Remote music lessons help students in the bush overcome the tyranny of distance

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Growing up on an isolated cattle ranch in North West Queensland didn’t stop Zander Wilson from dreaming big.

As far back as he can remember, Zander wanted to learn the guitar. He even made his own makeshift version out of a wooden toy gun and some rubber bands so he could play songs by his Canadian rock star idol.

“I want to play like Tim Hicks,” said the seven-year-old.

Until recently, living 65 kilometers from the nearest town and a three-hour drive from the main center of Mount Isa meant formal tuition was not possible.

But a charity initiative is now taking the music to the outback.

Zander Wilson is learning to play the guitar online under the watchful eye of his tutor Andy Mack.(Rural ABC: Charlie McKillop)

BushED fills homes in remote areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory with music by offering distance learning courses to distance learning students.

Zander’s mother and home tutor, Kimberley Wilson, said the music has been a welcome addition to the Rutchillo Station classroom.

“He has that feeling, that lightness, that feeling of fun and pleasure that, you know, you need sometimes here, especially in years like this that feel very dry,” Ms. Wilson said. noted.

Gather children, music teachers

The idea of ​​bringing music to outback students began when Buzz Music in Cairns partnered with BushED, an organization dedicated to helping families with distance learning beyond the standard school curriculum.

BushED founder and volunteer Lyn French said bringing tutors to the farm or using online classes helps bridge the education gap for bush students.

The tyranny of distance was well understood by music school owner Leanne Harmer, who also grew up on a cattle ranch, before completing a bachelor’s degree in music and becoming a musician and composer.

A young woman is surrounded by brand new guitars hanging on the walls of a showroom.
Leanne Harmer, who grew up on a cattle ranch, remembers dreaming of becoming a musician as a child.(Rural ABC: Charlie McKillop)

“The distance learning was a two-way radio connected to a truck battery, so I can’t imagine the audio quality was fantastic,” Ms Harmer said.

When Ms Harmer and her husband Kirk bought Buzz Music in Cairns six years ago, her mind turned to extending lessons to distant families to foster pathways into music.

“Music is so important to your body, your brain and your mental health,” Ms. Harmer said.

“You don’t do garden cricket because you just want to be a famous cricketer. It’s just fun to do.

“It’s important to have things that are different from everyday life to pass your time and have a creative outlet.”

Ironically, it took the global pandemic to discover that remote music lessons were possible.

“It kind of forced us to realize that it wasn’t that scary and we could teach music online,” Ms Harmer said.

Distance learning course ‘almost the same’

In the Rutchillo train station classroom, Zander’s determination is evident as he shyly plucks the strings of his guitar under the watchful eye of music tutor Andy Mack during an online lesson.

Any reservations quickly evaporate when mentor and student talk easily about the intricacies of music and life in general.

A boy is sitting on a horse
Zander Wilson enjoys life on his family’s isolated cattle ranch in North West Queensland.(Provided: Kimberley Wilson)

“I like to think it’s almost the same thing and you can relate to people pretty quickly through distance learning. It’s pretty amazing,” Mack said.

His teacher admits that his musical repertoire has expanded since he started lessons with the children of the bush.

“Yeah, I’ve done my homework and listened and when Zander is ready for Tim Hicks, Zander will learn a G, C and D chord and be able to play it in no time.”

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