Yoko Ono may launch John Lennon Educational Tour Bus down-under

WHETHER or not John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono potentially visits Australia to launch the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus down-under, will depend on her fitness at the time - but fingers are crossed she can make the long journey from New York.

WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle is championing the concept of the dream-building bus coming to Australia, as is legendary Australian musical promoters Mark Pope and Michael Chugg.

The experienced politician discussed the topic when he met Yoko on a visit to New York in September last year.

WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle (left) during his New York visit last year, with Yoko Ono

WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle (left) during his New York visit last year, with Yoko Ono

Senator Sterle was touring the Kaufman Astoria Studios in the New York City borough of Queens, to take a first-hand look at the bus - including meeting with the US Managing Director Brian Rothschild - when he was surprised by Yoko Ono’s unplanned appearance.

Not missing an opportunity to help drive change, he put the question to her about a potential appearance in Australia.

“Bugger me out came Yoko, walking up the street,” he said.

“We sat down and had a talk and my first question was, ‘Would you come to Australia Yoko if we launched it?’ and she said ‘yes’.

“And, of course, Yoko’s 84 so her health is a consideration for travelling here to Australia but they also tell me it was only two years ago that she was jumping and jamming around on stage.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

In February, Mr Rothschild visited Canberra and other parts of Australia like Kununurra, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne to explore the concept’s potential application here, including meeting politicians, to help disadvantaged youth pursue artistic careers.

Senator Sterle said what lured him to the idea of using the bus as a way of aiding the development of underprivileged children in remote areas, to enhance a career in music or other similar pursuits in the arts, was using the globally powerful, barrier-breaking name of John Lennon.

“I have to be honest, if it was the Glenn Sterle bus, nobody would get out of bed - it’s sad but it’s true,” he said.

“I can also remember seeing “Help” all those years ago and wondered why all these women were screaming.

“We all grew up with this spirit and it just inspires you – especially the work of John and Yoko.

“And that’s part of the mantra of the bus.

“It’s about peace, it’s about racial integration and it’s about harmony and all that good stuff and it can’t go astray in rural Australia, or our cities for that matter.”

Asked what he’d say to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull if he had one minute to convince him of the value of putting $2 million into the Lennon bus to launch its journey in Australia, of the $10m cost to operate for three years, Mr Chugg said he’d talk about embracing hope and opportunity for disadvantaged youth.

“It’s about the future of Australian youth and it’s about giving the kids hope,” he said.

“Myself and Michael Gudinski and people like that, we put in over 50 years trying to break Australian music overseas and now we’re breaking through.

“Every day there’s an act charting somewhere around the world – that’s what it’s all about - giving the kids a chance that they may not otherwise get.”

Mr Pope said when Senator Sterle visited New York and saw inside the Lennon bus he “drank the Kool Aid” in regards to its potential impact on young lives.

“You have to dare to dream,” he said.

“We have a dream of some kid winning a Grammy Award and speaking about how a light was turned on, when the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus came to town.

“Imagine a world without music, what a dull place it would be.”

“But it’s not just about music, it’s also about developing twenty-first century skills for these children, like film and documentary making, photography, lighting and sound.”

Mr Pope said when the Beatles toured Australia in June 1964, it was the only time John Lennon ever visited the country.

WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle (centre) with legendary Australian music promoters Mark Pope (left) and Michael Chugg, in Canberra this week to hold talks on gaining support to bring the John Lennon Educational Bus Tour to Australia.

WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle (centre) with legendary Australian music promoters Mark Pope (left) and Michael Chugg, in Canberra this week to hold talks on gaining support to bring the John Lennon Educational Bus Tour to Australia.

But he said having a version of the legendary musician’s educational bus touring regional Australia would allow his spirit to live on and achieve the musician’s altruistic aspirations.

“June 11, 1964 changed my life,” he said.

“I was an eight-year-old kid watching it live on television and was totally entranced.

“Over the next four or five years I would get out my tennis racket, pretending to be John Lennon playing the guitar, and a light when on.

“I’ve built a 30-year career, and been very successful at what I’ve done, simply because John Lennon and the other three Beatles turned on a light.

“Now, 50 years later this is a form of serendipity with the same thing happening.

“We can use John Lennon’s legacy to inspire the next generation and other generations after that, to have a career in music.

“I took my mum 20 years to finally stop saying ‘when are you going to get a real job’.

“The world of music wasn’t considered legitimate back then but now it is and the arts and that’s what feeds the soul of a nation.

“And we have to keep planting the seeds and planting crops and growing the future which is what this bus does.”

Mr Pope said when he was tour managing The Angels and Cold Chisel, trying to break into music markets around the world, the scene was like, ‘Why are you Australians here?’

“That was the attitude then and it was like trying to make water run up hill,” he said.

“But after so long, and now with the internet, you can now break around the world, far quicker.”

Mr Pope said the plan was for the bus to visit 250 schools per year in metro and regional areas.

But he said it wasn’t a “one night stand” concept with the educational program playing an ongoing role in helping to build and boost career development, like identify pathways for students to “go to the next level”, with their career choices,

“We’ve set an ambit claim of wanting to get this up by October 2018,” he said.

Mr Pope said like he and Mr Chugg did with Wave Aid, Live Earth and Sound Relief, they planned to kick-off the Lennon bus in Australia at an event designed to raise money and awareness.

He said artists would donate their services at cost, with each one performing a John Lennon song and the bus would also be open to access for media over an extended period, to help put together stories and spread the word.

“By the time it hits the gravel and the pedal hits the metal, everyone will know what it stands for, as opposed to ‘what’s that?’,” he said.

But the concept of launching the Lennon Educational bus in Perth, outside Senator Sterle’s office, with him the first driver, wasn’t as appealing.

Mr Chugg said “You’re not going to get the major national media if you do it anywhere other than Sydney or Melbourne - that’s the truth of it which is a pain in the ass”.

“But mind you, as we go to each state, we’ll do something special in each state,” he said.