Music With Mates

24 August 2017

Newly arrived young migrants and refugees are making friends through music with support from an innovative new program.

Music with Mates sources free tickets to Melbourne music shows and links groups of recently arrived young migrants and refugees with groups of volunteer Melburnians to attend the shows together.

While volunteers have flooded in, the initiative’s co-founder Christine Leahy says their current focus is on raising awareness of the program with newly arrived young people.

“There’s an English teacher who has been bringing her students from Wyndham Vale, and that’s a really great way to do it because they know her and feel comfortable,” Ms Leahy says.

“She’s given us really great feedback. She thinks it’s a fantastic program and wants to continue to bring more students along.”

Ms Leahy says Music with Mates aims to help people surpass the sense of isolation that often comes with living in a new country and culture.

“A lot of young people that are moving here, they’ve finished school but they haven’t yet got a family, and that’s a really hard time to meet people.

“But music is a great way to do it, and it’s a really big part of the Melbourne lifestyle.”

Participants have so far been to see musicians including Paul Dempsey, Busby Marou, Jen Cloher, Courtney Barnett and Montaigne with Pete Murray coming up. They’ve also seen Jebediah frontman Bob Evans (Kevin Mitchell), who founded the program in partnership with Christine Leahy.

Ms Leahy says they always make sure that the shows are in environments where participants – most of whom have never been to a Melbourne gig before – will feel comfortable.

Participants also meet up together with organisers for a chat before the show begins, are not provided with alcohol and can attend gigs in unlicensed venues.

Attending three or four shows with the same group encourages participants to make friendships and hopefully continue them beyond the shows.

“Wanting people to make friends is a big part of it, so we don’t want it to be a one off where they just have a nice time and that’s it.

“It’s very much about doing a few things together over a few months so they can get to know one another and hopefully then have friendships that sustain beyond the program.”

Ms Leahy and some others are currently planning a BBQ and music workshop with a group of participants from Myanmar, Eritrea, India, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Syria.

“The people that have been coming love music, they are often composers themselves, or write or sing songs and they’re really keen to play music together.”

Another such participant is Shwe Win Hton, a young man who spent the majority of his life in a Thai refugee camp after his parents fled war in Myanmar.

Shwe Win plays the guitar and sings, and recently attended a Paul Dempsey gig through Music with Mates which was captured by ABC’s Lateline.

“On my first day in Australia, I couldn’t understand people at all. I was too scared to speak to people,” he told Lateline.

Three years later, Shwe Win is discovering the city and meeting new people through music.

As Paul Dempsey says in the program, “it’s a way into the city, it’s a way into the culture, when you discover something that you love in a new city, it can blow it all open.”

Find out how newly arrived young migrants and refugees, or people who work with new arrivals, can make contact at the Music With Mates website to get involved.

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