This is a land of wide open spaces – big blue skies, flat plains, fertile farming country, herds of kangaroos, running emus, red dust and calling birds. Out here, towns are few and far between.
From a hall in Baradine, the sound of girls breaks the silence. Inside, Sarah Prince is learning a free movement dance with 70 other girls, painting elegant shapes in the air with coloured scarves. In a moment, they will reform into a choir and sing powerful new Australian music specially written for them.
Sarah comes from Lachlan Downs Station, a remote sheep and goat property 80 kilometres south-west from the small mining town of Cobar. On a ‘normal’ school day Sarah’s at home with her governess, logging onto her computer via satellite for her ‘air lessons’. Sarah goes to school at School of the Air, Broken Hill. After school she rides horses, motorbikes, and helps out mustering, fencing and lamb marking. Sometimes she doesn’t go into town for several weeks at a stretch.
“This is my first time at Moorambilla,” says Sarah, “and I am really enjoying time with my friends from Cobar and meeting new girls too. This year I really like the music that Alice Chance has written just for us, especially the Watch the Water song.”
Five Moorambilla girls this year go to school at the School of Distance Education at Bourke, Dubbo or Walgett, and School of the Air, Broken Hill.
Tully Ritter lives between Collaranabri and Lightning Ridge on a property called Dunamble. “I play the violin and I can read music – sometimes I sing along with the violin while I play the notes. I usually sing by myself at home – I like Moorambilla because I have friends around to sing with,” says Tully.
“Tully has an beautiful singing voice,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, “What is extraordinary about Tully is the tenacity she has shown since I first saw her three years ago. I know she has worked on her pitch and breathing and this year she is becoming one of our vocal leaders – she epitomizes what Moorambilla is all about.”
Kylie Harvey, a teacher from Cobar, has been a supervisor at Moorambilla since 2012. Kylie says that the chance for kids to meet others in the region is rare. Even in towns like Cobar for example, sports teams only play against each other within the town, there is few inter-regional sports events.
Kylie has taken advantage of the professional development that Moorambilla offers as well, and each year takes back new ideas and techniques to encourage music and drama in her school.
“Cobar does get occasional opportunities to experience this caliber of artist, for example when the Sydney Symphony Orchestra came to Cobar. But these chances are rare.”
“I started a recorder ensemble, and with Michelle Leonard’s encouragement, I started a choir at lunchtime. The children who return from Moorambilla each year have massive confidence in their voices, and in themselves. They will often tell me how the song should be sung!”
Moorambilla supervisor Sally Davis from Bourke grew up on a property called Riolla, 110 kilometres north of Whitecliffs, on the ‘corner country’ where Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales meet. Sally went to school via School of the Air from Broken Hill
“Distance education has changed a lot since I went,” says Sally. “We used to tune in via the radio and we rarely saw our teacher. We did do a choral festival once, and learnt the music over the radio. On the other hand, there were more families in the region then, living on nearby farms that we could meet up with. As the farms have been bought up by big corporations, distances between families is becoming even greater.”
“Some of these children don’t have access to music or singing, or to sporting events for that matter. There is nothing like the high quality and creative education the children are experiencing here in Baradine. It’s an intense program at a national level.”
“Moorambilla brings the kids of this region together,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “It’s a place to form lasting friendships, beautiful memories and exciting futures.”
Text and photography: Lliane Clarke