Renee Kelly

Location: Brisbane, QLD

Challenge: Blind


Renee Kelly is young woman who started life with a huge disadvantage... a tiny 620 gm birth weight and hopelessly under-developed heart and lungs. She had only a very slim chance of survival … but survive she did.

Now Renee is making her mark on life, despite a disability that would have detered the most determined of spirits.

Born 24 years ago in Mackay at 25 weeks (15 weeks premature), Renee weighed only 620g and her torso was the length of a pen. Given less than a 50/50 chance of survival, her first few months were a nail-biting time for parents, Donna and Tom. Tiny Renee’s under-developed heart and lungs required a number of operations and use of pure oxygen, which, tragically, caused the loss of her eyesight.

She started playing on her dad's drumkit aged three. Her musical skills are inspiring. She can pick up an array of different musical instruments and play pieces by ear. Not only does she drum and play percussion she has also learned to play dulcimer and fiddle.

Renee adds "The first person who ever inspired me to play music, apart from my amazing daddy and wonderful brothers, of course, was jeff buckley". Renee's dad introduced me to his music when she was about seven years old. She adds "I remember it was the same year that jeff passed away. 1997. Dad gave me a copy of his grace album on a tape, and I played it so much, that it eventually wore the tape out. I just played it over and over and over again. I wanted to become a rockstar just like him!"

Renee used to sit at her dad's kit and practice to Jeff's songs. Renee adds "I would not stop until I got them right". One of Renee's favourites to play was Dream Brother. Renee recalls "I would often ask my parents to describe pictures of Jeff to me". One day, in class, Renee ended up writing a letter to Jeff in braille, she used to call him Bucky when she was young.

Renee adds "The letter said, Bucky died today and i will miss him very, very much". Renee always told her family over the years that she would one day go to his grave in America and leave her letter there. Renee says "So, when I went to the states in 2013, I put a rose in the Mississippi River while I was over there for Jeff. It was such an amazing experience being there near the river. I will never forget that!!"

Renee cites her favourite Australian acts are Cog, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus. She is also a huge fan of funk music.

Renee has written a collection of songs and musical pieces as well as poems and short stories.

A hand percussion jam on a hollow tree with her dad whilst her family was on holiday in Cairns, led to a name for her musical project named Hollow Tree.

In 2012, while browsing the Internet, Renee came across a song by Irish band, Saoirse, and sent a message to guitarist, Jamie Connors, to say how much she liked their music.

Renee explains "I told him that I was a drummer and I love all sorts of music and I’m fully blind." Within 24 hours, Renee was delighted to receive a response, inviting her to send samples of her work.

Renee adds "So I made a DVD of me playing drums to one of their songs and sent it over, next thing, there’s a message in my inbox inviting me to come and have a jam with them in London, where they are based. I was blown away!"

Renee is no stranger to seizing the moment: recently, through friend Kel Cork (of The Rain), she was invited to play with Australian blues legend, Kevin Borich. It was a nerve-wracking experience that tested even her mettle.

Renee adds "A week beforehand I was a wreck – I was texting Kel about five times a day, then the day beforehand, the power went out and I couldn’t practise – I was furious! When I got there, I was shaking like a leaf but the moment I started playing, I knew this is where I have to be."

In 2013, Renee travelled to the U.S. and met up with an organized vision impaired group with guides and visited the Southern States. She met with jazz drummer Stanton Moore in New Orleans and formed a friendship with him. Renee has also jammed with Kevin Borich and knows his son Lucius.

Renee was hampered by the lack of performance opportunities. A significant opening arose for her when friends in a band with whom she had been playing percussion, encouraged her to learn one of their songs on fiddle.

Renee adds "I know I was born to play music and I want to focus on that. The business course is good, but music is the main thing I really want to do. If this London thing goes ahead, I’m going to be so stoked; it could open up doors that I never could have dreamed would happen."

Undoubtedly, Renee has the spirit and determination to take this opportunity and turn it into a reality.

Renee Kelly