Art gives a new start

By FLTLT Thomas McCoy

When Allara was told she had to leave the military following a training accident injury, it left her feeling empty and alone.

With her husband in the army, based at Kapooka, and having been connected to the military through a range of civilian roles, the ADF had become like family and being medically discharged in June was hard to take.

“I really miss the contacts I had and the structured military lifestyle. These days I sometimes can’t even drag myself out of bed until lunchtime,” she said.

At the recommendation of a colleague and with the support of Open Arms – Veteran & Families Counselling, Allara joined the four-week Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program.

Allara sings

Allara found that the atmosphere provided an effective balance of informality and structure.

“Suddenly I’m waking up early again, with a schedule of engaging activities, and I’m living on base for the program with the 19 other participants, all in a supportive rank-free and uniform-free environment where people aren’t talking shop; I’ve even resumed going to the gym.”

At the start of the program, participants had to choose their creative stream and, as somebody who had dabbled in a range of artistic areas, the choice was not easy.

“I love visual arts and creative writing, but chose the music stream because I wanted to learn a range of instruments and improve my singing.”

After being mentored in several instruments by professional ADF musicians, Allara discovered a passion for the bass guitar, and alongside learning this and refining her vocal technique, she also worked on sculptures and painting.

“It was an intense schedule and I was totally worn out by week 3, but it was absolutely fantastic. I actually found I loved playing bass guitar so much that when we went on an excursion to a music shop I bought one.”

Allara sings

Week 4 was the week of the dazzling showcase concert, where Allara sang My Medicine by The Pretty Reckless as a solo performer.

“That was definitely scary. I’d had lots of fabulous one-on-one vocal coaching but had previously only ever sung in a choir. I now know that as a singer I’m a belter and was able to fine-tune my solo singing style and expand my vocal range.”

The showcase was a spectacular success, with friends and family (including Allara’s mother, who flew down from Brisbane) sitting in the audience at the University of Canberra’s Inspire Centre, and others (including Allara’s husband in Wagga) watching via the live stream that was broadcast over the internet.

“I’ve got to admit that it was often a stressful experience, and working towards the showcase, with all the rehearsals sapped a lot of energy, but I think we really needed it because the feeling of relief and accomplishment afterwards was absolutely brilliant.

“We were so happy we danced in the corridors afterwards.”

For the future, Allara plans to continue playing the bass guitar, work on her singing, undertake studies, and possibly re-join Defence.

“Music is relaxation therapy for me, it calms me down and I can lose myself in it, and this experience has helped me get my identity back and brought me connections with beautiful people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

“And if my recovery doesn’t let me return to active service I think I’ll end up doing a psych degree and applying to become a Reservist, but whatever happens, ARRTS has provided me with increased resilience, new pathways, and new energy, for which I’m grateful.”

What is ARRTS?

The Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program commenced in 2015 and is designed to assist ADF, AFP, DVA and ACT Emergency Services personnel who are facing health and wellbeing challenges.

Held at the University of Canberra’s Inspire Centre, this innovative four-week residential program offers three creative streams: music/rhythm, visual arts, and creative writing. In a supportive rank-free and uniform-free environment, participants are mentored by professional artists, musicians, and academics in creating sculptures, paintings, poems, stories, booklets, videos, and songs.

The next program will run from 7 May to 2 June 2023. Visit: or email:


Front: Allara with proud mum after showcase concert. Photographed by CPL Robert Whitmore.

Top: ARRTS 20.1 participants perform their original song Shining Through at the showcase. Photographed by CPL Robert Whitmore.

Body: Allara expressing creativity in the art studio. Photographed by CPL Robert Whitmore.

Allara performing My Medicine. Photographed by CPL Robert Whitmore.