‘Gunnie Moberg’s photographs of Orkney, her adopted home, defined
the people and the landscape of those islands in a way that has never
been equalled.’ (Obituary, The Times, 9 November 2007)
'One of the reasons I first came to Orkney was George Mackay Brown. We had a mutual friend, Kulgin, who had introduced me to his writing and we had some correspondence before I came. When a friend, Siggie [Sigrid Mavor, now Appleby] suggested we went up to Orkney, I jumped at the idea.
We sailed from Leith and arrived in Kirkwall on a cold March day in 1975. It rained, hailed and the wind blowing 60 miles per hour the whole three days we were there but still, you could feel the place was special.
Going to visit George, one night, standing in Mayburn Court looking up, we found his house in darkness. A handsome man stopped in the street. ‘Are you looking for George? I think I can help you’. We were taken to ‘Hopedale’ [home of the Bevans] by Archie Bevan. There, we were welcomed by his wife Elisabeth and by a roaring fire, with a mug of homebrew in his hand, sat George. It was to be the start of a long friendship with the Bevans and George. I think I must have decided there and then to move to Orkney but with a husband and four young boys I had to be doubly sure.
I came back the same Autumn, with one of my boys, Paul, to do an exhibition in the Kirkwall Library, not of photographs but of batik wall hangings with celtic and norse design. We stayed at ‘Hopedale’ [home of the Bevans] and during that fortnight I met so many interesting people, both there and at my exhibition, people who was going to make an impact on our lives later. Gerry and Nora Meyer, John Broom, Ian and Jean MacInnes, Arnie and Ola Tait, Andy and Glenys Alsop and Ernest Marwick. No wonder I thought the place was interesting! Archie and Elisabeth’s hospitality seemed boundless at ‘Hopedale’, it was a wonder not a dozen tramps were staying there too!
I also met Max that Autumn. I read in my diary Sept. 3rd ’75, Maxwell Davies here (Hopedale), with his parents. Max has light. Reading this now, it makes me smile. I sound so young but a good description of Max all the same. I see, we also made two visits to Bunnertoon [Peter Maxwell Davies’ cottage in Rackwick, Hoy].
Moved up with my family the following year, 1st of March 1976. At Scrabster the weather was so bad the St Ola couldn’t get in and it wasn’t much better the next day, when we sailed. Everything looked grey, where did my family think I was taking them? However, as we sailed into Stromness, the sky opened up and the sun shone on all the little stone cottages and piers. That was the last time we were going to see the sun for a month!
I can still remember the excitement of the early days of the festival. What a start it was, with the Martyrdom of St Magnus, in the saint’s own Cathedral. The fires of London would be up every year and their rehearsals were always very lively! Mary Thomas who gave many memorably staged performances, well, one can go on and on.
At ‘Hopedale’ everyone seemed to congregate, the first Festival Club! If not staying there, certainly eating, drinking, resting, telephone in constant use and interviews taking place. After performances, discussions would go on well into the night and often a walk out to Breckness as the sun was coming up. Everybody seemed to be on a ‘high’ all the time.
Apart from enjoying ‘Hopedale’, I would go to all the rehearsals photographing, then to the performances an in between cooking for guests and family. Developing films and printing was done at night, ready for the news media the next day (a trip to the airport with urgent pictures was often on the cards too). We lived down the road from Archie and Elisabeth, and the ‘spill overs’ would often come along too and there were many merry afternoons.
And to end it all, there were Max’s parties at Bunnertoon (how many sandwiches were made at ‘Hopedale’?!). Everyone was in a holiday mood as Stevie’s boat took us across to Hoy. At Moaness pier, Jack Rendall was waiting with his car to ferry people across to Rackwick. Many of us would walk through the beautiful valley. Then the climb up to Max’s, to be stuffed with food and drink and the sun always shone! It was a merry bunch who got off the boat in Stromness some eight hours later, and many farewells were said ‘until next year’.
As the festival grew bigger and bigger I found I couldn’t keep up and decided to stop recording events on its 20th anniversary. I still do the odd pictures and always the Festival poet for my own collection of writers, one day an interesting exhibition, I hope.
Many picture editors have said to me ‘you must travel a lot to have such a big library of famous artists’ and I say ‘no, they all come to me’!'
Gunnie Moberg, taken from St Magnus Festival: a celebration (2002, Orcadian)
Find out more about Gunnie Moberg here (link to https://gunniemobergarchive.wordpress.com)