CD Review by Margaret Fagan
This fascinating CD grew out of a desire by the Tasmanian West Coast community to commemorate the centenary of the fatal fire that broke out in the North Lyell copper mine in 1912.
Forty two miners died before the fire was extinguished.
Some of the songs recall this tragic event and its heroes and victims.
At around the same time as the fire a hydro-power station, very new technology, was being built at Lake Margaret, to supply the mine generators.
Some of the songs deal with this related West Coast milestone.
Velvet Sledgehammer are a Tasmanian-based trio, Kerrie Maguire, Jesse McCormack and Matthew Dames (although Kerrie now lives in Victoria).
All three sing on the album, Jesse plays bouzouki and Matthew plays acoustic guitar.
It has been masterfully mixed and mastered by Luke Plumb.
Velvet Sledgehammer are known for their fine harmonies and there is no shortage of them on this album.
In addition, there are plenty of catchy and very singable choruses.
Many of the songs have been penned by Kerrie, and she has also written the melodies for the majority of those.
It’s a really fine achievement.
A word about the title King Billy pine, once plentiful on the west coast, is now an endangered species.
Its precious timber was prized for boat building because of its lightness and water resistance, and, as illustrated in some of the songs, it was used for pipelines and for props in the mine.
The striking opening track, The Mount Lyell Disaster, is a call to all hands for the amazing rescue operation which went on for days.
This is followed by Where Honour is Due, the moving personal story of Ivy Costain who organised food and provisions to be brought to the mine head.
Windows is a very stirring exposé of the class inequalities, which beset enterprises like the Mount Lyell mine, the old story of a wealthy manager versus struggling workers whose lives were constantly endangered by poor working conditions and inadequate safety.
One of my favourite tracks is Giuseppe’s Lament.
Penned and led by Kerrie it is a moving account of a fictional character who represents the many Maltese stonemasons who went to work at Lake Margaret.
There are thirteen tracks in all, and the album closes with a hymn to Lake Margaret sung accappella to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his ninth symphony, a fitting finish to a fascinating history lesson, beautifully written, played and sung.
The show has been performed around Tasmania on a number of occasions, so let’s hope that we can see it in some of the other states in the future.
I must confess, I have a particular interest in this CD as my name comes from Lake Margaret.
My grandmother was born there, as her father was the electrical engineer at the new power station.
Prior to that he had worked at the North Lyell mine.
My grandmother and her brothers carried food in a billy can to their father for three days as he worked with others at the shaft head in the rescue operation.