at New Town as a convict, and at Grass Tree Hill near Richmond after his ticket-of-leave was granted. A stone cottage occupied by Loveless is still in use as offices by the Tolpuddle Vineyard (Glen Ayr).

Eight of the ten songs were composed by members of the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir Peter Hicks, Geoff Francis, Simon Cocker, Maureen Lum and Matt Woolley, with musical direction by Annie Parsell and script by Simon Cocker. The songs are uniformly of high quality and the arrangements are varied and admirably executed. It's hard to pick a favourite, but "Betsy’s song" is certainly among them. The non-local songs were an English hymn used in the burgeoning trade union movement, "God is our Guide", put to a tune by Graham Moore, himself the author of many songs about the Tolpuddle Martyrs: and Ted Egan's memorial "Bunch of Damned Whores". The choir is led by Annie Parsell and benefits greatly from the support and musicianship of Peter Hicks.

tasmanian grassroots choirPeople who may be familiar with the two pieces of musical theatre "Tolpuddle Man" and "The Last of England" with songs by Graham Moore and Mick Ryan will be pleased to know that the Australian compositions do not duplicate but complement nicely the English telling of the story.

The TGUC has been invited to perform "Loveless in Hobart Town" at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset, England in July 2011. It's an annual event which celebrates trade unionism and labour politics. As well as a Radical History School and a street parade of Trade Union Banners from all over the UK, the festival features regular appearances by musicians with a social justice perspective such as Billy Bragg. Dick Gaughan. David Rovics and Graham Moore, the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir will also be performing with Billy Bragg on the final day of the Festival. For more information about the Tolpuddle Festival see http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/


Many thanks to Margaret Walters for permission to add this article to the Union Songs website.

It was originally published in February 2011 in 'The Cornstalk Gazette' the journal of the Folk Federation of NSW.

Order Loveless in Hobart Town CD for $20 from the Choir Manager Giulia Corradetti (using her email address)

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