The Ozy Youth Choir-Sydney Peace Project


OJ Rushton, musical director of the Ozy Youth Choir Honouring Defence Service, had a dream. She invited kids from the Southern Highlands and bush to come together and join her fledgling choir. Some of the kids had parents in the military, and all immediately felt a sense of belonging. The lessons are completed online, though the choir regularly meet up for rehearsals and camps. I heard about the Ozy Youth Choir via another parent. My daughter and I went along to a performance to see what it was all about. Within moments, I had been embraced by OJ, and my daughter had been given a choir shirt and was singing! We experienced a home-coming, as though are souls had been searching for these very people. It felt as though we had landed on a puffy cloud, surrounded by alto and soprano tones.

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OJ Rushton

Throughout the last three years, my daughter has had the honour of singing at Government House, at the Australian War Memorial, alongside Damien Leith and Harrison Craig, Ian Moss, Laura Wright, Kate Ceberano, the Australian Army Band and many others. The highlight would have to be singing at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games at the Sydney Opera House. It coincided with our camp, and what a week we had! Concord RSL kindly offered us the use of their old bowling green to set up our tents, and went above and beyond, gifting use of a kitchen and showers and providing us with food and transport to and from rehearsals. The heavens opened up on the second day, and the camping ground was flooded! All we could do was laugh and try our best to keep dry! The choir worked hard, returning to our base late most nights.

Finally, the day of the opening ceremony arrived! The parents looked up as an ominous clap of thunder sounded over Sydney Harbour. Then, the lightning came, along with torrential rain. The massive storm delayed the start of the show by an hour, and then it departed as swiftly as it had arrived. The memories of the opening ceremony shall remain with me always. We cheered on the athletes, listened to sublime music, and everybody stood and gave Prince Harry a standing ovation after he delivered his powerful speech. The kids understood how pivotal this event was for the athletes, and all who came to support them, and felt deeply honoured to have been there.

 

The choir got back to camp shortly before midnight, and woke at 5am the next morning, to prepare for a breakfast at the Australian Museum to honour the families and dignitaries connected to the Invictus Games. My daughter still talks about Elisabeth, who is a member of an organization called TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). My daughter had sung with the choir outside the Sydney Opera House, and had held Elisabeth’s hands. This dear lady explained to me at the breakfast, how much this had meant to her, showing me a photo of her son, Toby, whom she had lost in Iraq. Singing helps to heal; it reaches into the core of a person, assuring them that they aren’t alone. It is a way of telling stories, and uniting people. Here is a video, detailing our time at Concord RSL and the leadup to the Invictus Games. After the breakfast, we walked down Art Gallery Rd to cheer on the athletes competing in the road cycling. We were in awe of them beforehand but nothing prepared us for how we felt afterward!

We were also honoured to have joined with Invictus as a Peace Partner to launch the Peace Project at Government House two week’s ago. Several schools joined us, both online and in person. Here is some footage of the wondrous day! Last year, the Ozy Youth Choir reproduced an iconic photo from a century ago, on Bondi Beach, in honour of the Centenary of ANZAC. On Friday 2nd November, we shall be gathering at Government House in Sydney, to do it again! We shall sing as one to honour the end of the Centenary of ANZAC and to welcome in the Centenary of the Year of Peace. His Excellency, the Governor of NSW and Mrs Hurley are hosting theĀ  Sydney Peace Project on the Parade Ground. Join us at 1pm, either in person or online. Registration is essential. Follow this link to join!

Studies have shown that those who engage in singing enjoy better health. I can understand why, particularly when you sing with others. Coming together to sing unites us as one unstoppable, unflappable, powerful force.

 

 

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ANZAC Day


The past week has been a whirlwind of epic proportions. My daughter and I went on the RSL Rural Commemorative Youth Choir camp, which was extraordinary, in and of itself. The choir was kindly hosted by Concord RSL, a friendly little club with a community emphasis. We pitched tents out the back and were supplied with a food van, BBQ, showers and the auditorium for practices. We were made to feel welcome from the moment we stepped over a pond housing gold and orange koi fish, and into the entrance.

The kids played barefoot bowls in between rehearsals and services. Speaking of services, last Friday the choir sang at the Anzac Field of Remembrance Service at St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney. Gwen Cherne spoke about her experience as a contemporary war widow, and there wasn’t a dry eye afterward. Real and lasting change is being brought about as a result of brave soldiers and widows/widowers speaking out. You can read her speech here.

The choir was also honoured to sing at an Anzac dawn service at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord, organized by Concord Repatriation Hospital. 3000 crochet poppies were lovingly pinned on a giant cut-out of the word ANZAC. A grand lady of 94 and her daughters had knitted 900 poppies alone. I had the honour of meeting Albert, a 102 year old veteran with twinkling blue eyes. As we chatted, he talked of his teenage years in the employ of Farmers Department store in Sydney, and of the mischief he would get up to. He spoke of dances and hope. He made me promise to never lose my smile, as he believed that a part of humanity perishes with each down-turned mouth. If he can still smile radiantly at 102, I think I can manage to keep grinning!

I talked to another veteran about what ANZAC day meant to him. He replied that to him, it wasn’t about particular battles, but rather the spirit, which must be preserved. It is a holy essence containing mateship, dedication, freedom and the hope of peace for all humanity. Every veteran I have ever met has expressed the fervent wish that the past shall never be repeated. War is hell, of that they can assure you. My Canadian Grandfather was in the Army during WW2, and I have been surrounded by those in the armed forces. I have had the pleasure of loving friend’s children who serve as medics, peacekeepers and whom are there to help out in natural disasters. I was in that clinic at fourteen with veterans suffering what is now known to be PTSD. The conversations we had were among some of the most meaningful of my life.

This Anzac day, I am grateful to be a part of the RSL Commemorative Youth Choir. The kids are able to learn from and interview older people, which is a real privilege. They also step up to be leaders, gifted with many opportunities to speak up and speak out for causes they believe in. They are taught about fairness, discipline and mateship. The future of the Anzac spirit is in good hands, with unprecedented numbers of young people attending dawn services across Australia. The hard work of honouring the sacrifices of past generations has only just begun. At its core is a plea for peace, the spark of which is in all of us. We can start where we are, in our communities. ‘Lest we Forget.’