The untimely early death of Limestone Coast identity – singer/songwriter and tour guide Brenton Manser – in January 2020 came as a devastating shock to the community. Among the sixth generation of Mansers who first arrived in Australia in 1839, Brenton was born in the south-east of South Australia, where he lived for most of his short life.
During the 1990s Brenton Manser worked as a soloist doing cover shows and had some success in the country music genre, winning best male vocal in the state competitions at Barmera in 1995. That year he also recorded a song he had written called ‘Ballad of the Bay’ – the story of the cray fishing industry in Port MacDonnell as he saw it, while growing up in and around the town in the 1970s. ‘Ballad of the Bay’ was nominated for a SAMI (South Australian Music Industry) award in 1995. He also wrote and recorded (live in the ABC5MG radio studio) a song called ‘Australia Remembers’ which was featured on ABC during the 50 years commemoration of VP day.
However, Brenton realised his style of song writing did not fit comfortably in the local country music scene so decided to wander off in his own direction ‘to see where my music would take me’. While playing and singing regularly in restaurants and hotels in Mount Gambier he always found time to chat with people and find out where they were from, sparking an interest in tourism.
In the year 2000 Brenton converted an old school bus into a motorhome and he and his wife Sandra and three sons – Bo’az, Jakin and Jeshua – travelled and worked around Australia, picking up gigs wherever he could, and this paid their way; the boys were home-schooled along the way. Wherever they set up camp they found there were many overseas tourists. Brenton enjoyed being an ‘ambassador’ for Australia in story and song so much that his future in music was cemented. After returning to the south-east, Brenton continued cover shows, performing a large variety of musical genres. Combined with a passionate interest in history, his song-writing themes centred on local history, family interests and humour.
While working part-time with Blue Lake tour operator Aquifer Tours, and at Dingley Dell Cottage and Museum at Port MacDonnell, relieving manager Allan Childs from time to time, Brenton undertook a two-year Advanced Diploma in Tourism Management.
In 2002, when a permanent part-time job managing a group accommodation facility in Nelson came up, Brenton considered it a timely opportunity to spend more time with his family and continue writing and performing music with his backing group ‘The Vanguard’.
From 1996 through to 2008, Brenton Manser hosted and performed at the official Australia Day Breakfast in Mount Gambier. In 1998 he was invited to perform at the inaugural ‘Mayoral Gala Performance’. In 1999 he wrote a song about a local tragic shipwreck – the SS Admella. The song was recorded live and featured all week in August 2009 during the 150th anniversary events in the south-east.
Joining forces with renowned cameraman Robert Tremelling, Brenton turned to producing and directing docudramas, the first being a one-hour film ‘The Wreck of the Admella’ in 2008, featuring Brenton singing his own song and narrating, and launched in August 2009. This was followed in 2011 by ‘Old Mary’s Ride’ (a re-enactment of the retrieval in 1937 of John Dutton’s racing Vauxhall from the Blue Lake after it crashed through a guard rail in 1936 and plummeted about 300 ft to the water, after the driver was luckily thrown out).
In 2014 the pair produced ‘Rider and Writer’, which premiered on 30 August in Mount Gambier’s Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre – the first film documenting the life of Adam Lindsay Gordon since feature film ‘Courage in your own’ was proposed by Garden City Productions, Ballarat, in 1947.
In 2008, Brenton recorded the ‘Forty Eight Two One Five’, which was uploaded to the National ABC Radio sound bank in time for the 60th anniversary of the making of that car. The 48/215 played on ABC radio around the country.
Brenton will always be remembered as a loving family man, and a brilliant musician, with a sense of humour. There is no doubt he will still be writing songs … and working on his next historic project … from his studio in the sky.