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Emily Hinckfuss is an independent spirit, a young woman who listens to her instincts and the results (so far) have shown what can be achieved when you do just that.

by Gay Liddington

Emily Hinckfuss is a teenager who marches to the beat of her own drum. The 16-year-old, daughter of artist Karen Gane and musician Kim Hinckfuss, was nurtured in the vibrant social scene of Maleny and educated in her formative years at The River School where Neohumanist philosophy builds a solid foundation based on love, care and respect for all.

Now a student at Maleny State High School, Emily reflects: “I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the city. I love the barefoot freedom of living in a country town and, it’s good to be where it’s not so easy to have everything you want.”

Emily’s comment reminds me of my own barefoot childhood in a country town, albeit 50 years ago and, as we speak, I ponder the commonalities and differences.

Generally, a girl’s life in the ‘60s was charted by social norms such as class, creed and beliefs like learning to be a wife and mother rather than focusing on an education. And, at the age of 14, I left high school to help support our family of seven. My first job as a junior shop assistant paid a weekly wage of five pounds, ten shillings. I gave my mum five pounds.

I am inspired by youth like Emily Hinckfuss who have enquiring minds, demonstrate a social conscience and embrace opportunities to explore the world. 

A student of the Japanese language, Emily recently returned from the high school’s biannual study tour to Japan. “The trip to Japan was excellent! We went by train to our homestay city of Sakura, were met by our hosts, then in the presence of the Mayor and Principal of the school, I was interviewed for the newspaper on behalf of the students from Australia.”

Emily with Japanese host sister, Misuzu.

Emily’s interest in Japanese began in Years 7 and 8 at high school. She then chose to continue these studies along with psychology and sciences and was presented with an Academic Merit Award in 2019.

“I enjoy philosophy and psychology-based subjects. I like to trace things back and explore how that would be the case, or why that is.” 

Following in the creative footsteps of her mum and dad, Emily’s interests extend to art and music.

“Mum likes painting, I prefer drawing. I began when I was about four. By the time I was old enough to draw dinosaurs, I discovered the next best thing, dragons…dinosaurs with wings! That was a huge phase.

Emily’s dragon drawing – ‘Dinosaur with Wings’

“Now I’m into anime which is Japanese animation. The subtitles help with learning the language. Whenever I’m watching and see a character I like, I press pause and draw it.”

Regarding music, Emily took me back to those beginnings when she teamed up with her friend of 14 years, Oscar Langton: “We lived in a shared house and my love of music was mostly influenced by playing with Oscar. There were marimbas on the verandah and a couple of trampolines in the front yard. 

“We would go from jumping on the trampoline to playing the marimba and back again! Some kids played with Lego, we played marimba!

“The marimba led me to play piano. And, I also like drums because you can drum on anything, but with a piano, you have to have a piano.”

When Emily was 14, she was invited to join a 23-piece street band, The Unusual Suspects, started in 2012 by Linsey Pollak. She explains: “I play this thing called a doof. It’s a recycled chemical container with a hole at the base to amplify sound. When hit with a mallet it makes a low ‘doof’ sound, hence the name.

“I’ve played with the Unusual Suspects at the Woodford Folk Festival for the past couple of years. My instrument was the tapan, a Macedonian drum.

“Then, about a year ago, Linsey formed a small group and asked me to join.”

The group, Selani (meaning ‘village people’ in Macedonian) is a traditional Macedonian folk music band. Their Sunday community dance gatherings were hosted by the Welcome to Maleny – Refugee Support Group. 

I watched while Linsey invited and instructed onlookers in simple Macedonian circle folk dances. Emily kept beat while drone-based music with harmonic flavour drew people together.

This experience took me back 50 years to dances in a country town CWA Hall. Amid twirling skirts, floor sprinkled with sawdust to enhance the dancer’s slide, and piano accordion setting the rhythm, young and old circled with the Pride of Erin dance.

I pondered on then and now and asked Emily what it is to be 16. We touched on friendships, and peer pressure: “It doesn’t really affect me because I’m not a very social person and don’t go with stereotypes. 

“I only like spending time with people I’m close to. And ironically, you can only be close to someone if you spend time with them – the rest are glorified acquaintances.”

And, on world affairs: “It’s hard for me to talk about this without getting philosophical,” she replies with a wisdom beyond her years.

“The younger generation is more relaxed about what’s happening in the world. The older generation tend to interpret that as meaning we don’t care. That’s not true. It’s just that we have a lived history that creates a different understanding. But we do have ideas that are worth listening to.”

Then and now – 50 years, a generational gap. I compare 16-year-old Emily, an independent thinker with abundant opportunities to my 16-year-old self and welcome the emergence of women from the shadow of patriarchal ideology.

Karen Gane, Emily and Kim Hinckfuss