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Sydney University Settlement

"Blessings to all the spirits and energies that have guided and protected this project and its participants."

A group of young people from Redfern and surrounding areas used the music of the streets to produce a CD with the help of local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal tutors. Negative attitudes to learning gained in a formal school environment were overcome; self-esteem and self-confidence increased and there was a marked improvement in literacy and numeracy skills.


The Settlement Neighbourhood Centre offers a broad range of support services to the local communities of Chippendale, Redfern, Darlington and Waterloo.

The Centre's Youth Work program provides recreational and developmental activities for young people over the age of 11. The youth program combines outings, use of the Settlement as a "drop-in" centre and organised activities. The youth programs work closely with the Centre's Muralappi program, which runs up to four health and cultural camps each year, and the HELP program.

Some young people in the area, including Aboriginal people and a transient Aboriginal population from country areas, have negative experiences in a formal school environment. They learn more in the 'street' than in a classroom, where the activities and expectations of them bear little relevance to their everyday lives or cultural background.

The Strategic Pilot Project was designed specifically for these young people.

Project Objectives

The aim of the project was to build the target group's confidence, increase their self-esteem and foster a sense of cultural pride. Hip Hop was the medium chosen to achieve the aim and to encourage the young people to consider musical and artistic career paths.

A secondary aim was to engage the group in creative activities that would keep them off the streets.

Project Activities

The Hip Hop project ran for eight weeks from April to June 1999. It included an opening launch that attracted an initial registration of 49 young people from the target group.

A core group of 20-30 completed the subsequent 14 workshops, held twice a week for seven weeks. Each individual workshop averaged eight students.
By the end of the project nine participants from the older age bracket went through to the recording stage.

The workshops encouraged the students to explore Hip Hop and poetry as a valuable and desirable mode of expression, and as a way of dealing with issues ranging from the personal to the social. The political nature of Hip Hop music, itself forged out of the African-American experience in the United States, struck a chord with the students. They were encouraged to discuss indigenous relations, poverty and cultural pride as a step in the process of developing their own lyrics. The group's interest in Hip Hop was due more to its street popularity than to its political undertones.

Interest in the project was achieved through a fairly unstructured approach to workshop sequencing, although as the project progressed it became more important for participants to attend as frequently as possible in order to acquire technical music skills.

After the workshops, a CD was produced comprising several tracks created by participants in the project, as well as other music from favourite bands. An accompanying booklet documented the background to the CD and provided information on participants and tutors.

Project Outcomes

Literacy and numeracy skills were improved through developing music skills such as

  • counting bars and beats
  • maintaining musical rhythm
  • keeping time to music
  • writing lyrics for music· developing text for the accompanying booklet
  • learning the language associated with Hip Hop music
  • using local forms of language construction in the music.

There was a marked increase in the self-confidence and self-esteem of participants. They were able to express themselves and perform in ways not previously available to them. The group composition of the workshops meant they gained teamwork skills through working together to produce music.

Success Factors

Using local Aboriginal tutors with knowledge of the specific issues affecting young Aboriginal people was crucial to the success of the project. An African-American woman with expertise in working with young people and music, was also employed.

The Neighbourhood Centre established an informal learning environment to counteract the young people's negative associations with traditional classroom based education.

The use of Hip Hop, rap and poetry proved to be a successful way of indirectly developing language, literacy and numeracy skills.

Continuity of workshop tutors provided a degree of stability for the participants, which further encouraged confidence and self-expression in the group.

The project had considerable support from local youth and Aboriginal organisations, as well as educational institutions.

The personal networks of the staff in the Centre led to a number of free and discounted resources and facilities for the project.

Possible Improvements

Some participants dropped out near the production stages of the project because of lack of transport, staffing and late nights in the recording studio. The ability to re-schedule recording nights would have alleviated some of the pressure associated with the tight timeframe.

Some older students dropped out because they missed one crucial session in the production stage and subsequently found it difficult to catch up. A longer timeframe that allowed the flexibility to repeat or re-schedule workshops would have solved this problem.

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