A group of Melbourne-based musicians joined forces last weekend at the Empress Hotel in Fitzroy North for a ‘gig’ to honour the life and work of Louisa Lawson and to support the Good Samaritan Inn.
The tribute concert was held on February 17, the 165th anniversary of the birth of Louisa Lawson, a pioneering feminist, suffragist, writer and publisher, who is, perhaps, more widely known as the mother of writer and poet, Henry Lawson.
The event was the brainchild of Sarah Taylor, a mother, musician and PhD student who has been volunteering at The Inn as a cleaner since early 2011. Sarah first heard about The Inn through a friend in 2009, and ever since, had a desire to help out in some way.
“I’d been in an abusive relationship a long time ago – almost a distant memory, but a formative experience – and I felt I was now in a position to offer some time towards helping women in similar positions,” Sarah told The Good Oil.
“It was an issue that was, to put it mildly, bugging me.”
Then, a few months ago, Sarah received a book by chance – Louisa, by Brian Matthews – that inspired her to do something more to support the work of The Inn.
“[The book is] a great example of the art form of biography, as well as giving sympathetic time to Louisa Lawson, someone who I had only known of vaguely before, and only then as ‘Henry Lawson’s mum’. Which was a bit embarrassing because she did many more things in her life,” explained Sarah.
After making a post on her Facebook page about how “impressed” she was with the book, Sarah was surprised at how many friends, many of them musicians, quickly responded. She said the general concept of a concert with a mix of local musicians performing songs about, or lyrics by, Louisa Lawson “sort of grew its own legs from there”.
For both Sarah and Shannon Smith, Co-ordinator of The Inn, the idea of a tribute concert for Louisa Lawson and a fundraiser for The Inn seemed “particularly apt”, since “many of Louisa’s published views aligned with the achievements of the Inn – and are still a bit depressingly relevant over a century later”, said Sarah. A few examples of Louisa’s views include:
“Is there a place in our town in which any homeless woman could shelter? And have we taken pains to have its location, and purpose so well advertised that no one could fail to know of it?” (January 1889)
“We could quickly fill the largest building in Sydney with women and children who now, for the sake of food and shelter, but more for the sake of what is called their ‘good name’, are bearing blows, insults, servitude and degradation.” (May 1890)
So, if Louisa were alive today, what would she have to say about The Inn?
“Louisa Lawson specifically advocated for places for women to shelter from domestic violence, and her overall style was to push for practical means through which women might find their own way out of adversity: ‘half of Australian women’s lives are unhappy, but there are paths out of most labyrinths’. Hence, she would of course be pleased that such a service was being provided, but no doubt would also be saddened to see the continued need for it,” responded Sarah.
“I think for Louisa, that in seeing the guests [at The Inn] safe, sheltered, and unobtrusively cared for, but left to their own rooms and their own decisions, she would see the practical manifestation of her vision for ‘paths out of the labyrinths’.”
For Shannon Smith, the Louisa Lawson Tribute Concert was a great event.
“The songs were of such high calibre – cover versions, originals, plus music from many and varied instruments.”
And while Shannon and her colleagues at The Inn are “extremely” appreciative of the funds raised as a result of the concert, she believes “it’s the wider message that an event like this sends that is of most significance”.
“The fact that one woman took this on and put so much of her precious time into this event is just phenomenal. It just goes to show the impact that one person can have, and how the ripple effect can be felt by so many.
“Louisa Lawson may have been an extraordinary woman, but we think Sarah Taylor is pretty amazing too!”
A ministry of the Good Samaritan Sisters, The Inn provides crisis accommodation and care for women and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness. If you’d like to volunteer at The Inn or make a donation, contact Shannon Smith, Co-ordinator E: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Inn would like to thank all musicians who performed at the Louisa Lawson Tribute Concert: Rachael Samuel, Scarlett Cook, Vic Farrell, Merry Prain, Frankie Andrew, Craig Lee Smith, Mandy Connell, Floyd Thursby, Nik Wilson, Taylor Project and Zinnia Blue.