Thursday, November 25, 2004

Long Black Veil

When I was a kid one of the most played records at our place was The Cobbers Sing Songs of Australian Women, a double album with a white cover decorated with sepia tones and sketches from McCubbin. I remember the band members had impressive facial hair, Irish accents when they sang and Eureka flag vests. There might have been a lagerphone involved.

I remember a completely tragic song from the point of view of a regretful husband standing at the grave of his wife and baby. His gold fever drove them further and further into the bush and made him oblivious to the peril they were in. One about Daisy Bates too and one by Ned Kelly's sister. The rest is getting foggy but I bet if I heard them again I would know all the words.

My two favourite songs were The Bush Girl adapted from Henry Lawson and the allegedly true story of tragic Eliza Emily Donnithorne, on whom Charles Dickens apparently based the character of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Her grave at St Stephen's Anligcan Church was recently vandalised by drunk yobs and today stonemason students from Miller TAFE will be repairing it. The gothic community too has been mobilised into action:

Eliza Donnithorne's Grave Vandalised
Tragically, the grave of Eliza Donnithorne at St. Stephens Cemetery, Newtown has been desecrated by vandals. Eliza's sad life story allegedly formed the basis for the character of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations'.
Her monument is therefore not only a priceless gothic icon, but perhaps a site of great importance to the literary community worldwide. In the words of gothic artist/zinemaker Nicky McGann, "Just saw Eliza's monument. It lies there on the grass, broken as her heart was broken. Mayhaps he returned to trample upon her grave."
Donations can be made at Gallery Serpentine (123 Enmore Road Enmore NSW 2042) or at "Ascension Nightclub" on Saturday 20th November.
Thank you for your assistance.

It is the ultimate tragic romantic story:

Most sources agree that in 1856, at the approximate age of 30, Eliza prepared to wed. As Eliza was one of Sydney's social elite, her wedding was to be a gala and celebrated occasion. The banquet was laid out, the guests assembled, the coaches prepared to escort her the short distance to St Stephen's church and a crowd had gathered to be entertained by the spectacle. But the groom never appeared ...

The invited guests and the throng of onlookers slowly dissipate and the bride-to-be is left in the house alone, except for two faithful servants and the prepared wedding feast. The story goes that she insisted the banquet and the house remain in readiness for the arrival of her beloved. The door to the grand house remained ajar, held in place by a loose chain from where people could see in and Eliza could see out awaiting her fiancee's arrival. But he never appears, the wedding table is never to be cleared and she remained in her wedding dress until her death in 1886.

The bloke who wrote the linked article says that based on his research this is probably an urban myth, Sydneysiders noted the similarity between the two stories and over time the two merged. He also doubts there was a groom or a planned wedding at all, merely an eccentric old spinster. Oh well.

The song mentions the elegant houses and upper class social swirl of King St in Newtown. I often think about that while strolling in the area, hard to reconcile now its the carefully cultivated grunge capital of Sydney. (OK, so I don't think about it that often. Usually I too busy am trying to calculate if I can afford to buy anything at So! or Egg Records.)

Information on The Cobbers is virtually nonexistent online although I know they were quite big in the world of bush bands. I have no idea either where that LP is now.

Also, cobbers were little chocolate covered chewy lollies when I was growing up. Back when Paddle Pops could be had for 20c. Do they still exist?

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