Class act as students find the words to help others

In the lead-up to Indigenous Literacy Day, Linda Doherty meets a school helping support Aboriginal communities to tell their stories in language.

Two performers on stage singing with children behind them Two performers on stage singing with children behind them
Image: Justine Clarke and Josh Pyke with Summer Hill Public School students. Photo: Yash Gadre - Australia Pictures

On Monday afternoon Summer Hill Public School students filled up their hall to watch their mates and musicians share the stage with performers Justine Clarke and Josh Pyke to sing their song, Words Make the World Go Around.

The performance was the culmination of months of learning the song for a Busking for Change school pilot, the concept started by Josh Pyke in 2009 to raise funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

The multi-literacy activity incorporates song, music, movement and language and will be expanded to all Australian schools at the launch tomorrow of Indigenous Literacy Day at the Sydney Opera House, where Summer Hill Public School students will again sing alongside Mr Pyke.

Principal Natalie Armstrong said Busking for Change was a natural fit for a diverse school community “that is very supportive and generous and builds connections”.

“Our students support initiatives for other students to have the same opportunities as they do, in this case access to quality literacy books and resources for Indigenous students,” Miss Armstrong said.

Summer Hill Public School music and drama teacher Jacqui Biffin​ said students and the school ensemble had enjoyed learning the musicality of the song, but had also delved into Indigenous languages as Words Make the World Go Around has been translated into the Aboriginal Kriol dialect spoken in northern Australia.

All funds raised for Busking for Change go direct to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation to provide culturally relevant books for remote communities and to support communities to create and publish stories in languages of their choice.

Students commit to learning to play, sing or dance to a song provided by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, gather donations from their friends and families, and then busk or perform their rendition to friends, family, school or post a video online.

Summer Hill Public School students raised $6,000 to perform this year’s song.

Mr Pyke, a member of the Summer Hill Public School parent community, said the students and staff had “brought such energy and enthusiasm to the pilot”, presenting an opportunity to discuss issues around Indigenous literacy in different ways.

He started Busking for Change initially as a pub gig and has since raised more than $50,000 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, of which he is an ambassador.

When his children started school Mr Pyke said he saw the opportunity to take the concept into schools to raise awareness and funds.

He co-wrote Words Make The Worlds Go Around with Justine Clarke, Aboriginal soprano Deborah Cheetham and students from Gawura Indigenous College in Sydney.

Justine Clarke, also an Indigenous Literacy Foundation ambassador, said it gave her goose bumps to hear the song sung in English and Kriol. “It’s a real connection for our young people made through language and music,” she said.

Busking for Change was piloted this year at Summer Hill Public School, Balmain Public School, Abbotsleigh, SCEGGS Darlinghurst and International Grammar School Sydney.

Schools can register for the 2023 program, singing Words Make The World Go Around, and are encouraged to learn the chorus in Kriol to celebrate UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation has free digital events available for all schools to take part in Indigenous Literacy Day tomorrow.


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