BACK ROADS travels to Yorta Yorta Country to find out how Girgarre got its groove back.

This week, Heather visits a town transformed by the power of music, in Victoria’s north.

In many ways, Girgarre is a typical 21st century country town story. The Millennium Drought took its toll. The dairy industry was hit hard. The shops shut. The population dwindled.

But it’s what they did next that made the difference. Lead by local teacher and dairy farmer’s wife Jan Smith, the old dairy farmers decided to learn some new tricks to get the community back together. Few could imagine how far it would take them. 

Their first step was to start a weekend market. And the ideas snowballed from there.

They invited a few musicians, and before they knew it, the town had its very own music festival! The now annual ‘Girgarre Moosic Muster’ is a music festival for people learning to play, and it’s a popular event. In 2019 they filled nearly 2500 places in the free workshops.

Heather meets the locals driving this music revolution in Girgarre including town dynamo Jan Smith who organises the festival and came up with the next big idea – to bring in artists to help the town build its new musical identity. Jan found Graeme Leak, renowned for his innovative musical installations and invited him to Girgarre to start planning a musical sculpture trail. 

From the start he was attracted by the town’s drive and passion for change,

“I always said it wasn’t really my project. I felt that their flame was already burning bright and I was a bottle of lighter fluid.” 

Music isn’t just attracting visitors to Girgarre, it’s changing lives. Heather visits 84-year-old Wallace Williams, another former dairy farmer who now makes the giant musical sculptures for the sculpture trail.

Until retiring from dairying, he didn’t have the time to be creative. Now he paints, sculpts and makes the most extraordinary instruments – including a tin violin! 

At the local school, Heather sees the next generation of town musicians being put through their paces, and in the local hall hears the ‘Junkestra’ perform – locals with instruments made out of old paint cans, using a musical system designed so that anyone can play.  And that’s the ethos here, that anyone can play.

So how true is it? Heather tests the theory by getting on stage with a double bass! 

Girgarre is a community that has realised the power of music.

Come along with Heather to discover how Girgarre got its groove back.

Back Roads travels to more of Australia’s most remote regions and towns. So, embrace your spirit of adventure and join Heather Ewart as she discovers the amazing people living life just off the back roads of Australia.

Production details

Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Story Producer, Damian Estall.

Back Roads – 8pm Monday July 13 on ABC


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