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.

It’s time to reach for the stars

Day one of Moorambilla Voices Residential Camps 2016 and Camp Cypress is ringing with the sound of 76 excited primary school boys from right across the north-west region. The very first day is always pumped with anticipation.

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Artistic Director Michelle Leonard welcomed the boys in through a rainbow of bubbles for their first session of music.

Artistic Director Michelle Leonard welcomes the boys to Baradine through a rainbow of bubbles for their first session of music.

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Alison Hinch (right), the Assistant Principal of Collenerabri Central School, has travelled in with Jaylen Walford and his nan Pauline Walford. “Our school is a small central school, with classes from K – 12 with a high Aboriginal population,” explains Alison. “This is our first year here and Jaylen and two of our primary school girls are representing our school. They’re all so excited to come!”

For Braydon Jones from Cobar Public School, Moorambilla is the only opportunity he has to sing in a choir. “I watched the concert last year and I can’t wait to have my turn to sing in the Dubbo Theatre,” he says. Like man of the boys, Braydon loves the “great food and staying with my friends in the cabins.”

Inspired by the stars and horizons of the outback landscape around Mount Grenfell near Cobar, composer William Yaxley spent the first day on fragments of his 2016 commission Kirralaa, (from the Ngiampaa language word for star). It tells the story of a falling star who wants to join people dancing on the earth. The resulting performance in September will bring to life the stars and horizons of the ancient rocky landscape.

Queensland Ballet Education Coordinator Jacob Williams and intern Tainga Savage work with the boys to create movement shapes. As the sun sets behind the Baradine Hall, the boys experiment and dance with beautiful miniature candles.

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Liz Anderson has been a supervisor for five years at Moorambilla and has three boys in the program. “The Moorambilla energy is just phenomenal,” she says “and Michelle is amazing to watch work with the children!”

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.

Go to the bend in the river

Interweaving new Australian choral music with contemporary dance is taking composer Andrew Howes and choreographer Jacob Williams into new territory at Moorambilla residential camps in 2015.

IMG_3139 “Narran Lakes was what I call an ‘ice bath’ to my system,” says Andrew. “I jumped off the plane straight from the intensity of London and drove on the same day to the utter stillness of the lakes. It was exactly what I needed – and I didn’t know that until I got there! The stillness was the best thing. It was so dense and yet also clear.”

Andrew has just graduated in composition at the Royal College of Music in London with first class honours. He got on a plane to meet Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and fellow artists at Narran Lakes.

“At the end of the Narran Lakes journey, I hadn’t settled on any ideas but my mind was full of thoughts and fragments – mental thoughts and notes – that’s how composition works for me,” says Andrew.


“Michelle invites us to play inside our brains. To come up with ways to generate ideas – connecting story and landscape, and how those stories connect to each other.”

“I like more of a formal structure,” says Jacob. “I want a framework at the beginning and I’m eager for the composers to commence writing and committing to ideas so I can start drawing inspiration from their work.”

“At Moorambilla the children in our rehearsals create movements through choreographic activities that I devise and then the composers draw from the movements to create music. We create the movement and music simultaneously, frequently checking in with each other and watching each other’s rehearsals so that we create a holistic piece.”


Moorambilla composers work under the pressure of time – they have the children for only 3-4 days which generally means writing music overnight. “How do I feel about that?,” says Andrew. “Well I don’t believe in writers block!” he laughs.


“No seriously, I tend to think that you can make music out of anything if you can see possibilities – and Michelle thinks the same way which is why I really love working with her. There are thousands of possible ways to turn a bad idea around. We find the first good idea and improvise on that. It helps that all of the other Moorambilla artists are incredibly skilled music interpreters and fast sight readers!”

“I needed to know the level of expertise in the choir, so I sent a vocal exercise to Michelle to work out the level of the MAXed OUT choir. I am pleased to say they were at the highest level of my expectation,” says Andrew.


To create the choral piece, called Go To the Bend in the River, Andrew talked with Rhonda Ashby, Lightning Ridge Language Nest Language Consultant. “Rhonda said something that really struck me,” says Andrew. “When she told me the creation story, she said that Baime went to the bend in the river, to the black dirt, to cut off the waterway deep underground. This is the Narran River with all its billabongs, and he knew he could stop the crocodiles there.


“I didn’t necessarily want to depict that actual story but I wanted to find something within it that I connected with. So I wrote a piece using that imagery. The piece is really about about searching and finding lost things.

“I used the Gamilaroi language that Rhonda Ashby gave me – and focused on two words in particular –yanaaya (go) and baanaga-y (run). “

The resulting piece, ‘Go to the Bend on the River’ is written for the MAXed OUT choir, with its own chamber choir, Song Company, piano and drums. Andrew will also orchestrate a string quartet, sax and shakuhachi between the August residency and the rehearsals for the September performance.


When it became time to work with Jacob Williams to create a dance piece, Jacob was already looking at floor work.

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“I wanted more work on the floor this year to showcase the developing sophistication of the teenagers,” says Jacob. “Michelle liked the floor work in rehearsals so that became significant component of the dance, and then I worked with Andrew to create movement based on migratory birds.”


“We identified a smaller group of talented students to create their own choreographic response to the themes of bones, water, sand and birds as well as Frank Wright’s artwork. This movement was then taught to the larger group.”

“Then I manipulated this phrase, altering the movement qualities to reflect an internal rhythm – which meant it was not set to counts. As Andrew composed music for this section, I continued to play with movement, consulting with Michelle, and altering its rhythm until we were all very happy. This was exciting as neither of us had worked so closely with someone else before like this.”

“I call it supported risk taking,” says Andrew. “It’s hard to fail at that.”

“Because we were experimenting together we didn’t feel at risk – we just decided that we would keep working on it until we got it! And we did!” says Jacob.

“I cannot wait to show our audiences what we have created this year. What a remarkable 10th birthday gift!”, says Michelle.

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. 

Composer on Tap!

Young composer Alice Chance is writing music for this year’s Moorambilla Voices Gala Concert. The composer in residence describes herself as composer on tap! “It’s because I work with the children during the day, then overnight I write music for them to sing the very next morning.”


“This year I’m really excited to be working across so many art forms – dance, stories, music, visual arts and instrumentation – to create music for the theme of Pallah-Pallah and the Opals [for the story see here].






“The piece begins subtly and atmospherically – building it up in layers like the colours of an opal. The final movement will have a massive overarching pattern on the top of it – somehow musically I wanted to reflect the way that opals generate their own light [for the story about the inner light of opals see here].





Alice loves writing music for Moorambilla Voices boys. “These boys are such a special bunch of singers – they have a dichotomy where they sound beautiful, pure and angelic – typical of a boy’s treble choir – then they produce this rugged, powerful and tough sound. At the click of a finger they can change and I try and bring that out in my pieces.”

“The compositions process at Moorambilla is a pretty unique one,” she says. “Basically it’s all very quick – you have to arrive and be on your toes and be ready to write something at a moment’s notice. I love it – I love being under pressure and knowing that in the morning there is a choir waiting for me and they want to sing something – so I better get it done! I have a great time – but you really have to be on your toes!”

Alice, Michelle, Ben and Jacob work out boys pieces

Creative team Alice Chance, Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard and Jacob Williams work out the structure of the pieces

Jacob Williams from Queensland Ballet’s EdSquad, saw how much capacity the Voices girls had for dance and decided to create a much longer dance movement for them. “That meant we needed something constant musically for them,” explains Alice. “Something that would be the same every time – so that the girls could use the musical cues for the dance movement,” explains Alice. “We had one night to create it – the only way was to stay up till about 1.30am and write it!”

“I have been lucky to be able to work with Jacob,” says Alice. “We are on the same piece of paper and he has a wonderful sense of the feeling of each section – we spoke a common language. He explained to me which segment had to be flowing, or which had to be more funky, or which was overarching and beautiful – so I could give a musical cue for each count of eight.”


Working across mediums – Alice Chance with (from left) Ben Burton, artist Frank Wright, textile designer Fiona Fagan, Michelle Leonard, QB EdSquad’s Jacob Williams.


Artistic Director Michelle Leonard expanded the dance potential of the primary school children this year. “This year girls are doing so much more than just standing and singing. I’m excited to see that when we link Alice’s choral music through movement, we create a wider opportunity for story telling. It reflects the performance of our older MAXed OUT Company, who have been incorporating movement and percussion in their performance for some time now.”

“What I liked about Alice and Jacob’s collaboration is that they both helped the girls understand dance through the musical structure – using the music they had been singing in a different way to enhance the cues for the dance. Alice adapted the music from a 12/8 feel to a 4/4 feel, and so for Jacob, the beat was subdivided from three and then into two , which the girls quickly picked up.”

“The dance movement is a clever and stunning end to the Pallah-Pallah segment, and I love it so much that we are going to open this year’s concert with it!”


Tickets for Moorambilla Gala Concert On Sale Here

Alice’s music for the Moorambilla Gala Concert 2014 is created for voice, piano, violin and saxophone – the two Moorambilla Voices choirs, adult vocal sextet Song Company and Ben Burton on piano, SSO Concertmaster Kirsten Williams on violin and saxophonist Christina Leonard.

Alice Chance has been a composer in residence at Moorambilla for two years and is currently in her third year of a Bachelor of Music Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she was recently awarded the 2012 Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize for academic merit in Composition. Alice’s work has been commissioned and performed by ensembles such as Sydney Youth Orchestras, the Australian Youth Choir, the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, The Sydney Conservatorium Early Music Ensemble, Waverley College Junior School, Maribella Womens A Capella and the MLC School Chamber Choir on their tour of the USA.






Artistic collaboration is one of the hallmarks of Moorambilla. This year Queensland Ballet Education Coordinator Jacob Williams joins the residential camps.

Queensland Ballet's Jacob Williams with Moorambilla Voices Artistic Director Michelle Leonard

Queensland Ballet’s Jacob Williams with Moorambilla Voices Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

Jacob Williams grew up in the North West town of Dubbo, and from an early age watched his sisters go off to dance classes at the Dubbo Ballet Studio.


From age 10 he wanted to dance too! So off he went to classes. Jacob began with tap, and his love of dance lead him to take classes in jazz, classical ballet, lyrical and contemporary dance. He continued dance training at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), completing a Bachelor of Dance Performance.

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Immersed in contemporary dance, Jacob learnt the value of dance education, using it as a tool to inspire young children and help them connect with their bodies. Now a teacher/coordinator with QB’s EdSquad, Jacob is collaborating with Moorambilla Voices to help the children understand their body, providing them with another way to express themselves. He began this week with the Moorambilla boys.

Jacob discusses the dance moves with Moorambilla boys.

Jacob discusses the dance moves with Moorambilla boys.

“The boys began their dance and movement workshops tentatively, holding tension in their body. After only half an hour, they were consuming the space with their movement, allowing their body to relax into each movement. I’ve focused my workshops on swinging exercises to help them release their tension in their torso and limbs.”

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Most of the boys have never worked with a professional dancer before, and they are absorbed by Jacob and his accessible creative process. Seven Moorambilla boys, who were showing potential, were chosen to attend an extension dance workshop early in the morning.

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This workshop provided them an opportunity to further their understanding of movement and dance, but also provided them an opportunity to choreograph their own movement. This movement was then taught to rest of the Moorambilla boys, allowing them to take ownership over the piece.

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Over only three days, the music and movement was created for the piece about the Pallah-Pallah story [see for the full story].

“It’s wonderful having a composer on site and on tap!,” says Jacob. “I have never had the opportunity to work in such a collaborative environment before and having Alice Chance writing music while we develop the piece is a delight and a rich source for inspiration. I am very fortunate to be involved in this project. I am quite sure that this experience has allowed me learn more than the Moorambilla boys.”

Moorambilla camp artists Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard, Alice Chance and Jacob Williams.

Moorambilla camp artists Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard, Alice Chance and Jacob Williams.

“I find this project incredibly interesting. Not only does performance emerge as a product of the collaborative process, but the process itself is also emerging. I can’t wait to see it all come together for the Gala Concert in Coonamble in September.”


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