Un­for­giv­ingly valiant and dis­tinctly DIY, Girls Rock! are break­ing down the bar­ri­ers keep­ing young women and trans youth from re­al­is­ing their mu­si­cal po­ten­tial.

Imag­ine this: you’re a young girl, trans or non-bi­nary per­son grow­ing up in Aus­tralia, in­ter­ested in the ex­cit­ing world of mu­sic and pas­sion­ate enough to chase your dreams... Where do you go from there? Well, thanks to the work of Chiara Gras­sia, Shan­non Driscoll and the global Girls Rock! Camp Al­liance net­work, young peo­ple in Aus­tralia now have a place to take their next steps into the world of mu­sic. Spread out all over Aus­tralia, Girls Rock! camps pro­vide a safe space for these young groups of peo­ple – who may not feel wel­come else­where – and works to em­power, in­spire and en­cour­age their pas­sions in all ar­eas of the mu­sic in­dus­try.

When Gras­sia, founder of Girls Rock! Can­berra, fin­ished her Un­der­grad and went over to Amer­ica, she had al­ready heard about the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp For Girls – the very first camp that fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing young girls, trans and non-bi­nary kids to ex­plore their pas­sions of mu­sic.

“I was re­ally in­ter­ested in the con­cept of Girls Rock! camps. I’d heard about them as a teenager and I thought they were this amaz­ing punk rock utopia that I wanted to be a part of, so I’d kept it in the back of my mind. Af­ter uni, I saved up some money and went over to the States and vol­un­teered at the one in Port­land, Ore­gon – the first Girls Rock! camp – for three ses­sions as a band coach. It was just the best thing.”

“Af­ter the third year, I was re­ally de­ter­mined to start one in my home­town of Can­berra. So I got a grant to go and re­search some other pro­grams; I went back to Amer­ica and vis­ited the camps in Austin and the Bay Area, and also the one in Port­land again. I just wanted to learn as much as I could. All the camps fol­low a sim­i­lar kind of struc­ture, but they’re also so unique to their own area. That’s the great thing about the camps – their re­sponse and cater­ing to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

Through pre­vi­ous work or­gan­is­ing arts events in Can­berra, Gras­sia found a lot of sup­port in her com­mu­nity, and was able to se­cure a space to host the first ever Girls Rock! camp in Aus­tralia. Through de­ter­mi­na­tion, stub­born­ness and the power of word-of-mouth, the camp hap­pened, suc­ceeded and, in the process, in­spired oth­ers who were in­volved to be­gin their own camps in their own cities. Within that year, Girls Rock! Bris­bane held their first camp, with the in­au­gu­ral Girls Rock! in Mel­bourne tak­ing place not long af­ter.

Driscoll, co-founder of Girls Rock! Mel­bourne, was one such in­di­vid­ual who heard about Gras­sia’s work in Can­berra and de­cided she wanted to be in­volved. Al­though orig­i­nally from the United States, Driscoll hadn’t heard about Girls Rock! camps un­til the doc­u­men­tary Girls Rock! The Movie aired on SBS On De­mand. Her fel­low co-founder Sally Bal­horn had seen the doc­u­men­tary first, and af­ter googling if these camps ex­isted in Aus­tralia and see­ing Gras­sia’s work, they sent off a life-chang­ing email: “How do we learn from you and how do we do this in Mel­bourne?” Shortly af­ter that, Girls Rock! Mel­bourne be­came a re­al­ity.

While each camp caters to its com­mu­nity and the peo­ple in­volved, mak­ing all of them slightly dif­fer­ent, the core val­ues re­main the same. Ba­sic con­cepts such as in­clu­sion, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, en­cour­age­ment and never turn­ing away a child be­cause of fi­nan­cial or geo­graph­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions are shared across all camps through­out Aus­tralia. That’s the Girls Rock! spirit, af­ter all – that mu­sic is for every­body.

At Girls Rock! Mel­bourne, Driscoll’s team stays fo­cused on their val­ues through cre­at­ing the right frame­work from the begin­ning for both kids and vol­un­teers, while con­tin­u­ously of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the kids to be in­volved in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, cre­ative think­ing and tak­ing ac­tion.

“We do things like hav­ing an ori­en­ta­tion for the vol­un­teers. We make sure that ev­ery­one un­der­stands the mis­sion and val­ues and they all know how to en­act them in the space, and how to let that mis­sion guide their de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. We do a lit­tle ori­en­ta­tion with the kids as well, where ev­ery­one con­trib­utes to what kind of space they wish to cre­ate for the week. We write it down, and all agree to fol­low that set of agree­ments.

We also run a lit­tle morn­ing meet­ing every day, where we might show them a skit of some­thing, like a band that’s re­ally out­spo­ken, but there’s one per­son who’s re­ally shy and she’s get­ting ig­nored, so we ask the kids what’s wrong with the sit­u­a­tion. They tell us what’s wrong and how to fix it, and then we reen­act it with their sug­ges­tions. I think just hav­ing that frame­work from the very begin­ning keeps ev­ery­one in the right mind­set.”

From sim­ply pro­vid­ing a space that pri­ori­tises women and gen­der non-con­form­ing kids, to the ac­tive learn­ing style they em­body as op­posed to pas­sive ac­knowl­edge­ment, the kids who take part in these camps are con­stantly re­minded that what they have to say is gen­uinely valu­able. And while the fo­cus of the camps will al­ways be first and fore­most on the kids who take part, hav­ing the right rep­re­sen­ta­tion in men­tors – not just in bands but teach­ing, pro­duc­tion and all as­pects of the mu­sic in­dus­try – drills in the mes­sage that rep­re­sen­ta­tion is how gen­der equal­ity goals can be achieved.

By see­ing adults just like them­selves, these kids learn that mu­sic is for them and that they are wel­come within a space that they pre­vi­ously may not have felt com­fort­able within. As Driscoll puts it, “It’s the whole, ‘You don’t know what you can be un­til you see it’ kind of thing.”

Al­ways look­ing to strengthen their com­mu­ni­ties and pro­vide fur­ther ex­pe­ri­ences for the kids in­volved, Girls Rock! Can­berra be­gan an in­tern­ship pro­gram last year. An op­por­tu­nity for for­mer campers be­tween the ages of 16 and 18, who have al­ready done a Girls Rock! camp, the pro­gram of­fers these young adults a chance to be­come a teacher and a men­tor to the next gen­er­a­tion of campers.

Af­ter run­ning the pro­gram for two years, 2019 will be the first year that Girls Rock! will have men­tors who had once been campers, con­tin­u­ing to be sup­ported as well as sup­port­ing oth­ers.

So how can we, the Aus­tralian pub­lic and mu­sic fans, help con­trib­ute to such an im­por­tant and worth­while cause? The an­swer, ac­cord­ing to both Gras­sia and Driscoll, is bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion and tak­ing steps your­self to en­sure that the change you want to see hap­pens. But how do we do this?

“I think what would be great is if peo­ple made the ef­fort to reach out and ed­u­cate them­selves and find new bands,” says Driscoll. “The world is at your fin­ger­tips with the in­ter­net – you can search for bands in your area through Band­camp, Spo­tify, Face­book... There’s all these ways that you can look up mu­sic in your area and find more di­verse bands. If you find a band that has women, gen­der­di­verse folks, and/or peo­ple of colour in it, and you see a gig poster, pay at­ten­tion! Sup­port those bands so that they do have the chance to go places and make enough money to tour and put out an al­bum. Sup­port­ing from the grass­roots com­mu­nity level is how peo­ple can make a re­ally big change.”

Striv­ing to di­ver­sify the cul­ture within the Aus­tralian mu­sic scene, and cre­ate ex­po­sure for groups that may other­wise be over­looked, the self­less work of in­cred­i­ble peo­ple like Gras­sia, Driscoll, and all the mem­bers of the global Girls Rock! Camp Al­liance net­work have laid the ground­work for what we as a com­mu­nity can achieve. Not only to abol­ish in­equal­ity in the mu­sic in­dus­try, but to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties for the large num­ber of kids who are al­ready out there play­ing mu­sic and look­ing for oth­ers they can con­nect with. To cher­ish and en­cour­age friend­ships that will last a life­time and in­spire pos­i­tive change from the very begin­ning.

With camps al­ready in cities all over Aus­tralia, and more join­ing the cause in the near fu­ture, Girls Rock! are quickly gain­ing the traction that they need – nay, de­serve – to con­tinue their mis­sion of pro­vid­ing a safe space for young girls, trans and non-bi­nary kids, en­cour­ag­ing them to ex­press them­selves through mu­sic and be in­spired by pos­i­tive men­tors and, most im­por­tantly, each other.

But this mis­sion is one for us all. It’s not enough to rely on oth­ers who are em­bark­ing on camps, aware­ness events and or­gan­i­sa­tions. Take your owns steps to be an ac­tive fighter for change; sup­port your lo­cal bands and com­mu­ni­ties, make your voices heard and be the rep­re­sen­ta­tion that in­spires all those around you. If we can all help oth­ers like the Girls Rock! group does, then there’s no limit to what we can achieve.

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