WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
9 July 2021 // Lorna Beulah
Lorna Beulah (1928 - 2012) was a Wiradjuri woman born in Forbes, Australia's Capital Territory (ACT). Lorna was one of five children born to Albert and Frances (nee Wilcockson) - her siblings being Ida, Neville, Margaret and Walter (known as Bert). Her grandfather Walter (Choc) Beulah was a well-known member of the Forbes Salvation Army band in the late 1800s.
Her father was a light horseman who served in the first world war.
Non-Europeans were officially barred from serving in Australia’s armed forces and Bert’s records indicate he tried to enlist three times before he was accepted.
On return from war, he was granted a soldier settlement block at Ooma. This is itself was unusual at the time, with the Australian War Memorial reporting that very few indigenous diggers were recognised this way.
Albert married Francis and they had five children, all of whom received a musical education.
Lorna's family moved to Toongabbie when she was seven. It was here that she became known as “the nightingale” for her exquisite Mezzo-Soprano voice. Lorna played piano and studied singing from a young age.
She found herself on the national stage when she won a NAIDOC Day talent quest - and a scholarship to the NSW State Conservatorium - in 1962.
Lorna was living in Alice Springs with her husband Thomas Oliphant and their two children, Tom and Tanya, when she submitted a tape recording of three songs to the NAIDOC competition.
She so impressed the committee that she was promptly flown to Sydney to appear on ABC radio, while her husband packed the children and the car and drove to Sydney.
After receiving a standing ovation at NAIDOC celebrations in Martin Place, Lorna started to perform around the country. She appeared on the national television show ‘Bobby Limb’s The Sound of Music’ and in many operas, 'Oliver' being among her favourites. She toured with Jimmy Little, Col Hardy and Harold Blair.
In 1965 Lorna earned a place in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for a 12-week Australian tour. This led her to Melbourne, where she re-married. She and Victor Lovett had one son.
Lorna and her colleagues were pioneering Indigenous artists: they opened the door for Indigenous entertainers in days when Aboriginal people weren’t even allowed in the venues where they were performing.
“This was before the referendum (on Aboriginal people being granted citizenship rights).
Lorna contributed articles to a couple of Aboriginal History Program publications, held by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, including Putting it Together and Now and Then, in the 1980s.
Lorna Beulah may have graced stages from the Melbourne theatre to the Sydney Opera House, and it was her voice used to test the Opera House acoustics, but the only known recording of her is from the Forbes Presbyterian Church Hall. The recording, captured between 1962 and 1965, was on reel to reel tape at Forbes and District Historical Society. A copy of the recording is available to listen to at the Forbes Museum.
She died in 2012 aged 84. A street in the new ACT suburb of Moncrieff, Beulah Circuit is named in honour of her achievements in the Arts.