In North West Tasmania, a unique music event held in farm sheds is enabling young disadvantaged teens to learn life skills along with new digital abilities.
There is something quite extraordinary happening in North West Tasmania. A music festival held in farm sheds is equipping young people with confidence, capability and digital tech know-how. In March this year, 35 young women aged 14-16 from Big hART’s Project O initiative, helped produce Acoustic Life of Sheds, which saw over 1200 people enjoy musical performances in farm sheds along the stunning North West Tasmania coast.
The event ran for four days as part of the Ten Days on the Island festival, with 51 performances at five sheds. For these young people, who come from a community which struggles with literacy, employment, family violence, poverty, isolation and school retention, the event built not only a renewed sense of community but also developed self-confidence, agency, leadership and digital skills.
At Acoustic Life of Sheds, young people were acknowledged and welcomed by the community, made friends with farm owners, spoke to the media, joined in with the crew and cast and were an integral part of the event. They were no longer invisible or on the outer – they were strong, capable and inspiring; they had a voice and we heard their story.
At the Potato Shed, we stood transfixed as young women performed percussion with professional vibraphone artist Maggie Abraham, and listened to a spellbinding audio experience where young people talk about their favourite local place and what it meant to them. At another shed we saw teenagers assisting with digital filmmaking, photographing, sound engineering, stage management and creating posts and video content for social media.
Local entrepreneur and former policewoman Andy Jackman has mentored the young women of ProjectO through her family business Red Cow Organics, which specialises in organic artisan cheese created with sustainable farming practices. “I grew up in a really stable household”, she said. “Mum and Dad were there, my siblings were there. Normal life was family life. A lot of the girls we’ve worked with, that’s not normal for them.”
Young people from the program assisted Andy at her food stall at one of the sheds, learning catering and hospitality skills. “The progress that a lot of these girls have made, it’s amazing”, said Andy. “You can see the transformation from when they first start the program to when they graduate in Year 10. I can see the power in that and I love it.”
In the weeks leading up, ProjectO participants from Wynyard and Smithton learnt digital podcasting, audio craft and storytelling skills with Helene Thomas, of mobile recording studio The Wayfinder, creating immersive audio stories that audiences listened to at Acoustic Life of Sheds.
“As someone who was born and raised on the North West Coast of Tasmania it was such an honour and privilege to be invited to mentor young women in the art of audio storytelling. These Year 9 and 10 girls have profoundly strong voices with powerful messages”, Helene told us.
One young woman Helene worked with was 15-year-old Trinity from Wynyard. “Trinity took me to her special place, spoke about why she liked to go there and how it made her feel. She captured sounds of the water and birdlife so beautifully. It’s heartening to know organisations such as BighART are committed to engaging with young rural women to help build personal agency, skills and employment pathways.”
Over at cattle property Gumhill, where a woodworking shed has been turned into a performance venue, farm owner Devon Cruickshank also talked about the community that Acoustic Life of Sheds has created. The young women linger between shows in her kitchen, lapping up her homemade cakes and sharing recipes. Unofficially, Devon has also become a mentor and friend of the young women, someone who will look out for them in the community. “It brings the community together. The experience for the girls is lovely, to see how warm everyone can be and support them”.
Northwest Tasmania is an area marked by lower levels of digital inclusion, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. Arming these young women with digital skills is important to foster capability and confidence in an increasingly digital world. But it is more than that, as digital inclusion specialist Robert Morsillo from Telstra says. “Digital inclusion is vital to social inclusion. To have a sense of connectedness is to have a sense of community and hope.”
A few weeks later, nine ProjectO young women took Acoustic Life of Sheds on the road to the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania, as part of a special community recovery weekend after the intense bushfires that affected the area. The young women took over the ProjectO Facebook page, posting pics and stories during the weekend. Shania says, “We have had an amazing experience with the whole project and we are so proud of ourselves.”
Project O is an initiative of Big hART and proudly supported by Telstra. For more information visit www.bighart.org