For a lot of Australians, the annual ARIA Music Awards stoke memories of Delta Goodrem, Silverchair and passionate Tina Arena speeches.
But this year, for Canberrans, there is a nominee to be found closer to home.
Palmerston Primary School music teacher CJ Shaw is one of just four people nominated for the ARIA Music Teacher award.
If he wins, it will be a first for the ACT — and a huge deal for the little community of kids who say he is the best teacher they have ever had.
From the road to the classroom
The ARIA Music Teacher Award was introduced in 2017, to recognise the huge impact music teachers have on kids throughout Australia.
With his fedora on and sticker-studded guitar in hand, Mr Shaw works hard to make singing a spiritual experience for his students.
His teaching career began five years ago, after spending his 20s touring as a musician.
“The family trade called me back,” Mr Shaw laughed.
“We are all teachers as far as the eye can see from aunts to uncles to brothers and sisters and mums and dads, we are all teachers.”
His songs are original and help make subjects that aren’t always fun a treat — perfect for Palmerston Primary in Canberra’s north, which is home to a lot of families with ties to the armed forces.
Earlier this year Mr Shaw wrote an original song about ANZAC biscuits to help students think about the complexities of war.
“Gonna bake my dad some Anzac biscuits, send them to the war,” the lyrics state.
“Gonna bake my dad some Anzac biscuits, make sure that he comes home.
“Gonna bake enough for my sister, gonna bake enough for my mum
“Gonna bake enough for my next door neighbour, who lost both his sons.”
“I wanted to give students access to understanding,” Mr Shaw explained.
The song did what it intended, and the students have gone on to record it in a converted studio classroom, make a stop-motion video to accompany it, and it has been picked up my the Australian War Memorial and ABC Radio Canberra.
“The kids felt like rockstars, there’s been great ownership from the whole school,” Mr Shaw said.
“There’s probably 30 voices on the track but you can go through and you can ask any number of kids and they’d swear it’s actually them.
“Even if I’ve never taught them … they’d be like, ‘Nah I think that’s me!'”
Principal Kate Smith, who nominated Mr Shaw for the award, said children are often heard rapping their times tables or singing a passionate rendition of the homophone song in the playground.
“The staff get into it as well,” she said.
‘When I grow up I want to teach people to sing like Mr Shaw’
Ms Smith called Mr Shaw “a magician”, and a quick look around his music room shows his students think so, too.
Heart shaped sticky notes stuck all over the walls tell a story of what music has grown to mean to the kids.
“When I listen to music, it makes me feel like myself,” one reads.
“I love music because it can change your mood!” writes another.
Year five student Alex said it was the happiness that Mr Shaw brought to music that made him such a good teacher.
Skyla, grade two, said she looks up to Mr Shaw.
“He has taught me to express my voice better,” she said.
“When I grow up I want to teach people to sing like Mr Shaw.”
During lockdown when children weren’t in classrooms, Mr Shaw made regular appearances in the loungerooms of school families.
“A lot of parents were actually really sad when the kids came back to school because it meant they weren’t getting a daily dose of CJ in their loungerooms,” Ms Smith said.
From one legend to another
But while Mr Shaw is considered a rock star in his own right around the school yard, there is another rock star in this story.
When Mr Shaw was contacted by the ARIA team to see who he wanted to announce his nomination, only one name came to mind.
“There are only very few times in your life that you can just say ‘Jimmy Barnes’ and look them in the eye,” he said.
A few weeks later, Barnsey was beamed out through on a projector in Mr Shaw’s classroom.
“Music is a way of expressing how you feel inside,” he told the year five class.
With just under a month to go until voting for the ARIA Music Teacher Award closes, Mr Shaw’s school have issued a rallying cry to the Canberra community to get behind one of their own.
“The community is certainly behind him, and we would love to see the Canberra community get behind him as well,” Ms Smith said.