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The Girgarre Memorial Hall, home to the regular Jigarre Jamming

A Musical Revival

The country town lifting community spirit with their trash-inspired orchestra

Photography by Liz Arkus and Graeme Leak

Hidden amongst the rolling plains of the Campaspe Shire is the country town of Girgarre. Following the closure of several small businesses, the community banded together with their shared love of music in what became known as ‘The Girgarre Revival’. 

The Revival was part of a Regional Arts Victoria initiative that included a series of musical and sound installations, culminating in the formation of the Girgarre Junkestra – an orchestra comprised of instruments made entirely from salvaged materials. 

The Junkestra was the brainchild of Girgarre local, Pete Gibson, and artist-in-residence, Graeme Leak, who could not resist getting involved once he heard of the town’s ambition. 

“It was a bold vision,” Graeme says, “The project essentially was to ‘transform the town with music and sound’.”

An instrument for change

Jan Smith, a prominent figure in the Girgarre community and one of the organisers behind the Revival, had previously seen Graeme’s work in Queensland and reached out. 

Des playing bin-lid guitar by Wallace Williams

“It was a bold vision. The project essentially was to transform the town with music and sound.”

Graeme Leak

“Graeme had this idea of creating junk instruments,” Jan says, “We decided we would make a junk orchestra out of every bit of [rubbish] we could find.”

Retired dairy farmer Wallace Williams, was one of the first to get involved, crafting a fully-functioning hand-hammered violin from salvaged tin found on his property. 

“That tin violin played beautifully – pitch perfect! And once people saw what could be created there was no stopping them,” says Jan.  

Among the colorful instruments was the creation of a ‘Milodeum’ fashioned from old Milo tins, a ‘Bikkie Banjo’ from a shortbread biscuit tin and a ‘Drawer Harp’ carved from discarded wooden drawers and secondhand guitar strings. 

Violin, handmade by Wallace Williams

With a passion for finding treasure in others’ trash, Graeme was in his element. “I really love bringing together unlikely materials to create a beautiful sounding instrument,” says Graeme. “Precision-engineered soulless instruments flood our music market, but a handmade instrument crafted from bits of wood, metal and string wins for me every time.

The Girgarre ‘Sound Walk’

Beyond the Junkestra, Graeme and the skilled farmers-cum-craftsmen of Girgarre also worked on a series of musical installations for the town’s ‘Sound Walk’, an outdoor interactive art exhibit where both visitors and locals can walk along and realise their musical fantasies.

“Our whole idea is to take all of this unused junk and turn it into instruments that you can play and have it along our walking track,” explains Jan. 

The walk currently includes ‘Piano-Piano’, an interactive upcycled piano that was lovingly sheeted with galvanized iron, ‘Firebells’, a set of cut-down fire hydrants transformed into Chinese-inspired temple bells, and most recently, a double bass crafted from a disused water wheel.

Piano PIano by Wallace Williams 2018

Join in the Moosic Muster

Although it has since become an integral part of the Girgarre community, the Junkestra only added to an already prospering musical scene, which included weekly Jigarre Jammin’ sessions and an annual Moosic Muster. 

“The whole idea of the Moosic festival and the Jammin’ is that anyone can come,” says Jan. “We have a library of instruments that people can borrow to have a go and intensive workshops where people can learn in a very simplistic way to play music.”

An Honorary Citizen of Girgarre, Graeme is now a staunch advocate for the town and indisputably welcoming community. “Come to Girgarre,” he implores, “we don’t have a pub but we have virtuoso magpies and regular singalongs that you can join!”

For the latest events visit girgarre.com.au.

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