For the sixth year in a row, students from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University have made the incredible 2,484km journey to Tennant Creek in remote central Australia

The Winanjjikari Service Learning Program, run in collaboration with Barkly Regional Arts, is an immersive project bringing together students and Indigenous musicians for a cross-cultural learning and performing experience.

The initiative was established in 2009 and then expanded on a national scale in 2012, following the awarding of an Office for Learning & Teaching grant to Associate ProfessorBrydie-Leigh Bartleet.

Intercultural friendship

According to Associate Professor Bartleet, the annual trip allows students to experience first-hand the “richness of Indigenous cultures”.

“The project develops intercultural understanding, deepens students’ appreciation of Indigenous culture and also supports Indigenous communities through arts activities that directly benefit them,” she says.

“Each year the students are able to collaborate with the local musicians and ultimately develop wonderful relationships with each of the artists they work with.”

A digital story showcase has since been created to present student experiences from the latest trip, which Associate Professor Bartleet describes as being embedded with “some wonderful insights about music, culture and life”.

Queensland Conservatorium students and local Indigenous musicians in Tennant Creek.

Queensland Conservatorium students and local Indigenous musicians in Tennant Creek.

Success from thelatest trip

“Our sixth year was bigger and better than ever!” she says.

“Students performed under the stars at a special jam night as part of the Desert Harmony Festival to an audience of over 600 people, including both locals and others via online streaming, as well as taking part in BAMFest.

“They also worked on sound recording projects, mixing, camerawork for live broadcasts, lighting and stage set-ups, workshops in the local schools, painted backdrops, catalogued paintings and artworks, attended cross-cultural classes and acted as roadies.

“As always, there were tremendous lessons in music, culture, festival work, and life in remote Australia and our students certainly did us proud this year.”

This year’s students included Caleb Colledge (classical percussion), Madi Morris (jazz guitar), Mikayla Birthisel (popular music), Ben Lamberton (music technology) and Anders Pize Teo (music technology).

Influencing national curriculum

Associate Professor Bartleet explains that the original intention of the national project was to incorporate Indigenous arts into Australian universities and colleges.

“While some educators have brought Indigenous artists into creative arts classrooms, the inclusion of Indigenous content is often tokenistic and abstract,” she says.

“This arts-based service learning project aims to demonstrate how collaborative partnerships between students and Indigenous communities can create Indigenous curriculum content in a culturally appropriate way.

“Tennant Creek and the Barkley region are rich in Indigenous cultural life with about 70 per cent of the populations Indigenous, so made for an ideal location.”

Partner Barkly Regional Arts provides an interface between Indigenous and on-indigenous cultures, providing 50 annual programs and projects to more than 800 artists across the region.

Winanjjikari Music Centre, run by Barkly Regional Arts, is a music production house and training centre for Indigenous musicians and music production technicians in Tennant Creek.

Tertiary partners include Curtin University and the University of Western Sydney.

To learn more about the research that informs this work, click here

Watch the Digital Story Showcase.