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Welcome to Wollongong’s Home of the Performing Arts

Memories of Merrigong – Lorraine Jones

Lorraine Jones - Local Organist

Lorraine Jones is fondly known as the organ lady throughout the Illawarra region. Her musical flair for the organ has been and still is a valuable part of the community. Most weeks, Lorraine visits the Wollongong Town Hall to practice on the pipe organ built by Ronald Sharp between 1966 and 1968. This organ was the 13th built by the famous craftsman who went on to build the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ subsequently.   

In Lorraine’s case, learning the piano was a prerequisite to being considered for organ lessons. When Lorraine was 6 years old her parents put her on a waitlist for piano lessons at the Port Kembla Catholic Convent.  

“We had no television or anything so in the 1940s there was a waiting list of 300+ children who wanted to play piano or violin,” 

“I began learning the piano when I was 10 which was years after my parents had put my name on the list,” she said. 

Lorraine’s musical talents came from her father who played the violin and she continued his legacy by playing the piano often at church, along with a small Harmonium organ for Church services and Sunday school children with a friend which she enjoyed. 

I was playing at the Dapto Uniting Church when I found a notice in the Church paper that you could learn to play the pipe organ at Wollongong Town Hall,” 

The teacher was Robert Ampt, a nowfamous Sydney organist/choirmaster and the lessons were run by the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music,” she said. 

Robert Ampt was in his late 20s when he began to teach Lorraine how to play the pipe organ with 10 other pianists selected. 

In the late 1970s only two years into her lessons, Lorraine gained the attention of the conservatorium, the Wollongong council and the University of Wollongong and she was asked to play for concerts, graduations and once for Sir Zelman Cowan, the GovernorGeneral of Australia during his five years of service. 

“I was involved in quite a lot of concerts. I remember getting up on the stage the first couple of times though and slipping on the floor because I was very nervous when I started.” 

Lorraine is now in her 80s and has played her fair share of church organs in some of the oldest churches in the Illawarra region for 70 years now. She is proud to be able to play as often as she does given that it’s such a physical instrument to manoeuvre.  

“There’s three lines of music to read for the pipe organ at the same time. You’ve got two keyboards and a foot pedalboard. One here, one there and your feet are going all the time, 

“It’s just very uplifting and I get enjoyment from playing. The Ronald Sharp organ is such a marvellous pipe organ really. I love all kinds of music and to be able to play on this organ is just wonderful,” she said. 

Lorraine along with a handful of other musicians, play the pipe organ regularly as part of the preservation required to maintain such a grand and intricate musical machine. If you walk past the Wollongong Town Hall during the week, you may hear the ethereal sounds of our beloved pipe organ during music practice. 

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