Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Tracee Hutchison
The Victorian alpine town of Mount Beauty was recently visited by the Soweto gospel choir of South Africa. The Grammy winning choir were brought to the town by a local resident wanting to thank local fire fighters.
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Eighteen months ago, the Victorian alpine town of Mount Beauty faced the prospect of being wiped out by one of the worst bushfires in history. As in so many other blazes, the dedication and courage of volunteer firefighters played no small part in saving the town. And one of the residents came up with a novel way of saying thanks: a concert by the Grammy award winning Soweto Gospel Choir.
Tracee Hutchison reports.
TRACEE HUTCHISON, REPORTER: It’s a long way from the streets of Soweto to the soft light of the Victorian alps.
GREGORY NDOU, SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: It’s good for us. It’s a good experience because even when we get to South Africa, we can say, “Yeah, I’ve been to Mount Beauty.”
TRACEE HUTCHISON: At this time of year, with Autumn in full blush, it’s hard to imagine this is bushfire country.
JABULILE DLADIA, SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: It’s touched our soul when we heard that people are being affected with the fire, so we just dedicate ourselves to support to give our support to them.
VUSI SHABALALAH, SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: I just heard of fire brigades stopping the fire. You know, I’d like to really – I’m looking forward to see what happened and what’s happening now.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: While the hectic touring schedule of the Soweto Gospel Choir is a world away from the experience of Australian bushfires, this choir is renowned for its charity work, which is what this bus trip is all about – to raise funds for local firefighters.
THEMBISA KHUZWAYO, SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: Even back home, community service is one of our main focus, and now, being in Australia and on tour and having to take part on this one, is a pleasure for the choir.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: It’s been 18 months since bushfires ravaged these ranges and the little town of Mount Beauty was a wind change away from catastrophe.
DAVE BERGMAN, TAWONGA CFA: It was a very hot day, very still. The siren went off to indicate there was a fire and, I guess, it’s one of those days you don’t want a fire. There was a big ball of smoke coming over the ranges and basically, as we travelled down towards this way, we could see that all this area was in trouble, and this whole range became on fire.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: At the height of the blaze, the property of local tea grower Dave Harley was ringed by fire.
DAVE HARLEY: We’re very lucky to be here. The fire came through that saddle over there. Fires don’t come downhill very quickly, usually. This just roared.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: More than 20 CFA trucks turned out to protect properties along the fire front. David Vigo’s place was one of them.
DAVID VIGO, MUSIC PROMOTER: It was about one and a half kilometres just up the road. If the wind had changed, as they were never sure about, it could have come straight through here.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Music promoter David Vigo wanted to say thanks to the CFA and did so in the best way he could.
DAVID VIGO: The only thing that I know what to do is to put on concerts. And seeing we manage the Soweto Gospel Choir, how about bringing them to Mount Beauty?
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Such an exotic prospect thrilled the little alpine community and it set about organising a welcome in suitable style.
CHILDREN (singing): “I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too.”
SHIMMY JIYANE, SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: We’re so excited to be here and, you know, everybody loves us and we love everybody, so, yeah, it’s good to be here. We’re excited.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: For the dual Grammy award winning choir, more comfortable these days on the world’s biggest stages, tonight it’s the modest Mount Beauty Community Hall. A big buzz around the town?
LOCAL RESIDENT: Oh, yeah. Everybody keeps asking, “Are you goin’? You goin’?”
LOCAL RESIDENT 2: Yeah, I think everybody in town is pretty excited.
LOCAL RESIDENT 3: It’s just great for the town to have something like this happening. It’s also great for the CFA.
THEMBISA KHUZWAYO: When I was walking around I had someone stopping me and saying, “Hello”, wanting to find out about tonight, the performance and they were just very excited to see us here.
VUSI SHABALALAH: It’s a special show for the people of Mount Beauty.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: For the three local brigades who share the proceeds, the recognition means a lot.
BRUCE VINE, CFA REGIONAL CO-ORDINATOR: There’s 60,000 CFA volunteers in the state and not one of them would look for any payment or anything like that. They wouldn’t look for anything other than a thank you. But this gesture is just wonderful – absolutely wonderful.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: Who’s going along tonight? Who managed to get a ticket?
BRUCE VINE: Yeah, I did very well. I managed to score two and very happy about it, thank you.
FIREFIGHTER: No, I missed out.
FIREFIGHTER 2: I was lucky enough to get in early, yep.
FIREFIGHTER 3: I was too slow.
FIREFIGHTER 4: The captain bought all of them.
FIREFIGHTER 5: Yeah, we managed to get tickets for all brigade members. So, we’ll all be here tonight.
SHOW PRESENTER: Thank you. So, ladies and gentlemen, we begin this evening with some of the gospel songs that soothe the soul.
TRACEE HUTCHISON: As the choir delivered its big-hearted tribute, the roof of this little hall felt like it might actually lift off. All that was left was the cheques and a change of headwear for the choirmaster.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Mount Beauty’ll never be the same again.