The Music of Harry Schaefer

This is the story of a musician, Harry Schaefer, who for close on half a century was a central figure in the musical life of Forbes, a town of 10,000 or so in the Central-West of New South Wales. Rob Willis, who collects folkore and oral histories for the National Library of Australia lives in Forbes and was given unique treasure trove of music mansuscript books put together by Harry Schaefer over half a century of more. Rob and I published some of this material as a manograph over 20 years ago and it is long out of print. We are now making the publication available as a downloadable pdf.

But I will let Rob take up the story...

The story of the Schaefer manuscripts

The name of Harry Schaefer was often mentioned by musicians around Forbes - accordion player Dave Mathias , the concertina player Lionel Pietsh, Merve Hawke and Jimmy Collits - the old time dance musicians all spoke of him with reverence. I had also heard of the shed full of musicial instruments that Harry was rumoured to have left when he died.

"It's a pity you were not around to have a yarn to him", they said.

Apart from the images of Harry riding his push bike to dances, violin and drum strapped to his back, there were also stories of a collection of music that he had handwritten over the years. The first indication that some music may have still been in existence was when Mrs Helen Bernardi, daughter of the late Martin Debenham of Forbes, gave me copies of some of her fathers handwritten tunes, and commented that Dad had played music with Harry Schaefer and a lot of the tunes were from him.

It is amazing how often an innocent remark leads to an event. I was browsing in the Eureka second hand shop and talking with one of the proprietors, Mrs Marie Snow about music (not an unusual practice for me) when the name of Harry Schaefer surfaced. The proverbial feather could have knocked me over when Marie mentioned that she had some manuscript books of Harry's. Would I like to see them? Could I find a safe place for them if she gave them to me?

The books had been obtained by a close friend, Mr Joe Hohnberg upon Harry's death in 1954. In turn they had been passed on to Joe's son, Steve and in turn to Mrs Snow.

I am certain that Harry Schaefer would be pleased and proud to know that his music is again being played.

Thanks are due to: Steve Hohnberg, Marie Snow, Naomi Steinhardt, Sue Petersen, Shirley Hohnberg, all the Wongawillians, Olya Willis, Biddy McClenahan, Ivy McClenahan and all those I've interviewed.

Rob Willis
Forbes 1995

The next page has more information on Harry's life, his family and his music.