Christine Wheeler reflects that early personal contact with each of her touring hosts was essential to ensure workshops were tailored and relevant for every community on her tour.

When we knew that our north Queensland tour was actually going to happen, I remember wondering if anyone would take up the workshop option that was part of the package on offer. We were thrilled with the uptake – seven out of nine venues opted for a workshop in addition to a performance.

The next step was to tailor the workshops to each place. It was important to ensure each workshop was going to be something that community could really make use of, so personal contact with our hosts well out from the tour dates was essential to make this happen. Inevitably, we ended up with seven distinct workshops! Not as bad as it sounded, as things turned out – by preparing a largish set of songs, we felt prepared to take on adults, children, indigenous and non-indigenous participants, and were able to tailor each workshop to their satisfaction.

Six out of seven workshops were in a school setting, most had 20-40 children but at one school we were presented with 80 eager faces. It was worth doing a lot of preparation for the workshops, because the actual delivery of them was then easy and extremely rewarding. Most sessions finished with an open Q&A, with students wanting to know all about playing instruments, playing in a band, writing songs and so on.

Georgetown had a specific agenda: they wanted us to teach songs the school children could learn well enough to sing a few months later at their end of year concert. That’s just happened and we’re told the children performed all three songs with great success. For a town that hasn’t seen a music trained teacher for some years, this is a result that makes us all feel good!

Taking up a valuable suggestion from our contact in Georgetown, we made a rough recording of each of the workshop songs while still on tour. These recordings were later sent back to each of the workshop groups as a resource to ensure they could keep singing those songs.

Our only community workshop with both children and adults taking part was in Normanton. It led to us getting a free ride on the tourist train between Normanton and Cloncurry, in return for playing a few tunes on the ride. Don’t laugh, it’s harder than you think to play mandolin, whistle or guitar with the noise and the rattle of that beautiful old train, the Gulflander!

Taking Henry Lawson to Banjo Patterson’s ‘home’ town of Winton was no laughing matter either, given the fierce competition between the two poets during their lifetime and beyond! But we survived the experience … it was great to see school children there reciting their own original bush poetry. We had a great session with them about setting poetry to music.

There were many special moments during our three weeks on tour, but for all of us the workshops were tremendously enriching. They gave us an entrée to each community, and a window into the lives of the families who were making up our audience each night. Coming from urban environments, our lives are so very different that it felt important to make these connections. It was great to see people responding very positively to the songs we had chosen, and to leave people singing is always a bonus.

View the video above where Christine Wheeler and her team also filmed nine individuals from towns on their Queensland tour bringing one of Henry Lawson’s poem to life.