Ukulele lovers jamming it out

Anne Simmons

On a market day in Traralgon, you can find up to 20 ukulele players crammed in a narrow Italian café, with maybe a couple of guitarists or even an accordionist.

Diners chat and finish their breakfast while the musicians pluck away at an impromptu tune.

It might warrant applause or it might not.

The drop-in jam sessions were the brain-child of the newly-appointed Gippsland Acoustic Music Club ukulele coordinator Di Stephens.

After growing tired of travelling to Boolarra every Saturday for a jam she took matters into her own hands to pull her hobby closer to home.

Ms Stephens, a retiring primary school teacher, first picked up the mini instrument five years ago and learnt from her predecessor Barry Stuckey who recently handed over the coordinating role.

“It was a very easy instrument to learn … Ukulele to me is a very happy instrument,” Ms Stephens said.

With her contribution, among a group of other Latrobe Valley musicians, a local ukulele scene is “growing, if anything” and Traralgon has its own dedicated festival to the instrument.

It is one of three in the state.

“I have to say, the community that has come out of ukuleles in this area I think is mainly thanks to Barry [Stuckey] and how he’s been so forward-thinking in getting this up and running,” Ms Stephens said.

“It’s a really strong community and I think it gives people a feeling of belonging to something, something bigger than themselves.

“It’s a really great community-based instrument in that it doesn’t cost a lot of money … You can carry it with you.”

The inaugural Ukulele Wingding, as the festival was called, was held in October at Liddiard Road Primary School, Traralgon, and had about 80 people playing in unison.

The Wingding is expected to be mid-year in 2019 and there will be lessons for various skill levels running throughout the year.

On Saturday, ukulele players gathered in Traralgon for the final jam session of the year.

Throughout the year, sometimes people would “just waltz in”, sing a couple of songs when they had finished their coffee, then head off.

But once a couple of café-goers happened to be particularly “fantastic” singers.

“I’m going goose-bumpy just thinking about it,” Ms Stephens said.

“I think it was like The Rose by Bette Midler.

“I think we ended up with six harmonies going … To have this level of harmony and these are just people that have walked off the street … it was just beautiful.”

It ended in a moment of silence as they digested the moments that preceded.

Saturday mornings in Traralgon will go quiet until about mid-January when the jam is expected to return.

The jams will run again on market days at Catinalla’s Caffé & Wine Bar on Franklin Street, Traralgon.

For more information about GAMC’s ukulele lessons in 2019, email Di Stephens at