March 12, 2019 by nswadmin

The didgeridoo captured Riley Nolan’s heart about five years ago. The Koori teen attends remote Ulladulla High School, located three hours south of Sydney.

When the school’s cultural engagement and ensemble program kicked in, the 17-year-old was keen to explore an opportunity to share his love of the didgeridoo during school hours.

Riley was following a long tradition. He and his brothers Blake and Luke also learned to play at Ulladulla High School, and the three brothers often practice the didgeridoo together after school.

The school’s Aboriginal Education Officer supported Riley’s passion to share his love of the didgeridoo with his peers. After all, culturally significant links made within a school environment have proven to be a vital inclusion strategy across Australia.

“I was lucky enough to have my own didgeridoo at home, and knew how important that was to be able to practice. Circular breathing has to be practiced and not having one would have made it difficult to improve.” 

Ulladulla High School’s didgeridoo ensemble is highly valued and often performs for the community, which students have taken great pleasure in.

Both Koori and non-Indigenous students were encouraged to put their name down for didgeridoo lessons.

The local Aboriginal Lands Council invited the students to perform recently, and Riley was front and centre on the day of the performance. “I enjoy playing the didgeridoo at community events because you can see that the sound really hits their soul,” he says.

Word of ensemble spreads, and more students want to join

Ulladulla’s didgeridoo ensemble has been part of the school for about a decade. It has been increasingly popular with the school students, with growing numbers of students signing up to learn to play.

Additional didgeridoos were needed to ensure students could play with traditional wooden instruments at community events, and Riley set about finding a way to make it happen.

“Our school ensemble has loved playing the didgeridoo, and being available for community performances. We wanted each student to have their own didgeridoo, so we could play whenever we wanted.”

So grateful for the opportunity to share his culture

Riley’s plight reached Variety – the children’s charity, and Ulladulla High School was recently granted $8,000 to purchase 50 didgeridoos and paint for the students wanting to perform. It was music to Riley’s ears.

The grant has enabled the didgeridoo ensemble to practice, play and share their culture in their local community several times. It has also created a strong bond between the students.

The Ulladulla High School students recently performed at the 2018 School Southern Stars, where they were more than 3,000 performers from more than 100 public schools. It was the biggest in the event’s 18 year history.

“Everyone was so excited. It was the best day for us, and we were so proud of our school ensemble.” 

Ulladulla High School’s leader of the Aboriginal Education team Ben Barry has noticed how much more confident the students are since the didgeridoos were donated to the school.

“Watching the boys have their lessons together and treat it as a special and sacred time has been an incredible experience as a teacher here. We’re so grateful to Variety for the donation.” 

Principal Denise Lofts is proud of the school’s longstanding Aboriginal Education and Cultural programs, including the didgeridoo tradition.

“We’ve received awards for our Aboriginal Education program, which is acknowledged as one of the best in our state. Our school is proud to share our ensemble’s talents in the community, with an increasing number of requests coming through for our students to play at events,” she says.

A passionate teen with a big future

The school didgeridoo ensemble played at an Aboriginal elders funeral recently. While a sad occasion, the students were proud to be able to pay their respects and love for the inspirational community leader.

Riley says: “This man was a major person in my life because he encouraged me with my didgeridoo and anytime he had a welcome to country he would invite us to play with him. I really miss him.”

Now in his last year at Ulladulla High School, Riley has big dreams for the future. He hopes to work as an Aboriginal Education Support Worker or in a leadership or mentoring role in his local community.

“I had a dream, but it was never going to happen without the financial help from Variety. The didges are really nice quality and produce a beautiful sound.”

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