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  • › A Generous Community, by Dr Laura Brearley


    The Coastal Connections Concert at the Wonthaggi Arts Centre took place recently. It was the first live performance staged at the Arts Centre since the COVID era began, almost a year ago. Mayor Brett Tessari launched seven new films that were a result of creative collaborations in the Coastal Connections project.

    The films, by videographer Terry Melvin, feature images of the natural world in Bass Coast intertwined by interviews with community members describing their special blue and green places. The soundtracks for the films were composed by local musicians and during the Concert, audience members heard a number of the compositions performed live.

    Coastal Connections is a community well-being initiative funded by the Bass Coast Shire Council within its Business and Community Resilience Grants Program – COVID19. The project has been a creative response to the isolation and hardship experienced by the community in the COVID era.

    Photo: Nici Cahill (supplied)

    Victoria’s snap five-day lockdown created a great deal of uncertainty in the week leading up to the Coastal Connections Concert. The community was keen to see the results of the collaborations across the artforms of writing, music, sound art and film. Ticket sales were strong and continued even through the lockdown period. Community members, concert organisers and staff from the Wonthaggi Arts Centre hung on every word that Premier Daniel Andrews said during his media conference on the last day of the lockdown. There was great relief when it was clear that the lockdown was going to be lifted and the Concert would be able to proceed as planned.

    There was a catch, however. Under the new COVID regulations, the Wonthaggi Arts Centre could only accommodate 50% of its 400-seat capacity. With three days to go before the Concert, close to 75% of the seats had been allocated. Arts Centre staff, David Burrows, Margaret de Wolff and Trevor Wyhoon and the Concert Producer, Laura Brearley, worked through the last day of lockdown via Zoom to find a solution.

    The musicians and creative artists who were active participants in the Project agreed to watch the Concert from backstage to free up room in the Auditorium for other community members. They watched the Concert on a large screen brought in especially by the Arts Centre for the occasion.

    It was an act of generosity that has characterised the whole of the Coastal Connections project. The selflessness of the community enabled the Concert to go ahead in a way that kept everyone safe.

    For COVID reasons, communal singing was not possible in the auditorium, but the audience actively participated through deaf-signing an Acknowledgment to Country Song and Uncle Kutcha Edwards’s COVID-era single called ‘We Sing’.

    The words of the chorus of the song are:

    ‘We sing for love

    We live for justice

    We long for freedom

    We dream of peace.’

    Here’s the link to Kutcha Edwards’ song ‘We Sing’.

    From the stage, Laura Brearley taught the audience the sign language for the chorus, helped by Coastal Connections’ composers and musicians, children and Aboriginal community members.

    There was a strong feeling of community connection during the Concert, both backstage and in the auditorium. Uncle Kutcha Edwards, who opened and closed the Concert said afterwards that he was very moved to see a voiceless choir coming together in this way. It went beyond words to a sense of shared Spirit.

    At the end of the Concert, Member for Bass, Jordan Crugnale MP, thanked all the members of the Coastal Connections Working Group and presented them with gifts. An After Party was held in the Kirrak Room of the Wonthaggi Workmen’s Club, hosted by Jane Coker and Tanya Nolan. They brought community members together to celebrate the creative outcomes of the project and the generosity of the community that had enabled it.

    What has amazed me is that when people are generous, they thank you.

    Isn’t that extraordinary and wonderful?

    Dr Laura Brearley

    To see a photostory of the Coastal Connections Concert, click here.