How I Came to Love Australia Through Its Music


WHILE moving to a new country as an international student can be daunting, there are many ways to still feel like home. Here is the story of Tito Ambyo who decides to connect with Australia through its music.

I have never been a really good musician, but I love being a part of it as I grew up in Indonesia; busking, organising festivals or just hanging out with friends with a guitar in the background. When I moved to Australia, I was afraid that I would lose this part of my life. But, after more than a decade, I am glad to report that Australia, especially Melbourne, is a great place to live if you love music.

It has been a different experience to the ones I am used to in Indonesia.  Growing up in Bandung, being forced to listen to dangdut music blaring out from minibuses in a busy traffic, the sound of a Sundanese flute in restaurants, and waking up to the Islamic call to prayer at 5 am were as much parts of my music education as busking and getting punched at a punk concert.

In short, I learnt from an early age that music is, like what the late Pete Seeger believed, an important part of everyday life. That a good life is supported and enhanced by a good soundtrack.

And, by being involved with the life of music of a city, we are discovering the sounds, the colours and the stories of that city. And this is the key to enjoying a new city –to go beyond its clichés and under its skin.

And if you are thinking about moving to Australia, once you’ve forgiven it for Peter Andre and Rick Price, I promise that you will find some of the best musicians and music scenes in the world in Australia. Especially in Melbourne.

In this, I am a living proof of what Mark Twain says about travelling –that it is fatal to prejudice and narrow mindedness.

Before coming here, I thought Australia was a barren land when it comes to creativity and music. I heard, of course, of AC/DC, Frente and Silverchair. I also heard a little of Nick Cave. I did see something quite special, but I struggled to place them in my imagination of Australia. These bands felt more like aberrances in the ocean of Air Supply, Kylie Minogue and Rick Price coming from Indonesian radio stations.

I was still excited about moving to Australia: I saw it as an opportunity to see the big rock stars who skipped Indonesia on their way south. The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, U2, etc. And I did see some of these. Some were awesome, while others were not so.

Then, I started going to small venues in Melbourne playing folk, roots and country music (not my usual genres back then), and discovered a whole new world.

It was only then, when I started going to these smaller venues in Melbourne, that I felt a real connection to why I love music, and a stronger connection to the city and its people.

Take a gig at a small Fitzroy pub that I recently went to, for example. It was a warm summer day, and a local band, The Shotgun Wedding, was playing in what must have been one of the strangest settings for a stage. The musicians were stuck in a narrow passageway between the bar and the beer garden, facing a stack of kegs and a stairway and a blinding sun from the direction of the garden where most of the audience were.

But it did not matter. It was a warm gig with a lot of banters, a bit of friendly heckling and, most importantly, some amazing musicianship by the harmonising vocalists and the duo of guitar and pedal steel players.

After the show, the musicians hung out with the small audience, talking about music and life in general.

Not long before The Shotgun Wedding’s gig, I went to the CD launch of Marlon Williams, a New Zealand-born artist, in a bigger venue in the city’s central business district.

It was a more raucous affair, with the room packed to the brim with people. But the feeling was similar: it was warm, friendly and there was some amazing music.

Not long after, I was blown away by a very cool 1930s gypsy-jazz band, The Furbelows, in one of the coolest bars in Melbourne.

I could go on and on. In fact, it is not hard to find a good gig to go to every day of the week in Melbourne. Websites like Unpaved, magazines like The Music, and community radios like PBS and RRR informed me with what music is being played where.

That is how I found, among others, bands like Sweet Jean, The Twoks, Raised by Eagles, Bombay Royale, and solo artists like Jordie Lane, Daniel Champagne and Liz Stringer.

That is also how I found that, after more than 12 years, I still love to call Australia home.


Ps. Let me assure you that it is totally fine to not drink alcohol at a bar in Australia. Yes, the majority would drink, but ordering non-alcoholic drinks is accepted, even during a round of ‘shouts’ -which is a different subject that might need another article to be fully explained.


Photo by remixyourface

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Tito Ambyo is a journalist and a writer who has worked with media organisations in Australia and Indonesia for more than 10 years. He has also taught journalism at RMIT University and currently undertaking Master of Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Melbourne while finishing his novel.


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