In 2009 during my university summer holidays I encountered an opportunity to live in the remote Australian Aboriginal community of Ngukurr. Located in the Roper River Shire of Australia’s Northern Territory, moving to this vast bushland wilderness provided a diverse contrast to where I was born, the South Island of New Zealand.
My mother was a senior teacher at Ngukurr Community School and lived there. I was half way through my music degree with my summer break ahead, so I decided to spend time with my mother in the Northern Territory. The school principal offered me some work as a teacher aid where my duty was to work with disengaged indigenous youth. Because of my musical background, these young people where keen to hang out and jam. I was instantly astounded by how well they could feel and demonstrate rhythm. With guitar chords, drum beats and strumming patterns combined with basic broken English, we could communicate, interact and understand each other.
I quickly learned that indigenous people living in Ngukurr are very weary of ‘The White Man’. To them, we were unfamiliar aliens invading their land. These young students I was playing music with had spread the word around the community that a newly-arrived ‘White Man’ could play music. After a week, I was making friends with many locals from youth through to elders. Every evening the Community Recreation Centre would be opened up and the amps were turned on. We would all share instruments and take turns playing music together. Although the locals loved to play country and reggae music, they really enjoyed joining me on a few alternative rock and blues style tunes. To them I was the first ‘White Man’ to arrive prepared to walk on common ground.
After my summer in Ngukurr I returned to New Zealand to finish my music degree. Upon graduating, I moved straight back to Australia to begin exploring its vast corners and wilderness. I worked a few backpacker jobs on the east coast before buying a car. I then drove through the desert, all the way to Central Australia. My mother had moved south from the Top End to Ntaria Community School, 120kms west of Alice Springs. I arrived and the Principal was kind enough to offer me some cleaning work. I decided to stay and live with my mother for a while. Like Ngukurr, Ntaria had a community recreation centre with band equipment and many local musicians who would meet every evening and play. I started going over to and introduced myself. I was invited to bring my guitar and join in. Yet again, I had made a connection with indigenous Australians because of music. This made me realise that music is a universal language and is an avenue to connection and reconciliation.
Since then, I have trained as a music teacher and my first teaching position was with the Northern Territory Music School. My job was to visit several aboriginal communities to teach music and run rock band workshops. Through my experience playing music with indigenous Australians, I was able to understand that everybody sees the world in their own unique way and reality is purely perception-based.
During one of my routine music teaching visits to the remote communities of Papunya and Yuendumu, I met Neil Murray (an important identity of the Different Perspectives unit studied by students at Caloundra SHS). I was jamming with the senior boys in the Papunya school music room when Neil Murray came in with a few local aboriginal elders. These elders were relatives of the students I was working with and wanted to join us. They each had a play, including Neil. I didn’t know of Neil Murray at the time, but later discovered that he was a very well-known and respected member of the Warumpi Band. I was absolutely blown away when I found out that I had jammed with such an inspirational musician. To this day, whenever I hear ‘My Island Home’, I am reminded of why I pursued a career in music – “to express my feelings and learn from people walking alternative aspects of life”. I didn’t realise at first but I was welcomed into indigenous Australia in a way that most are not. I arrived in aboriginal land with an intention to share music and, to the locals, that was highly respected.
I have now developed a strong respect for indigenous Australians and love sharing my stories from the Northern Territory to inspire others. I met the most peaceful and spiritual people in Central Australia and, through interacting with them, I have been able to awaken my own aspect of spirituality. I believe we are all here to help each other learn and grow. Remaining divided by stories of difference and fear will only keep us buried in a bubble.