The street view of heritage-listed Iona, one of Dalby’s grand old buildings, is impressive – but impassive.
This history-soaked building has known many metamorphoses during its domination of Cunningham Street since 1913. It’s been a nunnery, a convent, and a private school. Today there is no external indication that behind its grand façade new life is being breathed into those peeling walls – walls that have borne witness to so much human endeavour (not all of it happy). The new vibration that is slowly chasing out the demons of the past is music; and its motivating force is Melinda J Wells, musician, songwriter, performer, music teacher, regional coordinator of the Australian Songwriters Association and Iona’s caretaker, who lives there with her children Bree (19) and Harry (16).
The Melinda J Wells Music Studio and Rock On Community Music Workshops are based there. All three members of the Wells family teach music and perform together. Melinda’s many dreams include creating an artists’ retreat in Iona’s many rooms, and running music festivals in its capacious grounds. Melinda is a local girl returned home after a career in performance and music. Always a song writer, she was a star speech, drama and theatre pupil at St Columba’s school in Dalby. So it was not a surprise when, straight out of school, Melinda scored a TV job with the children’s show Rats on Channel 10 Toowoomba.
A self-taught musician from a musical family, Melinda learned piano and guitar by ear. Her childhood music teacher deduced quickly that she had evolved past the theoretical and straight to the practical side of music; she declared her unteachable. Her music, talent and enthusiasm took her to Sydney, then to Brisbane, where she ran church and youth choirs. The magic of music slowly took over her life.Life took one of those sudden turns when Melinda was asked to create and perform a children’s show for a Sydney Shopping Centre. The success of this two-week gig led to the creation of touring group Pooki-Doos. Melinda wrote 60 original kids songs and released two albums, performing 300 shows a year in a booked-solid lifestyle which saw her returning to the stage three days after the birth of Harry in 1998.
It was a packed life – too packed. The breakdown of her marriage brought her eventually back to Dalby, a home at Iona and a new life with her children. Now she has laid her experience and music contacts at the feet of an enthusiastic Western Downs community, filling a niche that was crying out to be filled.
She’s busy – organising community music projects, workshops and festivals; running three community choirs; teaching music. There’s even a new CD, Songs of The Surat, featuring 22 original songs written and performed by local musicians. But on her spacious northern verandah at Iona, with her kids, pets and chooks, and the sounds of children playing at the school next door, life is good. Melinda’s music has brought her to a good place.
Words by Jane Grieve | Images by Janine Waters