Between the Lines

Reading Sheet Music From the Babaneek Ladies' Choir

Founded in 1950 by Dulcie Beth Callinan (nee Koller, 1915-1991) OBE ‘to bring cheer and comfort to listeners,’ the Babaneek Ladies’ Choir regularly performed to audiences in the Hunter region of New South Wales for over 30 years. Reading their sheet music, you begin to get an understanding of the ladies who formed it – particularly their cultural heritage.

‘Skye Boat Song’, published in the 1880s, uses a Gaelic rowing-song style called an iorram to tell the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie escaping through a raging storm to the Isle of Skye, following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1746. The ‘Skye Boat Song’ remains popular to this day, often sung or played as a nostalgic tribute song throughout the Anglo-Celtic world.

‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ is a popular Victorian-era parlour song first published as sheet music in 1884. The song celebrates the way love can endure, even in the darkest moments.

Mavis Sharman, a choir member, donated this sheet music and other choir records to the Lake Macquarie City Council. It seems she favoured the hymn titled ‘Consecration (Take My Life and Let It Be)’ (1874) as her name is scrawled on the upper edge of the first page. Written by Frances Havergal (1836-1879), an English poet and hymnwriter, the Christian hymn celebrates devotion to God.

Together, these songs show the rich cultural history that the Babaneek Ladies’ Choir celebrated. They chose music which spoke to their Anglo-Celtic heritage and Christian faith. Particularly songs which communicated their dedication to camaraderie and feminine strength. After 32 years of singing from the heart, the choir disbanded in 1982.