Dance is not just for girls!

Dance rehearsals for the MAXed OUT Company are intense this week in the Baradine Hall in the build up to the Moorambilla 2016 Gala Concert. All the high school students in the Company sing, dance and play taiko. From the remote central western mining town of Cobar comes Blake Toomey in year 12 and Laine Ellicott in year 9 at Cobar High School. Moorambilla regional dance intern Tainga Savage is also from Cobar. 

“Dance has the profound power to enrich and transform lives, connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds,” says Jacob Williams, Queensland Ballet’s Education Coordinator, on site at Moorambilla Voices in Baradine.

Dance is a unique language that has creative and educational benefits for children of all ages. And it makes you feel good! For young men dance develops physical coordination and strength. It has also been discovered to stimulate the release of a brain-derived protein that promotes the growth, maintenance, and plasticity of the neurons necessary for learning and memory! Add to that the promotion of wellbeing and helping to improve mood and concentration, it’s no wonder that dancing makes young men feel good!

Blake is studying music for his HSC, learning the bass guitar. Moorambilla’s MAXed OUT Company is the only chance he has to express himself with dance. “The atmosphere is amazing here,” says Blake. “It’s a place where you can just be you and enjoy the arts you like. It’s the most welcoming environment and if there is one place on earth that I get to dance, it’s here.”

“You have to work hard if you want to study in the arts out here. Because of our isolation in Cobar, I study my music classes through Distance Education in Dubbo.

“You can’t sit back. It takes three and a half hours to travel to Dubbo for my music classes, which means I also miss a whole day of school.”

Blake is planning to study education at university next year and is thinking about teaching as a career. “Moorambilla is the company that has taken me out of my shell. I’d like to give something back to this project and come back next year as a supervisor.”

Laine isn’t studying music at school, but takes dance classes at the Western Studio of Performing Arts in Cobar in hip hop, jazz and contemporary dance. “I really like the way that Tainga teaches us how to hear the music, like the beat and the rhythm. And I love making up moves when we get a chance to do some of our own choreography.

“I would say to any boys who are shy about dancing – go for it, you are not going to be judged for it. It’s fun!” says Blake.

“I would say to any boy, don’t be scared to dance,” says Laine. “It’s not just for girls!”

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.

Sensational Gala Concerts 2016



Moorambilla Voices performed two sensational 2016 Gala Concerts of new Australian music inspired by the landscape, heritage and traditional owners of Brewarrina and Mount Grenfell. Dubbo Regional Theatre was home to a powerful celebration of creativity, joy and new Australian music!

Led by Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, the impressive concerts involved nearly 300 children from primary and high schools all across the region. They included several world premieres of pieces commissioned for the children by established Australian composer Andrew Howes and emerging composers Josephine Gibson and William Yaxley.

The Australian World Orchestra and Song Company performed alongside the children to create moments of pure joy and inspiration. The concerts featured powerful and moving dance segments choreographed by Queensland Ballet Education Coordinator Jacob Williams, with regional dance intern Tai Savage performing a captivating solo. The high school group MAxed OUT finished with an awe-inspiring percussion piece written and performed with them by Taikoz artists.

Captured in full by photographer in residence Noni Carroll, the concert also included digital set designs by Noni and regional photographer Burra Mac. At the beginning of the concert, the stunning Elena Kats-Chernin piece Baime’s Ngunnuh, also included The Leichhardt Espresso Chorus. In Moorambilla tradition, the concert finale saw 350 on stage to sing Wide Open Sky dedicated to one of the program’s founders, Liz Markey.

Under the night sky stars, the concerts featured light sculptures of wedge-tailed eagles in the park by Lismore Lantern Parade artists Jyllie Jackson with Sara Tinning and a dramatic fire sculpture by Phil Relf that called back to the wedge-tailed eagles in paper.

Read the full program of the concert here
Listen to the concerts plus interviews by ABC Western Plains here
Check out all the talented artists, performers and designers here

It’s our voice!

Moorambilla Voices provides the children of north-west NSW with a strong musical environment to explore the potential of their voice, from primary school to the end of high school. It’s a supportive program that leads them to the big performance: The Moorambilla Voices Gala Concert on September 24. 

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The program has been collaborating with the six members of the Song Company as ensemble-in-residence for four years and the children relish every opportunity to sing with them. As Tenor Mark Donnelly points out, “in rural NSW, once the kids go to high school there is no avenue or opportunity for them to sing.”

“I love the way that Moorambilla Voices normalises singing for young men,” says bass Andrew O’Connor. “The program allows them to get in touch with their artistic side and learn to be a better person as they engage with art. We’re not saying that everyone needs to be a professional singer or a star – art is just about learning to be a better human!”

“There’s a common perception that you stop singing while your voice is changing,” says Song Company tenor Richard Black. “But if children are kept within a strong musical context they can continue. Otherwise, as soon as they get to their teenage years and their voices are changing, or breaking as boys, then they stop. They lose a whole connection to music.”

Andrew O’Connor experienced a huge change in his vocal range when he was younger. “I started out as a very very high treble and now I am a low baritone. Normally around 14 years of age the voice changes; sometimes earlier sometimes later. If boys continue to sing through that period they will come out of it normalised and be able to sing more comfortably and easily afterwards.”

Soprano Anna Fraser explains that girls voices also change during their teens. “For the girls it is not as distinct a change. When the girls grow they become connected with a new colour in their voice – chest voice. It’s about exploring that, which is there already and is an extension of their speaking voice. I naturally have a low speaking voice and so I can sing low –  but I can also sing very high. We help the girls not to be scared to use that chest voice, which is a more mature sound.”

Hannah Fraser, mezzo-soprano, reckons that changes in the girls’ singing voices are also a huge expression of where they are coming from at the time. “You have different emotions in your voice. Your voice is an expression of yourself. It’s about what your environment is, what you listen to on the radio and what you are surrounded by.”


“The Song Company loves to demystify classical music for young people,” says soprano Susannah Lowengren. “We all sing differently as individuals and yet we know each other’s voices so well. We work with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to show the children how to blend and how we balance the sound across our own six voices.”

“We make it look easy and effortless but actually there’s a lot of inner workings going on,” laughs Andrew O’Connor. “A bit like a beautiful watch!”

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.


Song Company, Moorambilla Voices Gala Concert, September 24, 2016.

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. 

Text: Lliane Clarke
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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Text: Lliane Clarke
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)


Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.