Singing in harmony for diversity

On first listen, The Quokkas might sound like your typical children’s band. The songs are fun and catchy, the visuals are vibrant and colourful, and if you have children there is a 100 per cent chance the music will get them, and you, moving and grooving.

Their message sets them apart, and it might not be what you would expect.

“Our music is written to do two things,” says Quokkas band member and Hit 106.9 Newcastle presenter, Nick Gill.

“The first is to be catchy in its own right so that kids will enjoy it, but secondly we also want it to be universal in the sense that anyone in the world can listen and maybe even learn something.”

The lesson is simple, “everybody’s welcome”, which is also the name of the band’s first single, released in November last year.

The Quokkas, comprising Gill, Komiti Levai, Matt McLaren, Steph Tuyl and Pam Hyde,  formed in April 2020 to send a positive musical message to young children to combat the influx of negative media since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Covid has been hard,” Levai says. “For a while, there was a lot of negativity on TV and we wanted to share the message through music that it’s OK and there is still so much good out there.”

Gill says kids are like a blank canvas.

“Prejudice and judgment are learnt, they’re not born that way,” he says. “If you can show them that there are so many different people in the world with different abilities, from diverse backgrounds, and have messages like ‘everyone is special in their own way,’ it’s something they can pick up and hopefully take with them through their entire lives.”

The Quokkas’ message of inclusivity and diversity extends beyond just their music. They wanted representation of different cultures and abilities within their band as well.

“Every member of The Quokkas is different and brings along their own strengths,” Gill says.

Looking to the future, the band want to continue to spread their message to as many young people as possible, but all members agree that fame is not the goal.

“We’re not reaching for the stars in terms of fame,” Levai says. “I think acts get a bit lost if that’s their angle. If you believe in what you do, people will naturally fall in love with it.”

As performance restrictions continue to ease, The Quokkas are keen to spread their positivity.

“We’re looking at holding a ticketed event by the end of the year,” Gill says. “Like the Open Day we performed for St Nicholas Early Education. We love any opportunity to get involved with the local community, particularly where the parents can get involved as well.”

Born without sight, Quokkas band member Matthew McLaren learnt to perceive the world through his ears. From an early age he began to enjoy an array of musical toys such as drums, so his parents thought he might benefit from practising piano.

His piano teacher, Sister Dorothy Dolahenty of Muswellbrook, had never taught piano to a  vision-impaired student, so she contacted the Royal Society for the Blind to get advice on how best to support McLaren.

“I learnt piano through what’s known as the Suzuki method,” McLaren says, “which involved Sr Dorothy recording pieces of music that I would listen to and learn to play by ear.”

His ears became his musical eyes.

“I thank God for the gift he’s given me to be able to help other students,” Sr Dorothy says of her time teaching McLaren.

Photo: Peter Stoop

Caption: Newcastle children’s band, The Quokkas, recently released their first single, Everybody’s Welcome.

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Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

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