Beulah Circuit named in honour of our Lorna

A street in the new ACT suburb of Moncrieff will be named for a member of Forbes’ Beulah family.

Beulah Circuit recognises the achievements of Aboriginal opera singer Lorna Beulah, who was born here in 1928.

Lorna, whose family moved to Toongabbie when she was seven, became known as “the nightingale” for her exquisite soprano voice.

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, who she named Victor after his father. She died in 2012 aged 84.

Lorna Beulah’s name was put forward to ACT Place Names by National Library of Australia historian and Forbes local Rob Willis, who was thrilled to hear that it had been adopted. 

“I was chuffed because a relatively unknown yet significant  Aboriginal woman, born in Forbes, had been recognised for her services to the arts,” he said. 

“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).”

It has been difficult to find out about Lorna’s later life and Mr Willis is still interested in talking to anyone who was in contact with her after her move to Melbourne.

“There is still so much more to find out about Lorna,” he said. 

“Was she the first female Aboriginal singer to study at Sydney Conservatorium? What of her late life and charitable work with the ‘Parkies’ in Melbourne?”

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. 

She wrote about her parents and her appreciation for the musical training they offered her, as well as some of the people she had the opportunity to perform with.

Her niece Marjorie Keys described her in an online tribute as “a wonderful daughter, mum, sister, aunt and nan and friend to many.”

Listen to Lorna sing

Lorna Beulah may have graced stages from the Sydney Opera House to Melbourne theatre, but the only known recording of her is from the Forbes Presbyterian Church Hall.

The recording, captured by Jack Cundill between 1962 and 1965, was on reel to reel tape at Forbes and District Historical Society.

Nobody could play it but it was labelled, so its significance was recognised. 

Rob Willis had the tape preserved and archived it with the National Library of Australia.

The recording is a little more than 30 minutes from a concert arranged by the ladies of the Presbyterian Church for senior citizens. 

“The recording is extremely significant as it is the only known recording of her but also gives an idea of the content of a concert in this era,” Mr Willis said.

“It also highlights the change in Australian accent and the social culture of the day.”

In the recording Lorna performs several light operetta pieces including an aria by Puccini, “Songs my mother taught me” by Dvorak and “Thanks be to God”. 

A male host who isn’t named in the recording introduces Lorna, welcomes guests from surrounding areas such as Bogan Gate, and provides some home-spun comedy in the intermission. A copy of the recording is available to listen to at the Forbes Museum.

The Beulah family’s history in Forbes

The Beulahs were known locally as a very musical family.

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 also as a staunch member of the Salvation Army as well as a well known cricketer and footballer in Forbes. 

Albert 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 played piano and studied singing from a young age.

Lorna told Dawn Magazine in 1963 that her two sisters played violin and her brother cornet in the Salvation Army band. 

“I don’t know how (my parents) did it … they must have had to make great sacrifices,” she said. 

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