Musical offers solace to victims of baby “shovel”

“We can process some pretty serious trauma through music,” says Marcombee on keyboards, whose music is influenced by Julie Edwards, Rachel Derham and Poppy Pritchard. Photo/Verena Jonker.

When an artist from the far north began to uncover the harrowing story of the “baby shovel” era, she never imagined the personal connection – and lost older sister – she would find.

Sarah Marcombee’s new musical Put up and Shut Up sheds light on the relatively recent era when countless unmarried women were forced to put their babies up for adoption or simply told they had died.

On an organic farm at the end of a 15-kilometer dirt road in Hokianga, Marcombee has spent the last four years making music, although she’s been making music for much longer.

She and her husband had long dreamed of a rural life; a really simple life where they could grow their food and do their art.

Amidst the fertile lands near Waimamaku, she heard a heartbreakingly commonplace story of the loss of unmarried mothers.

Marcombee’s last album featured a song called Limbo, which tells the story of a young girl who becomes pregnant and is told her baby has died.

“Because she’s Catholic and the baby wasn’t baptized, she thinks it’s in limbo. As I delved deeper into the story, I learned that it was actually part of my own family history,” Marcombee shared.

“My mother was forced to give up a baby before I was born.”

During a writing session, as Marcombee was working on finding the right tone of voice for this lost sister, she logged onto Facebook for a break. Luckily, a message from her was waiting. Turns out they were both looking.

Marcombee said she’s wanted to write a musical since she was 10.

Your dream has come true with Put Up and Shut Up!

In it, she and three other women – Poppy Pritchard, Rachel Derham and Julie Edwards – sing a series of songs that tell the story of a woman who recalls the experience of being forced to give up her baby at 16.

In April, they began performing the show in people’s living rooms, as long as they were big enough to seat 20 people.

Although still in development, Put Up and Shut Up! was recently awarded Best New Work at Whangārei Fringe 2022.

The judges called the show “incredibly polished” considering it was still in development, and called the harmonies and storytelling “powerful.”

“Sarah Marcombee’s very personal family story was boldly told and beautifully told, and the motifs weaved through the story came together beautifully at the end to leave the audience feeling that they had experienced something very special,” they wrote.

The festival featured more than 120 arts events from Northland and across the country. Half of them were directed by the creatives at Te Tai Tokerau.

As part of her profits, Marcombee also receives development support for the work of Oneonesix, an arts and events venue in Whangārei.

In her research into the development of the musical, Marcombee said she learned that more than 100,000 women had their babies taken between 1955 and 1975 here in New Zealand alone.

“So many women asked to keep their babies,” she said.

“This story has been told before, but for me music is the missing link.

“What music does and what created this piece is a sure way to process the pain, to acknowledge it and to work through this generational wound.

“The Kaupapa is only supposed to bring it to the people to avoid fuss and money.”

According to Maggie Wilkinson – who has been campaigning for redress for decades and just this year church-apologises-57-years-later/ZY3XIM6WNVCQ2HBPC5MAOTL4AU/’ target=’_blank’> finally got an apology from the Bishop of Auckland for the Anglican Church – once joint mother and child homes were essentially baby factories for wealthy childless couples.

“If you were pregnant and unmarried or even divorced, this has happened,” Marcombee said.

“It was basically a state-sanctioned kidnapping. Our government and the UK are the only ones who haven’t apologized.”

Marcombee said audiences are moved and amazed, and often compelled to tell their own stories – or those of their mother, aunt or grandma.

“So the show sort of goes beyond the end of the show and we’re just making room for each other.

“There’s comedy in there, black comedy; it would be too terrible otherwise. Then it moves into a love story.”

The next scheduled performance is in January in Kaiwaka.

Anyone who is touched by the story and has space to host a performance is encouraged to contact us.

“We go where people want us to go.”

To find out more, search “Sarah Marcombee Music” on Facebook or contact:

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