The Old Darlington School nestled in a park-setting, is a peaceful retreat on the margin of the busy Sydney University Campus. Built in 1878 in Gothic Revival style the School is a remnant of the Darlington suburb now partially absorbed by expanding university grounds.

After the major 1960s expansion into the quarters of Darlington working class people and migrants, Sydney University allocated the Old School to the Music Department. This small idyllic venue harboured a number of community groups who through music and singing nurtured their interests and cultural traditions.

Among the community users were two groups associated with Javanese Gamelan and three groups using Balinese Gamelan. Through a partnership with the Music Department, the Australian Museum has made available to the community a large set of Gamelan instruments and dance costumes from both Central Java and Bali.

The Gamelan instruments were used in the teaching of Music Department and Conservatorium classes, and for practising and performances by community groups. Prominent musicians from Java and Bali have visited Sydney to teach and perform with these groups for over two decades. More than 150 musicians and students would access these instruments on a regular basis for practice and public performances around Sydney and New South Wales.

Late in 2014 Sydney University terminated this arrangement, highly valued by civic groups and music enthusiasts. It is understandable that universities, marching towards hard-nosed commercial future, have less interest in supporting and nurturing communities.

Janavese Gamelan
Janavese Gamelan is being prepared for transport, Old Darlington School 16 January 2015 Image: Dion Peita
© Australian Museum

Luckily, the School of the Arts & Media at the NSW University accommodated the Javanese Gamelan in a spacious and handsomely suitable chamber. The Balinese Gamelan was given friendly shelter at the Indonesian Consulate in the southern Sydney suburb of Maroubra.

We are grateful that the new homes will support community groups using our Gamelan instruments. This would permit continuation of this longest and probably most successful community program for the people of our city and state, run by the Cultural Collections of the Australian Museum.

Additional information:

The Javanese instruments were used by two groups: Kyai Kebo Giro - a student ensemble from the Music Department; and Langen Suka Sydney Gamelan Association - one of Australia’s premier gamelan ensembles.

The Balinese instruments (and costumes) were used by three groups: students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; Sekaa Gong Tirta Sinar - a multicultural group formed in 1992 when the Museum commissioned the instruments from Bali; and Sekehe Gong Dharma Bali - the orchestra of the local Balinese Community of NSW.

Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia. The Gamelan ensemble consists of predominantly percussive instruments.

I used some information compiled by my colleague Megan Van Frank, former Collection Officer – thank you Megan.