Bracefell's story : for baritone and piano
by Michael Hannan (1990)
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Library shelf no. 783.8854/HAN 1 [Not for loan]
In 1978 I was involved in a music theatre composition
collaboration, Eliza Survivor, with Ian Fredericks and Stephen
Lloyd, and with Barbara Blackman as the writer of the text.
Barbara also supplied the text of Peter Sculthorpe's Eliza Fraser
Sings which was premiered by the Seymour Group together with our
piece. Since then the story of the shipwreck of the "Stirling
Castle" and Eliza Fraser's survival among and rescue from the
Kabi tribe has held a lingering fascination for me, reinforced by
visits to Fraser Island and adjacent mainland areas.
Bracefell's Story (1990) is a different approach to the events and is based on the alternative to the official story of Fraser's rescue as documented in Michael Alexander's "Mrs. Fraser on the Fatal Shore". David Bracefell was a convict who escaped from the penal settlement at Moreton Bay, and was accepted by and initiated into the Kabi tribe. The alternative version of the Fraser story is that, after the shipwreck and the subsequent slaying of her husband, Eliza formed a romantic attachment with Bracefell and persuaded him that if he led her back to civilisation she would marry him and make sure he received a pardon. At the first sight of settlement however, she reneged on the agreement, forcing Bracefell to flee back to his tribe.
My angle on the story is that Bracefell represents an early example of a white person who has come to terms with aboriginal life, and has received wisdom about the land. The musical treatment contrasts the oppressive violence of his life in the penal colony (section I) with the freedom of his tribal existence (section II). The third section of the work depicts the chaos resulting from the white intruders from the shipwreck. Their failure to conform to aboriginal ways in turn leads to their deaths or degradation. In addition, Bracefell's failure to see through the middle class trickery of Fraser almost leads to his downfall, and the loss of all he has received in the tribal context.
Instrumentation: Baritone voice, piano.
Duration: 17 min.
Text by the composer.
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