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Speech: Sydney Street Choir

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 8 Feb 2012

Adjournment speech, Tuesday 7 February 2012

On another matter, I would like to inform the Senate of the unique work of the Sydney Street Choir. Its activities with homeless people and its artistic output are inspiring. The Sydney Street Choir is the longest running choir program for homeless and disadvantaged people in Australia. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of disadvantaged people have learned new social and musical skills and had their hopes uplifted by this wonderful choir. Last year the Sydney Street Choir, similar to Melbourne's Choir of Hard Knocks made famous by an ABC television program, celebrated its tenth anniversary. In 2008 Sydney Street Choir was runner-up for the best program for the disadvantaged at the national Music in Communities Awards. Each year the choir stages a major concert. Last year's wonderful performance at the PACT Theatre in Erskineville can now be enjoyed on the choir's third album, Into the Light.

I congratulate PACT Theatre for the generous assistance they provide to the choir. Over the past decade the choir has received no government assistance. There has been some local council funding. James Paul, the director of the choir, has said they survive mainly on donations and corporate sponsorship. The choristers live or work in homeless or disadvantaged communities, mainly in Sydney's inner west and the city. People associated with the choir describe how the singing and other activities of the group boost self-esteem among its members. This is a heart-warming story. The people involved speak about the positive self-expression it gives them so that they feel more connected and they look out for each other. Mary Jane Leahy—one of about seven musical volunteers who generously give their time, usually weekly at rehearsals and performances—has spoken to me with great passion about how much she has learned from working with homeless and other disadvantaged people in the choir. Mary Jane told me that the choir focuses on what people are good at and explained how she has learned of the enormous talents of homeless people that are rarely recognised or valued. Mary Jane said that she is keen for people to understand that the fact that people are disadvantaged does not mean that they lack talent. She reminded me that the choir is always looking for government funding and that people in the choir come from many different walks of life. The Sydney Street Choir Foundation is a registered charity with tax-deductible status. I understand that they would appreciate donations.

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