The boys come piling into Baradine’s Camp Cypress from across the west of New South Wales. It’s hot and the sun is bright on their faces. They fall out of their cars with pillows and bags and approach the signing in desk cautiously, shy, hiding behind their parents. This year we are being filmed for an ABC documentary. Welcome to Moorambilla – how exciting you are being filmed! Lots of dads get together, taking the opportunity to get to know each other and catch up. If their sons are good singers, it’s a pretty good chance that they were too when they were young. But many didn’t get this chance to spread their wings. Hugs and goodbye! Cars pull away from the camp and the children are left in the charge of Camp Manager Dot Thompson. Some live locally, but many have travelled for hours. Many haven’t been on a camp before, some never away from their parents for a night.
Bourke, in the far west of NSW, population 2700, is one of the furthest towns the boys have travelled in from today. Cobar is the furthest. Six boys have come in from Bourke, five from St Ignatius School and one from Bourke Public School. It took four and a half hours to drive and “the country was covered in emus!”, says Sally Davis, who brought in the St Ignatius boys along with her own son, Charlie, in year 3. Sally is a supervisor at the camp, taking time out from running a mechanics workshop in Bourke with her husband. “We are lucky at Bourke, as the kids do go on school camps and we have had a few musicians travelling through. But I never knew that Charlie was such a good singer until he sang for Michelle when she came through the town in March.”
After a hearty sausage sizzle lunch, the children walk up from Camp Cypress to the Baradine Town Hall, beginning a routine they will do every day.
It’s time for their first session – choral singing and reading music with Michelle Leonard and accompanist Callum Close. To welcome them, Michelle sings each child’s name in a rhythm, and as she does she hands them their nametag.
It’s Callum’s first time at Moorambilla Voices. Sydney born, he was raised in Newcastle. Callum is finding the portable electric piano “just fine” though it’s nothing like the pipe organ at Newcastle Cathedral, which is his usual instrument. It’s early days for Callum, but he is already connecting with the stunning landscape of the western plains and the energy of the children.
“The enormity of this incredibly powerful landscape, combined with the obvious talent and passion of the festival participants, has allowed me to experience something very new, which I may not have had the opportunity to do so in other situations,” writes Callum. “One thing that has struck me is the distances that some of the children have travelled – some more than five hours – just to participate in the residency camps – that’s definitely not something I have experienced before!
“As the accompanist-in-residence for Moorambilla, I spend a lot of time working closely with Michelle and Alice Chance, the composer-in-residence – two exceptionally talented and passionate musicians – who I am very excited to work with over the coming days. Already it’s been a rewarding experience to see the children evolve in a few short hours. As the days progress and the complexity of our work grows; it will be interesting to discover the hidden skills and talents of all that participate in these residency camps, I think I will have learnt far more than what I had expected to! I wasn’t aware how much of a catalyst these camps would prove to be in opening my eyes to a wider understanding of Australian choral music, education and the country itself. “
Stay tuned as Alice completes the final drafts of her music started last night about the children’s experience of lighting a bonfire. Already its taking shape in four “cells” that will be put together and tested in this afternoon’s rehearsal – it’s a fast a furious pace – but we seem to be thriving on it!
Text and photographs: Lliane Clarke