Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Life of Lola

Lola Wright 1926 - 2018

We said our goodbyes to Lola Wright at the Naranderra cemetery in June 2018. She had organised the whole event including the ‘farewell’ at the Morundah Pub after the burial. In typical fashion, two songs were chosen by Lola as a send-off: ‘I Did It My Way’ and, as they lowered her down, ‘Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye’. The farewell at Morundah was full of stories, laughter and music in memory of this amazing woman.

Russel Hannah of Wollongong first introduced us to former schoolteacher, singer, musician and activist Lola Wright and remembered her parties in the Illawarra area of NSW:

“Lola's house in Oak Flats with her partner Bill Everill was a great party place and Friday nights was 'Keg and Singing Night'. Lola had a piano and also played the accordion and in true 'infants’ mistress' style she made sure that nobody had an excuse for not singing. She had an overhead projector and would project the words of the songs onto the wall. Even those of us who couldn't hold a note were obliged to bellow out the words and there are still quite a few people around the Illawarra who know all the verses of 'Solidarity Forever' and the second verse of the 'Red Flag' because of Lola's transparencies.”
During the mid 1950’s Lola and her then husband, Jack Wright, had a visit from a couple of members of the original Bushwhacker’s Band who were performing in the Australian Musical Reedy River at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney. As a result of this visit the South Coast Bush Band was formed, with Lola at the helm.  
“We played anywhere for any good cause and for no cost - not even petrol. Schools, surf clubs, May days, fund raising for striking wharfies, Trades and Labour Council "do's", miners' break-up parties and such. Looking around at what happens now with Australian Folk Songs, it's something of an honour to have been in on the ground floor, even if no one knows or cares."
This band was either the second or third of this type formed in Australia. The visit also rekindled Lola’s interest in the folklore that she had experienced growing up in the bush in Queensland.
Lola Wright (nee Cowling) was born in 1926 in Childers, Qld. and travelled with her parents who were railway sleeper cutters.  Music and verse were soaked up by the young Lola and the memories of this era retained.  Lola went on to train as a teacher and stayed with this profession, attaining the role of Infants’ Mistress. During her time as a teacher Lola was a strong activist for better conditions and equal wages for women teachers.
Lola and Bill left the Illawarra in the 1980s and, after a stint running the bar on Narrandera Railway Station, settled in the tiny Riverina town of Morundah, where we visited her for the first time in November 2001. She sang us songs from her days at Armidale Teachers’ College, old parlour songs, political songs, bush songs and parodies and spoke at length about her fascinating life.  It seemed to us that this forthright and committed woman of the left had found herself in on the ground floor for most of her life - a passionate life of active involvement in industrial and political issues, of working to improve gender equality, and of promoting Australia's musical identity.
On our second visit in February 2002 Lola delved more into her childhood in Queensland and remembered dance music as well as some of the games and songs from the school yard.  These included a series of songs, ‘Maggie Maggie Magpie’, ‘Oh, Cuddly Native Bear’, ‘Merry Brown Thrush’, ‘Twenty Froggies’ and others of this kind.  

We continued to record the stories, songs and poetry of Lola Wright over the years and they are now archived in the National Library of Australia Oral History and Folklore section.  Many are available online through our catalogue https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/, search ‘Lola Wright’.

A play, ‘Lola’s Keg Night’ written by award-winning playwright PP Cranney and producer/musical director Christina Mimmocchi, was produced in 2014 and was presented at many folk festivals and other venues. It created an awareness of Lola and other strong women of her generation.

More information on Lola at:

Rob Willis
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