Soccer, dance, connect

Version 2Expanding horizons for young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds – connecting through to the art, stories and experiences in sport and life.

Ahilan Ratnamohan conducted workshops with young migrants and refugees at The Huddle when he visited the Arts House to perform SDS1. As an experienced player and performer from western Sydney, Ahil connects with young people through games, talk, soccer and movement. Ahil on Vimeo

Ahil’s soccer movementworkshops are superb. Over a day at The Huddle, a group of 30 young people from 3 schools and some only recently arrived in Australia, enjoyed hearing about Ahil’s life, viewing his performance work and doing a skills-based workshop.

There was one person that Ahil connected with, which was potentially life changing. I hadn’t met him before as he is in community detention in Melbourne and is soon to return to Nauru. He is allowed out of detention to attend school but little else.

Initially he had a negative demeanour and behaviours, and we were not sure that he would join in the activities at all. Overall, he painted the very grim picture that we imagine when we think of young men, trapped within a system and disempowered.
Thanks to Ahil, he made sure to connect with this person and learn about his prowess in sport in his home country, Iran, and of his love for soccer. Once he found a point of connection, he came to life and joined the workshop.

Afterwards, Ahil offered to see whether there is any possibility of him joining a team to train for the short time he is in Melbourne – a small but important gesture towards helping someone to feel valued and connected to community.

Having worked with sports people here and in Europe, Ahil understands the migrant/refugee experience so well. He picked up on the group’s interests intuitively and it was very beneficial for them to work with someone who lives and works globally, who blends genres and languages, respects cultures and welcomes everyone so effortlessly.




Imagining futures – new cultures

Young people settling in a new country face considerable change.  Every day brings them new experiences and ways of looking at the world. They need time and space to learn a new language, embrace a bi-cultural identity and feel a sense of belonging. They also need to consider their futures: the skills they require to succeed within a new cultural context and how to strike a balance between what they like to do and are already good at.

At The Huddle, we work with recently arrived teenagers, to learn the language of work and articulate aspirations. They imagine a future for them selves and plan towards making it a reality. They consider the steps required to seek a part-time job and learn about the differences between skills, education, qualification, and work-based training.

In a world this is increasingly globalized, young migrants should fare well – they are readily able to imagine working cross-culturally and internationally; they are flexible and accustomed to change; they are bilingual; and from my observations, they have a strong sense of citizenship and desire to help others.


What we like and want to do
Our futures: What we like and want to do

One Night the Moon – Instrumentation

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This post describes the instrumentation of the film One Night the Moon to inform those studying the text of the instrumental choices and their meanings – cultural, social and dramatic.

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Flinders’ Theme features violins, a low-pitched tin whistle, uillean pipes (pipes of the elbow), cello, bass drone and lute. The pipes and violins are typically found in Irish music and in that context are used for many purposes – to be grand, to lament, to dance and to be playful. The versatility of these instruments is boundless in Irish music but in Flinders’ Theme it is grand – like the landscape. Flinders’ Theme aims to contextualise the farmers who settled in the area and more specifically the family of Jim, Rose and Emily. Their cultural heritage, relationships to the indigenous people and to the land, needed to be firmly established musically as well as visually, so that their reality as a happy family could then be understood to be deteriorating as the story unfolded.

The Moon Child theme features female voices, which reappear through the film to represent the moon. We made draft recordings prior to shooting the film but ultimately we sang to the final cut so that the music responded to the moves of the moon and the child.

The Gathering features bodhran (a frame drum played with a stick), violins, uillean pipes, lute, cello and plucked bass notes. Later it also features a hand drum borrowed from the Greek musical tradition. The piece rolls along in a ‘call to arms’ to accompany the line search – an activity which has marred Australian history since European settlement.

Hunger draws from the Cretan tradition which is most evident in the use of the lute and a giant lyra (and upright violin) called a lyroukla. For this we also played rocks, a large pod of seeds, a clay pot, a drum with a stick and violin. This piece really monumentalises the frustration and failure of the father who had invested all his hope in being able to find the child by himself. During this piece, we see him isolated, distraught and hopeless on the hillside. This kind of piece is in stark contrast to the more comforting Flinders’ Theme

Nightshadows features similar instrumentation but starts with Kev whistling – the sort of whistles you can make when you cup your hands – mimicking the cooee of searching and communicating in the bush. Dijeridu is embedded in this sound scape – I recall when we recorded it, the birds in the courtyard began to tweet in response to the sounds and I you can still hear them at the end of that piece. The sound scape, being free and amorphous also sits in contrast to Flinders’ Theme and The Gathering which have a more formal musical structure.

Moody Broody features lute, violin and cello (and probably references Greek music structure more than Irish music) and builds tension around the feelings of the mother, who has very few lines or words and is silent for much of the film. Dijeridu is also featured here, when the tracker and mother come together in a weird, unexpected meeting. Moody Broody reflects the mother’s highly emotional state, and her desire (coupled with fear) to connect with the tracker in case he can help her.

Dijeridu also features in This Land is Mine. Kev and I chose to embed the dijeridu into the instrumentation and across pieces in the work– as we did with nearly all the instruments in the work.

Moment of Death is in the style of an Irish lament. Laments are common to the traditions that I have engaged with – Greek, Cretan and Irish music – and serve a variety of purposes in their own contexts. They can appear with or without lyrics, and may celebrate a renowned leader or event. A lament without lyrics seemed appropriate in One Night the Moon as there seemed to be nothing more to be said once everyone accepted that the child was gone. A child is lost, indigenous knowledge was offered but denied, the family is divided, efforts to bridge any gaps are thwarted/impossible – and eventually the child dies. This is the lowest point of the drama and emotions are running high, but time is taken out to focus on the loss and its loneliness through this music and the landscape.

Little Bones gives the mother a voice, and again features, lute, violin, lyroukla, frame drum, and pizzicato bass. It is played in free time as a song with lyrics and then turns into an instrumental march as the body is delivered to the father. The piece ends with a rendition of One Night the Moon from the film’s opening, plucked on violin and mandolin, to recall the child with her family.

Finally, Ruby Hunter chose to song a hymn rather that a song Kev and I had written called The Human Hymn as she thought it better to use a traditional hymn. We are so glad she made this choice, and that her earthy voice and incredible presence was captured in the film.

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One Night the Moon – music development

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When first approaching the story of One Night the Moon, we planned to tell the tragedy through music, aiming to use as little speech as possible to convey story, emotion and cultural information. To develop the music alongside the script, we had three composers and an ensemble of musicians who came together in workshops. We created a presentation somewhat like a radio play based on the skeleton of the real story. In its rawest form, the first presentation of the piece included music and narration by John Romeril (the writer) to tell a narrative. So the work in its first iteration was an audio piece.

I asked the songwriters to focus on characters who were pivotal to the drama – Kev Carmody on the songs for the tracker and Paul Kelly to write for the father/farmer. We agreed to work together on songs for the mother hence collaborations led to creating Little Bones, One Night the Moon (the lullaby), What do you Know? and Unfinished Business. Kev Carmody and I then worked in isolation on writing instrumental music that linked to themes and sequences in the script. Kev wrote guitar and dijeridu pieces which we blended with my compositions by playing them with the ensemble of musicians who are heard on the recording. Working with an ensemble that was close to the script, supported the music to develop into a cohesive whole prior to shooting and editing the film.

Instrumental music

In writing instrumental music, I saw the landscape and the moon as characters that sat alongside the people in the film. I wanted to convey the vast and powerful nature of the landscape, and whilst it was important for an indigenous view of the landscape to be present, I wrote much of the “landscape music” through the eyes of the settler, with a pioneer attitude and an outlook that the place was vast, scary and unknown. For the purposes of the drama, the landscape needed to be perceived as ominous, enticing, powerful and easy to get lost in – Rachel Perkins and I referenced Picnic at Hanging Rock, for example, in developing this portrayal of the landscape. Hence the instruments featured here are borrowed from the Irish tradition, and placed in a new context. In One Night the Moon, the settler is disconnected from the land, doesn’t understand it or how to work with it or connect to it. The instruments I selected bring this disconnection to the fore and also reflect the grandeur of the landscape, its omnipresence, and conversely the brevity of human life.

The moon was treated similarly. For the film it needed to be a character that is beyond human control, is enticing, and could lure the child away in the night. But it was also used as a connector. The choice of female voices for the moon, allowed us to let a range of characters who were otherwise separated to connect, by noticing the moon. Their emotions moved between fear, longing, despair, and hope and each time the moon was seen, voices were heard and we could imagine the child might still be living. Kev observed that the female voices connected to the human and community experience, rather than the race-based story that was underlying much of the action.

It’s worth noting that in the final cut there are only 20 spoken lines on film, which always surprises me as it seems like there’s more but I guess that’s the power of music, people and landscape! Given this, what is said on screen is punchy and either supplies information to move the story along or tells you indirectly about the characters – eg, when Albert’s wife slams the door and says “Albert’s not here!” we understand the tension and history behind the settler/indigenous relationship.

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Mentoring program for young people from EAL backgrounds

Thanks to the boys from Mackillop!
Thanks to the boys from Mackillop!

Over the year, The Huddle has had the privilege of seeing teenagers grow and learn through a Mentoring Program for students from Mackillop Catholic College (Werribee). The program saw students in Year 10 become more confident in seeking the support of adults in developing their pathways and imagining their futures.

As a part of the program, this impressive group of young men also identified barriers to their well-being and to meeting their aspirations. Barriers were addressed by enhancing strategies for dealing with racism, strengthening bi-cultural identity, improving communication with adults, and encouraging a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Planning the next 3 months - summer holidays
Planning the next 3 months – summer holidays

The Mentoring Program enabled a two-way learning experience for participants, with teenagers and mentors feeling they learnt from each other through workshops, open dialogue and group discussion. All participants celebrated the honesty of this two-way learning experience, and saw the benefits of an equal relationship between teenagers and adults where the challenges, successes and joys of life were shared.

As a result of the program, these young men now feel they are more confident, have chosen the pathway that is right for them, can communicate better with their parents and are more able to set and achieve goals. They also feel more confident about completing school, looking for work, planning their future and living across cultures.

Planning the next 3 months - summer holidays
Planning the next 3 months – summer holidays

2014 – a great start to the year!

We’ve had a great start to the year at The Huddle with growing numbers of students attending our Study Support program and some new programs for schools.


Newly arrived secondary students came together for a day to explore career options and pathways. Aged 16 and over, the students are nearing the end of their intensive English language centre programs and are soon to enter secondary schools and TAFE. A group of committed volunteers supported each student to leave with a resume on a USB stick, increase confidence about where to study and work and identify some long and short term goals.

Setting some goals
Setting some goals
Reading the Job Guide
Learning to write a Resume


VCAL students from St Aloysius College and Simonds Catholic College came together each Monday to explore health campaigns around gambling, tobacco, healthy lifestyles and racism. Later in the year, they will design a campaign to present face-to-face and in a digital format.



Brunswick English Language Centre students learnt history by examining primary sources relating to the settlement of Melbourne. Whilst the topic is vast and ambitious for newly arrived students, it was possible to navigate key concepts by asking students how they might approach a people in a place they wanted to settle and what you should do. We then went on to introduce the word “colonisation” which they were able to relate to their home countries or other countries they knew of, either as colonisers or the colonised.



My Place

My place book 4

Yesterday, 80 students in Year 5 from North Melbourne Primary School showcased books they created about local history at The Huddle, sharing them with teachers, each other, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Their books highlighted their careful research, writing and presentation skills as well as their learning at The Huddle this year through the “Early Melbourne” program. Using the Sydney-based “My Place” book as a starting point, the students created books on the history of the North Melbourne area going back over many decades. They explored the changes to the landscape and the lives of those who live here now and have lived here in the past. They immersed themselves in creative writing, assuming the characters of past inhabitants, and the books were illustrated lavishly.

The students also took the opportunity to reflect on the learning process in the development of these projects over the semester. They reflected on the process, its challenges and their learnings via Prezi, eBooks and other digital formats.


The enormous effort they went to, illustrated the importance of a connection to place – of knowing it and of belonging to a community as well as feeling a connection to the communities of the past. Due to waves of immigration this is even more striking in a place such as inner city Melbourne. The students clearly valued the experiences of looking at the world through the eyes of past inhabitants, imagining past landscapes and empathizing with changes as they were experienced by people who once walked the very streets they know so well.


The depth of learning that these students were engaged in was very impressive. The breadth of the topic allowed them to explore their interests – people, cultures, the environment, food, housing, the built environment and so forth – and present them in a range of digital and print-based formats.

My place book 2