The Kangaroo March Connection
In early 2013, Rhondda Vanzella (OAM) woke up one Sunday morning listening to Macca on Australia All Over to hear the announcement that the then Federal Government was going to give $100,000 to every electorate to commemorate the Centenary of Anzac. Having lived and worked in rural communities for many years and with a passion for the bush, she thought,
“Hmm, I wonder how much my little village of Exeter in rural NSW is going see of that money?”
The next day, she was in the Village Hall attending a CWA meeting and noticed for the first time there was an old army photo hanging on the wall with a caption that read,
“Kangaroo March comes through Exeter, 1915”
About the same time, Graham Brown, a Light-horseman also from Exeter, had thought it would good to re-enact the march.
The Kangaroo March was one of nine recruitment marches that went through NSW and Queensland late 1915 and 1916 after the great losses at Gallipoli. The Kangaroo March, from Wagga Wagga to Sydney, was the longest of these marches and came right through Exeter! The following Sunday, Rhondda and Graham quickly decided to put a committee together after sharing their thoughts about the re-enactment outside the church.
Following this discussion, Rhondda then asked OJ Rushton if she would join the committee as the Education and Music Director. Given OJ’s love of Australian History and Music she was already thinking about how she might engage today’s young people in the Centenary of Anzac and jumped at the opportunity to come on board.
Starting a Mass Choir
Even though she was now the Education and Music Director for the March, OJ’s vision was much greater. She was concerned that once the march come and gone through each town, young people would forget about it and get on with their lives. If she was going to put the time and effort into this, there had to be a legacy left in each town. Something that would add value to the town and engage the young people in commemoration for many years after.
As a musician, OJ’s work with RSL Sub-branches in the Southern Highlands gave her an understanding of the need to connect the younger members of the community to Anzac and Remembrance Days. With the formation of local Choir Mobs, OJ saw this as a way to support the RSL with their music, connect young people to their local and family history and, together with the RSL, leave a legacy in each community to keep the spirit of Anzac alive for the next generation.
The Kangaroo March Committee embraced the idea of a choir as an educational initiative for the march. After The Kangaroo March Committee President, Graham Brown, a member of the Light Horse Association, extended an invitation to the new choir to perform at a Light Horse Dinner in which Dr. Brendan Nelson was the keynote speaker for the evening. It was at this dinner that President Graham Brown announced that Dr. Nelson would be Patron for the re-enactment march and the The Rural Commemorative Youth Choir was born. The small Showcase Choir, consisting of primary aged children dressed in 1915 school uniform suitably impressed all who heard them with every performance leading to another invitation to sing.
The children went on to perform at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney and the Closing Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial just to name a few. In December, 2013, OJ invited the rural children of Junee and surrounds to join the Showcase Choir to form a Launch Choir and perform at the Kangaroo March Launch in Wagga Wagga. Over 60 children in period costume performed in front of the Governor of NSW, the NSW Centenary of Anzac Committee and many other dignitaries who all praised the initiative.
In mid 2014, with the full support of the Mittagong RSL Sub-branch and Club, the first pilot Local Choir Mob was formed and quickly grew to a choir of over 30 young people ranging in age from 6 to 18years. Shortly after, a satellite Mob started in the Southern Villages to complete the Southern Highlands Mob. Whole families embraced the choir and joined so they could sing together. Finally OJ’s dream was a reality.
A Theme Song for the Choir
The song, "Young & Free", written by OJ Rushton as an anthem for all Australians during the Centenary of Anzac, officially became the Theme Song for the choir in early 2014. Lee Kernaghan, having heard the song, offered to record the official version. It was at this time that the Studio Mob was formed. Nineteen young people formed the Choir’s first Studio Mob. It was an awesome experience and honour to work with both Garth Porter as our producer and Lee Kernaghan on this project.
Becoming an RSL Choir
Rhondda, a member of the War Widows, also had a passion for helping the RSL as her late husband was Treasurer of the RSL NSW State branch for many years. It was Rhondda who suggested the RSL embrace the choir as a Centenary of Anzac project and become Australia’s first RSL Commemorative Youth Choir. Together with the Hon. Charlie Lynn, Rhondda and OJ set out to share their vision with the NSW RSL Sub-branch. In September, 2014, the NSW RSL State branch approved the new name “RSL Rural Commemorative Youth Choir” and embraced the choir as a Youth Club under the RSL NSW Youth Council. On Friday, 19 September, 2014, the Choir’s new certificate of Registration arrived in the mail. It was at this time the Choir also became a member of the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA).
In September 2014, Rhondda and OJ conducted a road trip along the Kangaroo March Route to share the vision of other Local Choir Mobs starting along the march route. It was a successful trip with a number of communities ready to start Local Mobs in their towns. This is just the beginning. The bigger vision is that more and more communities embrace the Choir until this becomes a state and maybe even national choir during the years of the Centenary of the Great War to support the RSL and to keep the spirit of Anzac alive for generations to come.