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8 maja 2007
A brief history of General Kosciuszko’s encounter with the Windjammers
R&G Wills-Wood

Puls Polonii: Graham refers to Oscar Wilde's brilliant play 'The Importance of Being Ernest'. See a link at the end of the article.

A brief history of General Kosciuszko's encounter with the Windjammers or "The Importance of Being Ernestyna”. The moral of what you are about to read is that wonderful things happen when lots of small things add up! Mathematics rules!

At 8am on 17 February 2007, on a glorious and calm Saturday, a conventional-but-wacky bunch of aspiring and perspiring wind musicians played three dances written by General Tadusz Kosciuszko on the highest point in Australia, Mt Kosciuszko. This is thought to have been the first ever concert on the highest point of a continental peak – Guinness Book of Records material. How did this ever come to happen? This is the one true account of possibly the most bizarre event in the history of homo sapiens musicus.

Jindabyne Lake. Photo Chris Malek

It all began a year previously, when two people met at a gathering. The first party to this meeting was Mrs Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek, the second was Mr Graham Wood; they discovered in chatting that they had music in common. Ernestyna was a music ferret and Graham a pusher – a pusher of a wind ensemble called the Sydney Windjammers. Together they to'd and fro'd and Ernestyna revealed that she had recently come across the scores of two polonaises and a waltz, all written by a Polish hero, General Kosciuszko. Graham, ever ready with a piece of nonsense, immediately chipped in, party style, Wouldn't it be great for the 'Jammers to play this music, and why not on the top of Mt Kosciuszko?”

Sydney Windjammers in Jindabyne, 28th April 2007. Photo Chris Malek

Graham was not a discerning person and his naivety revealed itself at this time more clearly than an open zipper. If you say something like this to a Pole, you see, it is taken seriously. Within milliseconds Ernestyna had an idea and within 24 hours Graham had the music.

Nothing happened for a few weeks. This was, looking back on the saga, an atypical period. But then all hell broke loose. Graham was rehearsing with two extraordinary musicians, Jo and Mark Walton, when he mentioned the scores. Jo, a capable arranger herself, offered the services of Mark to do the arrangement for the Windjammers, saying he could knock it off on one of his morning train rides from Hornsby into the city. Mark said “Knock it off? Knock it off!” and turned the job over to Jo.

Little doggy meeting little "Krakowianki". Photo Puls Polonii

Well, more time passed (musak in the background here) and then one wintry night at the Hunting Lodge where the `Jammers were rehearsing, the fire was glowing and Mark and Jo came to help. Partway through the eve Mark, in his usual low-key poker-faced fashion, pulls out a bunch of fresh sheets of music, passes them around without a word (unusual for him) and we see in front of us a super-duper arrangement of the three dances – we’d really almost forgotten about them. It was a classic case of love at first sight-reading.

August came around. Macquarie University hosted a General Kosciuszko exhibition and the `Jammers played the dances with enthusiastic polish (I caution, the polish was on the instruments) before an equally enthusiastic polished Polish audience. Here we met Joanna, who invited us to play at the Polish Club in Ashfield and even to play at the Polish Day in Darling Harbour, in December.

On Sunday 29th April one could buy Polish beer "Zywiec" in Cooma Hotel. Photo Puls Polonii

These events were memorable in themselves – particularly the latter, which was largely rained off, but provided the perfect forum to showcase the stoicism of Poles – their ability to counteract external liquification with internal liquification was remarkable.

All this was a preamble to heights of performance previously never encountered. As with all mountain ascents, a reconnoitring group of four (Ernestyna, Andrzej, Graham and Rita) climbed Mt Kosciuszko in January 2007, with wonderful guidance and support from the National Park people. The weather though was a worry. We experienced sudden changes from fair to fiery on the peak, witnessing a lightening strike in the distance as a storm approached, and a pyre arising a few minutes later from tinder dry bush.

We were told our chances of being able to play atop the mount were minimal, and that we should have contingency plans in excelsis. Undeterred, Ernestyna forged onward.

Ernestyna was a marvel during the next month while preparing for the big event in February – and so too was her support, Andrzej. Ernestyna's brow was furrowed, her pad full of lists, her mobile phone constantly ringing, her email inbox nothing but a what-a-to-do. “Hoj, Hoj…” *) she would call to Andrzej when things grew too bad to cope. Ernestyna coordinated dances, musicians, engineers, camera crews, photographers and media moguls with a skill she still denies.

Jindabyne, Memorial Hall. Artists' get-together during lunch. From left: Vendulka Wichta, Olivia Kierdal, David Keetley & John Hospodaryk. Photo Puls Polonii

February 17 dawned. The sky was perfect, the air still, the full complement of entertainers gathered with palpable excitement showing in their faces and the Fairidge engineers with their trucks ferried us (without fare) up to the ridge. Musicians with dances, dancers with music, youth and mellowness combining in a festival without compare. It truly was a dream come true. Many, many small efforts had summed to become an event that will be remembered and recounted for the rest of some lives – and those of coming generations. Now we believe!

For David and Graham - dreams of playing on Mt Kosciuszko came true.Photo Puls Polonii

And finally, the coda. Was it the momentum of the mountain or are we now being driven by pure Polish power? Only a month later and we all gathered once again, this time at ground level, in Jindabyne and Cooma, for a polished reprise. Thanks Ernestyna, your energy has done lots for us and we love you for it!

There once was a lady, Ernestyna,
An impresario - there was nobody meaner,
On Kosciuszko we played,
And t'will long be conveyed,
"Nothing phased her perfect demeanour”.

R&G Wills-Wood,
6 May 2007AD.

(Puls Polonii: *) "Hoj, hoj" means in Polish "chodź, chodź!". Rita, hearing this exclamation more often, adopted it and even had coined a new expression: " I am hojing" which in her understanding was to mean: yeah, I am coming.What an amusing neologism!

Oh, and the promised links are just here: