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Program combats crime, inspires

Monday, 18th December, 2017

Ngaire Florence White records a song with veteran musician Murray Cook at the CRC office in Oxide Street Ngaire Florence White records a song with veteran musician Murray Cook at the CRC office in Oxide Street

By Andrew Robertson

A program that uses the transformative power of music to reduce crime and recidivism is being rolled out in Broken Hill next year.

‘Songbirds’ involves songwriters and performers conducting workshops for prisoners and others with the apparent aim of inspiring people to make a change in their life as well as nurture “untapped prison talent”.

The Community Restorative Centre (CRC) program operates in Sydney but is now being rolled out in Broken Hill, where it will run between January and June next year.

The CRC’s Broken Hill office will use an $11,000 community assistance grant from City Council to purchase musical equipment which its clients and others will be able to use to learn, record or perform music.

The program, which also has an arts and crafts component, will culminate with a concert later in the year.

Veteran musician Murray Cook, Songbirds music project coordinator, was in the city last week to meet and train staff who will present the program locally.

Cook, who has performed and written songs for Midnight Oil and Mental as Anything, among others, has taught music and songwriting to prisoners in Long Bay and other jails for over 20 years.

He told the BDT that, in jail, people wouldn’t dare express their true feelings because it could make them vulnerable. 

But somehow it was okay to do it in a song.

“Songs are a good way to express yourself and to get your feelings out,” said Cook, who works mainly with Aboriginal prisoners.

The music industry was about the only industry where having a criminal history was an advantage, said Cook, because writing music was all about drawing on your own experiences and the deeper those experiences the better.

During his visit to Broken Hill Cook also spent time recording songs with local musicians Bowden McAllister, Damon Rogers and Ngaire Florence White.

Ngaire has been singing since she was a child and has performed at local talent quests and even tried out for the X Factor television show a couple of years ago.

But she had never before recorded a song until last week.

Cook, who plans to return to Broken Hill sometime next year, said there was also a chance the program could be rolled out in other places in the region, including Wilcannia.

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