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Obituary: Shirley Andrews, OAM

Shirley was born in Melbourne and her later schooling was at St Michael’s in St Kilda where she was a boarder. In 1937 she graduated from Melbourne University and from 1939 - 1946 she was the Caroline Kaye Scholar in Veterinary Biochemistry at the Veterinary Research Institute, Melbourne University. She then worked for the CSIRO for 5 years and from 1953 to 1977 she was Senior Biochemist in charge of the pathology lab at Royal Park Psychiatric Hospital in Melbourne. While in this position she was involved in ground breaking research on tranquilizing bromureide drugs and lithium. As a result of this work, use of these bromureide drugs was restricted whilst lithium was recognised as a cheap and effective treatment for manic depressive illnesses.

Shirley was also involved in the early struggle for equal rights for indigenous Australians and was a founding member and secretary of the Council for Aboriginal Rights (Victoria), the first organisation established to fight for equal rights for Aborigines. It was this group that eventually ‘mothered’ the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). Black activist, Joe McGinness OAM, paid tribute to Shirley’s work in his autobiography ‘Son of Alyandabu’ (1991) and noted that she ‘masterfully co-ordinated the fight’ by the Council for social service benefits to be paid to Aborigines and reprints in full Shirley’s influential article ‘Social Service Benefits Still Denied to Aborigines’ in his book. Shirley also researched and wrote the Victorian and South Australian chapters in the highly successful book, ‘The Struggle for Dignity’ (Council for Aboriginal Rights, 1962) which examined the laws governing Australian Aborigines and their effects. She worked with Lady Jessie Street and, at her suggestion, represented the Anti-Slavery Society at a United Nations Conference on civil rights in Canberra. Shirley reported on the unsatisfactory attitude of police in Australia to Aborigines, causing a sensation and achieving front page coverage in the national newspapers!. Shirley also worked on the defense of Albert Namatjira and the successful High Court case for equal pay for Indigenous people. In recognition of her work, Shirley was invited to Sydney as an honoured guest for the Reconciliation march and was driven across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a special car.

Shirley had a lifetime interest in dance. She studied ballet with Edouard Borovansky, the progenitor of the Australian Ballet company. She was an extra with the visiting Colonel de Basil Covent Garden Ballet Company in 1939-1940 and danced in early performances of the Borovansky Company in its early years. Borovansky was the only classical teacher who included strong training in folk and national dancing in his work. Shirley built on this early experience to become an authority on Australian traditional social dancing. In the 1950s she was a member of the Unity Dance Group, started by Margaret Walker, and performed dances from Australia’s early days. This group undertook the choreography and dancing in the musical, Reedy River, which was the first attempt to use Australian folk dance and music in the theatre. When the Victorian Bush Music Club asked the Unity Dance Group to assist with research into Australian traditional dancing, Shirley, as a member of both groups, volunteered for the task. Shirley found through this research that her assumption that Australian dancing was based on the very early English, Irish and Scottish dances brought out here was incorrect. Rather, Australia followed the latest in overseas fashions with quadrille sets, in particular, and couples dances, accompanied by the popular music of the day, being rapidly taken up here and forming the main basis for Australian traditional social dancing (or Colonial dancing as it has become known). In 1962, as part of her research, Shirley accompanied well known pioneer Victorian folk collectors, Pat and Norman O’Connor and MaryJean Officer to Nariel to collect and record from the Klippel family. This began a lifelong connection with Nariel and she traveled there for New Year almost every year since.

Shirley was a founding member of the Victorian Bush Music Club (which later changed it’s name to the Victorian Folk Music Club - VFMC), the founder and editor of Australian Tradition, the VFMC journal and newsletter, a founding member of the Victorian Folklore Society and the Folk Song and Dance Society of Victoria (FSDSV). She received the Graham Squance Award from the FSDSV for her contribution to folk and to dance. Shirley was a founding member of the Traditional Social Dance Association of Victoria (TSDAV) and was the President for the first 3 years. Shirley was also a founding committee member of the Recreational International Dance Association (RIDA) which then became the Folk Dance Working Group of Ausdance. Shirley was chairperson of the First National Folk Festival in Melbourne in 1968 and was Festival organiser in 1969. In 1992, Shirley was one a select group of women honoured for their unique contribution to the folklore revival at a special session at the National Folk Festival in Canberra.

Shirley’s early research, collecting and reviving of dances resulted in her red book, ‘Take Your Partners’ which has become the standard work on Australian traditional social dancing. She conducted dance workshops at many Festivals throughout Australia and had been invited to give special workshops to dance groups in most states. In 1988, Shirley, in conjunction with Peter Ellis, wrote ‘Two Hundred Dancing Years’ which was published by the Australian Bi-Centennial Authority. In more recent years she helped establish the Victorian Dance Assembly (VDA) where she has been reviving the lesser known dances from the Australian tradition. Many of these dances have been captured on ‘How Australia Danced Last Century, a 4 volume set of instructional dance videos and booklets produced with Lucy Stockdale. Shirley was also recognised as an authority on Australian dance by the Royal Academy of Dancing in Britain and the London University Centre for Movement and Dance.
In 1994, Shirley was awarded an OAM for her contribution to Australian dance.

Shirley’s interest in dance was very broad and not just confined to Australian social dancing. She was very interested in the dancing from the Pacific Islands and attended many of the South Pacific Festivals of Arts. She also recorded dances at Indian fiestas in the Peruvian Andes, in Mexico and in Cuba amongst other places. Shirley’s interest in dance often went hand in hand with her interest in travel. Over the past few years she has not been able to travel as she would have liked. She was most disappointed that her broken hip several years ago stopped her from making a much longed for trip back to South America.

Shirley was still very much involved with dance right up until her death on Saturday, 15th September.
She continued to be an active committee member of the TSDAV since it was formed 21 years ago and had even been working on the door at their dance a week before she died. She often organised dance programmes, and callers for the dances and dance weekends and was still actively writing articles about dance for newsletters and magazines. She was used extensively as a reference point for many dance organisations apart from the TSDAV and tried to keep everyone on the "right path". The latest project she had embarked upon with Lucy Stockdale and the VDA (and one which will still be completed) was the reviving of what she believed was the last remaining substantial body of quadrilles and cotillons in the Australian tradition, some of which are quite different from those revived previously (assuming, as Shirley would say, that no-one found a previously unknown dance book in their attic!). She was also making plans for her annual trip to Nariel at New Year and to the 2002 National Folk Festival in Canberra where she hoped to be able to present a workshop.

I, like many others, will certainly miss Shirley, her sense of humour, her turn of phrase, her knowledge and her willingness to help wherever she could. It has been an honour to have known and worked with her.

Lucy Stockdale


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory