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Blue Mountains Tourist : Winter 2009
Music in the mine Local historian Paul Innes frequently comes across interesting stories – none more so than one about a radio concert held in a Katoomba mine in the 1920s. A pparently, the concert was the result of competition between two radio stations, 2BL and 2FC. At the time, 2FC had organised a concert in the Jenolan Caves and 2BL did not want to be outdone. Paul began his research at Springwood Library, which revealed the names of two people who had taken part in the concert, George Saunders and Alice Prowse. Further details were proving hard to find, until Paul got onto ABC 702. Let him tell the story … They suggested I should have a chat with Richard Glover on his afternoon show, as perhaps a mention of the concert might prompt someone’s memory. Indeed it did, for an hour or so after my chat, I received a phone call from the Music Teachers’ Association, telling me Alice Prowse was still alive. Not long afterwards, Alice found herself answering questions about her role in an obscure concert, in the early years of what I discovered would be her remarkable singing career. “The artists and radio crew descended down the steep railway, standing in coal buckets – in the dark,” Alice told me. “Once they were at the bottom of the railway, the party went into the coalmine, walking along wet tunnels, getting their shoes terribly wet... I didn’t go down to the mine. I remained at the top of the railway, where I sang to the miners.” Meeting Alice – someone who had been there – was a fabulous opportunity; while her sparkling manner was neatly summarised in her concluding remark: “Really, it was just a concert. Wouldn’t you rather hear about my singing career? I sang for Covent Garden you know.” Further information about the concert came to light when another historian, John Low, discovered an August 27th 1926 ‘Blue Mountain Echo’ newspaper account of it. Headlined as a “Commendable Exhibition of Energy, Enterprise and Enthusiasm”, the ‘Echo’ reported that “The Directors of Katoomba Colliery had arranged with 2BL to operate from the face of the company’s colliery... nearly half a mile into the heart of the great mountain... all wires were laid and preparations were well in hand when the merry party from 2BL arrived per motor.” Descending “over the edge of the cliffs in coal skips”, the party assembled at the mine’s entrance at 6 o’clock where they were given a brief story of the mine before venturing “about half a mile of semi crawl into the heart of the Mountains.” “At last the face was reached... but muscle strain and ruined frocks and finery, from costly clouche to the serpentine shoes, were soon forgotten in the happy surroundings.” “Illuminated by the glow (of) lamps, Mr Owen and Miss Skill (soprano) soloed both to banjo accompaniment, and then a Welsh miner sang ‘Y Deryn Pur’ (The Dove) in his home tongue.” When the concert finished, the participants had to make their way “back over that long half-mile, the party literally crawled, and up over the cliff frontage in the truck, where the concert was carried on from the Pit Head by Miss Prowse.” By now, it must have been around 9 o’clock at night. In August! Can you imagine it? Among other songs, the ‘Echo’ reported that ‘Listen In’ was composed for the occasion... “and was excellently led by Miss Alice Prowse and Billy Dick”. “Great Budget Accommodation!” 31 Lurline St Katoomba Phone: 02-4782 3933 Fax: 02-4782 3978 Katoomba Mountain Lodge Located in the central Katoomba, in the heart of the Blue Mountains World Heritage National Park. Close to all attractions, Three Sisters, Echo Point lookout, waterfalls, bush-walks, Scenic World and more. Most rooms are share facilities. TV most rooms. Ensuite rooms & spa/sauna available - please enquire. 10% OFF or Pay for 2, get 3rd Night Free Sun-Thurs Mention this ad! AAA/NRMA FREE INCLUSIONS: • Wi-Fi Internet • Tea & Coffee • Pick up • Off Street Parking • BBQ facility • Kitchen & dining room star rated Rates: per adult per night share. Midweek Sun-Thu. Standard double - $34pp Deluxe/twin - $39pp Triple - $32pp Family for 4 - $29pp Single - $52pn 5 Share Dorms from - $21pp Weekend/Fri-Sat prices differ: please enquire. Web: www.katoombamountainlodge.com.au Email: firstname.lastname@example.org winter 2009 Stop 1 Stop 1 Mention this ad for 10% off your 2 night stay! (Mon-Thur) (when you phone us direct) • All rooms queens size with ensuite • Spa/Sauna • Broadband internet • TV/fridge/tea/coffee/phone/hair dryer in rooms • Undercover parking • Buffet breakfast • Late checkout • Family rooms • Two bedroom suite • Cottage also available www.lamaison.com.au EMAIL email@example.com AAA 5555 175-177 Lurline St, Katoomba PH 02-4782 4996 • FX 02-4782 3595 www.bluemountainstouristnewspaper.com.au 5 “Affordable service and style right near the Three Sisters!” With regards to George Saunders, it seems that after the First World War, he entertained adults and children in hospitals across Sydney. In 1923 he joined 2BL as their first announcer. Known as ‘Uncle George’, he told children’s stories, and in addition conducted community singing and Saturday morning parties. The ‘Echo’ reported that as well as playing the banjo at the concert, Uncle George met “scores of young Katoombans, during his weekend in Katoomba... the trip enhancing his reputation.” ABC 702 Archives finally added that during the 1930s George Saunders “was a regular compere on Sunday evenings, on the ‘Show Boat’ on Sydney Harbour Cruises.” This brief account only gives us a glimpse into one of the more obscure events belonging to Katoomba Coalmine’s long History. If you visit the site now, take yourself back to that time, and imagine being one of the artists, or one of the radio crew, or even one of the coalminers. Place yourself in their shoes, and remember you would have been at the coalmine site, or deep inside the mine, on a late August evening. As the ‘Blue Mountain Echo’ reported, “It was a unique experience in the extreme.” Paul Innes – historian and tour guide If you want to know more about Paul’s History Tours throughout the Blue Mountains including his Guided Tour of the Katoomba Coalmine Site and Rainforest visit www.discoverthebluemountains.com.au or phone him on 0402-483-599. BOUTIQUE HOTEL