Keys for Change

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Rachel Dale

MacKillop's Safe Early Years team stands next to the piano they painted as part of the Play Me I'm Yours exhibition

If you wander through Melbourne’s streets over the next week, you might chance across someone playing a painted piano on a street corner. The musical infusion is no accident; it’s part of the large-scale art project Play Me I’m Yours, which has been connecting millions of unassuming passersby in musical delight since 2008. The interactive exhibition is also designed to build community, connect individuals and the stories behind the artists who decorate the pianos.

When MacKillop was invited to participate in Play Me I’m Yours, the themes of growth and community connection made our Safe Early Years team the perfect candidate to take part, as summed up by our artistic statement:

Our piano has been decorated in a youthful style with vibrant and earthy colours. The lively geometric circles and squares are representative of the children we work with. The tree and sunrise signifies growth, new life and change. The tree also relates to our roots, foundation and history. The theme of interconnected patterns represents the various links we have within communities.

Safe Early Years is a pilot program supporting families who have experienced violence in the home to restore and strengthen the family unit, with a focus on building positive and safe relationships. Its collaborative model includes therapeutic support for parents and children.

Remi* was at a crossroads when she was referred to MacKillop Family Services, following a serious incidence of violence at home. She is one of almost 30 families taking part in Safe Early Years. Remi wanted things to shift, but she needed support to get there.

Remi had a long history of trauma and oppression, having fled a war-torn country as a refugee before coming to Australia where she commenced a relationship that soon became violent. Now with a young child, Remi was ready for change; ready to feel reassured that things would be ok.

The unique design of Safe Early Years means that whilst Remi is receiving therapeutic and practical support, her partner is also aligned with a dedicated worker to help him change his behaviour through therapeutic support.

Remi and her partner have made a strong commitment to non-violence. They are now living together again and Remi is hopeful and excited about the future.

The timing of Remi’s referral to MacKillop was critical. Theresa Smith, Coordinator of the Safe Early Years program, says “It’s all about catching people at the right moment, to support them to make change.”

The first five years of a child’s life represent a critical period of development. Environmental factors in this crucial life stage play a significant part in how young people grow, develop and thrive for many years to come. Safe Early Years has been developed to help children build a strong foundation early in life so they can develop to their full potential.

The Safe Early Years program is a partnership between MacKillop Family Services, the Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC) and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA).

The piano painted by MacKillop is on display in Bloodwood Garden in the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne. For more information about the exhibition and all piano locations, visit

*Name changed to protect identity.