National Library Oral History collection - Wedding reception for Alan and Gay Scott, with music by the Bushwhackers. Part 1 [sound recording] 14th January 1956
from her eldest son Bill -
Mum was the teetotaller who took the pledge at age six or eight or something, who inside twenty years or so was four hundred miles south at a party, a cigarette holder of Breakfast at Tiffany’s proportions in one hand and a cocktail glass of Pimms in the other. The patient and committed gardener she was quite surprised that she’d turned out to be. The hippy singer one of her friends characterised her as. I’ve always thought of her as more beatnik but I suppose there was the seventies wardrobe with the Indian skirts and so on, and anyway Mum was willing to chop and change and move on. She was the fellow traveller in the family and I’m not being flippant saying that - she was the one, during Ashley’s and my childhood, anyway, who seemed better able to metabolise change and navigate capitalism than Dad, the Marxist, who seemed to get buffeted around by circumstance. The actress, the printmaker, the bookkeeper, the quilter, the activist, the tree changer, the feminist - (better not forget that one, Mum being the only girl in a three boy family, and one of the women of her generation who were politically, self-consciously, radical.) When she could hold people to account over what they’d said and done she would, and good luck to her.
I’m definitely my mother’s son when it comes to grappling with the arts, ideas and so on. Dad said to us once - “you two should listen to yourselves”: - we were trying to remember the title of a play that got made into a movie that wasn’t by Arthur Miller but someone of similar vintage that had an actor in it whose name was long or doubled barrelled or something who was also was in a movie whose title we did remember, whose wife whose name Mum couldn’t remember, but was mostly brunette (although that didn’t help me much because she was known for her roles in the immediate post war U.K. black and white flicks) and starred in a whole bunch of movies made by a famous producer who (I had said at some stage earlier in the conversation) was the Merchant/Ivory team of his day (although there was just one of him and his name would be in that book because he won an Academy Award) who adapted the Henry James novel, which, of course, is quite different from Arthur Miller, but there was a connection….
Gay & Alan Scott (photo courtesy Bill & Jane Scott)
I probably walk to and fro to work almost every day because of Mum’s influence. Mum was a bushwalker and a conservationist. These days every one’s middle name is environmentalist but bushwalking remains an obscure (and to some people a disconcerting) subculture.
It’s actually a bit awe inspiring to think that the longest time she spent in one place was at Bent Acres in Balmoral - she was in the centre of the life and projects in that community and I was always a bit bewildered - getting names muddled and losing track of which activity was associated with which project and so on. I talked earlier about connecting to Mum’s life because I was only was around for a fraction of it - there’s only a certain proportion of it that I can reconnect to in a life so full and wide and varied. And it was a good life; we’re all here to attest to that. She had her heart in the right place, she gave it a go and she travelled far, and you couldn’t give someone a better epitaph than that.
Concert Party at Orange at Lake Canobolas Regatta, Banjo Paterson Festival -
There is a photo of them on a cover of Singabout, Vol 3 No 1, Summer, 1958 with a young Jamie Carlin on concertina.
Gay and Alan Scott were Life Members of the BMC as along with Alan or Scottie and Merro [John Meredith] she was a stalwart of the Bush Music Club and had performed as part of the Concert party in the late 1950s. Gay told an amusing story of their visit to Orange for a Paterson festival when she and Jan Jones were walking behind the men in the BMC concert party. They overheard the locals declare that ‘a band of gypsies in their shabby uneven clothes had come to town’. So much for the band from Reedy River’s efforts to look like old bush musicians.
There were a number of women who were dedicated committee members of the early days [1950s-60s] of the BMC regular meetings and Singabout evenings. Gay along with Pam Loughlin, Jan Jones, Noreen Grunseit, Barbara Gibbons and Janet Wakefield were some of the feisty folk at the regular meetings held in the Fellowship of Australian Writers rooms. [Incidentally it was Jan who introduced me to the BMC via the Singabout Songsters, while I was at a YHA in the national park.] It’s times like these that I wish that I walked around with a tape-recorder like Merro, as I can recall many conversations with Gay, but won’t vouch my accurate recall of all details.
Gay told me about the early BMC concert party and attitudes to performing with serious intent. It was not to be taken lightly. There was a growing awareness of the unique quality of Australian traditions in song, music, dance, verse and story.
Gay Scott, nee Terry had come from Queensland, and from her aunt, had a song about The Gatton Tragedy of 1898 which was printed in the Singabout songster of July, 1965 [Vol 5 no 3]. She introduced me to this unsolved murder story involving possible links to the 1891 shearers’ strikes. Some complex theories were published by Stephanie Bennett and actually shown last night on ABC TV's Australian Story. It was one of many stories we discussed as we often swapped books and compared ideas about writers. Gay loved reading and discussing the ideas one can get from books. She was involved in the Peace Movement and would speak her mind on feminist issues of the day.
Gay was also interested in Arts and Crafts, so I often met her with Ann Maher, a President of BMC in 1960s, while walking through the NSW Art Gallery. She was also part of the innovative pottery making group centred around Balmoral Village in later years. She and Alan had lived in Chatswood before moving to Loftus with their two young sons, Bill and Ashley. They probably would have stayed there permanently, but felt that suburbia was encroaching. Also they had spent wonderful times at Walden, Merro’s property at Balmoral Village. I recall meeting Alan on the Mittagong station some time back in the late 1960s and hearing him talk animatedly about the adobe mud brick cottage he and Gay intended to build on the land they bought in the Bargo Brush.
Eventually they built a kit home and the stories Gay told of Alan’s effort to put up the roofing while swinging from guttering, often single handed, bought tears to our eyes. Eventually the house at Bent Acres was up and a fine house warming was held. The first of many entertaining afternoons of singing with good tucker and home brew, music and yarning at the Scotts.
Some time in the 1980s Gay rang me and asked me to do some drawings to put in a book of Sally Sloane’s songs which she had typed up. Alan transcribed the music and Gay was keen to produce a songbook which provided material which women might have traditionally sung or songs they might enjoy singing. She said that she needed the sketches in two weeks time as someone had agreed to publish the book. So each night after work, I would do a black and white ink or wash drawing and send them off to Gay. But all sorts of problems were met and the manuscript had just about disintegrated by the time of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the BMC, in 2004. I suggested publishing it to the BMC Committee who agreed; so it was launched at the National Folk Festival, at a special Sally Sloane concert where Gay spoke and the first edition sold out.
Another memory I have of Gay involves us both shaking our heads at our husbands’ lack of patience with developments in bush dancing. We were at a bush dance held in Sydney Town Hall, during the early 1980s. A number of the BMC members got up for a dance which involved a series of different moves and was taking a long time to explain, so the blokes decided to sit down. They said: we used to teach these bush dances when no one else did them, but what is happening to them now.
Although Gay left active participation in folk music to Alan, in later years, she did a lot of transcribing of tapes of interviews for the Oral history and Folklore Section of the National Library as she was a trained typist and always maintained an interest in traditional Australian material.
After Alan’s death, Gay stayed on at Balmoral as she was a very independent and self sufficient person and had very good neighbours. Gay had a wry sense of humour and made me laugh when she said: I was so annoyed with Alan for dying when he did, as he and Merro had planned to debate, as they had many times already about whether the millennium started with 2000 or 2001.
Well, Gay has shed this earthly coil and maybe she has gone to join the comradely debates among the old musicians, singers and artists who have already gone or maybe she has gone to rest in peace away from earthly pain and troubles.
Gay’s daughter-in-law, Jane, once told me at a folk festival, that when she married Bill she did not realise that she had married into Folk Royalty! After I winced at the word ‘royalty’, I understood immediately what she meant. Though the Scott Clan did not inherit their wonderful abilities, knowledge, humanity and personalities, they were the better for it – the labour of love in being creative, and all those things that such people do to move the world forward towards a better life for the so-called common people.
The Folk Royalty, of course, consisted of Gay, husband and mate Alan, and Alan’s brother, Bill senior.
Gay was an inspiration to many, including me. When Merro died she was very thoughtful and generous in her understanding way. She also made things happen for me, which otherwise probably would not have occurred. Following her passing I have thought of the many times we have talked about the inevitable Human Condition, books, politics, and, of course, we sang, and played often. Gay always had a ready smile and positive comment. Who could forget her contagious, happy laugh?
Gay Scott (courtesy Scott family)
Being a liberated woman, Gay once told me how disappointed she was that her mother did not tell her of her religious background. It was not until after her mother died that she discovered her mother had been brought up a Roman Catholic, but never told anyone. Apparently Gay’s father was a hard man and not only did he deny his wife her religion, but ensured the fact was to be kept unknown to others, including the family. Yes, Gay grew up with a strong mind of her own.
Today there will be eloquent words spoken in the memory of the interesting and creative life of our dear friend Gay.
I regret that Virginia and I are unable to join you all for this celebration of Gay’s life and to hear the expressions and tales of this wonderful person who was many things to many people, including mother, mate and comrade.
At this sad time our heartfelt sympathies go out to Bill and Jane, Ashley and Jules.