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FEATURE - Improvising Through Life

Musical visionary – creator of exquisite and quirky musical instruments, as well as being a skilled musician and performer – Linsey Pollak has found that by improvising his way through life, it has brought him lasting contentment.

by Judy Fredriksen

As a 19-year old living in Sydney, Linsey discovered a bamboo grove and, for no particular reason, decided to cut a length of bamboo and make his first musical instrument – a bamboo flute.

“That was it. I was hooked … I’d totally fallen in love with the process of making a musical instrument.”

Already able to play clarinet, but flushed with a new sense of inspiration, Linsey decided to defer his university science degree and embark upon a journey making musical instruments.

Then a few years later and for a lark, Linsey and a group of friends decided to sail down the Murray River on homemade rafts made of timber and 44-gallon drums, for a three-month adventure.

“It was a great journey and it was also the beginning of my performing because we decided, just for the fun of it, to put on circus shows for kids … even though we were total beginners, learning tightrope walking and other skills as we went.”

The group performed at rodeos and schools along the mighty Murray.

By this stage, Linsey had already discovered, and was totally enamoured by, Macedonian folk music. In particular, he was enthralled by the mesmerising sound of the gaida – a Macedonian bagpipe.

With the seeds of creativity now firmly supplanting any science-related ambitions,

Linsey headed to Europe to discover more about making reed instruments.

After touring numerous museums in Europe, measuring early woodwind instruments, he ended up in London where one fortuitous event after another saw him cultivate his interest in Macedonian music. It was here that another quirk of fate saw him chance upon a Macedonian band that needed a gaida player.

Like many young adventurers, he lived simply, supporting himself by selling his musical instruments while learning as much as he could about playing Macedonian music. When he headed off to Macedonia for seven months, he ended up spending three of those months living in the back garden of an experienced gaida player near Skopje,

Macedonia, refining his technique.

Upon finally returning to Australia, serendipity kicked in again for Linsey as his skills in not only playing Macedonian music, but also his ability to speak a smattering of Macedonian, surprisingly enmeshed him in Sydney’s Macedonian community.

Together with many other talented musicians, Linsey began playing concerts, running workshops and playing for Eastern European dances.

“So gradually I was finding a place for this new music that I had fallen in love with, and more importantly, that music took me on a further journey that opened my eyes to the extraordinary wealth of diverse musical talent hidden away in the margins of Australian society – not just in the Macedonian community – but in so many different non-Anglo communities.”

This inspired Linsey to establish a multi-cultural music centre with the perfect location being in North Perth. In 1982, he successfully convinced the Community Arts section of the Perth City Council for the need of such a venue and a year later, the Perth Ethnic Music Centre opened with Linsey serving as the ethnic music coordinator.

“The Ethnic Music Centre itself was opened with a big party for a whole variety of people … who feasted, played, danced and listened to music coming from Egypt, India, Australia, Macedonia, Spain, Indonesia, America and Italy.  

“The Ethnic Music Centre was a very important thing for me – one of my major projects. There are various milestones in my life and that’s a key one.”

Since then, Linsey has developed a reputation for his ability to make instruments out of recycled materials like watering cans, rubber gloves, kids’ toys, even carrots. He has also collaborated with countless other talented musicians on innovative music projects, often with a focus on community.

When he started a marimba band in Kin Kin, all of the members were beginners. “It was all about empowering people to understand that we’ve all got music in us, and marimbas are a really great way to get people to play.”

Then there were the brassy antics of the Unusual Suspects in Maleny, a colourful, sassy street band that played funky Balkan dance music at street carnivals and the Woodford Folk Festival.

Perhaps the most ethereal of Linsey’s projects was Dangerous Song whereby the voices of endangered species were accompanied by Lizzie O’Keefe’s haunting voice responding to Linsey’s breath-controlled animal calls. The clever use of technology presented a ghostly collage of the two performers under the sea.

More recently there is Gosti, a trio of Linsey, Tunji Beier and Philip Griffin. Linsey describes the latter two as world-class musicians, Philip playing a huge range of plucked stringed instruments, while Tunji is an amazing South Indian percussionist. The three have known each other and performed together in different bands at various times for decades.

With achievements too numerous to list, including performing at the Woodford Folk Festival every year since 1990, this deserving but modest man was awarded an OAM for service to the performing arts and music in 2021.

The Gosti trio will be performing at St Georges Church, Maleny on Sunday June 9 at 2pm. Tickets $25 at



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