Girgarre is a small rural township situated in the Goulbourn Valley in Northern Victoria. Surrounded by dairy farms it’s taken a few knocks in recent years. Falling milk prices and drought have impacted the livelihoods of local farmers and in 2012, the Heinz tomato processing factory closed its doors for the last time putting 146 people out of work.
The town’s infrastructure suffered in the fall out. Local shops shut and people started moving away to find work and opportunities elsewhere. But for all the adversity they’ve faced, a big community heart continues to beat strongly in Girgarre. The monthly community music phenomenon, Jigarre Jammin’ has the moto: “Don’t die wishing you’d done it” and it seems this attitude runs deep through its streets.
Not prepared to give in to decline, the people of Girgarre took the bull by the horns and applied to Regional Arts Victoria’s Small Town Transformation initiative; an invitation to small towns across Victoria ‘to be ambitious in imagining what transformation might mean for their town – now and into the future.’
Girgarre was one of six small towns constituting less than 6,000 people selected to receive $350,000 each over two years “for projects that realise big ideas” and puts artistic practice at the centre of community life.
The official title of the Girgarre Revival is ‘The Sound of Our Spirit Rising’ and will explore the concepts of common ground and connection to place through the medium of sound. Members of the community will work together with three internationally recognised artists to develop the project, which will run until October 2018.
In November, electronic light and sound artist Robin Fox unveiled the first in a series of temporary installations, a huge, human-activated theremin* built in Girgarre’s public reserve next to the town hall. It’s an intuitive structure, activated by the movements of up to eight bodies in the electromagnetic field around it and emitting notes, samples and tones into the air, in response.
Local Girgarre quilters will work in collaboration with Gloria Loughman, an award winning quilter, curator and teacher to create new quilted acoustic sound curtains for the town hall, a focal point in the community and home to the monthly meeting of Jigarre Jammin’.
And for the next three months, composer and musical director Graeme Leake is taking up residency in Girgarre. Graeme, who has been involved with numerous grass roots music making projects such as Raising the Roof, and The Musical Fence in Winton, Queensland, will be working with members of the community to design and build a series of permanent sound installations including an interactive sound sculpture on the boundary of the local school which will become the centrepiece of a community concert, and something everyone can come and play together.
Graeme will also be running a series of open workshops in music skills and instrument making for both Girgarre residents and visitors to the town. The plan is for the community to develop their skills and for a community orchestra to be formed, playing a series of cast off objects which have been salvaged and reinvented as musical instruments.
“All of my activities will be located in the ex-supermarket which will become a music making and playing ‘shed’. Anyone can drop in and work on their creation, attend workshops or music skills classes, or help design and construct the school fence sound sculpture.”
If you’re reading this and thinking how cool the revival of Girgarre is already sounding, there’s a way you can be involved and support Girgarre and Graeme in their mission. The hunt is on for ‘junk’ to transform into musical instruments for the orchestra to play. From hubcaps to tea chests, old broken instruments to broomsticks, the list is endless and can be read here together with the important details about how to unite Graeme’s trunk with your junk.
The determination of the population of Girgarre to transform the town and Graeme’s call for cast offs are great reminders that when something is broken, damaged or temporarily impaired, it doesn’t have to spell disaster or the end. A fresh way of looking at things and the ability to find positivity and new purpose in the familiar is what drives innovation and sparks creativity.
Cultivating a brighter future through the involvement of community, sound, music, and collaboration, the rising spirit of Girgarre is a sound that’s sure to be heard and celebrated, far and wide.
*If you’re in the vicinity, stop off at Girgarre Public Reserve on Winter Rd and have a play with the giant theremin between 10am and 5pm every day until April 2017.
Follow the transformation of Girgarre and Graeme Leake’s involvement with the project here.
The next meeting of Jigarre Jammin is on February 25th 10.30am til 4pm at Girgarre Hall, 9 Morgan Crescent, Girgarre, VIC 3624
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria