The gift of music: Australians donating instruments to refugees on Manus and Nauru

Boxes of donated instruments are being sent to refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to ease the burden of life in detention.

Generous Australians are sending around 100 musical instruments to refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to help combat the stress of life in detention. 

Music for Refugees founder Philip Feinstein put the call out for instruments a couple of months ago and has been overwhelmed by the response. 

He said his dining room resembled "a second-hand music store", full of guitars, keyboards, clarinets, flutes and a drum set.

Pennant Hills Public School donated a guitar for refugees to play.
Pennant Hills Public School donated a guitar for refugees to play.

The instruments will be sent on Thursday and are set to arrive next week. The Federal Government is covering the transport costs, Mr Feinstein said.

"There’s a lot of percussion instruments. A lot of these people are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and their main thing is percussion, so amongst the instruments going is a full drum set plus other some smaller drums and bongos," Mr Feinstein told SBS News.  

Mr Feinstein, from Sydney, set up Refugees for Music 10 years ago. Next week's shipment will be the first to Manus Island, and the second to Nauru.

Mr Feinstein, who has regularly conducted music lessons at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, wants asylum seekers to be able to experience the joy of music. 

"It’s really going to improve the shocking, stressful life of many, many refugees stuck on Nauru and Manus," he said.

Late musician's collection gets new life

Ffrances Ingram's partner Garry Robilliard was a passionate musician, amassing a huge collection of instruments during his lifetime, including 15 guitars, clarinets, and boxes of harmonicas and triangles.   

"They were stored all through the garage, in the wardrobe, underneath the beds, through the house and when he died two years ago, I had no idea what to do with them," Ms Ingram told SBS News. 

A friend suggested she donate them to Music for Refugees - an idea Ms Ingram was certain would have pleased her late partner.

"He would be delighted, he was the most extraordinarily generous man," she said.

Ms Ingram hoped refugees would be able to experience the same joy and power of music that her partner had. 

"I think if people can play the music of their background and the music of their childhood and their country then I think that will help them emotionally a huge amount."

Classic hits popular in jam sessions 

Mr Feinstein says he's been struck by the talent on show in jam sessions at detention centres.

"It’s also wonderful when you get people from say Algeria, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka all jamming at the same time and throwing in their types of rhythm, keeping in time with the music but throwing in their rhythm. From my point of view it’s so exciting to see this, just to see this enormous talent," Mr Feinstein said. 

While songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s were popular choices, many also liked to sing songs from their original countries. 

"It would be wonderful if anyone had a spare oud or any of the instruments used in these developing countries that would improve things as well," he said.

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