Tasmania’s cultural life has been shaken-up in recent years by MONA and its festivals, but long before David Walsh there was Lucy Charlotte Benson. In this richly detailed biography, Anne Blythe-Cooper has restored to centre-stage one of Tasmania’s own “Eminent Victorians”. Organist, conductor, composer, performer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mrs Benson was so much more than the sum of these parts. Her capacity for work, her passion for the arts, and her ability to drive and enliven the cultural life of the rough little colony at the bottom of the world reveal the strength and impact of the individual creative human personality.
Robert Jarman, Theatre Director
This remarkable woman made a significant contribution to the cultural life of Tasmania through the performing arts. Performer, music teacher, organist, musical director, conductor, and costume-designer, she gained a reputation for excellence after her first successful interstate foray into choral competition. A seemingly tireless dynamo, she presented concerts and large-scale musical productions throughout the state, enriching the lives of her appreciative audiences. Amy Sherwin, (The Tasmanian Nightingale), considered Lucy to be “one of the best teachers of voice production in the colonies."
Anne Blythe-Cooper’s meticulously researched and beautifully presented book pays a well-deserved and fitting tribute to this worthy Tasmanian.
Noreen Le Mottee, Tasmanian Theatre Awards Judge, veteran actor and passionate theatre archivist.
A well-researched and fascinating read about Lucy Benson and her family and the important contribution they made to the cultural life of Tasmania. I began reading and I was hooked. Robyn Eastley, Archivist.
There are many Tasmanian stories still untold, much of historical import yet undocumented. Anne Blythe-Cooper has ably filled one of the gaps in the records with Leading Amateurs, her biography of Lucy Benson, a pioneer of what eventually would become known as community arts. Lucy was a tour de force, a mover and shaker, significant in the arts and cultural life of Victorian and Edwardian times. She was a musician, conductor, theatre director and promoter of the arts.
As Blythe-Cooper says in her introduction, ‘It seems unlikely that a woman born in Tasmania in 1860 should have a far-reaching influence on the musical culture of her nation and beyond. Not only was [Lucy Benson] a leading amateur performer of her day, but she was a leader of amateurs whose musical pedigrees extend to the present time.’
Tasmania’s population has always included a disproportionate number of artists, musicians and writers, and Leading Amateur is a worthy addition to the annals of this island’s cultural life.
Dr Terry Whitebeach, writer and historian