Need a Lager-phone?

The finished instrument played by a percussionist

How often in your life have you needed a lager-phone?

When I was planning the launch of Goldfields Girl, back in March before the world went into lockdown, I thought about how Clara Saunders and her friends made their own fun at the end of a long day digging for gold in the dust and heat and flies of the new Coolgardie diggings. There was no TV, no internet, no concert hall, but there were people and they wanted to relax and have some fun. Situated 168 miles from the nearest small town, with no made road, just multiple wheel tracks across the desert, most of those first prospectors got there by walking. As well as their bed rolls they had to carry their pick, shovel, panning dish and billy. There was no way they were able to carry a musical instrument as well, except perhaps a mouth organ. But they needed music. They could sing – some better than others – and clap their hands, but they were usually a rowdy mob so they needed something louder to sing along to. They looked around for something they could make a decent sound with.

Enter the lager-phone.

Made from any tree branch that was sturdy and reasonably straight, and beer bottle tops. As you can imagine there were plenty of those lying around. The branch was smoothed down so that it was comfortable to hold and the beer bottle tops were nailed to the branch, loosely, and in pairs so that they rattled against each other when the lager-phone was shaken or banged on the floor. Could you buy such a distinctive musical instrument in a shop today? Could you buy them in shops even back in those days. I don’t know. Like the prospectors in 1892, we made our own. And we hope it won’t be too long now before before you can come and hear it being played at the outback pub when that comes to Perth for the launch of Goldfields Girl.

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