Jigalong is a community with great historical significance. Now home to about 400 people, it is where a lot of Mardu eventually settled after leaving the desert in the 1900’s. Once quite remote, it is now only 150 kilometres from the mining town of Newman. 

We were here in Jigalong with Ngurra Kujungka (NK), a Mardu owned and managed sport and recreation program funded mostly by Newcrest’s Telfer Gold Mine. Nicole from NK ran sport activities while we delivered music workshops for the kids still in town over the school holidays.

The Crew

Maisie, Mat and I have a wide range of skills between us. Maisie works at Fairbridge Festival in programming, has been playing guitar for 20 years, and in original bands for 15 years. Mat teaches guitar and piano to primary school kids and writes and produces his own music. I have a classical music background, playing viola in ensembles around Australia, but have found a love for teaching and just got back from nine months studying at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary.

Songwriting workshops

The main aim for our week at Jigalong was to write a song with the kids. We wanted to give them the opportunity to sing, play instruments, make music by themselves and with others, and finish the week with a recording or performance of their song.

We started each session with Mat, Maisie and I playing a song so the kids could get settled and calm after a sport session with Nic. Then we played some musical games and activities to develop basic music concepts such as recognition of high and low pitches, feeling the steady beat, moving to music and lots of vocal exploration exercises to get the kids voices warmed up. We had a wide variety of ages from toddlers to teenagers so we were constantly improvising and changing our game plan. It’s all part of being up here, we’ve all learnt to be flexible, relaxed and tailor the program to whoever we’ve got in the room.

To aid in our songwriting sessions we decided to go with a structured composition approach. We deciding on the style, wrote the chords and used a call and response structure that the kids could easily create lyrics for. The first songwriting session saw the kids creating word lists and drawings to show what they like to do in Jigalong. The local swimming pool featured strongly and is obviously the best thing to do in town!

Before the next session we compiled the kids words into rhyming lines and worked out a simple structure and three note melody that they could successfully learn and sing in one session. We taught the song through speaking then singing the text and we practiced multiple times. English is a second, third or fourth language for Jigalong kids so we taught the song by rote and had the words as a visual aid. Then it was time to record!

We found that the most successful method of recording vocals was to sing as a group and have a microphone wandering around rather than trying to record one by one. Mat had created the beat and chords already so the kids could easily sing along. This was a great success and a lot of fun for everyone. We also had a toy trumpet that played a C major chord which was a big hit and added so much fun and playfulness to the track. When the session was over Maisie, Mat and I put down some uke, violin, bass, guitar and shaker. Some girls from the session came back a few hours later to do another round of recording. They opened up with less people in the room and we recorded some beautiful singing and lots of giggling.

Then it was time for the pool! It was such a great place to cool off and hang out with the kids, they loved swimming with us and lying on the pavers to warm up after a dip.

We’d been taking video footage all day and the next morning Maisie set to editing it all into a video clip. Mat had spent a few hours the previous night mixing the track and we had the two ready to show the kids at the next session. They watched it three times in a row!

We had the opportunity to play the track for the kids and families on our last day in Jigalong at the pool party/BBQ/concert featuring local musicians Gareth, Kenneth, Kerrin and Conway who had been recording and rehearsing with us over the week.

We’re waiting on consent from parents and guardians to show the video but in the meantime, enjoy the song, it’ll get stuck in your head I promise.