I became a tourist in my own backyard, on a Tasting Australia tour with Maggie Beer, and discovered extraordinary Barossa Valley Secrets!
I’ve lived in South Australia for pretty much all of my life and if you asked me if I was familiar with the Barossa Valley, I think I’d reply with a fairly confident “yes”. However, I spent a recent afternoon as a tourist with the queen of the region, Maggie Beer, as part of her Tasting Australia event “A Few of My Favourite Things” which showed me some Barossa Valley secrets that came as a complete surprise to me. I’ll share more of the afternoon in a later post, but really just couldn’t wait to show you the most extraordinary thing they’ve got tucked away up there – a magnificent, fully restored 1875(ish) grand pipe organ.
This very beautiful 2,260 pipe organ (yes, you read that correctly) was made by the London firm Hill & Son for the Adelaide Town Hall and was opened there in 1877. It was enlarged in 1885, the splendid gold decorations were painted white in the 1930’s (that must have been a bit of a fad as my grandmother did the same to some antique furniture at around the same time) and substantially altered in 1970. The latter amendments were ultimately of no great benefit to the instrument and this grand old organ was mothballed in 1990 and replaced by the current one in residence in the Adelaide Town Hall.
It was dismantled and put into storage for a time, before being offered to the Organ Historical Trust of Australia on the condition that it be fully restored and kept in a public venue in South Australia. The Barossa Regional Gallery was chosen as the ideal venue as it had the vast amount of space and height required for the instrument as well as generous acoustics.
Over the past 15 years the organ has undergone extensive and careful restoration at the hands of local artisans and craftspeople. This work includes restoration of the entire mechanical key and stop actions, the wind system, console and restoration of the pipework and redecoration of the casework and pipes. It is the most extensive and accurate restoration of a late-19th century English concert organ ever carried out anywhere.
The (almost) finished project is absolutely breathtaking and a tribute the dedication of the volunteers who worked on it and the many charitable trusts, business organisations and individuals who financially supported it.
It is utterly astonishing to discover that we have such an historical asset under our noses and also that we have access to see and hear it. The organ is played regularly and used at concerts and recitals. The public can join weekly tours to examine the inner workings of the instrument, hear a short talk on it’s history and hear it played, in all of it’s glory, in a demonstration that defines the meaning of “pulling out all of the stops”.
For information about concerts and activities featuring this instrument, contact Friends of the Hill & Son Grand Organ secretary, Steve Kaesler on 0408 811 837.
Tours are conducted every Wednesday 11.30qm-12.00pm. Cost is $5, to assist in the maintenance of this historic organ.