In Mem Fox’s beloved children’s storybook, Koala Lou ‘is loved by everyone who sees her.’ The same may be said for The Ukulele Queen of the Bellarine, Sarah Carroll.
The former member of Melbourne’s naughties era country darlings GIT is so freakin’ endearing, you just want to hug her through the airwaves of one her regular RRR/PBS fill in broadcasts. Today the singer songwriter plays as a solo artist, alongside outfits including The Junes, The Cartridge Family, The Pirates of Beer, and also with Chris Wilson, Aine Tyrrell and Jackie Marshall.
After many joyous years in Melbourne playing music alongside bar work, record store gigs and later as a qualified masseuse, Sarah found urban life a little less lustrous with two small boys in tow. Craving open space, wider skies and more stars, locking down a rural sea-change hit the family agenda when Sarah’s (distinguished blues musician) life partner, Chris Wilson, came into a wee inheritance.With a set budget and open mind, Sarah hit the road, packing the boys into the car hunting for digs to call home. “I would literally open the Melways, pick a dot on the map 90 minutes from Melbourne, and start driving.”
Sarah Carroll: Queen of Uke AND kidlets
One such exploratory visit to the Dell sealed the deal for the Clifton Springs resident of fifteen years. “The Dell is just amazing,” says Sarah. “It has a beautiful lookout and wooden steps down to the beach, which is a hundred and fifty year old family recreation spot, dating back to its heritage as a mineral springs. There’s remnants of the pier where people would promenade off boats before bathing or staying overnight in the local hotel. Now some of the gorgeous gardens remain and there’s a shrine to the old bottling plant.”
Melbourne’s loss was Clifton Springs, Geelong, Bellarine and the Surf Coast’s gain. Sarah, Chris and their boys Fenn and George, came with the two magic attributes cities need to grow and evolve: creativity and generosity. Sarah was one of the key players behind Ocean Grove’s Piping Hot Chicken Shop becoming a renowned music venue.
“Chris and I have been something of a vanguard for local original music. There’s a lot of young kids out playing music – including our own kids. Their school (Bellarine Secondary College) really encourages music, and lots of people are out there writing songs and playing locally in all sorts of venues throughout the area like Saints and Sailors (Portarlington), and At the Heads (Barwon Heads). There’s also Wolseley Wines (Paraparap) and Pistol Pete’s (Little Malop St Geelong) where our entire family has played. They get some really interesting acts in there and Chris can just about play in there whenever he wants.”
“When we first moved here we were always heading to Melbourne to play shows, or touring,” Sarah continues. “While we still do that, there’s so much more happening locally now compared to when we arrived. We’re interested in getting people out of the house and going to gigs. So we’re always thinking about how to make it fun, inclusive and kid friendly. You just have to keep trying to make things happen, and keep talking about what’s coming up. Never assume people already know. You just can’t make it too easy for people to get involved.”
As well as playing and spruiking for the local music scene, Sarah is today playing a nurturing role via Drysdale Primary School’s private music tutor program. She teaches both group and private sessions at the school, and has done at other schools across the Bellarine.
In addition, Sarah teaches music to retirees and others at the Springdale Neighbourhood House.
Sarah says it took around two years to feel settled in her new ‘hood on the Bellarine. Today she boasts a swag of local friends, comprising some fellow ex Melburnians and others from further afield following “a Mancunian invasion” on the Bellarine some years back!
Getting involved locally was a pathway to feeling welcome and building connections. Sarah cites early involvement with Ocean Grove Primary School and some of the Drysdale Clifton Springs Community Association’s initiatives on road safety and planning as vehicles for meeting people and connecting on local issues, during a period of significant development around Jetty Road in Clifton Springs.
While Geelong, Bellarine and the Surf Coast’s music scene may not be as obvious and plentiful as say Sydney Road in Brunswick, Sarah’s example highlights that you can pro-actively shape the local scene if you’re willing. There’s plenty on offer if you have a dig around. And if you want to make it better, step right up.
- Going to the beach at Clifton Springs. “We take the dogs to The Dell or the Boat ramp, which is very dog friendly. The water is beautiful and it’s a great place to watch the sun set.”
- Eastern Beach it’s is a great place to go to hear ten other languages spoken, and feel like you’re in the real world.
- Lack of diversity. “It’s pretty white down here on the Bellarine!” Sarah puts it to local political leaders to find ways to address this.
- Cars. More a reality than a lame is plenty of drive time. By virtue of their semi-rural locale and commitment to touring music “since shifting to Clifton Springs, Chris and I have ripped through three cars apiece” says Sarah.
Learn more about Sarah’s gigs here or head to Hawaii with her for a ukulele intensive!!! https://www.facebook.com/sarahcarrollukulelequeen
Could Clifton Springs be the right next move for you? Take a look for yourself.