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The Doomed Bird of Providence – You Brought The Knife

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The Doomed Bird of Providence - You Brought The KnifeMark Kluzek‘s project The Doomed Bird of Providence began in London in 2009 with the aim of telling the stories of early colonial Australia. This latest offering, You Brought the Knife, is a haunting five-track EP that recounts the tale of Maria Murray (née Middleton) — a runaway slave, convicted murderer and transportee, largely forgotten by all but a handful of academics.

Musically, this record has much in common with the sea shanties and folk music of the south of England, based around repeated melodies, complex strings, driving percussion and punctuated with flute and voice. Kluzek’s vocal is deliciously dark and dirgeful, as is much of the melody.

The story unfolds from Maria Murray’s escape from her slave owners in Belize (British Honduras as it was then), to an altercation with disbanded soldier William Mair upon whom she inflicted the fatal knife wounds, to her transportation on convict ship The Borneo to Van Diemen’s Land. Although ostensibly a sad tale, it is hard to not be inspired by the story of Maria Murray, who appears to have made a life for herself in spite of her past.

The record is affecting and evocative. There is poetry in this music and the echoes of the times come searing through, much like the knife of Maria Murray. The cover artwork by Peter Aldrich makes a worthy companion to the overall tone of the EP. Although the record works well as a whole, from the trilling flute of its opening through the deftly woven musical tapestry of Maria Murray’s tale, it is the final track, “He Was Out To Sea”, that I found most satisfying. It is a magnificently dark piece of music, rich and strange with spine-tingling strings and thickly layered percussion conveying the sense of both trepidation and relief at the prospect of life in a strange new land.

If the object of this project is to engage an audience with not only powerfully affecting music but also a thirst for history then, in my case, it succeeds. I found myself scouring the list of transportees from the voyage of The Borneo to Van Diemen’s Land on 7 May 1828 and wondering at how many more of these women’s (for they were all women) stories are out there waiting to be told, how many lives changed forever — if not for better.

-Arwen Xaverine-

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