The teens perform MindFields ... Burns too Bright at Old Parliament House. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
A group of the most disadvantaged teens from Wodonga had an audience with some of the most influential people in the country on Wednesday night, when the HighWater Theatre group performed for Clive Palmer and their local member, Cathy McGowan, at Old Parliament House.
A dozen young people performed MindFields ... Burns too Bright, a play based on their experiences of youth mental health, and the complex issues they face.
Audience members were in tears as they saw how issues of abuse, homelessness, bullying and mental illness had an impact on teens' ability to have ''real choice through education''.
Cathy McGowan and Clive Palmer watch.
The teens are part of a local arts-led education initiative HighWater, started as an offshoot to a prisons program, Somebody's Daughter, to address local youth falling behind in mainstream education.
''Fourteen years ago there was a pilot program looking at young people in foster care and residential care and ... whether there's a way to stop the young people from getting into the adult system of prisons,'' said Karen Taylor, lead artist with Somebody's Daughter, who performed in the play.
''The program's been going ever since... it transforms, it nourishes the soul and it's also a place where these kids belong. We're a big dysfunctional family.''
Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, invited the group to Canberra after seeing it perform in her hometown of Wodonga.
''Part of me standing as a member for Indi was people wanted their voices heard,'' Ms McGowan said.
''In rural and regional Australia there is certainly a need for infrastructure and services and education systems that work, but much more, it's knowing that our voices are heard and our issues are taken seriously, and then when policy is designed, it's designed with our circumstances in mind.''
The group will tour Parliament House on Thursday and meet Education Minister Christopher Pyne, something Ms Taylor said was important for the teens, some of whom come from ''pretty horrific'' backgrounds.
''[We want to say] there really big issues here ... come on board, start addressing it.
''You're hearing it from the horse's mouth, it's OK to sit up there and debate it and do all of that, but there's real people here.''
Ms McGowan said it was not just a case of throwing money at the issues.
''It's saying, here are our voices and in the design of education and education systems and the delivery of services to rural areas, help us with homelessness, sexual assault, abuse.
''There's a whole lot of that which is not about money, it's about making sure we've got quality services and we support them and the professionals in their roles.''