Street-wise songstress hits right note

Dr Robyn Mills, who won the award for Melbourne's best busker, sings at Southbank. She has embraced singing after a career in healthcare.
Dr Robyn Mills, who won the award for Melbourne's best busker, sings at Southbank. She has embraced singing after a career in healthcare.

ROBYN Mills has worked as a general nurse, a psychiatric nurse, a masseur, a naturopath, and most recently, a psychologist. But it wasn't until six years ago, when she rekindled her love affair with singing, that she finally felt she was on the right path.

''I've said it before,'' says Mills, repeating the catchphrase that appears on her website, ''but I knew that if I died without singing, I would die with a broken heart.''

This week, the 59-year-old Sunbury grandmother won the title of ''Melbourne's best busker'' at Street Change, an annual competition hosted by the Rotary Club of Melbourne Park. Mills beat six other finalists performing at QV on Thursday night, including 15-year-old Daniel Shaw, who has been busking since he was eight, and popular roots/indie act, identical twins the Pierce Brothers.

As a teenager in Geelong, Mills worked as a paper girl - ''my twin brother was a paper boy, and they didn't want to let me do it but I demanded equal rights'' - and would wake the neighbourhood singing as she delivered their newspapers. Feeling that she wasn't ''tall or sexy or well-connected enough'' to make it as a professional singer, Mills pursued a range of other careers upon moving to Melbourne. It wasn't until she was in her early 50s that she decided she wanted to pursue her dream.

Mills started busking about three years ago, mostly under Princes Bridge, below the Arts Centre, after deciding to sing publicly at least once a week. Currently working as a marriage celebrant, Mills often sings at the ceremonies of her clients.

In 2009, Mills released a CD, I heard a Robyn Singing: Songs of Dreams and Inspiration. She is currently working on an album of songs about world peace. ''I think we can heal through song,'' she says. She admits that abandoning her successful career as a psychologist to work as a singing celebrant was daunting.

''It was terrifying to leave everything that I knew and everything that I'd worked so hard for,'' she says. ''I didn't know if I was too old or short or fat or too wrinkly, but I knew if I didn't do it, there would be some part of me that was missing.''

Mills won Street Change singing Beauty and the Beast, from the Disney soundtrack, and Over the Rainbow. For her victory song, she chose Who I was Born to Be, originally sung by fellow late bloomer Susan Boyle. All funds raised during the competition were given to HomeGround Services, providing housing and support to Melbourne's homeless. Mills also donated her cash prize of $250 to HomeGround, and on Friday morning fulfilled the second part of her prize, appearing on Sunrise.

With an appearance on morning television ticked off her bucket list, Mills' next big goal is to perform at the Sydney Opera House. ''I feel happier in myself than I've ever been in my life,'' she says. ''I'm content, I'm in love with singing.''

This story Street-wise songstress hits right note first appeared on The Age.