There’s a rusty old corrugated iron shed on a farm a few kilometres out of Gloucester on Craven Creek Rd which for 51 weeks of the year is home to a possum or two, a tractor, a few bales of hay, and the occasional snake.
However, on one weekend in September each year, Covid permitting, the shed hosts some of the nation’s most accomplished classical musicians bringing top quality chamber music to the bush. Musicians whose paid job is playing with illustrious ensembles such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra or the Opera Australia Orchestra.
The farm, ‘Kingfisher’, is owned by Jenny and Greg Lindsay.
Jenny grew up partly in Sydney and in Parkes, but thinks that it was her time as a teenager in the country that had a huge influence on her musically. There was always music in the house, and when she was twelve her Mum, well known and much-loved Gloucester resident, Joyce Buswell, took Jenny, then aged 12, and her sister to a Musica Viva concert in Orange. Jenny comments:
‘It was a big thing for Mum to do for us, but it was there that for the first time that I heard a string quartet and it blew my mind.’
Sadly, Jenny’s Mum passed away just a few months ago.
As a child and young person Jenny played music, but her voice was her favoured instrument and she trained in singing for a few years, even on one occasion performing at the Sydney Opera House. However, as she says:
‘I realised that although I loved singing, I was never going to be Joan Sutherland, and I completed an Arts and History degree before getting a job in retail store management, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although I did stay involved in music and kept performing in, and stage-managing, amateur productions.’
Wikipedia has this to say about Greg:
‘Gregory John Lindsay AO was until 2018 the Executive Director of the Australian think tank the Centre for Independent Studies, which he founded in 1976 when a young mathematics teacher in the western suburbs of Sydney.
Lindsay initially studied agricultural science at the University of Sydney, but found that this was not his real interest and instead obtained secondary teaching qualifications in mathematics at Sydney Teachers’ College. A short four-year stint at Richmond High School coincided with further study at Macquarie University in philosophy culminating in graduating with a BA majoring in philosophy in 1977.
He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his contribution to education and public debate.’
Like Jenny, Greg has a deep love of classical music, particularly chamber music, but candidly says:
‘I have zero music capacity. I wouldn’t know a crotchet from a quaver. There wasn’t much classical music in our family, but from an early age I loved it, particularly the music from the Romantic period, with composers such as Wagner, Rachmaninov and Mahler. However, I became more deeply immersed in music when all our three children started to play in concerts. Our daughter Heather pursued music as a career and is now a professional cellist.’
‘Even though Greg can’t play, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music and can almost always identify a piece being played. His knowledge of music is amazing.’
Interestingly, Jenny and Greg did not meet only through their love of music, but through their shared interest in politics. They have now been married for 44 years.
Jenny and Greg bought their Rookhurst cattle property in 2012 and did the very common weekend commute from Sydney while still working. During the Covid years Gloucester became their main home. One of the attractions of their farm when they were looking to buy was that the shed contained a structure that looked like a stage, even though it was probably just built originally as a place to store hay.
Greg has always been entrepreneurial and Jenny is a great organiser. Together they make a terrific team, and soon after buying the farm they decided to put on their first concert in the old shed, having no idea how it might go or where it could lead. It was very much a family affair. Daughter Heather was then part of a string quartet and they agreed to come and perform. The first piece played was an oboe composition by Ross Edwards performed by son Angus who also trained as a classical musician. Greg recalls:
‘We had no idea how it might go. We leafletted the town and promoted it as much as we could locally. People had to bring their own chairs, and the entrance fee was just a gold coin. It turned out to be a great success and there have now been nine concert weekends. In 2013 we had just one concert. Now we have three. One on the Saturday and two on the Sunday, and we established the Craven Creek Music Association, a charitable body, to formally manage the various aspects of the growing festival.’
As it turned out, the shed had quite amazing acoustics which was a real bonus.
I asked Jenny and Greg what was their main motivation for putting on the festival. They told me that they perceived that there was an unmet thirst for classical music in the area. A perception that has proved correct.
I also asked about their plans for the future.
‘What we have here, in this setting, is a little jewel and although our seating capacity is limited, we don’t want to lose what we have by changing things too much. Rather than changing we hope to add more things. More events for children and young people. Perhaps making it part of a wider arts festival.’
‘I agree. It would be great if there was another good venue in the area. Perhaps something like an outdoor sound shell. We also need to think of ways that the festival can continue in some form after we pull up stumps, something that’s not in prospect for quite a while yet I might add. Establishing the Association is part of the process.’
2023 was a sellout, and 2024 is going to be better than ever with a strong local favour. Australia’s most prominent composer Ross Edwards has been commissioned to set a poem by Les Murray to music. The poem is titled The Bulahdelah-Taree Holliday Song Cycle and it will be narrated by composer, conductor and broadcaster Guy Noble. Concerts are planned for Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, with perhaps something on the Friday night. It will undoubtedly prove to be another exciting and fascinating weekend of beautiful music.