Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The Circular Head Community has gone through some difficult times recently, with the downsizing and closing of some major employers following floods and bushfires in the area. A street art installation in the main street of Smithton brought the community respite from the empty shopfronts and buildings that were still in need of repair. The community wanted to find a way to encourage artistic expression, bring the community together and encourage visitors to their town, while building on the creative art that already existed. With the incredible talent they have locally, it made sense to put on a three-week celebration of visual, creative and performing arts in what became the ‘Art About Town’ festival. Circular Head Council hoped that the project would not only provide employment opportunities for local artists but would also help to improve community engagement and social cohesion and boost tourism and the local economy. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from FRRR’s ‘Strengthening Rural Communities’ grant program and funded by the Sidney Myer Fund, the community was able to do all that and more.

The Art About Town organisers spoke to local schools, old and young artists, musicians, teachers, students, members of the Circular Head Heritage Centre and Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation to provide a diverse and well-rounded program of events and activities.

As part of the celebration, four original artworks were commissioned from local professional artists. The last one was a whole community art installation, led by a local artist in collaboration with the local school and wider community. Locals could enter portraits into the ‘Chartchibald Prize’ exhibit, which was shown as a local café and had upward of 30 visitors per day. Members of the community were also given the opportunity to have their artworks and photographs displayed in a local shopfront makers space and in a gallery space, with a youth and open age category with prizes available for entries. There was also an arts trail for locals and visitors to enjoy.

Dongara, a small town near Port Denison in WA, is home to a bevy of crafters and quilters. Every week, women from around town come together to craft and quilt. Every three years, they hold a ‘Hanging of the Quilts’ event, which attracts many visitors to come and admire the quilts and engage with other goods and services produced by locals.

Hanging of quilts

At the end of the festival, many of the quilts are donated to community charities and other organisations (such as Perth Children’s Hospital) to be enjoyed and loved by new owners.

The Dongara Patchwork Club needed some financial support to ensure that the 8th triennial Hanging of the Quilts festival would be able to go ahead. Support from the Strengthening Rural Communities program, thanks to the Bertalli Family Foundation, meant the daylong celebration of arts, craft and small-town creations was able to go ahead. The Dongara Patchwork Club used the grant to pay for venue hire fees, print catalogues, and to advertise the event.

On the day, more than 200 quilts were exhibited to visitors in themed rooms, many of which were hung with help from friends and family of those who had made them. The Veteran Car Club had a big display of vintage cars next door, which attracted more visitors. Dongara Denison Art Group, Geraldton Spinners/weavers and Lace Makers and the Pottery Club were also exhibiting their work and offered tutorials and hands-on demonstrations, and local producers set up market stalls to showcase their wares.

Allison Fosberry, who coordinated the event, told FRRR, “The members of the Dongara patchwork Club benefited from our exhibition through being able to display their workmanship and skills through the quilts they have made in the three years leading up to the exhibition. By being involved in the event, it strengthened the moral and health and wellbeing of the club’s members.

“The funds we raised will be used to allow the club to continue to make and donate quilts to community members and charity organisations in need of quilts.”

Merrigum Primary School is a rural Victorian primary school with a small number of staff and students. The school is committed to building school capacity to provide students with educational opportunities through enhanced, personalised learning.

Merrigum Primary School

Many Merrigum Primary Students come from diverse backgrounds and some require additional learning support – something that the school community strives to provide them with. One of the areas where the school wanted to offer more support was music activities and education for the pupils.

In partnership with Merrigum Primary School, The Song Room, an organisation that delivers integrated music and art lessons in school delivered a six-month music program to students from Foundation to Year 6, working alongside their classroom teachers. The program was possible with thanks to a $7,500 REAPing Rewards grant.

Students greatly enjoyed the program and looked forward to their music lessons. Caitlyn Trotter, who led the program for students, told FRRR that the children responded well to all the activities. 

“By the end of the lesson, they understood the basic (musical) terms. The children enjoyed being able to work together as a class and loved that they got to play an instrument as part of a song. This was always thoroughly enjoyed.”

This was reflected in the feedback from teachers, Belinda and Judi who reported that “The sessions were very well planned and built sequentially week after week to offer students the opportunity to develop skills at a targeted pace. The students had a lot of fun, and even some of the more reluctant musos were looking forward to class by the end of it.”

As part of the program, The Song Room also facilitated professional development lessons for the teachers, so that the music program could continue well beyond the formal end of The Song Room’s time at the school. Teachers were given lessons plans, games and instructions on how to facilitate music classes in a way that supports the current curriculum. Merrigum Primary School now also has ongoing access to more than 1,000 hours of online video resources from The Song Room to assist with planning and developing arts curriculum for students in the future.

When a popular city-based summer school music program made plans to bring the beat to the bush and put on a show alongside it, the whole community of Tenterfield NSW let the rhythm takeover. 

Recently ravaged by drought and fires, the small town was experiencing some hard times. Charitable organisation Hartbeat of the Bush teamed up with the Cuskelly College of Music’s Winter Music School in a bid to provide Tenterfield and the surrounding communities with a brief respite from it all – the result was a week long ‘Beat of the Bush’ festival during the July 2019 holidays.

Dr James Cuskelly has run a Summer School music program in Brisbane for years, but it was his long-held dream to bring the music back to the bush, to his roots. Despite the evidence that incorporating music in a child’s education shows life changing benefits, such as improving literacy, numeracy, confidence, behaviour and wellbeing, 63 percent of primary schools in Australia offer no classroom music. In regional and remote schools, there is limited or no musical and arts based education, and opportunities for children to actively participate as performers and artists, under the mentorship of professionals and in front of an audience, is rare and for some non-existent.

Hartbeat of the Bush supports arts, music and cultural development programs in regional and remote communities. This initiative was designed as a whole of community project, to enable participants to socialise with others from across and beyond their region. In total, around 160 participants attended the Winter School, travelling from Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Ashford, Texas and Newcastle and lots of other little places in between. 

The program kicked off with the Big Chilly Sing, a day-long singing and song-writing workshop that gave locals a chance to converge and get the toes tapping. This was followed by a range of courses and concerts for students of all ages delivered by more than 50 teachers, many of whom are internationally-acclaimed. 

A range of concerts were also put on by the Winter School music educators themselves, which were attended by 220 people each night. Locals and visitors alike were treated to a folk concert, jazz performances, a chamber music concert, an opera night, a piano concert and of course, the final night culminated in one of the biggest concerts Tenterfield has ever seen. The finale was a rendition of the legendary Peter Allen song Tenterfield Saddler, performed by all of the Winter School attendees, and arranged by Pete Churchill, who led the Jazz studies program.

Musical experiences like this help children develop social skills and build confidence. Children from all over the region who had never met one another, played an instrument nor sung in a choir before this program amazed their family members with the talent and skills they had learnt in just five days. Many of these children are still in contact with each other and cannot wait for the next event.
What’s more, the economic benefits for the town were significant, with cafes, restaurants and retail outlets benefitting from a lot of foot traffic at a time when the drought impact was being deeply felt. A large number of local community groups were involved in some way, from making lunches and morning teas to providing venues for the concerts. 

Hartbeat of the Bush President Ms Helen McCosker said it was a whole of community effort. 

“The whole community was abuzz – even though we had had fires, drought and could no longer drink the town’s water, we had provided the businesses with a little sense of what was normal, something to look forward to and grow for our little country town.”

The $20,000 grant received by Hartbeat of the Bush was funded by the Australian Government through FRRR’s Tackling Tough Times Together program. This covered the costs of running free daily buses within a 100 km radius for commuters from Warwick, Bonshaw, Glen Innes and Tabulum, as well as accommodation at the local Tenterfield Motor Inn for tutors (both overseas and those from Brisbane) and volunteers.