IF teacher, actor, rock musician, sportsman/coach and writer George Huitker has anything to do with it, there won’t be a dry eye in the house when he and his band Junk Sculpture step on stage on New Year’s Eve.
It will be their 13th New Year’s Eve performance at Teatro Vivaldi and their second “swansong” for the year. Not only did the band perform its final Midnight Oil tribute in September, but now the long-held secret is out that Vivaldi and the whole ANU Arts Centre will be obliterated as part of the ANU’s union court and University Avenue redevelopment.
Now in his 28th year as drama teacher and sports coach at Radford College, Huitker is one of Canberra’s great individualists, a true believer in peace, harmony and “service learning” who this year also wrote a new book, “Big Life”, found time to stage his own online mini-Floriade and, with a strong commitment to introducing his students to Aboriginal Australia, headed north.
“CityNews” caught up with Huitker as he sweltered in 43C temperatures at Tingha, in Gamilaraay country near Armidale, where he and several groups of students from Radford have, since 2011, been helping out at local schools while also exchanging stories and ideas.
By no coincidence at all, Junk Sculpture also played in Tingha a couple of years ago, where elder and didgeridoo player Alex joined them onstage.
“We don’t come up here with a do-gooder mentality,” he emphasises, “Some of the Radford people may never have met an Aboriginal person and others have no basic understanding of our history since 1788, so we try and give the students a real, organic experience by sharing stories, culture and music.”
In Huitker’s view the experience is entirely reciprocal, for while the Tingha kids, mostly primary age, are strong on stories, the Radford students share a love of learning that he believes is “quite infectious.”
He hopes some of the children from Tingha will be able to come to Canberra – “I’d be stoked,” he says.
As for New Year’s Eve, while it’s going to be a sad occasion and one that will conjure up memories from him of the many performances at the Arts Centre, he and the band – bassist Chris Brown, guitarist Rob Marshall, drummer-vocalist Joel Copeland, keyboardist Matt Heinrich, trumpeter Callum Sambridge, drummer-guitarist Hayden Fritzlaff and sound and synth-man, Tim Kuschel – have decided on something “more light-hearted, gentler” this year, a “harmonistic piano battle” between the music of Elton John and Billy Joel.
“We’ve been doing New Year’s Eve at Vivaldi for 12 years and we consider it will be quite a loss – nothing can replace that building,” Huitker says.