By Clare Bruce
When Levi McGrath and Andrew Hornerman heard about the rising levels of youth suicide in Australia’s remote indigenous communities, their hearts broke—and they knew they had to take action.
Levi, a singer-songwriter, and Andrew, his bandmate, have long been advocates for social justice causes in many parts of the world – so it was a natural progression to use their musical talents to try and make a difference in their homeland, too.
That’s how ‘Instruments for the Outback’ was born: a program helping indigenous kids in remote parts of Australia to learn to play and record music.
Levi said it was developed in response to a government call for community initiatives that could make a difference.
“In remote areas of Australia, young people have taken their lives out of boredom, feelings of hopelessness, and some have been through some pretty horrific abuse,” Levi said. “This is just getting to epidemic levels where the government was trying to step in, trying to find programs to keep young people alive.”
“We’d started to get really passionate about the issues in Australia [where we can use] music. While we’re not aid workers, or development workers, we just wanted to get involved.”
An Exchange of Cultures
Every year, the pair take a team of professional Christian musicians to some remote communities in the Northern Territory, where there is normally no access to musical instruments and music education. There they spend time exchanging the knowledge and skills of their two different cultures.
“We take these professional musicians as a way of inspiring kids to learn music… but at the same time we’re soaking up so much culture,” he said. “We’re learning traditional methods of spear-making, of playing the didgeridoo, of going hunting and fishing for mud crabs on the beach. It’s an incredible experience that’s really opened the eyes of the professionals that we take on these trips.
“It also it has really been a wonderful positive thing for the communities. They’re starting to make their own music videos now, do their own recordings in language of gospel songs and songs about their own islands and culture and where they’re from.
“It’s a really beautiful experience.”
Adapting to Social Distancing
Sadly COVID-19 restrictions prevented this year’s NT trips from going ahead – but instead Instruments for the Outback adadpted, collaborating with their team of musicians to create an online program children and their schools can access.
“We’ve built an online database of music tutorials and workshops including bass guitar, drums, ukulele, even tips for making music videos and producing digital music,” Levi said. “On top of this we’ve also provided extra recording equipment such as laptops and musical instruments. It’s been a major collaborative effort.”
Music is A Gift For Life
Levi said the program is not so much about teaching a vocation as it is about having a skill for life – because, as all musicians know, once you’ve learnt to play, it’s a gift that never leaves you.
“It’s something that they can fall back on as a possible professional career in the future,” Levi said, “but to make music in general just brings so much happiness, so much joy to these kids. They’re playing in bands together, they’re starting to record and write their own songs, and it’s so powerful to see that.”
“And [music has] power to bring about change. It’s even [increased] the number of kids coming to school, because they want to play these new instruments… it’s really cool to see.”