On 9 June, the Newcastle Peoples Chorus (NPC) and the Brisbane Combined Unions Choir (BCUC) celebrated 30 years singing for worker’s rights, peace, solidarity and social justice, at Brisbane’s Latvian Hall. The choirs performed to a packed hall of 120 people, following a Welcome to Country delivered by Aboriginal elder, Uncle Bob Anderson.
BCUC and NPC are members of a network of union and solidarity choirs which try to meet every couple of years to share songs, perform for each other and keep labour history alive through song.
The Brisbane choir was formed in 1988 through the efforts of some trade union organisers, union members and folk music enthusiasts who approached the Qld Council of Unions, formerly the Trades and Labour Council, to apply for a Commonwealth Art in Working Life grant to employ an arts officer. Thus was born the longest-surviving Art in Working Life project, the BCUC. These days there are very few such grants available to community choirs so both the Brisbane and Newcastle choirs are mainly self-funding.
For the 30th anniversary concert, the Brisbane choir chose Australian songs, some written by choir members as part of projects such as the oral history and song writing project, Workers on the Water, some by local musician comrades for Fair Play Cabaret, a satirical musical cabaret about the infamous Work Choices legislation.
The Newcastle choir was formed in 1988 by some delegates from the Newcastle Trades Hall Council (NTHC) and friends with folk club connections. They were keen to promote and celebrate the lives and struggles of working people through song, initially singing in unison songs like Morton Bay, Internationale, and Red Flag. At the start the NPC did not have funding for a conductor but, with the assistance of the NTHC Arts Officer, they gained a grant for a conductor and began building the various parts, seeking new arrangements, and expanding their repertoire with new songs such as Makers of Iron and Steel and Weevils in the Flour, two of the songs in their anniversary repertoire.
The audience responded with applause and cheering of every song and demanded encores which the choirs had fortunately anticipated and prepared for. The audience joined us to sing Bernard Carney’s (WA Union Voices) Stand Together and the traditional Solidarity, without which no left celebration would be complete!