Today at the Australian War Memorial, ARIA-nominated music teacher CJ Shaw and a small group of his primary school students sang a song with simple lyrics, full of meaning.
Palmerston District Primary School’s Mr Shaw was nominated for the Telstra Music Teacher of the Year ahead of the ARIA Awards on 25 November in Sydney, and if he wins it will be a first for the ACT.
The song, ANZAC Biscuits, tells the story of a child living through World War II who bakes enough biscuits for everyone: to make sure Dad comes home, to make sure the war ends, so Mum won’t be so quiet.
The song resonated deeply with the children at Palmerston, and many have parents in the military.
Mr Shaw said it started great conversations about the history of World War II, and created a link for the children at school in Canberra to understand their place in the story of Australia’s military history.
“What it means to be a part of it, and how they can have their voices heard.”
He has been teaching for nine years and said watching his love of music rub off on the students was one of the joys of the job.
“It’s very good for their wellbeing in a creative capacity, an expressive capacity, but also enabling them to identify themselves through songs and through music helps them go through life,” he said.
“It’s an artform, and an artform helps us understand ourselves better in quite an abstract way.
“But if they learn early that they can use it as an artform to express themselves or to understand an emotion, then I think that does excellent things for students of all ages, and people of all ages.”
Year Six student Dylan said it was an amazing experiencing working with the much-loved music teacher.
“We voted for him and we’ve also been working with him to do studio recording. He always tells funny stories as well.”
Year 5 student Isobel has members of her family who are currently serving. With some of them overseas. She is looking forward to sending some Anzac biscuits and their safe return.
And for Year 5 student Rose, Mr Shaw was a huge source of inspiration.
“Mr Shaw has made me believe in myself, so that’s why when I grow up I really want to be a singer like him,” she said.
“He does lots of things that tell me that I can do this, no matter what will happen.
“You can do this, you can be whatever you want to be.”
Palmerston District principal Kate Smith said Mr Shaw was “a real gem” and it was an easy decision to nominate him for the ARIA award.
“You’ll now see children in our playground at lunchtime taking out ukuleles,” she said.
“He empowers teachers, he writes individual songs for our entire Christmas concert, for our staff, for people who leave. He’s a living legend in our school.”
The Australian War Memorial’s recently appointed director, Matt Anderson PSM, thanked the children for sharing their voices.
“You’re helping me learn, you’re teaching me a thing or two about the nature of that [military] service,” he said.
“Everyone who works at the War Memorial, we are just caretakers for a brief moment in time, of that story. I have to remind myself every single day when I come to work.
“And hopefully the people who do come home from war, who are healing, you’ll help them. Because by singing that song, you’re thanking them. So I just want to say ‘thank you’. “
Mr Shaw received the gold coin of the Director of the Australian War Memorial “to honour the song, the man and the story behind it”.