11 September 2019

The medicine of music on the streets of Cooma – the Australian National Busking Championships

| Ian Campbell
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Sharon White, “Music is healing.” Photo: Ian Campbell.

Sharon White, “Music is healing.” Photo: Ian Campbell.

The recent Australian National Busking Championships were more than a tourism and commerce promo for the Monaro.

Sure, the tills were ringing, but for those who stopped to listen and watch the 180-odd performers dotted around Cooma’s CBD, something more valuable was at play – the joy and medicine of music.

Despite the grandiose name, this year was the first time the Championships were a truly national affair.

Throughout 2017, Rotary Clubs along the East Coast staged their own regional heats, culminating in a Cooma showdown on the first weekend in November.

The best buskers from Noosa, Stanthorpe, Ballarat, Wangaratta, Narooma, and Berry competed across a range of categories.

The top prize of $2000 went to Ballarat’s one-man band, Geoffrey Williams. The Rhythm Hunters from Narooma Primary School won the crowd vote and $1000 – their drums and spunk were hard to walk past.

Cooma music teacher Allan Spencer and his comrades from Cooma Rotary got the momentum rolling and are rightly proud of their ‘baby’ six years after it started as a Cooma only event.

“Yeah we’ve got some wonderful stories,” Allan says.

“There’s Canberra’s Guyy Lilleyman, who won in 2013 and 2014, and on the strength of 2013, he was picked up by an agent and he had a tour of South Africa.

“He went on to complete a 10-week tour of Afghanistan, entertaining Australian and NATO troops,” he says.

There is an art to pulling a crowd on a busy street of passers-by who are perhaps more intent on getting the day’s groceries than stopping to listen to some tunes.

Being cute, loud, and colourful is worthy and part of the festival’s appeal but what unfolds in Cooma is a genuine celebration of music and those who share it with us.

Sharon White, a singer-songwriter from Sydney, remembers coming to Cooma as a kid on holidays.

Her powerful voice sitting on a milk crate in front of the fish and chips shop on Sharp Street called me over from the big trees of Centennial Park.

Stopping to listen I realised there was more to this little lady with a cane.

The lyrics she sings speak of love, loss, hurt, recovery, and release.

“She’s got a story to tell,” the couple next to me says to each other.

Sharon didn’t win any of the awards that day – the fact that she is alive seems to be Sharon’s prize.

“I write all my own songs, and events like this are good for original material,” Sharon says.

“There are a few people here playing covers, and they’ll probably get the people in, but my stuff is personal.”

Sharon White, “I am already a winner.” Photo: Ian Campbell.

Sharon White, “I am already a winner.” Photo: Ian Campbell.

Sharon says she comes from a musical family.

“My great-grandmother was Sydney’s second-best opera singer,” she says.

“I’ve got her voice.”

Dame Nellie Melba was the only voice better than her great-grandmothers according to Sharon.

“I just do what I do because I love it,” Sharon smiles.

“I write about life experiences, everything that happens in my life, I’ll probably write a song about talking to you!”

At the suggestion that music might have a healing effect in her life, Sharon pulls a pink, polished gemstone from her pocket with the word ‘healing’ engraved across its surface. A lucky stone that pushes her on.

“I lost my brother and I sort of lost myself for a little while, I was messed up, too much alcohol,” Sharon starts to explain.

“And my son said to me one day – if I lose you, I’ll have no one, so I said okay, I’ll fix myself up.”

The song “I am Gonna Fly” from Sharon’s homemade album “The Naked Truth” was born of that time.

“I sing that song now with a smile because it’s now a recovery song, it gives me strength and I think of my son and brother,” Sharon says.

“It makes me go on.”

The walking stick that helps Sharon cart her amp and guitar around Cooma’s CBD is a reminder of a car accident that almost claimed Sharon’s life, another time when music played its healing tune.

“I don’t even know it [music]’s there, I just do this,” Sharon says.

“I come up with songs all the time, it feels good to create something that wasn’t there before.”

Another song “I am Going to Nashville” points to where Sharon hopes her music and a few coins in her guitar case will take her one day.

“In Sydney, I can make about $300 in three hours,” she says.

While it was a fella from Ballarat and a bunch of kids from Narooma that claimed the big prizes at the Australian National Busking Championships, Sharon says the festival has been a great opportunity to share her music.

“It doesn’t matter if I win or lose, I’ve already won – I have my life and I have my songs,” Sharon says.

Sharon has auditioned for the upcoming season of the TV talent show “The Voice”, she’s waiting to hear if she has made it through to the next round.

Cooma will be cheering you on Sharon!

*This article was originally published to Riot ACT

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