By Kyra Gillespie
A lifetime of bringing the joy of music into the lives of children has earned Claudia Barker a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List.
Ms Barker, who has previously received Kooweerup and District Australia Day Citizen of the Year, has taught at Kooweerup Secondary College for over 50 years.
As the Director of Music, she has shaped the lives of generations of pupils.
“I am a public school teacher and proud of it. This award acknowledges the importance of music in a child’s education and the work done by music teachers in public schools,” she said humbly.
Under Ms Barker’s direction, instrumental lessons at the college are free of charge; making an otherwise expensive endeavour accessible to all students.
“I’ve always believed that music is its own reward. But apart from the obvious pleasure it can give, the research shows that there are other benefits to learning a musical instrument. Studies have shown that playing a musical instrument is the only activity that gets so many parts of the brain working simultaneously,” she explained.
“It can help develop skills such as memory, ability in schoolwork (especially math), coordination and self-discipline. In addition, they develop commitment, responsibility and a hard-work ethic.
“If we’re going to solve the problems of the world we need to expose our children to art and beauty and give them the opportunity to be creative. The future belongs to those who can connect creativity to technology.”
Ms Barker started as an English and French teacher at Kooweerup Secondary College in 1965, when there were 450 students. Now there are over 1000.
“It was a rural high school in every sense; the school cleaner’s cow used to roam the school every now and then. There were wall-to-wall kids in classes – I had 50 students in one of my form four classes.
“There was no equal pay and no maternity leave – resignation was the order of the day if one was starting a family. My first annual salary was 950 pounds.”
Despite all the odds Ms Barker excelled through the ranks, taking on the role as Director of Music and Leading Teacher.
She founded the College Marching Band in 1998 and in 2002, the ‘Claudia Barker Performing Arts Centre’ was named in her honour.
The music department at the school has grown from a small choir taken by the history teacher in 1965 to be part of the curriculum and offered through to Year 12.
As of this year, there are nine music teachers at the school.
She has taken the College Senior Band to perform around the world, including at St Margaret’s Westminster, The International School of Paris and Fromelles on the Western Front; an achievement she claims would not be possible without the support of the school and wider community.
“I have always had outstanding support from the administration at Kooweerup Secondary College and the broader community. When my college band toured overseas we were generously supported by all the local service clubs and by the Hewitt Bequest.”
Ms Barker’s mark on the community has been great; she was a founding member of the Westernport Light Opera Society (now known as Windmill, first female conductor of the Pakenham Brass Band (now called the Cardinia Civic Concert Band) and has led the 39th Battalion Association Marching Band Band in the annual Melbourne ANZAC March since 1998.
She said conducting an orchestra is like playing a “big instrument.”
“The orchestra can be seen as a metaphor for society; a group of musicians contributing in different ways but all working together towards the common goal,” she said.
“As in society there are rules to be followed but only the conductor can bring the various voices together and produce a beautiful sound.”