Creative minds come in all forms. Writing is my creative outlet but for others it may be visual arts – painting, drawing, photography, cartooning – or craft, or music, singing, dance. For the past three years I have been lucky enough to spend a week each January in a small Australian town where creative minds come together just for the fun of it!
Camp Creative is a summer school in Bellingen, New South Wales. For the past 26 years individuals and families (there are courses for children too) have been coming along to spend five days discovering talents they may not have known they had. It may be anything from learning to play the clarinet to stone-carving or jewellery making. The atmosphere at Camp Creative – held in the local schools – is fun and uplifting. As one of about 70 tutors at Camp Creative, I learn from my adult students – who have ranged from 17 to 70 – as certainly as they do from me. There are no exams and no judges, just the chance to dabble in a bit of self-discovery and have fun.
For anyone who has seen the move Shine, starring Geoffrey Rush, the figure of Australian pianist David Helfgott will be a familiar one. David and his wife Gillian live outside Bellingen in an area called The Promised Land, and are great supporters of Camp Creative. As patrons of the event – alongside, until his recent death, author Bryce Courtenay – they are not just figureheads, but an integral part of the success of the week.
The Helfgotts often open the wonderful garden at their home for concerts and other events, and are benefactors to many of the talented young people of Bellingen, offering scholarships and mentoring. In 2009, Camp Creative honoured David with the unveiling of a 2.7 metre sculpture by the internationally recognised sculptor John Van Der Kolk in a park in Bellingen’s main street, in recognition of his “inspirational life” and his contribution to the community.
Gillian retired last week as vice-president of the hard-working volunteer committee that runs Camp Creative, and David performs alongside up-and-coming young talent at a concert during the week each year. It’s a free concert for “Campers” and is packed out. For those seeing David Helfgott perform live for the first time, it’s an incredible and often emotional experience.
The writing courses are held at Bellingen primary school, a little bit away from the main “campers’ campus” at the high school on the other side of town. It’s quieter, and we like it. But this year, a surprise awaited.
On Thursday, principal Graeme Ross popped his head into our classroom doorway to announce that David Helfgott would perform a short concert in the primary school hall at lunchtime. We all trooped off – and what a treat it was. David arrived wearing boardshorts, a t-shirt and a pair of bright red running shoes. He played on the school’s upright piano, breaking off after each piece to give his enthusiastic trade-mark thumbs-up, then run along the front rows and shake hands – or hug – members of the audience (only about 50 people in total). Sitting a few rows back, Gillian urged him back to the piano each time.
It’s impossible to know what might be running through David’s mind along with the music, or when he is mobbed by fans who want to shake his hand or receive one of his bear-hugs. I hope he is getting back the same degree of pleasure that he gives to others with his music, because one look around the room of lit-up faces as he plays and as he interacts with his audience shows how enormous that is. Our impromptu concert in an informal and intimate setting was a treat that won’t be easily forgotten by those who were there. Thanks David!