Lord Howe Island is located in the Pacific Ocean 570 km east of Australia. Found uninhabited when first discovered by the British in 1788, the small island enjoyed a population of about 350 residents in 2000. In this short monograph Philip Hayward provides an historical overview of the musical life of the island (chapters 1 and 2) before considering a selection of island songs in greater detail (chapter 3).
Published by the Lord Howe Island Arts Council (LHIAC), this project began with a recording of Island music (April and June 2001) for a CD that would raise funds for the LHIAC (Songs of Lord Howe Island, no details of distribution given). Further collaboration between the LHIAC and the Department of Contemporary Music Studies at Macquarie University (DCMS) led to the research and production of the current monograph, with additional research and interviews undertaken in June 2002 (by Rebecca Coyle) and October 2002 (by Philip Hayward). The monograph, therefore, is the result of a collaborative effort undertaken during a concentrated period of intense interviews and research into a variety of historical sources, rather than the product of a prolonged period of field research. The result is an interesting glimpse of an island community engaged in an ongoing conversation with the numerous musical styles and genres it has encountered over the years.
Chapter 1, “The First Century”, establishes a pattern of maritime life and musical exchange following the first known period of settlement by eight New Zealanders who lived on the island from 1834 to 1841. During this early period of the 1840s to 1860s, the Island’s contact with the outside world depended on visiting whaling and trading ships. Allen Isaac Mosely is identified as a former whaler who settled on the Island in 1843 and became its first known resident musician, helping to entertain ship’s crews when they called to port. Although details of repertoire are lost, Hayward refers to more recent sources to suggest access to both British-American and African-American songs. The author then turns to an account of the Island’s history, first published in 1938 by one of its early school teachers, for some idea of the range of repertoire which may have been known in the following years which were marked by the arrival of the first piano in 1880. Hayward traces the origins of a number of songs to establish links with a wider repertoire, including folk songs, popular songs originating from the U.S. minstrel tradition and English/British patriotic songs. In so doing, he frames Island repertoire and life within a broader international network of relationships involving individuals, events, and specific vessels.
By the early twentieth century, with a population of around seventy, the Island’s musical life revolved around public dances, formally organized schooling, a renewed contact with shipping (and the international music scene), and the beginning of organized tourism. Given the small size and population of the Island, it is not surprising that its musical life revolved around a number of key individuals and venues. By the end of the chapter the musical life of the Island has grown to include lively dances for as many as seventy-five tourists and a 1935 film featuring the first original song to be associated with the Island; so too has Hayward’s seamless narrative spawned a somewhat confusing array of names and personalities to dot the musical horizon. Although no doubt unproblematic to Island readers, the visitor would benefit from some form of genealogy and map to assist with the navigation.
Chapter 2, “Post-War Music”, explores a period of increasingly diversified musical life on the Island. This is largely the result of a reinvigorated tourist industry following a 1947 link with Australia that cut travelling time to the mainland from two to three days to 2½ hours. This placed the Island within the orbit of what Hayward calls a “particular style of relaxed holidaymaking” (41). The easier travel to the mainland, combined with radio and recordings, facilitated the Island’s access to mainstream popular and pan-Pacific music worlds. Local response to the possibilities reveals the versatility of the Island’s musicians, who were able to provide entertainment in a variety of standard forms and specific genres, including jazz standards, British pop music and Hawaiian/Polynesian-style music from an internationally popular repertoire. Among several local music groups that emerged, the Kool-Kats stands out as a dance band from 1961-63 notable for its high proportion of female performers, and a “local Beatles” of 1963-65 is identified as an interesting early precursor of the tribute band.
The Island’s story continues to unfold around a bevy of notable individuals and places, some introduced earlier (note: a reference to “Moon River” on page 48 should probably read “Old Man River”, as referred to on page 33). Though rich in detail, the narrative could have been strengthened with some pauses to consider key individuals and venues in greater detail. No doubt it is a tribute to the richness of the story that the reader is led to wonder further about the Oceanview as an important tourist resort, or about Celia Skeggs as one of a number of women who were seminal in the musical life of the Island.
In Chapter 3, “Local Songs”, the author turns to a detailed discussion of fifteen songs, many of whose lyrics provide a “folkloric record of Island experiences, events and individuals” (62). Specific versions of each song are presented as “snapshots,” despite being otherwise variously altered and modified as part of a vital local repertoire. Two dominant genres of localised song are described: the Island tribute and the satirical social representation. Although Hayward writes that the discussion refers to the recordings of Lord Howe Island songs made by the author, there are no specific references for the assiduous reader. Each song is meticulously discussed, with references to historical context, provenance, texts, variants and recording to locate it as specifically as possible both on the Island and within a larger international setting. A careful consideration of the lyrics helps to identify a song with the specifics of the Island, in this way providing a valuable insight into the (trans)position of music in(to) this local landscape.
Philip Hayward’s conclusion, entitled “Connected Traditions”, briefly considers the preceding survey within a broader framework of meaning, situating Island song “as a celebration of landscape and place” (113) and stressing the ongoing process of the Island’s tradition of cultural connection and localisation informed by a “tourist sensibility” since the 1930s (114). Published one year after Hayward’s lengthier study of the Whitsunday Islands, Hearing the Call stands in contrast to the earlier book as a much shorter study with little reference to contemporary scholarship. This, however, is not to detract from its strengths. Animated with details documenting a lively history of the musical life on the Island, the book speaks most intimately to a local readership already to some extent familiar with the Island. For the rest of us, Hayward provides a model of meticulous research into the provenance and transformation of songs, as well as a small glimpse into a fascinating web of musical relationships and activities of an isolated sea community. Ultimately, the strength of this book lies on the extent to which the narrative is rooted in the local.
- Hayward, Philip. 2001. Tide Lines: Music, Tourism and Cultural Transition in the Whitsunday Islands (and adjacent coast). Southern Cross University: Music Archive for the Pacific Press.