MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Indigenous musician Shellie Morris travels Australia using her life journey to inspire others.
Morris was adopted at 12 weeks old and grew up in southern Sydney.
She had turned 30 by the time she found her birth parents in the Northern Territory but now has a wonderful relationship with both her natural and adoptive parents.
Morris now devotes her life to travelling the outback in a mobile recording studio helping young indigenous people find themselves through music.
She recently performed at the London Olympics with the Black Arm Band, singing in 14 Aboriginal languages and Welsh.
At the invitation of Southern Youth and Family Services' Narelle Clay, Morris spent last week in the Illawarra, giving a voice to homeless youth.
Morris and Illawarra audio engineer and entertainment trainer Al Wright helped indigenous and non-indigenous homeless youth compose, perform and record songs for a resource that will be used for a variety of youth programs.
Word of Morris's visit to Wollongong spread quickly.
Within a couple of days she was working with 30 young musicians, encouraging them as they composed original songs, and giving them the confidence and motivation to perform and record their work.
Morris said it was the third time she had done the workshops in Wollongong.
"I think my real motivation is because my mother and father who adopted me [Ian and Dorothea Dixon] gave me all the opportunities and all the encouragement that a young person would ever want in their life," she said.
"When I went back home to the Northern Territory and saw the hardships that remote community people have, I fell in love with the bush but I also wanted to support and care for people in any way I could.
"All I had was a guitar and a voice and I realised how much everybody loved it when I brought music to those communities."
Morris said music did not really come into her life properly until she went home to the Territory.
"I was trained as an opera singer but didn't really want to do that," she said.
"I do them both now."
Morris described discovering her family roots at 30 as a mind-blowing experience.
"My family are still very traditional cultural people and coming from a very big city and getting thrown into that was a bit overwhelming," she said.
"I never thought I would be able to get it ... but now I can sing in about 18 Aboriginal languages. Music was a language of itself which opened many doors for me."
Morris recently worked on an album with many branches of her family in remote communities in the Territory and recorded it in her grandmother's language (Yanyuwa).
"Sharing my culture like that is a dream come true. I have worked in about 55 remote communities and I am an ambassador for the Fred Hollows Foundation; I was running a music and literacy program for them. Now I am also doing a music and health program for them."
She said music was a way to convey a message to people regardless of their cultural background.
"I saw how it built self esteem in myself and helped me go through the dark times and the hard times by singing and expressing myself. Now I am seeing that in the young people."
She said it was exciting to watch young people perform at the end of three days as they realised they had completed something significant that would be used to help others.
"I tell them you started with nothing, you have got your story on paper, now it is in a song, now it is on CD and now you are going to share that," she said.
"When you spend that little bit of extra time with those young people they are just shining stars."
Ms Clay said Morris had an amazing impact on the young people she worked with.
"Her ability to reach people and engage people is very special. Some are quiet and don't feel confident talking to people but she can make them want to sing and express themselves through music and song," Ms Clay said.
Morris said she hoped to continue using music to bring people together.
"We have a beautiful saying up in the Northern Territory in our language ... which means the white and the black working together, walking together side by side to make a better future. And that is what we all hope for."