Little Pattie a giant at giving back to the world
SONGBIRD Patricia (Little Pattie) Amphlett thrives on being busy whether she is teaching or learning, singing or volunteering, as long as it involves giving back to the world that still loves her.
Music remains at the heart of her life, but at the end of the silken tendrils of her music is a life richly filled with professional and volunteer activities that reflect her intellectual depth.
Pattie's journey started with a hit record at age 14 before she headed to Vietnam in 1966 at age 17 where the petite singer found herself the youngest person to entertain the troops. "They've got a big place in my heart," Pattie says. Since then she has been to many other countries where there has been conflict.
"We were in convoy in the southern part of Iraq, travelling from one camp to another," Pattie says. She was told there was an outside chance of being fired at, but her long-standing trust of the Australian army gave her enough confidence to jump in the front seat of the Bushmaster for the journey of several hours. Beside her was a 19-year-old solider who was tasked with looking after Pattie's group.
"We could see where we were going more than the passengers who were in the back, and I didn't want to miss a thing. I must of asked this kid Simon a hundred questions about where we were, his life in the army and about his family."
Once they finally arrived at their destination where the group were performing, Simon rang his family back in Australia. "I rang my mum and dad last night," Simon told Pattie. "I told them about you and how you asked me all these questions, and said your name was Pattie and described what you looked like. My dad said you better look after her son and he really lectured me that I had to really look after you because you were very special to him because he was a Vietnam veteran. He was a terrific young man: he never left our side after that."
Pattie's music teacher once made Pattie promise she teach singing because of her temperament. Over 20 years ago Pattie started doing just that. She currently works for four Sydney high schools including a performing arts school.
"I have learnt so much from them," Pattie says. "I learn about life and constantly kept up with the attitudes of young people. Who wouldn't want to know about young people? For all the bagging some people give them, I get to see a terrific side of young people and I can honestly say I know we will be good hands. They are going to be looking after us and I am really happy with that."
Miss Pattie or Miss Patricia as the students call her, has devised a modified curriculum which uses her experience as an ongoing performer, rather than one that is technique only.
"Most of the time I let the kids choose their songs," Pattie says. She finds that many of the kids have been to musicals and often choose songs from those performances.
"I like imparting the knowledge I have and I genuinely like helping kids get better in what they love to do," Patti says. There are always a few stars among the students, but it's the 'triple threat' ones she really keeps an eye out for - ones that can sing, dance and act at the same time, and do it well.
Back in 1972 Pattie formed a strong friendship with Gough Whitlam. She was part of the group that performed It's Time for his election campaign. "I remained closed to the principles he espoused, became a Whitlam-ite, and a friend of the Whitlams," Pattie says.
One of Gough's legacies is the Whitlam Institute at the Western Sydney University which pursues the causes Gough championed. Pattie sits on its volunteer board which oversees debate on public policy in the areas of equality, indigenous recognition and improving talented Australians access to broader community.
Pattie also sits on the board of the Jessie Street Trust which was set up in recognition of one of Australia's 20th century Australian activists, Jessie Street. Each year the trust conducts a luncheon which raises funds to provide grants for projects similar to the ones Jessie championed such as the rights of women and indigenous people, peace and disarmament, and the elimination of discrimination.
Pattie still performs often, mainly at private functions and some festivals, and she practices for an hour every day. "When you teach, you are singing almost every day with the kids," Pattie says.
Has the vibrant 69-year-old exhausted you yet? Can you wait one moment? There is more time come.
The Order of Australia Medal awardee previously sat on the board of the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and the council of the Australian War Memorial. Now she is patron of Forces Entertainment and patron of the Australian Women in Music Awards.
"When I retire I am going to join a book club as I love reading books," Pattie says. Will she ever retire, really? Unlikely. "I will teach as long as I feel like doing it and perform for as long as I am well and able to.
"If one day I say I have had enough or it's time to put my feet up or it's time not to have such a busy life... I know I will always be active and busy doing things like joining book clubs, going to see all the movies I seem to miss.
"I will always want to do something for other people, too. That's kind of in my family's DNA."