Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Stories of Reconciliation: Building Cross-Cultural Collaborations between Indigenous Musicians and Undergraduate Music Students in Tennant Creek

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Stories of Reconciliation: Building Cross-Cultural Collaborations between Indigenous Musicians and Undergraduate Music Students in Tennant Creek

Article excerpt

Introduction

As we board the Greyhound bus for Tennant Creek late one afternoon in June we don't quite know what to expect. We have equipped ourselves for thirty-six hours of travelling and two weeks at Winanjji-kari Music Centre as best we can, but in all honesty we are entering the great unknown. No orientation sessions, journal articles, or words of advice can really prepare us for what lies ahead. The familiar lights of Brisbane fade into the distance as we travel the road northeast to Mt Isa and Camooweal. The landscape starts to change into dry red earth and the late afternoon sun turns the termite mounds a warm orange colour. Just after we pass Cloncurry a dramatic sunset gives way to a stunning night sky of stars. As I lean against the frosted window and watch the outlines of trees flashing past, it occurs to me how unusual this situation is. University courses rarely venture beyond the walls of their institutions like this, and consequently students and Indigenous musicians are seldom given the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with one another. As I think ahead to our two weeks in Tennant Creek, I am keen to observe what happens when we make such a shift, and exchange our university classroom for an Indigenous community. I want to understand what happens when pedagogical practices are decolonised and placed into the hands of Indigenous Elders and musicians. I am curious to observe what exchange of music and ideas might transpire when students and Indigenous musicians are given the opportunity to spend time with one another and collaborate.

As I stretch my arms above my head and glance behind me I notice the contorted shapes of the students' silhouettes. All seem to be sleeping soundly despite their awkward positions. This group of students come from Queensland Conservatorium (Griffith University), the School of Education & Professional Studies (Griffith University), and the School of Music (The University of Queensland). Amie, Andrew and Ryan are studying music technology and Carly, James, Lecia and Rhiannon are studying music education. I have been given the task of organising and facilitating the trip with the assistance of my colleague Myfany Turpin, who has been working in Central Australia for a number of years. Our decision to travel to Tennant Creek was not an arbitrary one. The Queensland Conservatorium was invited to bring a group of students to work at the Winanjji-kari Music Centre in 2009. This transpired after the Conservatorium's Director Huib Schippers met a group of musicians from Winanjji-kari at a conference in Alice Springs the year before. They dreamed up a plan together whereby a bus of students would travel to Tennant Creek to collaborate with the musicians for two weeks. I was then given the daunting task of making this dream happen. As I gaze up to the night sky and think of the road we've travelled to get to this point, and all the hours of preparation and planning, I can hardly believe it is happening.

Some hours later the gruff voice of the bus driver interrupts my thoughts, "Okay, folks we're almost in Tennant Creek." We all turn to look at each other in a sleepy daze. The digital clock at the front of the bus glows the figures: 2.59 (am). Groggily we gather our belongings as the bus pulls into the local BP station. Myfany, Jeff (from Winanjji-kari) and Alan (from Barkly Regional Arts) are standing there to meet us with two troupe carriers. The cool morning air greets us as we climb down the bus stairs. We have finally arrived. The distance and remoteness of this place is not lost on us.

In the two weeks that followed that gruelling bus journey the students participated in a range of activities. They played music on many occasions with the Indigenous men employed by Winanjji-kari (mainly rock, country, and original songs written by the men), assisted with the set up of a new Music Centre at the Drover's Hall and undertook a range of recording projects. …

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