Actually there isn't much shapenote in Melbourne. A very nice couple, Natalie and Sean, spent three years in the US while doing post-doc work and at the very very end of their time their they found this music and just loved it. They have started up a small regular group that consists mostly of people they know from their church, although, to my relief, the singing wasn't at all a church event even though it was held in the church manse and hosted by the minister (with copious wine and port, of course, this being Australia and not the Fundamentalist south). Well, Natalie and Sean brought the dinner but we used the manse and drank the minister's wine. The minister was embarrassed at the Craftsman luxury of the manse, with its beautiful stained glass and woodwork, feeling it somehow inconsistent with religious austerity, but it was a beautiful place buried in one of Melbourne's neighborhoods (they call city neighborhoods "suburbs" here) and I wouldn't otherwise have had such an opportunity to see it.
Of course, that's the theme of my trip: Doing things I wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity for, without various connections.
Only four of us were there to sing, since this was a last-minute event and the group is tiny to begin with. Of that four there were no real basses (Sean and I traded off with each song -- both of us can basically read the parts and hit the notes but without the true bass resonance at the very bottom) and one newcomer just learning the tradition. And yet ... and yet ... it ranks among the nicest singings I've been part of. Natalie is a very good singer, with excellent reading skills (Sean would ask her for help to figure out a bass line now and then) and a good pure voice. Sean, too, is a fine singer with a sweet voice. Michael, the newcomer, was delighted to be singing at all, and he would follow along with whatever part the person next to him was singing -- when he got going he had a spirit and a volume that would do any song justice. Natalie sang treble, but for some songs she switched to alto when we felt that would work musically. At times the sound was rich and sweet and full, far beyond what you'd think a group that small could produce.
But even more important than the sound, this was just fun. And we talked and talked and talked. I suppose I did a lot more of the talking than was my share, but they were interested in the various tales I have of my experiences with many traditional singers in the south whom I've come to know over the years. The evening whizzed right by.
It's the embrace of Australia.