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Time travelling with local shanty singers

05 Feb 2018

Time travelling with local shanty singers Image

By Shane Scanlan

Docklanders looking for a hyper-authentic link with the past can join the crew of the tall ship Enterprize bellowing out old sea shanties every fortnight.

The often-bawdy shanties are a joyous celebration of times past – an escape into a bygone world when singing and comradeship helped salve a brutal environment of life at sea.

Enterprize general manager Michael Womack explained that the ship’s shanty band and singers were a committed sub-set of the 200 volunteers who sailed the vessel.

“There are crew that sing, crew that sail and some who do both,” he said. “The thing that binds everyone together is their love for the ship.”

This was evident on the Thursday night that Docklands News visited Enterprize’s headquarters at Shed 2 along North Wharf Rd, Victoria Harbour.

Also evident was the depth of musical talent among participants, with multiple instruments being expertly played – and shared! Mostly though, the fortnightly event is about singing, with one singer starting a song and the rest joining in. But newcomers need not be shy. There are word sheets available and an expectation that belting out a simple chorus is enough.

“I tell people that 80 per cent is enthusiasm and 20 per cent whatever else you bring,” Mr Womack said.

Mr Womack said sea shanties had a number of purposes. For tasks involving group precision, such as raising sails or anchors, they were used to synchronise the effort.

The other role was for entertainment or, perhaps more accurately, to distract seafarers from the harshness of their conditions.

Enterprize is a replica of John Pascoe Fawkner’s schooner which brought Melbourne’s first permanent white settlers from Tasmania in 1835.

It was built in 1997 and, apart from an engine and some obvious safety elements, is an authentic copy of the original.

This authenticity is the attraction, with ocean voyages being the ultimate experience for enthusiasts. To become absorbed in such an experience is to time-travel.

The shanty singing is a less immersive top-up-pill which temporarily takes participants back to a time when whales, foreigners and women enjoyed considerably less respect than today.

It’s somewhat surprising then that the female musician/singers are quite so enthusiastic when singing about harlots and “fair maids” and, more particularly, sailors’ publicly stated sexual ambitions towards them.

Mr Womack said: “You have to remember that these songs are mostly from the 1800s and the 1900s and reflect the spirit of those times.”

Mr Womack said attendance at the evenings was by invitation and that interested locals should email (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for further information.

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