by Jackie Marshall

My grandparents are buried here, in Tewantin. I remember the day we lowered Pam into the ground, it had been raining for days. I took a step back as they lowered the casket into the canopied hole dug fresh that morning, and found that I had landed the heel of my boot in the middle of a gigantic sojourning cemetary worm.

Pam and Hal had retired from a life of sheep cattle and wheat in Western NSW to the sun and the enervating salty seas of Noosa. Hal passed ten or fifteen years earlier than Pam; I don’t remember much – prostate cancer, and hushed stories of Hal fighting off the nurses in his latter bedridden days tortured with morphiaed memories of WW2 in Papua Guinea, the Japs. Japan was where my CD player came from. It didn’t connect.

Performing at Pomona Majestic Theatre
Performing at Pomona Majestic Theatre

We played the Majestic in Pomona a little over a week ago, with The Soldiers Wife. Again, I was drawn out on a memory – this time Pam. She’d taken me to that indeed majestic place of red velvet curtains and wooden floor boards in my late teens to watch the silent movie The Son Of The Sheik, accompanied by live theatre organ and flickering subtitles. I didn’t think of Egypt, of Hal in Tobruk. I didn’t feel the heat of the dessert dunes. I thought Rudolph Valentino was hot.

At the Standdown park with the amazing military band
At the Standdown park with the amazing military band

You can’t beat yourself up for youthful ignorance, I think now. Think of that ignorance as a protection in that moment. Too young. On Saturday, after the Pomona show, we launched ourselves into the Partners Of Veterans Association two-yearly social bash at Standdown Park, north of Gympie. We swan about in costume and hug Anne, Pam, the true wives we’ve come to know and admire. Bertie and I jump up onstage with the Australian Army Band (Brisbane) for a song and a dance. And we sing our songs, songs inspired by our audience, and the air is still and everyone is silent. And afterwards, a few gentle conversations, more hugs, the gratitude of the women, that they be heard, and us, swamped with gratitude for having found a way to make our songwriting gifts valuable to the community.

by Melinda Wells

What is it that makes telling your story to a stranger so powerful? How can six women roll into a regional town and extract tales and narrative about sensitive, emotional issues from the local residents and walk away with superbly written songs? Songs revealing the true life of the families of the thousands of war veterans who served their country in the countless battles that have scarred our nation’s history. Songs that will travel the state and be retold to the strangers who sit in drafty halls, drawn in by curiosity and intrigue, longing to hear the tales that will be lost with the passage of time.

As a woman, as a song-writer and as a passionate community contributor, I was filled with excitement and insecurity as I waited on the steps of my home to be picked up in the minivan and transported to Roma, the heart of the Maranoa region. Deb, Emma, Roz, Jackie, Kristy and me: girls on a mission to change the world one song at a time. Destination Big Rig Caravan Park was the place where we would hang out, sleep and bond over the sharing of original songs and philosophies, joined by the lone male, Hayden, who was about to document our project, our process, our journey through the songs of war.

Us women performing songs with the lovely folk at Pinaroo Retirement Village
Us women performing songs with the lovely folk at Pinaroo Retirement Village

Filled with a sense of purpose and responsibility, we headed to our first workshop at St John’s school, where more than 20 students gathered eagerly to meet with us, curious to see just what a song-writing workshop might actually be. It was encouraging and inspiring to find the students had researched two members of the school community who had been affected by a soldier’s service within their family. Mature enquiring allowed our team to have two pages of information with which to dissect and reassemble into a song, led by the students, guided by the loving hands of our song-writers… then a song was born!

The following day, after feeling so inspired and connected by the experience of working with fresh, young minds on a subject that is often ignored, we trotted off to Pinnaroo, the local Roma nursing home to experience the opposite spectrum of participants. After sharing pre-written songs, we engaged in a spirited sing along and get to know you chat, where all the facilitators worked the room in search of friendly conversation, connection and a story or two that could be shared… All of us
were touched and sometimes saddened by these gentle loving souls, a sprinkling of anecdotes came gently floating from their memories, out of their mouths and to our ears and our hearts. Lyrics and chords ensued, the women taking the precious memories of these amazing elders and moulding them into songs.

We were fortunate enough to return to the school for a second session, where a story told during our visit to Pinaroo had made its mark on our team and became the focal point of yet another song.

Performing with the kids of St John’s Catholic School at Bungil Cultural Centre

 

Me at Kristy Apps backstage

It’s almost indescribable how it felt to then take these precious songs and perform them for a welcoming crowd; most rewarding when the youngsters jump up and share their own song alongside us. I feel deep within me that a healing had taken place in Roma during our stay, a cathartic, energising experience that reached out and enveloped both the facilitators and participants. I penned a few lines from the stories that wafted into my psyche during the Pinnaroo visit…

Ghost Town by Melinda Wells (Roma 2016)
It’s a ghost town, we live in fear, Dust settles as they disappear
Down the long, long road, see the silhouette, of a hundred soldiers we will not forget
Come home baby, come home. Come home baby, come home.
Life moves at a slower pace, wake in the night and I see your face
Days into months and I play the game, waiting for a letter that has your name
Come home baby, come home. Come home baby, come home.
Please don’t let there be a knock on the door, to tell me I won’t see you anymore
The silence lingers like a frosty night, one woman’s pain will be another’s delight
Come home baby, come home. Come home baby, come home.
I see your shadow stretch across the stones, I see your uniform hang from your bones
My heart breaks for the anguish I see, but I thank the Lord that you came home to me.
You’re home, baby you’re home. You’re home, baby you’re home.

by Deb Suckling

After a few months break from touring and writing and a really busy 2015, we were extremely lucky to receive some funding from the Regional Arts Fund and the Australia Council to get back to what we love doing – spending time with families and writing their stories.

view from the plane
The Great Barrier Reef, our view from the plane, please help save it.

 

First stop on this year’s adventures was Cairns. It’s always exhilarating to get back on the road. There are also feelings of trepidation in meeting women and families and will we be able to meet their expectations of us. It’s extremely difficult to put into words sometimes the connections and meetings we have and the first time meeting with a woman or her family. Firstly – we have to gain enormous trust  – to be able to put that person completely at ease in sharing their story and ensuring that they feel comfortable speaking with us. I mean would you share your life story with a bunch of complete strangers who can be quite complex at times and who are about to put your life story into a song?

Performing at the Centre of Contemporary Arts, Cairns
Performing at the Centre of Contemporary Arts, Cairns

It is a big ask of anyone and we have the utmost respect for the women and families who share so openly with us. It is a privilege and we aim to protect these stories and do them as much justice in sharing as we can.

Someone recently said we are social workers with guitars – which essentially is what we are.

So back to Cairns. We only have two days to write songs locally and then perform a show – which of course we want to include the local stories as that’s such an important part of doing regional touring.It’s not a lot of time to work through a big story and turn it into a song that we and the person contributing their story feel comfortable with.

Sally ( not her real name) shared with us an enormous story. Probably one of the saddest ones we have heard to date – and there was two generations of PTSD that she was trying to process and come to terms with. For the sake of herself and her children – she needs to heal and she dearly hoped this process would assist with that.

It came as a burst – she had contained so much for so many years and hadn’t shared it with many people ever – she had some personal lyrics that she had written about her brother and it was really important for her to have these turned into a song – and rather quickly. Jackie did an incredible job with My Brother Bill and we look forward to recording this for Sally and her family. I ended up writing her personal story in about 5 minutes flat – it came to me so suddenly and quickly that I was really surprised. It came down to one piece of her story as a child – where she was given a telescope and I used that as a metaphor for her dreaming of escaping to the moon – which she often did as a child.

It is highly confronting playing a song to someone about their life an hour after you have met them – for both them and for us. Of course there are tears – many of them and we cry together – this time is was particularly hard. I had no idea if she would like the song I had written or if it would be too confronting. the lyrics are below to give you an idea:

TELESCOPE
Written by Deb Suckling

Years of drunken ANZAC days
Mother Falling to the floor
Her first love killed on the Black Cat Trail
My Daddy walked in through the door

won’t you fly me
fly me to the moon
won’t you fly me
fly me to the moon

All the lies locked in the cupboard
they’ve been kept inside for years
The time has come to set them free
To live with no more fear

won’t you fly me
fly me to the moon
fly me
fly me to the moon

Now they both lie down deep in their graves
But we are left still hear to fight
The daily fighting for our minds
I want to say goodbye

so won’t you
fly me
fly me to the moon
fly me fly me to the moon

______

I think she really loved the song – she bought her family to the show but they missed me singing the song – so afterwards we sat in the greenroom and I played it for her and her daughters and her husband – again – it’s difficult to put into words what this moment was for her family and for myself. I don’t think her daughters knew anything of her trauma’s – she knows she will need to tell them and that’s a good thing.

I got an email this week – saying how she was going to see some of her family that she hadn’t seen for years – to try and mend the broken bond – and to say thank you. I hope it all works out and some of the broken pieces can be mended. Is it so simple as writing someone a song? No it’s not. It about listening and being with a complete stranger and hearing about their lives and trying to show compassion and understanding and warmth and love and help them realise that someone really cares about their trauma. Holding a strangers hand and giving them love is not a hard thing to do. It’s a lot easier than you think – nurses, doctors, paramedics, firemen do it every day of their lives. We all have the capacity to help people heal and music has such a great power to do this.

There are more stories from Cairns – but they are for the other girls to write. Stay tuned.  In the mean time, here is a couple of pics of two special ladies who are part of this project. Ms Jackie Marshall and Emma Bosworth ❤


We are excited to announce we have a number of shows coming up mid-year that will be preceded by workshops with local residents. To register for a workshop, please complete this form.

by Kristy Apps

At 7:20am some weary eyed musicians, amongst us are new parents and bubba’s who probably looked slightly fresher than those of us not used to 5:30 wake ups, found each other with excited smiles and much needed coffees as we began our journey of taking the Soldier’s Wife show to The Canberra Street Theatre and then on to the Opera House.

Me and the lovely Bertie Page at the (chilly) Canberra Airport
Me and the lovely Bertie Page at the (chilly) Canberra Airport

As I sat on the plane surrounded by familiar voices chattering away I found myself deep in conversation with John Meyer and Bertie Page and quickly realised why this project is so special to me. Telling peoples stories is a precious gift given to us as songwriters and to do it as a collective with some of the finest, passionate and delicate songwriters I’ve ever worked with, who all understand that this journey is so much bigger than us lies the true magic behind this show.

As the afternoon progressed the backstage area of the Canberra Street Theatre became a little buzzier.. and it wasn’t long before the theatre was full and we were ready to go. Chairs back stage were but a few so I spent some time sitting on the floor cracking up at a pre-show dance off courtesy of Emma Bosworth! Laughs and tears are a plenty with this show. A few last minute rehearsals and tweaks.. with our bow the only thing left unrehearsed.

Me and Emma backstage at Canberra Street Theatre
Me and Emma backstage at Canberra Street Theatre

The songs in this show are easy to fall in love with as are the people in them. One of my favourites is a song called Giovanna- written by Roz Papparlado and a women she met at one of the Soldier’s Wife song writing workshops. Tonight was the first night I had ever heard the story behind the song and I was backstage in tears, it’s a happy song but like all the songs in the show it’s so powerful.. and sometimes we all need a bit of Giovani’s trust in his own instinct to jump ship and swim towards life.

My song is one of the most special songs that I have ever written because it’s for the most important human being I have ever known.. my mum. Her story of finding her dad, an American Soldier as a grown woman was one of the bravest journey’s I’ve ever been a part of. She feared rejection and pushed through it, she feared failing and she pushed through it, she feared absolute uncertainty and pushed through it and she found another part of herself. I am more nervous introducing this song..

Wanting to say so much in a so few words..

Margaret

When the bombs stopped falling and the sky was clear was clear
It was time for him to go home
A pregnant wife who wouldn’t leave her roots
He made that journey alone
At night if it wasn’t the guns in his head

It was you Margaret
At night if it wasn’t the bombs of regret
It was you Margaret

Hurt by the hand of the one that loves you most
Left you clueless with a broken heart
By the time it was for you to look for him
You had no idea where to start
Secret stashes of birthday cards
Could have worn a wig and a gown
A guilty verdict the sound of hammer to wood
A trail of breadcrumbs were found
At night if it wasn’t the guns in his head

It was you Margaret
At night if it wasn’t the bombs of regret
It was you Margaret

It was too late for you to meet him
But his family were waiting for you
With open arms they say what took you so long Maggie
This is a dream come true
You were named after your Aunty Peg and
Dad wrote you as a little girl
Till he was told to never write again
he couldn’t be part of your world

Margaret

By Roz Pappalardo

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L to R: Bree Wells, Harry Wells, John Meyer and me… performing Giovanni. Photo by Bertie Page

 

It doesn’t get much better – a gorgeous heritage nunnery, a brisk but sunny western Queensland day, playful kittens, great friends, new friends, incredible stories and NEW SONGS!

After co-writing a rousing blues track with Emma Bosworth, based on lovely Joyce’s story of her deep love and commitment to her passed World War 2 service husband, I had the honour of sitting with Claudia Ehlers who’s story, in many ways, parallels my own in terms of the “Italian Connection”. Claudia is a first generation Australian – of Italian extraction. Just like me.

Her father, a proud Italian man, with little English, found his travelling way to Australia in the late 60’s and experienced a life changing road accident. Taken to a little hospital in Cunnamulla, the age old “Nightingale” story came to bare as his nurse became his wife, despite issues of difference of culture, lack of language and families living half a world apart. Their family history tells a story of guts, determination, and single mindedness.

Claudia’s Nonno, her fiery and adventurous Italian father’s father, was a Sicilian man, set to conscript in the Italian WW2 navy. He was sent to fight in Africa, a southern sail from the bottom coast of Sicily. He got on the boat. He didn’t want to. But he got on. He paced the deck. He stood at the front of the boat and wished for land. Wished for another choice. He went down below deck. Slept a few hours a night. Paced the deck. Stared out to sea.

And then he jumped off the back of the boat and headed for home. Swimming for his life and to regain the connection of his family and what he wanted to live and fight for.

Arms sore, heart pounding, wondering what the hell he had done, he turned to see the path that he left behind. The boat from which he jumped exploded as he watched. Exploded into rubble, flames and wooden pieces … and sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Giovanni kept swimming toward his family and away from the choice that he never made. Once he made land (yes he made land!!) he made contact with his family and laid low for many years until such time as the war subsided and he could properly reconnect with his family.

This song bowled itself out of myself and Claudia with the fabulous help of Harry Wells on guitar and Bree Wells and Emma Bosworth on vocals. It took all of 1 hr to arrive into our laps and gave us heaps more pleasure after that. While Claudia couldn’t make the performance that we delivered on the final afternoon of our residency in Dalby, when we sang the song a real ripple of excitement and light flowed through the chapel – people immediately sang along and grabbed onto the essence of the story as if it were their own.

We drove home that night high on the energy from that show and all the great new stories and songs we’d been blessed with. Such a great feeling. The 4 hour drive felt like no time at all.

Claudia is a woman who has bravery and adventure etched into her veins. She is descendant of a number Soldier’s Wives. Strength, tenacity and the ability to look at issues and problems from a variety of angles epitomises this woman. She’s quite the inspiration. And way cool too!

 

“Giovanni”
Alternative Title – “Follow Your Heart”

I jumped ship
Into the bluest water
I could ever imagine
I won’t fight
For something that is not mine
I gotta see my wife and daughter

Up in flames in goes
That’s not the path I chose

Ch: Follow my heart, it won’t steer me wrong
Into the blue, now I find my way back to you

Won’t look back
Reaching for a reason
Keeping my head over water
Hold my breathe
It won’t be for much longer
I can see the next horizon

Up in flames in goes
That’s not the path I chose

Ch: Follow my heart, it won’t steer me wrong
Into the blue, now I find my way back to you

Rewrite my fate
It’s mine to take

Ch: Follow my heart, it won’t steer me wrong
Into the blue, now I find my way back to you
Giovanni, Giovanni, Giovanni, Giovanni
Follow my heart, it won’t steer me wrong
Into the blue, now I find my way back to you

Written by Emma Bosworth

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L to R: Roz Pappalardo, Frank, Emma Bosworth & Jackie Marshall. Photo by Les Bosworth

G’day. It’s been a long time between drinks. I guess having a baby will do that to the best and worst of us! I’m writing here from Dalby. I’m on the road with the wonderful women of “The Soldiers Wife”. What a beautiful and PRODUCTIVE day in Dalby for me today. I’m travelling with my little five month old, Franklin, with legendary parents-in-law in toe doing between feed duties. Such a different way of touring but there’s nothing like a deadline to get the blood pumping. I met with lovely Joyce today, a Dalby local who has an amazing story to tell about her late husband Jack, his story is one of redemption.

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This is me (and Frank) with Joyce, and her son Peter Photo by Bertie Page

Joyce was travelling her way through Australia with two girlfriends after World War II, moving from port to port as a hospitality worker, often serving the high lieutenants in fancy rooms set aside for the finest. She was 27 when she met Jack; admittedly later in life to get married for those days, but worth the wait. I praised her for her independence, I’d never heard of woman in those days waitng that long for Mr. Right. From the moment she met Jack, she noticed his polished shoes, and knew he was for her. And there were over 1000 men at that camp!

Like most soldiers, Jack, who served in Japan for World War II, carried baggage of sadness, sickness (malaria) and alcohol abuse. Joyce was no stranger to alcoholism, she watched her uncle go through it, so she was no stranger to the battle they lay ahead. His spark certainly said a lot for him. After they married, Jack became clean and worked within the church, helping locals get sober, particularly the young aboriginal men. He remained sober for 45 years and he and Joyce worked tirelessly helping local youth and grown adults with alcoholism, having an open door policy always. The lives they touched through their support was so apparent, that when Jack passed, Joyce received 300 letters, and 100 calls from people who Jack had helped.

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Me and Roz performing “Bullets and Blues” at Dalby. There’s lovely Jackie Marshall in the background with the tambo adding some sparkle. Photo by Les Bosworth.

The chorus of this song “it’s coming out bullets and blues” is a reference to the shrapnel that Jack continued to get out of his leg until the day he died. It came out of him, like his sins, in the form of redemption.

I was privileged enough to work on this song with Roz Pappalardo; who is part of The Soldiers Wife group.  I remember the week before Dalby thinking how much I’d love to do the first co-write for our performances. Tick! So here’s our little blues number, for Joyce. We hope you like it.

BULLETS AND BLUES
Written by Emma Bosworth & Roz Pappalardo

Down the creek with the boys and their booze
In you walk with your bright shiny shoes
We remember
I remember
Cause you’ve been there before
It’s coming out like bullets and blues

I took you in with all of your sins
It didn’t matter I knew where you’d been
We remember
I remember
And we threw it away
Down the river with your bottle of gin

It’s never bullets and blues when I’m with you

300 letters, and 100 calls
From where I stand, you gave it your all
Dressed in black, dressed in black
You’re not here anymore
It’s coming out like bullets and blues