WHEN drought hits, it devastates landscapes and lives in equal measure.
Rural Aid’s Wayne Thomson — who is the general manager of the rural Australian charity — sees the evidence of this on a daily basis.
“Everything we do is about trying to reduce the impact of drought on the mental health of people in rural and remote communities,” Wayne says of the current drought hitting large chunks of Australia.
“Buy a Bale is the big part of our work, also food vouchers, but one of the more left-of-field programs is Gift of Music.”
So while Rural Aid has given more than $6 million worth of hay to farmers in the past three years, and their Farm Army has 20,000 volunteers across the nation, in the past year they have turned their skills to a project more ephemeral, but arguably just as nourishing.
Gift of Music has so far seen about 400 largely preloved instruments — from ukuleles to guitars and even a cello worth thousands of dollars — donated to Rural Aid, which are then restored and donated to rural and remote schools.
About 25 schools around the nation — including Donald Primary School and Echuca’s River City Christian College — have been gifted instruments to boost existing school music programs, or to initiate new ones, or simply given to individual pupils who show potential.
Wayne says Gift of Music is the result of a request for help from an outback school after fire destroyed its music department.
“A call then went out and we had 75 instruments donated. One lady bought her daughter’s cello in to us with tears because it had bought her family so much joy and she wanted to bless someone else with that,” Wayne says.
“Then more schools made requests — we even had an indigenous school in Katherine ask for ukuleles because they wanted to attract kids to school and it’s an easy instrument to learn.”
Schools make a request for their top preferences and Rural Aid then tries to match this to donations.
Obviously pianos are logistically difficult to receive and donate, while recorders are the most common to be given.
Wayne says the key challenge in running Gift of Music is the logistics of receiving, reconditioning and then freighting instruments and they are seeking a corporate sponsor to help.
“In some cases shipping the ukuleles has been more expensive than buying them new,” he admits.
“So we’re hoping to iron this out in coming weeks.”
cash donation is often the donation, put towards the purchase of instruments that are on teachers’ request lists, or the repair of usable instruments.
Once an instrument is received, Rural Aid then passes it to a team of volunteer technicians who work on woodwinds, string and brass.
Evan Williams has run his own stringed instrument technician business in Brisbane since the early 1970s and was approached by Rural Aid to help recondition donations.
Evan says he didn’t hesitate to help work on violins, violas and cellos.
He says most of the instruments take about an hour to restore to working life — including replacing strings and bows — and most are entry level.
“There are people doing it tough out there and I’m not one of them. That means I have the capacity to be a support and give back,” Evan says.
“Families on farms are in hell at the moment — in some cases they are watching a generation of hard work disintegrate before their eyes. They have very few things in their lives that give them happiness and enjoyment.
“In such circumstances an instrument can give children a distraction and allow mum and dad to see a blossoming talent they didn’t realise was there. It brings them hope for the future.”
Wayne started as general manager at Rural Aid a year ago and says he and his wife both play piano, while their six children are all musically inclined, including Nicolas who is full-time with the NSW Police Band and Christopher who plays trombone with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
“Music brings a richness to families and so if we can give rural and remote families a window of brightness, a ray of sunshine, why not?”
Source: The Weekly Times