For the fifth year in a row, the federally funded Grow The Music program based itself in the Wallaga Lake Koori community for two weeks of creativity, and connections; culminating in the free community concert held on Sunday (April 14).
The Koori village of Wallaga Lake is tucked away from the highway, beside the bright blue lake and the Grow The Music concert is a rare invitation for the wider community to come to the village, be surrounded by Indigenous culture and celebrate Aboriginal artists.
The program runs every day after school for kids but also works with local adult artists, supporting recording and music development, as well as encouraging musical mentoring and collaboration between all Indigenous musicians.
The scene at the Wallaga Lake hall is peaceful before the concert begins, with late afternoon sun streaming in through the windows, crowds gathered around the barbeque munching on sausages, Honorbread, and Tilba Cheese, kids playing handball on the narrow street and climbing a Lilly-Pilly tree loaded with purple fruit.
This year, the program was able to bring Roy Jugadai from Docker River in the Northern Territory to collaborate with Bermagui hip hop artist Gabadoo, as well as Matty Walker, who grew up at Wallaga Lake and now lives in Wollongong.
After a welcome to country from Gary Campbell, “underneath the asphalt, this country was and always will be, Aboriginal land” and dances by the lively Gadhu Dancers led by Trey Parsons, the music began.
MC Warren Foster fought back tears as he surveyed the crowd after the first performance.
“Thank you for coming. It means so much to me and to the whole community to see all these friendly faces.”
This is Warren’s third year as a local mentor for Grow The Music and he neatly summed up the impact the program has had on his community.
“These ladies [he gestures to the girls drumming group] have a big future and it’s because of little opportunities that add up. Being part of Grow The Music and just being able to stand up in front of an audience and perform, it makes such a big difference.”
Jazz Williams, Aboriginal Cultural and Community Engagement Officer for South East Arts, says that after five years of working with Grow The Music, the kids at Wallaga Lake are “seasoned performers.”
Wandandian Campbell, who is 13 and attends Narooma High School, is one of those seasoned performers, having taken part in the program every year since she was 7.
“It’s really fun, we go to the hall every day after school,” she says excitedly before the performance “and they have prizes so you can win a drum set or another instrument.”
Jazz says that levels of engagement with Grow The Music are high because the team foster connectivity by returning every year to build on friendships and connections and leave behind a tangible reminder of their commitment in the form of instruments.
South East Arts and Grow the Music always welcome donations of unused or new instruments for distribution through their programs around Australia, so that participants, including those locally, can build on the skills that they have begun to develop and foster a long-term love of music.“South East Arts will continue our work developing the Aboriginal arts sector in the region, and is committed to supporting professional pathways for Aboriginal artists and performers,” Jazz says.
Grow the Music will deliver a week of music and recording workshops for young people in Eden from April 17 to 22,at the Aboriginal Evangelical Church, corner of Moorhead and Clare Street, Eden. A partnership between the Department of Family Services and South East Arts.