IMAGINE a big blue bus touring schools in regional and remote areas of Australia carrying an indefatigable spirit of hope, capable of sparking fires through the magic of music or film and other artistic endeavours, to change the lives of underprivileged youth; especially those in indigenous communities.
Imagine there was no ideologically driven political resistance to such an initiative which was backed by $10 million of government and business funding, due to being a proven concept that’s operated under an indisputable brand name in the US for 20 years.
Imagine hundreds and thousands of Australian children living for that exciting day when that bus cruises up their street or dirt track and finally arrives at their school gate, and those in the cities too.
Imagine its possessions; like high tech twenty-first century sound and video engineering equipment that can capture and broadcast unique sounds and colourful digital images portraying future stars performing acts to change the world.
You may say WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle - a one-time truck-driver - is a dreamer when it comes to getting behind the wheel and putting petrol in the engine of such an ambitious concept…but he’s not the only one.
Senator Sterle is normally at the helm of driving the Senate Rural Affairs Committee’s work, covering agricultural policy issues like beef supply chain competition concerns or biosecurity disasters.
But he’s also partnered with two of Australia’s most experienced and legendary musical industry identities to help drive a bold project that aims to bring the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus down-under.
And they’re hoping the political world will be as one with philanthropic businesses, in backing their stellar endeavours.
There’s a flagged date of October 2018 for the rubber to hit the road.
Mark Pope and Michael Chugg visited Canberra this week meeting various government ministers and other federal politicians to continue pushing the project’s evolution, joining Senator Sterle.
Mr Chugg is considered a legendary live music promoter with 50 years in the business and track record that includes touring acts like ABBA, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
He also worked on the Wave Aid benefit concert in 2005 held at the SCG which he said raised $5 million to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, along with his good friend Mr Pope.
Mr Pope also worked on the Wave Aid concert and helped bring to life other similar big public fundraising events like Blaze Aid which raised $12m to help victims of the Victorian bushfires.
He’s also been a long-running producer of the ARIA annual awards and promoted iconic Australian acts like INXS, Cold Chisel, and The Angels and managed Jimmy Barnes.
Along with Senator Sterle, the two music/event promoters believe an Australian version of the John Lennon Bus can help stimulate and motivate disadvantaged children to pursue careers in music, sound, vision, recording, film, documentary film-making and other opportunities, driven by the ever-expanding world of online media.
A by-product of that work is helping to drive enhanced self-worth in participants, with improved health another intended outcome along with better racial integration – all pursuits that John Lennon and his music symbolise, eternally.
Mr Chugg said the bus would also have a special design, different to the US model, with a fold-out stage that would enable musical ambassadors like Jimmy Barnes to hold concerts at different locations; potentially once a month.
“You can roll into Kununurra or butt-fuck Idaho and do a concert in the middle of the street,” he said.
Mr Pope said based on the evidence of operating costs in the US over the past 20 years and Europe in the past five years, bringing the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus down-under would cost $10m.
He said they were approaching government to secure an initial $2m to get the bus built and the remaining $8m running costs would get the bus on the road, over the next three or four years, which was costed on “real information” based on operating over 20 years, in the US.
“We see it as being $10m in funding between government and philanthropic funding as well,” he said.
“We’ll be doing commercial deals with ‘right fit’ companies to run the bus and the digital footprint of how it gets out, through the internet.
“It’s about corporate Australia - and overseas companies as well - giving back too.”
Ministerial support but nothing signed, yet
Senator Sterle said the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion had taken the lead for the federal Coalition government on the initiative and had been “absolutely, fantastically supportive” and those talks were continuing, in the absence of a written agreement.
He said while a commitment to the entire $2m was not yet given, the government had provided $50,000 in seed funding to start the Australian build, of the educational bus.
Senator Sterle said federal Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield had also been “very, very engaging” on the request, as had Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
“Sadly I haven’t had support from Minister Joyce but I’d love to see Barnaby engaged,” he said of the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader.
Senator Sterle said Labor was “on board” and Mr Chugg said Opposition leader Bill Shorten had indicated his unambiguous backing, in talks held earlier this year.
“Bill made it very clear that he’s totally 100 per cent behind it,” he said.
Senator Sterle said “We are talking a $10m budget over three years and in federal parliament I see millions and millions and millions of dollars floating past us every minute of every day, at Senate estimates – it’s not a lot of money”.
“This hasn’t been done in Australia before but it has a proven track record in the US over 20 years and now Europe over the last five years,” he said.
“$10m over three years is nothing mate and how many kids can we turn on a light, in a dark corner, and open a whole new life for?
“A lot of good people are doing a lot of good things in regional and rural Australia who are unsung - but when all is said and done, this is a brand new concept and deserves commitment to support it.”
Senator Sterle said he was in touch with remote Australia “every single day of the week” and could see the benefits that the Lennon Educational Bus would deliver to children living in rural and regional Australia looking for employment skills.
“Imagine what opportunity we can give to these kids and it’s not only the kids on the microphone out the front or on the guitar - there’s also sound, lighting, engineering, photography and storytelling,” he said.
“It’s a magnificent opportunity that’s never been seen in this country before.
“I see an enormous opportunity for not only aboriginal kids but others in remote areas of Australia.
“Music binds us as a nation and this magnificent bus can get them started.
“We should be trying every single new idea we can to bring and open up every new avenue of opportunity out in the bush.”