Nelson Varcoe remembers his Uncles singing old gospel songs around the camp fires at Point Pearce Mission, Yorke Peninsula, the music echoing across the plains on hot summer nights. As a 12-year-old, he salvaged choke wires from an old Model T-Ford to cobble together his first guitar. “It sounded pretty good,” he says.
Now, after a lifetime of ministry and service, Nelson has published his first collection of 25 original ‘Godinspired’ songs in country-gospel style, dedicated to his mentors: “Aboriginal Christian Pioneers who travelled all across this country on the smell of an oily rag, to bring the gospel to our people.”
Melody lines, guitar chords and full lyrics are included in the book, but the CD brings the songs to life and makes the music accessible to all people, regardless of their musical skills. Nelson’s lyrics arise from a range of faith experiences: a retelling of the story of Nehemiah, or the disciples in a storm, a longing for ‘a Moses-moment’ on the mountain, the reassurance of the ‘Shield [of the] Most High’ for someone running ‘like a rabbit in the field’ or the call to stop and meditate in the quiet beauty of ‘Meroo’.
The title song: ‘Gift of Music’ – a catchy tune like so many of the others – expresses Nelson’s personal joy and gratitude for the gifts God has given. These songs have grown out of Nelson’s ministry as a pastor and chaplain, educator and artist. In the Foreword, his colleague writes, “Nelson has the capacity to tune into what is going on in the atmosphere of a certain event, confrontation or encounter, and to find music and words which somehow embody, enunciate or express the deep things of that moment.”
His own worship community knows each song by heart and helped choose the front cover design, which incorporates one of Nelson’s original paintings. He has shared many of the songs around the country, at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide, ecumenical gatherings, Uniting Church Synod meetings, city workshops and remote communities.
The publication is available from Uniting Church South Australia Mission Resourcing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (08) 8236 4200 ($29.95 + $10 postage and packaging).
*Margaret Gunn has transcribed the songs and edited the book.