Posted on April 26 2020
Music provided attention and fed my ego growing up in suburban Adelaide, leading to comfortable and relatively easy work in a well-crafted niche lasting right into my 40s. I craved a little more structure and reliability once I started my own family, and being a Reservist with the Australian Army Band has been a challenging, reliable and enjoyable part-time job for the last 11 years.
A while ago, I was having a beer with a mate who was tossing up ideas for his PHD thesis. He’s an ex-musician (and victim of my youthful musical ego), ex-arts administrator, business owner and life-long student turned university lecturer and researcher. An idea he floated was something along the lines of “build it and they will come, but why?” and pondered what is really happening when arts events contribute positively to our communities.
It brought to mind a series of gigs that the Australian Army Band has been part of in recent years, touring South Australian regions that have faced drought, fire or long-term hardship and how being part of them has broadened my ideas of the value of arts events in our communities.
In February this year, following devastating fires, loss of property, livestock and, tragically, 2 lives our Acoustic Group and Rock Band travelled to Kangaroo Island during Operation Bushfire Assist. We played a couple of cracking sets during a large community event at Parndana Oval before the iconic John Schumann closed the show with a powerful set, our efforts adding good value to a well-attended, stress-relief of a party.
But behind the scenes is where I feel the real value of our work lies. Some is practical: performing at all 3 campuses of the Kangaroo Island Community Education (KICE) schools to students letting off a lot of steam, playing in the front bar of the Parndana Hotel and encouraging everyone to take their families to the big event the next day, bringing a truck full of staging, lights and music equipment, setting it up for everyone including Kangaroo Island’s own talent to strut their stuff on, not to mention tearing it down and loading the truck again in the dark after everyone had gone home. The rest is less tangible: the admin and logistics putting the whole thing together, choosing and rehearsing new songs for the schools, chatting to teachers at the schools and giving them a break for an hour as well as shopping at local stores. All these elements come together to raise a single event over and above what it may have been as a purely commercial undertaking.
In January this year our Acoustic Group provided entertainment at the Australia Day Council of South Australia awards ceremony where the Regional Council of Goyder’s April 2019 “Day in the Dust” was awarded Community Event of the Year. The Mayor, Peter Mattey, explained that it had been an event without a band for some time until Army bands nationwide were asked to find opportunities to support drought-stricken regions and among the many calls our Music Director made was one to Goyder Council. Now, no matter how enthusiastic or charitable I feel, there’s a limit to how much I’m prepared to invest as a civilian musician. But built around a council’s request for a single performance by a rock band at a community event was a week-long tour of the states Mid-North including 5 school concerts, an intimate evening at the Burra Bowls Club and concerts at the Robertstown Hotel, Eudunda Community Hub & Shed as well as the Burra Rotunda, unused for many years.
Since beginning to work at these events, I’ve been humbled by people’s positive but pragmatic attitudes and their willingness to share their stories both inspiring and tragic. One summed up my new understanding of arts events in our communities and it took a few of these tours and a number of frank conversations for me to appreciate the significance of what, on the surface, sounds pretty simple; the band had been the deciding factor in convincing a friend and neighbour to finally leave the farm and come out for the night. The Mayor, in his welcoming speech at A Day in the Dust was frank about the concern for and the risks to mental health in the region and the reality of suicide among the isolated and long-term drought affected.
In the last few years members of the Australian Army Band – Adelaide have undertaken three tours to the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Project located in Yalata in 2018, two drought support tours to South Australia’s Mid-North and the Eyre Peninsula in 2019, a tour to Kangaroo Island as part of the Australian Defence Forces’s bushfire assistance in 2020 and supported Exercise Bandit engaging remote communities in far-Northern Queensland. I’m proud to be part of an organisation which invests a significant amount of time and resources actively seeking community events for the sole purpose of supporting that community’s objectives, contributing to their culture with the best resources we can provide and raising these events above and beyond the effectiveness they may otherwise achieve.
So what’s really happening when there’s an arts event in your community? I used to think I just had another gig, but I’ve had eyes opened over the last few year thanks to the enthusiasm of the organisation I work for and the open arms of the communities we’ve been welcomed in to.
To view the Army band perform at the Kangaroo Island community event, click here
To view the Army band perform at Kangaroo Island Kingscote School, click here
In the lead up to ANZAC Day, The Australian Army Band presented the song 'Travelin' Soldier' click here to view the breathtaking rendition
Visit The Australian Army Band Facebook page to see more of their incredible work.