Alumni spotlight: Passing on Indigenous culture through music

From a small town to the Big Apple, Indigenous artist Hayden Ryan is taking his music career to new heights.

As his graduation from the Bachelor of Arts (Music Industry) grew closer, RMIT alumni Hayden Ryan had wondered what he would do next. The Indigenous musician never dreamed his study path was bound for New York, where he will undertake a two-year master's course in music designed to help him build his fledgling business - the M.O.O.N (Music of our Nation) Project

The M.O.O.N Project is a First Nations audiovisual collective that aims to share Aboriginal culture and socio-political issues through immersive and interactive design. Hayden said his experience at RMIT, particularly with the Ngarara Willim Centre, helped him reach his goals.

Wednesday 27th April

Hayden Ryan is pictured wearing a light blue t-shirt, against a pale pink reflective background. “I was always stressed about what I would do once I got out of uni, but once I found there was a lot of support for [RMIT] graduate students, I was a bit more confident.”

Critical career support  

RMIT's Ngarara Willim Centre is a support service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. There is a Ngarara Willim Centre at each RMIT campus, and each is staffed to help students build connections and friendships, participate in social and cultural enrichment activities and take up other opportunities at RMIT.  

It also offers a range of opportunities such as scholarships, tutoring and, as Hayden discovered, global study tours. 

“The most memorable highlight would, without a doubt, be the three-week study tour to Malaysia that they organised,” he said. 

“A bunch of students and I had the most amazing experience, learning about the country’s Indigenous peoples and taking part in overnight field trips to their communities.” 

Experiences like this served as motivation for Hayden during his studies in the Bachelor of Arts (Music Industry). These were complemented by the over and above efforts of the teaching staff to get behind him.  These were complemented by the over and above efforts of the teaching staff to get behind him.  

“The most influential component of RMIT would have to be the relationships that I built with my teachers,” he said. 

“The ambitions that I carried throughout my undergraduate years were always supported by the staff, who would go above and beyond, and still do, to assist me with anything from references, to editing, to job opportunities.  

“I’d have never gotten to where I am now if it weren’t for them, and I encourage anyone at RMIT with a goal they are aiming for to use the resources that are available to them in order to achieve those goals.”  

For alumni, Hayden recommends exploring support programs that RMIT offers. 

“I would use every single service that is available to prepare for when you graduate. 

“I was always stressed about what I would do once I got out of uni, but once I found there was a lot of support for [RMIT] graduate students, I was a bit more confident.” 

Business building 

Hayden grew up in Narooma, on the south coast of New South Wales, where he played in various bands in his teens. One of his bands supported iconic Australian rockers The Living End, which Hayden counts as a highlight of his years spent touring the NSW coast.  

The same motivation that propelled Hayden to venture out of his hometown pushed him to create his own music business.  

The M.O.O.N Project is focused on sound design and giving other sound artists and musicians the chance to share their stories and knowledge of culture.  

“The ultimate goal for M.O.O.N is to feature Indigenous audiovisual artists from around the world – to provide a platform for these artists to share knowledge,” he said.  

“I also want to work with high schools to develop a program that explores elements of the M.O.O.N Project, to teach them about their local Aboriginal communities and culture. Using interactive methods like immersive sound and musical applications allows me to add a contemporary aspect to age-old knowledge, which I believe will be engaging for secondary school students.” 

A passion for passing on cultural knowledge through sight and sound has always driven Hayden and by furthering his studies, he’s confident it will broaden his skills as a musician.  

“As an Indigenous musician, I have always wanted to combine my culture and art in ways that are unique and impactful,” he said. 

“I find it beautiful how music, dance and storytelling are vessels for the transfer of knowledge in Aboriginal culture, they have been for tens of thousands of years, but what is most amazing is that fact that this knowledge has survived centuries through oral tradition.” 

Hayden said he felt buoyed by the changing dynamic within the Indigenous music landscape and positive about its future.  

“I see a lot more contemporary music that is being made by First Nations people and a lot more culture that’s being incorporated,” he said. 

“Artists like Baker Boy, Mitch Tambo and King Stingray are being picked up by Triple J and more mainstream radio stations and platforms.  

“It makes me feel amazing to see this, because for so long our music scene has been dominated by non-Indigenous artists. Our music has been buried and even thrown into the category of world music. 

“I can see Indigenous or Aboriginal music being spotlighted more. I see it as the new songlines.”

Story: Kate Jones 

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.