The Dance of the Animal: Collaboration On Site, In View

Always more than a vocal program, collaborating with visual artists and designers has been a hallmark of Moorambilla Voices.


For the past ten years artists have included lantern maker Bec Massey, designer Fiona Fagan, felter and chook pen creator Anne Nixon and Wailwan Ngemba artists Mary Kennedy and Barbara Stanley. This year, Moorambilla is proud to collaborate for the third year with Walgett artist Frank Wright and for the second time in the past ten years, Jyllie Jackson, Artistic Director LightenUp, working with artist Sara Tinning.

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All Moorambilla artists work openly on site in Baradine, a deliberate strategy employed by Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to expose the children to both the artform, skill and craftsmanship of the artists, and to develop the themes.

“At the same time, creating on site also gives the visual artists the space to absorb the development of the theme as it takes shape musically around them,” she says.

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Frank Wright works on a huge canvas backdrop on the floor in Baradine Community Hall with rehearsals constantly going on around him.

He paints repeated continuous lines with a limited palette, reflecting the layers that build up around the Narran Lakes. “One line is the water, another the edge of the lake, another the muddy area,” he explains. “Then there is the area where the salt has formed from within the land itself and then there are the middens at the edge, where everyone sat and ate together.”


The backdrop depicts two crocodiles in the Narran Lakes creation story. “I knew I had to put movement in this backdrop, as it was the chase that created the lakes themselves. I wanted the crocodile to actually twist his head and turn – so you could see he was being attacked or was putting up a fight with somebody.”

On black unprimed canvas, Frank chooses a palette of white, a range of greens and a yellow ochre. “The white shows you the dance of the animal,” he explains, “the green is the slime. White and yellow ochre on black are also traditional indigenous colours.


“I’m hoping that people will feel the sacred story behind this,” he says. “These stories have been around along time. Painting this backdrop is one of the things that I can do to try and keep our culture alive.”


Frank Wright is a proud descendant of the Gamilaroi people and was born 1979 at Walgett – where the two rivers, the Namoi and Barwon, meet. “My totem is Dhinawan (emu), which I have a strong connection with, and it features prominently in my artworks along with many air, land and water animals of the Gamilaroi area. I paint the animals of our land because they are necessary for our people to survive. I also paint the river and water systems as I remember them from when I was a child, sometimes in flood but mostly dry riverbanks.”

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Narran Lakes legends inspire Moorambilla artists


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In a first for Moorambilla, an Artistic Immersion provided a rare opportunity to creatively explore the well kept secret that is Narran Lakes Nature Reserve, located between Lightning Ridge and Brewarrina in northwest NSW.  The immersion is a vital link in the preparation for Moorambilla’s Gala Concerts in Dubbo on Saturday 19 September.

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Narran Lakes are the site of many Indigenous Dreaming stories, in particular the legend of two giant crocodiles (kurreahs) who swallow the two wives of Baime (Byamee) while they are bathing. In the chase and search for Birrahgnooloo and Cunnunbeillee, the lakes are created by the writhing bodies of the crocodiles. Once rescued, Baime warns them of the dangers of bathing in deep holes and says to them that the Lakes are now changed. “Where there was dry land and stones in the past, in the future there will be water.. black swans… and a big lake.” The lakes remain a real oasis and home of wild birds in the dry red plains of northwestern NSW. Read the full creation story here: Australian Legendary Tales, Langloh Parker, (1897)

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Moorambilla artists explored this place of immense cultural and spiritual significance for many Indigenous people and began the process of creating  initial ideas and structures for new Australian music, text, photography and dance for the Moorambilla Voices children.  The Moorambilla artists who travelled to Narran Lakes were Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, composers in residence Alice Chance and Andrew Howes, TaikOz senior artist Anton Lock, guest vocal artist Clive Birch, Jacob Williams choreographer, classical ballet, Indigenous Visual Artist in Residence Frank Wright from Walgett and photographer Noni Carroll.

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“The Artistic Immersion is about tapping into the physical energy you get from being on site – which is so very different to reading about the creation stories,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

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“We could see the depth of the shell middens, witness the way the lakes interacted with each other. We could pick up the ancient grinding stones and hold them in our hand. We could hear the wind through the lignam, the reedy bushes that were used in weavings and to make beds. We felt the fast wind that whipped across the milky clay lakes. The sky at night is also force in itself as it chases the sparks from the fire. All the subtleties of this sacred place came alive – in amongst an overwhelming sense of space.”

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The immersion was facilitated by the Narran Lakes CoManagement Committee in particular Moorambilla Voices Indigenous Cultural Consultant and Gamilaroi elder Aunty Brenda McBride from Lightning Ridge (watch Aunty Brenda at Narran Lakes and also here.

It was also facilitated by National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger Michael Mulholland, Rhonda Ashby, Lightning Ridge Language Nest Language Consultant and Ted Fields Jnr from Walgett, who welcomed the team with the smoking ceremony.

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Moorambilla creates new Australian music that comes directly from the region that the children live in. In August at the residential camps, the children will develop the pieces to create the performance in September.

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They were supported by Dayle Murray, Moorambilla Operations Manager and Di Holz Moorambilla Mum (MAXed Out). Moorambilla Board representative and visual arts consultant (and driver!) Eden Sheperd also joined the immersion.

Listen to an ABC podcast about about Narran Lakes here.

Stay up to date with Moorambilla Voices and links to performances via the website.

Text: Lliane Clarke

Images by Noni Carroll Photography.

Moorambilla Voices acknowledges the support of our funding partners, They are Australian Government Attorney General’s Department Ministry of the Arts, Arts NSW, Vincent Fairfax Foundation (VFF) and many generous private donors through our public fund. 

Respect! Moorambilla Celebrates Indigenous Stories

Aunty Brenda McBride is making johnny cakes with golden syrup for Moorambilla MAXed OUT kids. It’s a special recipe she likes to share with them around a campfire. “I tell them stories from our culture and what I used to do with my aunties as a child. They get really into it,” she says.



Aunty Brenda and MAXed OUT children from Lightning Ridge: Nathan Lenord, Laura Murray, Tailha Cobb, Chiffona Kennedy Patricia Acala, Chloe Buckley and Mitchell Cummings.

Aunty Brenda is our Elder and knowledge-holder from the Kamilaroi (Gamilaroi) and Yuwaalaaray (Euahlayi) language groups in north-western NSW (Brewarrina, Walgett and Lightning Ridge). She’s been coming to Moorambilla for three years – bringing the kids in from Lightning Ridge, Walgett, Brewarrina and Coonamble.


Moorambilla brings Indigenous stories alive in dance, visual arts and music. Aunty Brenda thought the final dance sequence performed by the Moorambilla Voices girls, based on the Pallah-Pallah story, was beautiful. She is one of the keepers of that story – and enjoyed seeing it manifest in movement. She admired Frank Wright’s Seven Emu Sisters painting and thought it was a powerful representation of the story.

“I learnt from my aunties about bush food and bush medicine – I used to go fishing and walking in the scrub with my aunties and they would tell me stories. That’s what I like to do with the kids here at Moorambilla. We talk about what animals do and what they represent and whose totem is what. For example, Frank Wright and my totems are emus –that means we can’t eat one another.”


Aunty Brenda and Frank Wright share the Seven Emu Sisters story with MAXed OUT Company children.



“A lot of kids don’t know about their own culture or their own region’s stories – even though our story line has been passed down over 40-50,000 years . They don’t know who they are or where they come from. It’s vital to understand the long trail of history behind you, to find out who you are.

“Kids now are starting to find their culture and do more for themselves. That’s my job here – to help them understand. A lot of the kids are learning their own history for the first time at Moorambilla, like the Seven Emu Sisters story and the Emu in the Sky story.”


Walgett artist Frank Wright hangs the Seven Emu Sisters backdrop for the Moorambilla Gala Concert.


“I also help out if they are mucking up,” says Aunty Brenda. “Michelle will send them to me and we’ll have a talk and then they can re-engage. I tell them they have to take advantage of this opportunity at Moorambilla – they’ve been given a gift. I tell them to use it. Don’t sit back.”


Scott and Stanley have been coming to Moorambilla for seven years, and have enjoyed learning about the culture of the region.


Moorambilla’s Youth Mentor Justin Welsh from Coonamble.

“Having these workshops and sharing each other’s culture, that’s what Moorambilla is about. I teach the kids respect in our culture and respect here at Moorambilla – respect your elders, respect yourself and respect others.”


Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Two Painters and Seven Sisters

Walgett artist Frank Wright and textile designer Fiona Fagan have discovered a unique working partnership, allowing each to bring their own special knowledge and skills to the Moorambilla Gala Concert backdrop painting.





Gamilaroi man Frank Wright has had a passion for drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. “When I finished my homework that’s all I wanted to do – I would draw sunsets and birds and carve emu eggs. I loved art at school, and I had one teacher, Mr Murdoch, who really encouraged me.”




Frank was struck down by meningococcal disease at the age of 9 when he was told he would never work or walk. Frank defied the doctors, and continued to run and box, and also spent time doing what he loved – painting and drawing. Now a professional artist, Frank is working with textile designer and author Fiona Fagan for the second year to create the Moorambilla Gala Concert backdrop. Originally from Coonamble, Fiona studied textile design and now runs her own textile business in Sydney.



Frank and Fiona work together on the design of the backdrop, sketching out in chalk the outline of the shapes on the black canvas to be painted in acrylic paints. The backdrop comes to life with emus, seven of them, as they paint the Seven Emu Sisters story. It’s a traditional story that is known from the coast to the northwest region of NSW, through Gamilaroi, Yaralawaay/Ngemba and Wiradjuri country, where the emus are symbolic for this area.

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“Fiona and I sit down and work out the design and scale of the backdrop,” explains Frank. “We draw it on a small scale and then Fiona says: ‘Yes let’s do it!’ Then we enlarge it working with the colour palette that we have. If we don’t enlarge it right, the lines won’t connect, and the story won’t connect.

“I feel it is a privilege to work with Frank,” says Fiona. “I’ve learnt a lot about the Aboriginal culture, the symbolism and storytelling, and Frank is a fountain of information. It’s terrific to work on such a big-scale project, which neither of us have the opportunity to do very often.”



Moorambilla gives Frank the chance to pass on the knowledge of his culture and the lessons of these stories to the region’s children. He also teaches drawing workshops at Moorambilla.

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“I think the most important word you could ever teach a child is respect,” he adds. “Respect everyone no matter what colour or race they are. Whether they are woman or man. If you want the respect you give it. That’s how I see it. That’s what I am trying to teach every day.”

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“It’s great to show the kids what artists do, and possibly what they could become as adults,” says Fiona. “It’s what makes Moorambilla such as fabulous opportunity for everyone to be part of.”


Learning about the region’s traditional culture is an important foundation stone of the Moorambilla program. “The mutual respect that all the art forms show to each other – and the incredible final results – are a true testament to the spirit of Moorambilla,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

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Moorambilla Gala Concert, Coonamble Pavilion, Sat 20 September, 
6.30pm. Tickets $30 adult, $20 child, $70 family available online at

This is the story of the Seven Emu Sisters, told to Frank Wright by his grandparents and parents and Elders such as Aunty Brenda McBride from Lightning Ridge.

“There were seven emu sisters who were beautiful and admired by all. They heard that the dingo men wanted to take them as their wives, but they refused. One afternoon they ran fast and far away into the hills to a cave. The dingo men followed them and as it came to nighttime, they set up a ring of fire around the sisters. Instead of surrendering, the sisters ran out through the leaping flames, burning their wings. They stretched tall to the sky to escape the heat of the burning grass. 

Their legs grew longer and longer, until they reached the end of the earth, where their spirits were burnt into the sky and they each became a star except for one. The six sisters are in a little cluster of stars called Pleiades. One emu was still left on the earth as she refused to go up. When she passed, she became part of the Emu in the Sky. She is the start at the head of the emu, which sits at the tip of the Southern Cross and stretches through the Milky Way in a dark shape of the emu running. She lets our ancestors know when it’s time to collect emu eggs and when the emu breeding season is.

Frank Wright at Moorambilla 2014 is supported by Outback Arts.


Text and photography: Lliane Clarke


Baradine: Small Town, Big Heart

Zac Broughton, Braiden Jones, Riley Porter and dad Ben Broughton drive from Cobar to Baradine.

Ben Broughton drives from Cobar to deliver Zac Broughton, Braiden Jones and Riley Porter to Moorambilla in Baradine.



The small town of Baradine, home to the Pilliga Forest, opened its heart again to the incredibly angelic sound of young boys voices today as Moorambilla regional boys choir took up residence. The boys have a lot of work to do preparing for the Gala Concert in Coonamble in September. 

Camp Cypress is again home for three days to over 50 boys from all over the north west of NSW, from Bourke to Gadooga, Dubbo to Brewarrina, Dunedoo to Grawin – as it has been for the past nine years.

Camp Manager Dot Thompson welcomes the boys.

Camp Manager Dot Thompson welcomes the boys.

For the next three days the boys are going to create magic in the fields of music, dance and visual arts – in ways they have never experienced before! Many of the boys are coming for the first time, but many choose to come back time again for the special Moorambilla experience.

Moorambilla Voices is more than a program about country kids learning about artistic expression, it’s a program that helps them find their voice, their passion and even their path for the future.  Find out more and how you can help make this happen at

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The Baradine community has embraced the program ever since it began nine years ago in 2005, when local residents Liz Markey, Justine Lawler and Michelle Leonard from Coonamble started a boys treble choir that would celebrate the incredible creative energy of the north west region. It was a regional first, and has grown from strength to strength.

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Baradine resident and long-time community advocate Nea Worrell – has been a linchpin of the Moorambilla Voices program. Alongside Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Halcomb, Nea provides the essential catering for the children at camp and during rehearsal. She also provides extensive commentary, etiquette, and old fashioned country hospitality.

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Today the boys had their first taste of camp, working Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, composer Alice Chance, accompanist Ben Burton and Queensland Ballet EdSquad dancer Jacob Williams. This year’s theme is Earth and Sky. The boys began to create pieces around the Indigenous legends of Pallah Pallah, the word for butterfly in the Ngemba language, or Balla-Ballaa, in Yuwaalaraay language. This is the story of how the Opal was created from butterfly wings. The boys read the story of Pallah Pallah and thought about how dance creates meaning without language and how to manipulate dance ideas. The children began to explore choreography, even though many of them had not even heard the word before.

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As Jacob starts to unpack how he will work with the festival theme, Indigenous artist Frank Wright and textile artist Fiona Fagan began to sketch out the concert backdrop which focuses on the Emu in the Sky story.

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Everyone had an early night ready for tomorrow’s full day!

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Donate now! Moorambilla Voices is more than a program about country kids learning about artistic expression, it’s a program that helps them find their voice, their passion and even their path for the future.  Find out more and how you can help make this happen at



From the Artistic Director: “our best Festival yet!”

One week on after the Moorambilla Festival, Artistic Director Michelle Leonard looks at the highlights of the 2013 events. 



You know what? People often say after an annual event or festival, “that was the best  yet!” Well in terms of the artistic synergies, the strength of the creative collaborations and the sheer generosity of spirit that was shown in all of the performances and workshops this year, I do feel confident in saying “this was the best yet!”

It was so satisfying to see the 2013 Festival’s artistic vision and theme  roll out cohesively across a variety of art forms. This was particularly manifest in the Gala Concert, when in the final phases of Wii Gali, the MAXed OUT Company brought their Taiko spears/Japanese swords down, and the river of children from Moorambilla Voices left the pavilion to watch the fire sculptures of the echidna, his spears and our Moorambilla logo set alight. There was such a good energy on stage. The children lifted incredibly towards that performance.

Michelle Leonard conducts Moorambilla Voices in the final Gala Concert with Sydney Symphony Fellows, under Frank Wright's stunning design for the backdrop.

Michelle Leonard conducts Moorambilla Voices in the final Gala Concert with Sydney Symphony Fellows, under Frank Wright’s stunning design for the backdrop.

The children had only arrived three days before in Baradine, coming back after their four-day residential camps in August. They all returned with a real sense of anticipation and their energy was palpable energy; they wanted to do well. They were really well supported operationally and by our incredible team of supervisors — everyone was on the same page which made such a difference to their performance outcome.


We had a little disappointment in that we couldn’t perform in situ in the Dandry Gorge as planned, due to the previous week’s storms. However, the intimate space of the historic Baradine Memorial Hall produced an opportunity for the Voices’ children to see at close range the professional ensembles at work. The resulting concert on Thursday evening supported by the remarkable Baradine community, really kick-started the whole Festival. All of the resident musicians and ensembles performed — the Song Company, Sydney Symphony Fellows, saxophonist Christina Leonard, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, TaikOz and the Hunter School of the Performing Arts.

The Song Company perform in Baradine Memorial Hall.

The Song Company at Baradine Memorial Hall.

Moorambilla Voices showcased what they could do, and as we weren’t in the Gorge, MAXed OUT could also perform with TaikOz. There was an immediate and powerful synergy between the young performers in MAXed OUT and the Hunter School. A standing ovation by MAXed OUT I felt was a hugely generous and wonderful statement by them as musicians. It emphasised that this is not a competitive environment, it’s a collaborative one and it really set the tone for what was to come. That evening gave the children a taste of what it is like to make a high standard of music together in a community setting.


MAXed OUT perform in Baradine Memorial Hall

MAXed OUT perform in Baradine Memorial Hall

We arranged for the two teenage ensembles to share a meal together, and they jammed and socialised into the evening. Down the road at the Pilliga Discovery Centre, the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus and guest artists were enjoying a barbecue. This is the heart of this Festival, when the music making provides such a positive catalyst for socialising.  That in turn feeds back into energy of the following days and the development of the Festival. It is what I call a symbiotic relationship!

Sydney Symphony Fellows socialise at the Pilliga Discovery Centre.

Sydney Symphony Fellows socialise at the Pilliga Discovery Centre.

The next day, Friday, we all moved over to Coonamble. I always remind the singers not to leave everything we have taught them in Baradine and to remember to bring it with them; that 45 minutes trip is not a vortex!

ABC Western Plains journalist Dugald Saunders was again, for the fourth year running, broadcasting live performances and interviews about the Festival all morning. This is a great way for the region to get a picture of the scope and depth of what was to be on offer during the coming days.

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Moorambilla Voices and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus broadcasting live on ABC Western Plains.

Moorambilla Voices and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus broadcasting live on ABC Western Plains.

Later that morning, the Song Company presented a wonderful and engaging ‘history of music’ workshop to all the ensembles at the historic Plaza Theatre in Coonamble.. The MAXed OUT Premiere Concert after lunch at the Pavillion showcased their works developed in the residential camps with TaikOz and composer Andrew Howes. I was so proud of what they achieved. They shook the room! They performed this particular sequence three times during the festival, culminating in the Gala Concert, which was more than outstanding.

We finished the night at the Coonamble RSL Club with the pumping Hunter School Big Band. What an incredible day.



Hunter High School of the Performing Arts.

Hunter High School of the Performing Arts Senior Choir.


I always love to walk down the main street of Coonamble on the Saturday morning of the Festival, as the street transforms and comes alive and active with people everywhere, shopping in the bustling creative main street markets to the sounds of workshops taking place in every available shop and space. The Moorambilla Festival supported the showcase this year of the Coonamble Ceramics Collective in St Patrick’s Hall. They produced an outstanding array of beautifully made pottery.

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We also supported their tile making workshops, and I can’t wait to see the tiles eventually displayed as part of regeneration in the Monterey Arts Space. This relatively new space is where Outback Arts now has their base.  I am so proud to see the vision for a more vibrant and public face to this region’s art now in the main street of Coonamble in this historic café. I cannot thank my mother’s family enough for having established that beautiful venue nearly a hundred years ago, and allowing it to be used for its current purpose. The Outback Archies competition at the Monterey Arts Space was a great success.


The Bee Jays jazz ensemble play for morning and afternoon tea at the Anglican Church Hall.

The Bee Jays jazz ensemble play for morning and afternoon tea at the Anglican Church Hall.

Greg Storer's Sing it Up Country workshop

There is never time at Moorambilla Festival to stay still! The Plaza Theatre was filling up again as parents from all across the region came to town for a two-concert marathon of Moorambilla Voices. Seeing them all is a real joy. They had a wonderful taste of what to expect in the Gala Concert that night.

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This concert certainly helps to relieve the children of any performance nerves they might have. Around 40 per cent of the girls in particular have never sung in a choir, let alone performed with one.  The Plaza Theatre is an intimate concert venue, with about 300 people in the audience, compared to the pavilion, where we have over 600.


I scheduled the second half of the concert for the parents. The hysterically funny and clever Howls of the House suite, commissioned by the Song Company and performed by them and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, with their Artistic Director, Roland Peelman conducting. This had been performed in Wollongong, Newcastle, Canberra and Sydney with community choirs based there. The parents were laughing themselves silly.

Hunter stepped up to the plate again at that concert, which was impressive considering of the children were up late performing in the big band cabaret the night before! And in between all of this we had a publicity photo shoot for our documentary, while some of the musicians took the opportunity to rehearse in the space.


The Saturday evening Gala Concert brings everything together in the massive pavilion at the Coonamble Showground.



Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan and Barbara Stanley watch the Gala Concert.

Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan and Barbara Stanley watch the Gala Concert.



Sydney Symphony Fellows conducted by Roger Benedict.

Sydney Symphony Fellows conducted by Roger Benedict.

This year the entire concert ran extremely smoothly, even though we had four cameras and eight microphones trained onto us as the entire performance was filmed for an ABC documentary. All the ensembles behaved as this was a perfectly normal series of events! We finished with a stunning encore under Frank Wright’s backdrop with all 300 performers on stage.

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The documentary film crew have been with us all the time since March, when we toured the region seeing 2500 children in workshops. I love seeing the children develop as young musicians and potential regional leaders; this is one of the most satisfying parts of this project. I never take the support that we receive for granted, both regionally and through the funding bodies. I always tell the children “I know you can do that, of course you can!” and I feel incredibly satisfied that I have helped them take their first step on what I hope is a life-long journey with a love of the arts. Not all of them will choose to become professional musicians but I love giving them a chance to see what the arts can do, even if it is to appreciate music more deeply because they have actively participated in it;  a very different view to a passive audience member.

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Not that our audience was passive by any means! All the ensembles were clapped off the stage of our Gala Concert to a standing ovation and wild applause!  We all then stood back and watched from a safe distance,  Phil Relf from IKARA’s amazing work as he lit up the night sky with fire sculptures.


When I reflect on the often asked question the weeks after the Festival “why do you do this out here?”, I am reminded that all the children are keen and hungry for performance experiences and I aim to give them as many of the best quality I can I can. The more they do and the more varied the opportunity, the more store of performance experiences they can draw on.

As the choirs move onto touring regionally interstate and eventually internationally, the skills they learn in performing will help them with just about anything they do in life, not just while they are at Moorambilla. They learn how to cope with nerves, how to focus, to cope with the incredible excitement of a performance and not be distracted, how to channel the mental energy they need to keep working through a performance, to accept compliments gracefully, and above all stand tall and be proud of what they have collectively achieved. All the children did this — I was so proud of them. All of that as well as the exceptional music making is why I do Moorambilla in this part of the world.

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Thank you to photographers Gwyn Jones, Margaret Grove and Pat C Smith.

Thank you!

All of this would not be possible without the incredible generosity of our artistic collaborators: TaikOz, the Song Company, Sydney Symphony Fellows, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Hunter School of the Performing Arts, Christina Leonard, our dancers Eric Avery and Ghenoa Gela, our composers Alice Chance and Andrew Howes, our visual artists Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan, Barbara Stanley and Mary Kennedy. Our workshop presenters this year produced a fine array of experiences for everyone to enjoy: Val Hooper, Greg Storer, Stefan Kooper, Roland Peelman, Anton Lock and Graeme Hilgendorf, Leo Hooper, Barbara Stanley and Mary Kennedy. We missed out on Pub Opera this year with Nadia Piave due to illness, but I’m sure we will catch her again in the near future!

I’d also like to thank our partners: Outback Arts, Arts NSW, Australian Government Indigenous Culture Support Program, Coonamble Shire Council, Vincent Fairfax Foundation, Clifford Chance and Paddock Bashin Productions.

Thank you also to Row Macrae, our Coonamble Coordinator, Jamie-Lee Hodges and Samantha Stratton from Outback Arts, and the Coonamble Shire Council, in particular Jenny Geerdink, and Jill Norton at the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Pilliga Discovery Centre in Baradine. Thank you also to our catering crew: Red Cross, CWA, Quota, Rotary, Global Village, Cafe 2828, Freckles, Ronnies Catering, Coonamble RSL, Koonambil and Darla Kennedy and Kim Callaghan. Chris Gray and Larry Rindfleish, Dugald Saunders from ABC Regional Radio, Coonamble High School, Coonamble Primary School, Clontarff, the Coonamble Fire Brigade and Police, Green Villa, our Festival Workshop venues — the Monterey Cafe, Plaza Theatre, Coonamble RSL, the Old Butcher Shop, Rural Transaction Centre, our Festival Angels at the Saturday Lunchtime Concert, and everyone who helped with the Festival Fire Sculptures and workshops.

A big thanks to the people who look after our participants — our camp supervisors crew, led by camp manager Dot Thompson and our Moorambilla Mums and Dad, Annie Berrell, Di Holz and Billy Mullan. We couldn’t do it without you all! A special thanks to our many unsung heroes and supporters who helped host this regional event!

We will be posting more photographs as they come to us!

The documentary ‘Outback Choir’ was made about Moorambilla Voices during the 2013 program by Heiress Films. It was shown on ABC TV in 2014 – and can be accessed here

Artists roll in to the Moorambilla Festival

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Over 250 performers are making their way to Baradine and Coonamble in the far north-west of NSW. The sheer love of music – playing, performing and sharing it – drives the Moorambilla Festival as the final preparations take place. Nearly all the rooms in town are booked, even the caravan park is busy! Buses and cars are loaded with staging, programs, music, microphones, run sheets and music stands. Let’s just say that the four-day Festival brings with it many logistical challenges! Today the decision was made to move the DANDRY GORGE concert to BARADINE TOWN HALL due to wet weather. All in a day’s work for the operations team.

On the ground in Baradine, Artistic Director, Michelle Leonard, prepares for the arrival of all the musicians to rehearse and perform with the three Moorambilla Voices choirs. The Festival is the culmination of a skills tour of the region and three residential workshops, where the Voices children created music with composers Alice Chance and Andrew Howes, dance moves with artists Ghenoa Gela and Eric Avery, percussion with TaikOz, and workshops with visual artists  Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan, Mary Kennedy and Barbara Stanley.

This artistic collaboration between professional and non-professional musicians makes Moorambilla a unique music festival. 

 “A lot of festivals have an art music focus, and we certainly also have that,” says Michelle. “At Moorambilla, all the touring artists coming to Baradine and Coonamble will also be met by exceptional music that has been created from the region itself. It’s a true expression of collaboration.”



After conversations with artistic directors of Australia’s premiere ensembles, Michelle invited three major professional ensembles to work with Moorambilla Voices this year. Japanese drumming ensemble TaikOz have already rehearsed with the children at residential workshops. The Sydney Symphony Fellows, and The Song Company are new to the mix this year, and are joined by long-time community choir in residence Leichhardt Espresso Chorus and the Hunter School of Performing Arts from Newcastle.

“These ensembles bring a real generosity of spirit to this environment. They are all here as outstanding and positive role models to the children and youth of Moorambilla Voices. Yes, they showcase their outstanding musical capacity in the concerts and performances, which we are all very much looking forward to. But they also see the benefit in sharing what they have to support young creative minds as well.”

The Song Company’s Artistic Director Roland Peelman says the closest he has come to a similar festival was a writer’s festival they toured to in Koonanurra in Western Australia about two years ago. “We were a loooooooong way away from almost anywhere and we were interacting with mainly local Aboriginal kids. The performance was outdoors and the setting was magic!”


“We have never performed before in Coonamble to my knowledge,” says Roland. “So we have no idea about any of challenges that we are about to face. But we have experience with tours.  We have been stuck in the haze in Malaysia and had to be evacuated, we even once arrived in a Danish town for a concert with no audience (they hadn’t bothered telling anyone!!!), and we have dealt with people who called themselves ‘organisers’ on several tours – when concerts started 30 minutes late and only ever after A LOT of drama. I think we’ll be just fine.”

“We are bringing slightly unusual repertoire (for us a least), to this Festival and doing lots of small brackets and workshops. From here, it feels like a very grassroots festival, involving lots of kids. We hope to walk away with a few new songs learnt, new friends made and hope that with our contribution, we have left something behind as well.”


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PLEASE NOTE: The Dandry Gorge Concert “Voices from the Gorge” has been moved to Baradine Town Hall due to wet weather.

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