Exiting Utopia – Girls Rock! Canberra

I’ve been coordinating Girls Rock! Canberra (GR!C) for the past few months, and talking about the program with founder and director Chiara Grassia since the start of the year (or the end of last year, it’s fuzzy now). The 2017 session wrapped yesterday – a showcase gig after a full and very busy week of camp.

Coordinator Alex Lundy, Director Chiara Grassia and me at the end of it all.

I’m no stranger to project-based work, and I know I love working that way. If you’ve ever been part of a team working in a time crush towards a common goal that you all believe in then you’ll understand why. I’m used to the slump that comes after the madness of go time, and I’m used to missing all the people you shared that time with. I’m feeling all that, but I can’t stop thinking about Girls Rock. There’s something about what’s happened this week I just can’t shake, and am struggling to put my finger on.

A very young me at a Woden Youth Centre gig (photo by Dan Stapleton)

I spent at least a decade between my teens and my twenties ensconced in and around the music scene in Canberra. Metal, punk, hardcore and derivatives. Like many of my contemporaries, seeing bands was the point around which my entire social life orbited, and was what gave structure to my week. I designed posters and flyers for shows, sold merch, worked on the door, took photos and mucked around with distribution and booking. I felt like I was a participant, not passive, yet I never once considered I could be on stage or behind the sound desk*. I think about that a lot now. I think about what other possibilities seemed so impossible they became invisible.

It’s obvious why Girls Rock! Canberra and its sister camps all over the world are so important for girls and gender-diverse young people. What is less obvious is what they can be for the associated adults. In the case of GR!C there are nearly as many adults as young people engaged in the program. This includes instrument instructors, sound engineers, band coaches, workshop facilitators, coordinators and caterers with some all-rounders and interns for good measure. Every single one of these people identify as female or non-binary. I, and probably many of the crew, hadn’t experienced an environment like this in my life. The dynamic was new and its effect, profound.

We all see our younger selves reflected in the participants – the way they project or withhold, the way they dress and carry themselves, the things that occupy their minds. It makes you feel simultaneously vulnerable and irrepressible. You were there, but now you are here. Because of this, I think, there is more kindness, more patience, more listening in this space. And everything is awake with potential.

Really I spent a lot of the last week washing dishes, dishing up meals, sweeping floors, shifting furniture and shuffling paperwork, yet by virtue of being in the company of forty-odd women, in a space of generous exchange and boundless support I feel more like I have undergone a fundamental shift or recalibration. Incredible and essential. I’m still tossing sleeplessly trying to understand what I can take away from the experience, how to carry that forward in my work. It’s possible that I can’t, but we’ll see.


*Now, at age 33, I’m part of a band for the first time. Another story for another time.

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