String education in regional Western Australia: Sitting on a gold mine

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In exploring the past and present of string teaching in regional Western Australia, Rita Fernandes finds examples of both progress and regression, all pointing to the fact that where there is opportunity, there is demand and potential

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Western Australia is dubbed ‘The Golden State’, and that’s no coincidence. Not only is its main city, Perth, the sunniest capital in the world, but the state also boasts a gold industry that in 2021 was worth AUD22bn. Western Australia (WA) has made its fortune from its natural resources (it produces 99 per cent of Australia’s iron ore and 74 per cent of its petrolem). It covers a huge area of almost a million square miles, stretching 1,500 miles from the tropical north to the temperate south of the continent. The majority of WA’s relatively small population of 2.7 million is centred on Perth, with the remaining 600,000 spread throughout the regions – the equivalent of just one person for every two square miles. Yet it is regional WA, with its wheat farms and diamond mines, that has made the state the behemoth of natural wealth it is today. Whether it’s exporting megatons of iron or gigalitres of oil to the US or China, WA’s financial potential has been recognised, and certainly exploited.

Golden potential in other areas of regional Western Australian life has yet to be extracted, however – one such being string playing. Delve deep into the past and present of string teaching in regional WA and you find heart-warming stories of string education supporting community and mental health programmes, but also unfortunate examples of regression. All these examples back up one claim: given the opportunity, there is musical potential in every corner of this vast state. String education and the building of musical communities in regional WA is a tale of both virtuous and vicious cycles. Let us begin with the virtuous…

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