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Glen Tomasetti 1929 - 2003

Tribute to a Rebel Girl by Phyl Lobl

Don't Be Too Polite Girls is the equal pay anthem that has made many aware of Glen Tomasetti but if you were around the 'folk scene' in the sixties in Melbourne in particular, there were many other opportunities.

Glen was a fine singer, an assured and authoritative performer with considerable understanding of the cultural and historical aspects of Folk Music. She always acknowledged the strong influence of Manning Clark on this area of her work. In the early sixties she hosted concerts at Emerald Hill Theatre started by Tom Lazar who also owned the Reata and Little Reata restaurants, which were other venues for folk music. It was at Emerald Hill that I first saw her perform with Martyn Wyndham-Read and Brian Mooney. Later Glen began guitar accompaniment classes in a room above Traynors coffee lounge, another folk music venue in Melbourne. I joined the group and sang a song I had written. Glen was also writing songs and I soon found myself included in sessions where we practised and exchanged ideas.

Glen Tomassetti and Brian Mooney, Tradition,  June 1966You didn't have to be in her company for long to find she was a rebel against her background and the times. To be a rebel you need courage. Glen had the courage of her convictions and the courage to stand alone. She always spoke her mind. She held the opinion that, as Australians we had a responsibility to sound like Australians and would take people to task on this point. To my surprise even me!

At this time Glen organised recording sessions, radio programs & theme concerts and I was included. With the Vietnam War came the organisation SAVE OUR SONS in which Glen played a major role. She helped organise the biggest folk concert of all at that time, a Peace Concert at the Myer Music Bowl. Singers came from Sydney to join us. A grand and unifying occasion for people of The Left and Leftish.

There were other organisations aware and involved in the rising interest in Folk Music but Glen's efforts were more 'commercial' and so more evident because they attracted more publicity than those of the Bush Music Clubs and other ventures. Verbal challenges about the commercialisation of folk music arose at this time and egos that were not hard-boiled were often cracked. However enough people survived from both areas to become a committee that organised the first Port Phillip Folk Festival, later called the first National Folk Festival. Shirley Andrews, Wendy Lowestein, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Merle Lamb, Geri Lobl and myself, as Phyl Vinnicombe, were among those who attended the meetings.

The festival was held at the Melbourne Teacher's College. One session was a song-writers' session organised by Glen. Songwriters were thinner on the around then. we numbered only six.
Later the Festival idea spread to other states and the Folk Revival and songwriters flourished. I maintain that Glen was the lynchpin for the first festival.

I have a folder of Glen's songs called 'Songs From A Seat In The Carriage'. The introduction to that folder is this.
'In Charles Dickens 'A Tale of Two Cities' the Marquis St Evremonde rides through the streets of Paris in his carriage. It runs down a child and as the father crouches in the mud, howling like a wild animal over the body of his son, the Marquis dispenses two coins and gives the order, DRIVE ON'. Australia's traditional image identifies us with the poor from whom we are mostly descended. In world society today, however, Australia is part of the old regime, which protects and enlarges its riches at any cost to other people. Occasionally we throw out our loose change and drive on. These songs were written from a seat in that carriage'. (Glen Tomasetti 1970)

One of Glen's recordings was 'Will Ye Go Lassie Go' with Martyn Wyndham-Read and Brian Mooney. I also have an EP that contains 'The Ballad Of Bill White', the story of the teacher jailed for refusing to be drafted into the army at the time of the Vietnam War. Her recording was made after a joint venture containing anti-war songs from both of us, fell through. Glen was always alert to situations where women were short-changed and said she felt it was happening in the case of the joint recording. It was this feeling that the Folk Revival and Folk Festivals were not giving women a fair go, that seemed to cause Glen to leave the scene to concentrate on other fields of research and writing.
It is ironic that I am writing this piece for someone who objected to the idea of people being praised after their death instead of during their life, and ironically that when I tried to organise a 'living experience of honour' it came unstuck for the very reason that Glen left the scene.

By then I had moved to Sydney but in 1992 I had the idea of honouring three women who were seminal in the folk revival: Singer, Glen Tomasetti; Collector, Wendy Lowenstein; Dancer, Shirley Andrews. They had shared their experience and knowledge with other women and so created a chain of influence. I devised a session at first called links In A Chain' but then I gave it what seemed more apt title 'In All Fairness'.

Shortly before the Festival the time and place of the session was given a very negative change. Glen then refused to come. 'It's still happening, we are still being given a raw deal' was her cry
I made my objections known to the organisers but they could not be moved.

In retrospect I probably was too polite. I didn't feel I could alter the plans of everyone else so it went ahead. successfully for those who rose early to come, but not for me. I really wanted Glen to be there.

Apart from myself Glen gave many performers chances for public professional performance. They have sent me a few of their thoughts

From Margret Roadknight
Glen was responsible for me starting my professional career (at the Emerald Hill Theatre concert session she ran in 1963) and then for me taking up the guitar (her stipulation for the promised return booking). Ten years later I toured Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra in her production SHE, Australia's first large scale Women's Concert. This woman of staunch conviction withheld 1/6 of her taxes as a protest against defence spending. In her multi-faceted career Glen was musical adviser for the Mick Jagger 'Ned Kelly' film, original cast member of 'Lola Montez', producer of an ABC Radio series on Folk Music, writer of the first McPhee Gribble publication 'Thoroughly Decent People' and recently an editor of a book on historian Manning Clark.

Regrettably none of her recorded material is currently available - I'd love to think her recordings could be located, re-mastered and re-issued on CD.

From Martyn Wyndham-Read
I had a close musical association with Glen that lasted up until her death. It began in the early sixties when Brian Mooney and I would have weekly sessions at her house in Avoca Street South Yarra where we would discuss and practice material for performance. She set a high standard and a demand for quality, w hich I have tried to keep throughout my professional career. Glens influence was far-reaching and of great importance. I endeavoured to see her each time I returned to Australia. I have fond memories of times spent with Glen.

From Danny Spooner
Glen was in the forefront of the Folk revival in Australia. She was a great humanist and a great encourager. Apart from her abilities as a singer, collector and historian she was a strong anti-war activist and supporter of the women's movement.

The Folk scene is full of people who unstintingly give time and talent for Folk Culture. They don't do it for honour I know, and I know they won't all be honoured. However as one of the first, a corner stone, Glen deserved honour. I will always acknowledge and be grateful for her strong influence on my folk career.

Glen wrote 'A Song for Judy Garland' that finished with these words. It seems an appropriate way to end this tribute ....
Tho' you and you and you belong
I'm only with you in a song - so long


Many thanks to Phyl Lobl and Trad & Now for permission to add this article to the Australian Folk Songs collection

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory