Hands of red

Andrew Howes felt the earth singing when he went to Mount Grenfell. He also sensed the tribal ancestors that Ngyiampaa Elder Elaine Ohlsen describes when he saw the ancient art, hand stencils and hieroglyphics painted on the rock shelters. He describes the inspiration behind the creation of his Mount Grenfell Suite which features in the 2016 Moorambilla Gala Concert.

“I want the audience to hear this song from the earth’s perspective. It calls back to old times and connects the past and present through the land. It speaks of the land inviting you to be a part of its history.

Beneath the sky
Where ancient feet have stood
You’ll stand with me
Come find me there

At Mount Grenfell I felt the stretch of time, thousands of years passing in a flash! There is science showing that the rock art hand stencils have been layered over and over again across 40,000 years or more. We’re only seeing the forefront layer of repeated generations imprinting their mark.

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Place your hand upon the wall.
Touch my hand from long ago.
Through the ancient stone
Now I know that I am home.

We see rocks as solid, unmoving, eternal objects, but if you were to reduce 100,000 years into a minute, you would see the full truth: this, for all its dry and silent peace, is a place of intense natural violence.

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Rocks are the deep earth. They go on and down for thousands of kilometres, encompassing millennia. And yet they withstand rain and wind and the breaking of earth. If only we could witness that power!

Heavy, ancient stones.
Under earth, the land’s old bones,
Run through the undying land.
Hold my hand.

The musical structure of the Suite mirrors and reflects the earth’s own internal structure and life. While I was writing I thought hard about ways to draw different sound qualities from the MAXed OUT choir. But not canons! I wanted to avoid canons – they are too easy a solution. Michelle asked me to write something difficult! One of the ways I have done that is by creating some tricky part writing!

The feeling is very different across the two parts of the suite. There is a juxtaposition between the highly energetic and the absolutely serene. The first part ‘Hands of Red’ has a lot primal energy through it, a fast, rollicking beat and I have marked the tempo as ‘spirited’.

The second part ‘Mount Grenfell’, has a deep calm tone, and I have marked the tempo as ‘etherial, mysterical’. Even underneath the serenity of that piece is a constantly moving quintuplet pattern that propels the music forward.

Raise your head up to the sky.
Let the starlight touch your eyes.
Dig your feet in reddened sand.
Let the stars flow through your hand.

Now that we have the choir parts for MAXed OUT, and the incredible Song Company, the piece will be orchestrated for the Australian World Orchestra as chamber in residence, pianist Ben Burton and Taikoz Artistic Director Ian Cleworth.”

Andrew is about to commence a two-year Masters of Composition at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Follow Andrew Howes on his website. 

Photography Noni Carroll.

Singing the land in

Mt Grenfell-01024 April 22, 2016_Yamakarra! (hello and welcome!) Ngiyampaa Traditional Owners and Elders Elaine Ohlsen and Phillip Sullivan have come to Baradine to hear MAXed OUT Company rehearse Andrew Howes’ Mount Grenfell Suite.

“Moorambilla highlights our culture and it’s an honour to those present and also past that they are doing that,” says Elaine. “Many people are still learning about Mount Grenfell. The more you talk about it, the more people realise it’s a special place and that’s our job as custodians and protectors of the site.”

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“Mount Grenfell is a powerful place, with ancient rock hieroglyphics, paintings and hand stencils in the overhanging shelters. When I go there I can almost hear the voices of our ancestors talking with one another and laughing around the fire.”

“We don’t know the traditional name of the site. But when we were first handed the joint management of Mount Grenfell from the government in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife, we were thinking of calling it Yapapunakirri – which means ‘let’s track back.’

Yapa means ‘track’, Puna is added to mean ‘back’, Kirri goes on the end to make the whole phrase ‘let’s track back’, or ‘gotta track back’, or ‘to track back’.

Clive Birch worked with Phillip and Elaine to write a spoken performance piece ‘Notes from the Landscape’ for the Moorambilla Gala Concert. “The cultural immersion at Mount Grenfell was made so much more profound by the guidance of Philip and Elaine,” says Clive. “Their experience and direct connection with the area gave me a very personal view.”

“Phil’s deep spirituality and knowledge coloured everything that I experienced and Elaine’s knowledge of the history of her family was essential in understanding the culture of the place.”

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Phil’s father was a Ngiyampaa man from the country around Mount Grenfell. “My identity is where I grew up in Brewarrina and Bourke but my belonging is from that area,” explains Phil. “There’s a bigger family here,”

An Indigenous Heritage Officer with the NSW Government, Phil shared his knowledge of the country and deepened the artists’ understanding of the sophisticated culture that had existed there for 40,000 years or more.

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Phil loves the power of music and celebration of song that is Moorambilla Voices. “Every person on the planet has the gift of singing,” he says. “Everyone has been given that. And most of us don’t use it enough. Just listen to the kookaburra – they don’t hold back!”

“When you sing you do yourself proud – no matter what skin you are zipped up in, we are all the same. We are one together. When we sing together we build power and strength. We are singing the land in with our own songlines.”

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Photography Noni Carroll.

See Yapapunakirri: Let’s track back, the Aboriginal World around Mount Grenfell, Office of the Registrar, NSW by Jeremy Beckett and Tamsin Donaldson with Bradley Steadman and Steve Meredith. Translations above as per Tamsin Donaldson’s translation of the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan words.

Seen through a wide lens

Photographer-in-residence Noni Carroll creates stunning photographs to inspire and inform. Her work reflects our rich landscape and stories, providing an ongoing touchstone for the creation of the dance, music and percussive elements of the Moorambilla program. After the immersion at Mount Grenfell, she’s shooting on site in Baradine at the Residential Camps and shares some of her favourite shots so far.

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“Being the photographer in residence means that my shots are instrumental in the creation of choreography and new Australian music for this program,” says Noni. “That’s a pretty exciting role to take on! The writhing tree I shot in the creek bed has become a particularly strong metaphor for both the composer Josephine Gibson and choreographer Jacob Williams to use in their art forms.”

Mount Grenfell is such a powerful visual place in many, many ways,” says Noni. “The highly textured rocks and stones presented me with a really organic palette.

“The texture was incredible and everywhere I looked – on the ancient rocks, on the trees and event on the ground. One day I found a correlation between ant holes and bullet holes in a rusted car door.”

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“I’ve really enjoyed recently experimenting with night light photography on the project. With the regional photographer intern Justin Welsh we light-painted to create the Moorambilla sign on the side of the woolshed (above) and I’ve also been light-painting here in the Goorianawa Valley near Baradine.”

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“In Baradine, I shoot among the children while they dance, sing, make lanterns and work with the artists. These shots will are really important to feed the blog and social media to keep everyone up to date, and then they will be the heroes for the Gala Concert Program.”

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Noni Carroll uses a Canon 5D MarkIII with a variety of lenses, to capture the many varied situations of Moorambilla and beyond!

Teaching artistry


Jacob Williams, Queensland Ballet’s Education Coordinator, is teaching and choreographing dance at Moorambilla. He’s passionate about the benefits of children learning live dance from teaching artists and the way that he, as an educator, can enhance and extend this experience.

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“Dance has the profound power to enrich and transform lives, connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds,” says Jacob. “It’s an art form that allows for the expression of both individuals and communities. It’s a defining aspect of being human and it has been a cornerstone of many cultures and civilisations.”

“At Moorambilla the entire education framework is artistic,” says Jacob. “It’s a rich teaching environment,” he explains. “We’re not in a dance studio where technique and competition rehearsals can often dominate class-time, and we’re not in a school, which adheres to a strict curriculum. Here, we are somewhere in the middle.”

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“Moorambilla gives me a lot of educational space. I’m able to push the students out of their comfort zones as they work creatively – coming up with ideas and dance movements themselves. And it’s changed over the time I’ve been working here. I’m delighted that I’m currently providing the same choreographic activities to the young primary children as I have done to the high school group two years ago.”

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The Moorambilla children come from 78 different schools across the region, with different education backgrounds. What most of them have in common is a rare access to dance – particularly of this calibre.

“Some children find themselves moving without thinking! And they’ve told me that they’ve never experienced this before,” says Jacob. “For me that’s an incredibly successful outcome! They’ve managed to embody the concept, allowing their movement to flow naturally from within, which is what we want.”

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There’s always a strong culture of collaboration at Moorambilla, with composers on site in Baradine to work with the choreographer. “The artistry and the music is live here. I love working with Andrew Howes to weave the music and movement together for MAXed OUT,” says Jacob. “Plus we have an incredible pianist in Ben Burton, The Song Company, and the percussion artists from Taikoz. We’re modelling the collaborative process in real-time. There are no dance backing tracks here.”

Tainga Savage from Cobar is enthusiastic about being this year’s Regional Dance Intern. “I’ve never been involved with such a large number of children or on a professional production like this,” says Tai. “While I am largely self taught and come from a hip-hop background, I’m learning a lot from Jacob’s incredible techniques and teachings.”

“Observing all art heightens and develops your senses,” says Jacob. “I’m very passionate about it. It’s an aesthetic experience where all senses are engaged, opening up the neural pathways to help us feel more from the world around us, developing insights that might not have been possible.”


“Having said that, the real power of art is in the making. And that’s certainly true in dance. Yes the physical benefits are obvious – fitness, health and stamina. But there are other benefits equally powerful – a kind of enforced collaboration where leadership and communication, empathy and above all a strong relationship with music can be nurtured.”

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“Michelle has fostered a community of students which have a raw talent, one that has not been limited or restricted by codified techniques, enabling them to spontaneously explore and develop their own unique movements.

“This is a key point. Between the artistry and the education, lies the dance.”

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Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach—according to George Bernard Shaw, who also wrote that he never learned anything from a teacher, he taught himself everything; so maybe GBS had a little axe to grind. He got it quite wrong—the truth is that those who can do two things well, at the same time, in almost any setting, are teaching artists. (Eric Booth)


Photography: Noni Carroll


Music aware of something beyond itself

Josephine Gibson has written Reverie for Lost Girls for the Moorambilla Voices regional girls choir this year. The evocative, landscape-inspired piece sings of the ancient black rocks and vast unending horizons of the historic Mount Grenfell site.


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Reverie for Lost Girls
Lost amidst the willga trees
Dusted, parched and dry
Black rocks dash the rusted soil to vast unending sky

Lost awash in waves of space
Weathered spirits fly
Black roads gash the blood red soil to vast unending sky

“Reverie for Lost Girls is about how I felt in the strangeness of that beautiful area,” says Josephine. “There is a weird and uncanny isolation among those hills that undulate in utter flatness and trees that writhe up out of the ground.”

Now on site at the residential camps at Baradine, Josephine works with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to rehearse Reverie for Lost Girls, which uses aspects of chant that Josephine says is like “a long unbroken line that communicates text in the most intuitive and beautiful way”.

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In her final year of Honours in Composition at Sydney University Conservatorium of Music, Josephine credits her teacher Paul Stanhope with supporting her opportunity to join Moorambilla Voices as composer in residence in 2016. Josephine also sings with the Sydney Chamber Choir as a soprano.

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“Chant offers the sense of a voice soaring into space. It’s not just a single line of music in isolation, it’s how that line reverberates, whether that’s within the context of a cathedral or a powerful place like Mount Grenfell! It fits anywhere. You can romanticize it.”

Josephine is adamant that she hasn’t written what you would call “spiritual music”. “I call it writing that is aware of something beyond itself. When you perform it, you also become aware of something beyond yourself.”

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Josephine has long admired female composers, particularly Hildegard von Bingen, the pre-medieval German Abbess who wrote uplifting music, invented languages, studied science and wrote theological poetry.

“I’m honoured to be sharing the Moorambilla program with composer Elena Kats-Chernin. I love the world of tonality and writing for traditional instruments. How often do you get to write for musicians of the calibre of the Australian World Orchestra and The Song Company and Taikoz and Ben Burton and Christina Leonard? I really want to do a good job for them.”

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“I also hope that this piece communicates in some way the difficulty that girls face growing up. Young girls are often accused of being vague, because they are so rarely given the chance to be complete humans, flawed and marvellous, rambunctious and witty. The world is scary, but you know what, that’s okay. As a young girl you are valuable and beautiful.”

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Photography: Noni Carroll



Breathing life into light sculptures

Jyllie Jackson never sits still – unless she’s making a lantern. That’s a rare joy these days, except when the CEO of Lismore Lantern Parade and LightnUp is at Moorambilla. Then you’ll find her calmly in Baradine, weaving cane and stretching muslin as evocative shapes come to life under her experienced hands.

untitled shoot-00094 August 14, 2016_-2She has just finished working on the iconic Lismore Lantern Parade, an annual event attracting in excess of 30,000 people each year in the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The parade involves 52 different community groups in the region. “It’s why I relate so strongly to Moorambilla,” she says.

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Joining Jyllie on site in Baradine are Sara Tinning from Lismore and Jessie Langton, a young woman from Lismore from their work for the dole program.

“This program also reaches across so many different socio economic groups and social and cultural backgrounds. Most importantly, Moorambilla has a great and strong connection to country and to the land. I get goosebumps about that.”

That connection comes from the remote historic site of Mount Grenfell, south west of Cobar. “It’s vast and spacious with incredible ancient rock landforms and artwork, at the edge of the inland sea. How could you not be inspired by the never-ending horizons and vast skies.”

“So here at Moorambilla I asked the boys and girls in their lantern-making workshops to think about being earthed and strong and ancient, just like the rocks. And yet they’re working with paper and tape that can tear and break easily – just like the earth itself, strong and at the same time incredibly fragile.”

“Last year we made Maliyan (the name for the protecting wedge tail eagle in the Gamilaraay, Yuwaalaraay and Yuwaalayaay languages). He is very much a spirit bird, elements of him are like an eagle but also not, a big spirit and a protector. Maliyan will also be a part of Moorambilla this year.”

With Noni Carroll’s stunning immersion images in her mind, Jyllie went to a favourite dreaming and creative place near Lismore. “Here you can walk right to the edge of a cliff and look out over the caldera around Mount Warning. I thought about Mount Grenfell as a passing through place and I imagined eagles passing through. I saw two wonderful wedge tailed eagles swooping on the thermal air flows flying together. I felt they were together for life. Which is an unusual thing for humankind these days!”

As a result, Jyllie is designing an installation of light sculptures outside the theatre. When the audience leave the theatre on gala night, they will be invited to pass through a representation of the landscape shaped by lanterns, and look up as a pair of eagles soar above them, watched over by the spirit bird Maliyan. Their journey will end with the stunning fire sculpture by Phil Relf.

Jyllie has worked closely with Moorambilla Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to develop the concept of Moorambilla lanterns since 2009. “I have a wonderful collaborative relationship with Michelle. My conversations with her are really brief – we communicate without words! We get things immediately.”

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“I love being here as Michelle allows me the rare indulgence of creating lanterns. I can stop talking to accountants and marketing people and focus and concentrate on the making. I can just be with my art.”

“Rocks are weird things to make out of lanterns!,” laughs Jyllie. “But magic happens! As the Moorambilla message says, life is full of possibilities!”

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Images: Moorambilla photographer in residence Noni Carroll.
















Opportunities rich and rare

Moorambilla’s choral music program offers primary and high school children a unique chance to develop their own capacity in an outstanding creative environment. This year we have four music education professionals as interns in the primary program – two international and two regional – working alongside the artistic team.

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From left: Rachael Pennington (London UK), Jen McPherson (Narrabri), Jody Nott (Wellington), Michelle Leonard, Anna Williams (London UK).

With only three dedicated, tertiary qualified music teachers in the entire region, the program provides, for many students, the only music lesson they will access each year from someone who has the skills to unlock their vocal potential. The children read and write music, sing in parts and sight sing, and discover and develop their vocal capacity.

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Artistic Director Michelle Leonard with Moorambilla Voices boys choir.

“Our commitment is to provide this opportunity to every single student who has the potential,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “We also welcome community members into the workshops, as well as teachers whose active involvement serves as part of their professional development.”

Jen McPherson grew up in Ballata near Narrabri. After studying film making and completing a degree in teaching, Jen is now teaching choir in the region at Rowena and Wee Waa Public Schools. She’s also an incredibly accomplished singer herself.

“All of these children are in some ways disadvantaged by living in a rural area,” says Jen. “They are missing out on creative and musical opportunities. But Moorambilla gives those children with a natural ability an opportunity that would not otherwise be fostered.”

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Jen McPherson working with Moorambilla Voices primary girls.

Music education is proven to increase the development of neural pathways in children, and specifically benefits memory, concentration and listening skills. The benefits to the children overall are life-changing, and range from boosts in confidence and self expression, developing a willingness to explore and crucially to ask questions, and confidence in teamwork and sharing.

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“Engagement is a big word in primary teaching!” says Jen. “The children are asked to sing high and they just do it! They normally say it’s too hard! They’re doing it here because they are expected to do it. Every time they start making a sound they are encouraged to make it more beautifully. That’s what it takes to be a good choral singer. They have to find that space in their own voices.”

Anna Williams, a primary school music teacher from London in the UK, is on a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship at Moorambilla to study primary music excellence. She’s in Baradine with intern Rachael Pennington from the UK, who works with her at the music education charity “Orchestras for All” in the UK.

“I was looking for an organization that demonstrated leadership and high expectations of what children can do with their voices,” says Anna. “So I googled ‘excellent practice in children’s singing’. Moorambilla Voices came up and here I am!”
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“The program is focused on the practical but also rooted strongly in music theory and music skills. The sol fa warm ups have really impressed me. Also drawing out the music that the kids are singing to a link to understanding stave notation has been really exciting to see in action.

“All the kids have music in front of them and they’re all expected to follow it. They may not know every note but the strong modelling in front helps them understand what they are doing when they look at the page. It encourages them to be really independent as musicians.

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Primary school teacher Jody Nott, on professional development to Moorambilla from the small regional Wellington Public School, sees this in practice.

“This program places the best in the business out in regional NSW. I particularly like the way that the Moorambilla program is cross curricula and the music sessions incorporate maths in the breaking down of the notation and the time signatures.”

“I love the way that Michelle has such high expectations of primary boys,” says Jody. “Don’t expect less because they are boys,” she says. “Expect more because they are boys!”

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Anna engages with “the power of pink positivity” message of Moorambilla Voices.  “The program’s message is that singing is a really normal thing to do. To do something well is a really normal thing to do. And to want to improve and make it as good as you can possibly make it, well that is normal. It’s a very empowering culture.” 

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Anna Williams is on a Winston Churchill Memorial Scholarship. Jen and Jody acknowledge the support of their primary school principals: Michelle Ether and Denis Anderson at Wellington Public School, Peter Caret at Wee Waa and Paul Cecil at Rowena Public School.

Photography: Noni Carroll.