Union Songs

Loveless in Hobart Town goes to Tolpuddle

Article by Simon Cocker

In 2011 the Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir was specially invited to perform at Tolpuddle.

Tasmanian Grassroots Union ChoirWhat a remarkable weekend the Trade Union Congress put on for the Tolpuddle Martyrs Folk Festival July 15-17 this year. A celebration of unionism and radical thought showcased through a radical history school, radical speeches and poetry, radical music concerts, a superb union march and all in the village of Tolpuddle against the back drop of George Loveless and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

In a bizarre twist one choir member, Maureen Lum, was denied entry to the UK on the grounds that she should have obtained an entertainers visa before coming. However after many phone calls assistance from Senator Singh and Kevin Rudd’s office and a swathe of publicity (Maureen was dubbed the singing granny by the English press) including stories on the BBC and ITV, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and a motion in the British Parliament she was allowed to return.

The martyrs were six agricultural labourers who dared to form a union to organise peaceful resistance to ongoing wage cuts that left the unable to feed their families when they had no right to own land and no prospect of ever being able to do so. The local land owners reacted swiftly and harshly and with the connivance of the Home Office the men were arrested on a charge of swearing an illegal oath, convicted in a kangaroo court and sentenced to seven years transportation. Their leader George Loveless was sent to Van Diemen's Land and it is that decision that created the link for the Grassroots Union Choir of Tasmania.

English folk singer song writer Graham Moore visited Tasmania in 2009 and the choir supported him in presenting the definitive Tolpuddle Martyrs Folk Opera. It was terrific but it left the choir thinking there was a gap to fill as Loveless's time in Hobart got scant attention.

They set about researching his time in Hobart and found copious material which was honed down to the Folk Opera Loveless in Hobart town. This includes eight original songs written by choir members plus two others including Ted Egan's Bunch of Damned Whores and a script welded into a one hour presentation. To the Choir's delight they were invited to Tolpuddle to present the folk opera for this years festival.

In a marvellous few days the Grassroots provided speakers for the radical history school and a thirty minute concert to close it, went on guided tour of the village and the Dorchester courts and gaol, sang at a grave side ceremony for Martyr James Hammet, participated in and sang for the banner rally with thousands of marchers, brass bands and union banners and enjoyed the music of the weekend perhaps the best of the locals being Grace Petrie singing her songs of angry youth.

The Saturday night performance of the folk opera was unforgettable as the choir received a standing ovation and demands for an encore and if that wasn't enough they all got to join Billy Bragg to sing Power in a Union as the closing song of the festival the next day. Australia does not have an event of this sort but after watching thousands of people flock into the tiny village for a great weekend one wonders why not.


Many thanks to Simon Cocker who wrote this article for the Union Songs website.

For more information about the Tolpuddle Festival see http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/

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

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