Wattle and Co in full bloom

Warrandyte Diary, July 2014

Miss Wattle and the Panton Hill Ukulele Club

Every year for Hurstbrige’s Wattle Festival, Sue Arnold entertains festival-goers by dressing up as ‘Miss Wattle’, a fictional beauty queen from 1910.

She jokes that Miss Wattle is only famous within a 5km radius of her house, but Cairns locals are bound to grow to love her too, after her appearance at the Cairns Ukulele Festival earlier this month.

Miss Wattle and the Panton Hill Ukulele Club wowed an audience with their 20-minute performance on one of the festival’s main stages, covering everything from calypso to Oz Rock and western swing.

Miss Wattle “We were stupidly excited,” Sue told the Diary.

“We’re all middle aged but we we’re just as excited as kids. For many of us – myself included – it’s the first time in Cairns.”

The festival attracts thousands of visitors from across Australia and the world, with several international ukulele artists taking part, including the so-called “modern-day master” Bartt Warburton and Abe Lagrimas Jr.

Some of the ukulele players in Miss Wattle and the Panton Hill Ukulele Club, which is a group of 10 people, had been learning for only eight weeks before heading to Cairns.

Sue says beginners generally pick up the ukulele and are playing a song within minutes, and the professional ukulele teacher and entertainer believes that’s why the ukulele is becoming more popular.

“It doesn’t take long to get enough proficiency on a ukulele to entertain people. It’s challenging enough to keep you interested for the rest of your life but simple enough for any person to pick it up and play a song within five minutes,” she said.

“A lot of the people who start my classes are in their fifties and it’s their first time learning an instrument. You really don’t have to be born with music ability – anyone can play and its gives me a thrill to see grown ups playing.”

Warrandyte resident Marjan Kiewiet, who is heading up to Cairns with the club, started learning to play the ukulele nine months ago, after seeing flyers about lessons at the Wattle Festival.

“I was hooked straightaway and it’s a wonderful, inclusive and supportive community of people. Playing with them just makes me so happy and I was really glad to go up to Cairns to perform alongside them,” Marjan said.

While in Cairns, the group also visited the Great Barrier Reef and played at the popular Kuranda Market after a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

When Sue began playing the ukulele 20 years ago, she “never imagined in a million years” that she would be heading to Cairns to play in such a major festival.

As a teenager growing up in Adelaide, Sue picked up a ukulele for the first time after becoming inspired by other kids her age who were playing music and forming their own bands.

“There was a ukulele lying around I thought I couldn’t play the drums or the saxophone like them but I could probably play the ukulele. The music I found in my grandmothers piano stool from the 1930s had instructions on how to play the ukulele in it so that’s how I taught myself. For me it was a way to be part of the music world that I love.”

Twenty years later, she holds ukulele lessons in Hurstbridge and Eltham and still loves it.

And there’s no sign of Sue giving up her passion for the ukulele any time soon, as she hopes to start classes in Warrandyte.

Those interested in attending her ukulele classes can contact her on the Miss Wattle And Friends Facebook page or by calling 0409 790 319.

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Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.