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.

Ancient markings, red dirt and night sky legends. Welcome to 2016!

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Moorambilla Voices has launched the creative inspiration driving its 2016 program with the Artistic and Cultural Immersion at historic Mount Grenfell, near Cobar, north-west NSW.

Facilitated in consultation with Ngiyampaa Indigenous and community leaders, the Immersion experience took place in April and will drive the artists’ source material.

“This incredibly beautiful landscape has an ancient history as a meeting place for the Ngiyampaa people, and is notable for its spectacular examples of ancient Ngiyampaa rock art,” explained Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “When I first found out about it I knew that this place would form a strong foundation for our performances incorporating music, dance and visual art.”

“Combined with the rich local history and unique landscape, this year is shaping up to be quite a big one for Moorambilla Voices.”

The 2016 Program includes Sydney Tour, the Annual Residential Camps in Baradine and the Gala Concert in Dubbo and several Associated Performances and Tours.

More about the Artistic and Cultural Immersion and Mount Grenfell here…

More about the 2016 Program here…

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On a dry creek bed: The team of artists were grateful to be given this time to experience the energy of the landscape and  to appreciate the rich depth of cultural  knowledge shared by Ngiyampaa Elder, poet and powerhouse Elaine Ohlsen and elder Peter Harris, with members of the Co-management committee Rick Ohlsen, Lawrence Clarke and Philip Sullivan. Artists at the immersion this year were: Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, Composers in residence Andrew Howes, Josephine Gibson and William Yaxley, Taikoz Artist Tom Royce-Hampton, Choreographer Jacob Williams, Regional Dance Artist Tianga Savage, Lantern Artist Sara Tinning, Speaker Clive Birch, Photographer Noni Carroll and Regional Photographer Justin Welsh, supported by General Manager Dayle Murray.










We’re so proud of Wide Open Sky

The national release of the uplifting documentary Wide Open Sky, that explores the musical journey of Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and Moorambilla Voices, has received incredible acclaim across Australia.

“Everyone at Moorambilla Voices is so proud of this positive film,” says Artistic Director and Conductor Michelle Leonard. “We’re particularly excited to have this chance to show the world about our beautiful region, our remarkably talented children and the communities that we are all a part of.”

The critics roared approval of the film and gave it lots of stars! The film was directed by Lisa Nicol and won the audience award for Best Documentary at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. From the Sydney Morning Herald to TimeOut, The Australian, Variety, Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM, and arts critic John McDonald in the Australian Financial Review, here’s just a taste of the response:

“Music, as Leonard sees it, is about much more than rhythms and melodies. It’s about sparking critical thought and opening the minds of young people to life’s opportunities and possibilities.” Variety

“These country kids are bright and ambitious. The Moorambilla Voices offers a first glimpse of a world outside their small towns, and a sense of burgeoning possibility.” Australian Financial Review

“The final concert is a triumph. And since we’ve seen how far they have come and what they have learnt, it’s incredibly emotional. The film reminds us of the power that learning about music can have on the personal development of children.” Sydney Morning Herald

“We are in Cobar, Lightning Ridge, Walgett, Dunedoo, Coonamble, Brewarrina…most of them are towns that have had racial problems in the past, but the choir that Michelle is putting together has both indigenous and non-indigenous children, side by side with no problems. Every little bit helps.” ABC Nightlife


We’re looking forward to our exciting 2016 Moorambilla Voices program of residencies and concerts, which again will feature leading Australian composers, musicians, artists working with Moorambilla Voices children and youth in our MAXed OUT Company.

Keep up to date on our Facebook page or check out all our events here.  And please consider a donation to help us keep going.

For the full podcast of Margaret Throsby ABC Classic FM interview with Michelle Leonard click here.



Think big, dream wide!

If you are inspired by the Wide Open Sky film, please consider a donation to help us to continue to support fabulous children like those in the film. We rely on private donations, and some government support to continue and your donation will really make a difference.

Moorambilla Voices is continuing each year – just like in the film. This year in March our Artistic Director Michelle Leonard travelled across the region to deliver music and rhythm workshops in schools to over 2,000 children.

The towns participating in the 2016 program included: Dubbo, Narromine, Wellington, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Quambone, Gulargambone, Carinda, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Goodooga, Collarenebri, Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Enngonia, Wanaaring, Cobar, Nyngan, Giralambone, Warren, Trangie, Coonabarabran, Binnaway, Pilliga, Gwabegar, Baradine, Dunedoo, Mendooran, Coolah, Guerie.


Tour Map and Dates

Moorambilla Voices 2016 Skills Workshop Tour

All the workshops were “open door” – we welcomed all primary and high school students who are at school, as well as teachers, educators and community members.

On the first week of the tour, Australia’s premiere vocal ensemble
The Song Company
 came with us as well!

Coonamble Public

What happened at the workshops?
The FREE Skills Development Workshops throughout the region are designed to inspire and motivate young people to explore music through innovative new approaches. The program encourages the development of music literacy. Students are challenged and encouraged to develop their knowledge in sol-fa, notational skills and part-singing, along with body percussion based on the Keith Terry (US leader in body percussion pedagogy) model, focusing on complex polyrhythmic structures.

By the end of the sessions students are empowered to sing simple melodies in small groups or as soloists and perform multi-layered rhythmic motifs that accompany the songs.


Click here to download or view the full program:
Moorambilla Skills Tour Schedule 2016

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For more information contact Moorambilla Voices General Manager Dayle Murray, or call: 0418 228 047.





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.

Frank and Michelle

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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

Raising boys – through the power of music and dance

Creating new Australian music, immersing remote and regional children in creativity and celebrating their remarkable energy has always been the driving creative force of Moorambilla Voices – ever since its inception ten years ago in 2006. Every year young boys lap up the rare opportunity that Moorambilla presents them – to sing and dance and unleash their imaginative side.


“Most Australian country boys have little chance to express themselves creatively either through singing or dancing – and we wanted to change that. Give them an option, another way of seeing themselves and celebrate it,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

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Michelle is selecting repertoire for the boys to sing and it’s not easy! “We’ve created such a huge volume of Australian music over the past ten years, it’s actually hard to pick” says Michelle.

High on the list is some ‘classic’ Moorambilla music – ‘Baiame Ngunnhu’ by Elena Kats Chernin’s, ‘Sticks and Stones’ by Andrew Howes from 2014 and ‘La Nina’ by Luke Byrne in 2010. But that’s not all the boys have to learn.



Moorambilla has always had a deep commitment and respect for the power of the region’s Indigenous heritage. This year the program is inspired by the legends and landscape of the rare and beautiful Narran Lakes Nature Reserve.

Photograph by Noni Carroll

Photograph by Noni Carroll

While composer in residence Alice Chance’s popular Pallah-Pallah is also in the 10th Birthday repertoire, this year Alice is writing a new piece inspired by the artist’s tour to Narran Lakes. Alice works with Michelle and pianist Ben Burton, developing lyrics told to her recently by Gamilaroi Elder Aunty Brenda about a boy who took a rock from the land, and was plagued by trouble until he gave it back. She encourages the boys to add lyrics of their own. And gives them a taste of a piano accordion she bought in Belgium recently!


After morning tea, Moorambilla contemporary choreographer Jacob Williams engages the boys in dance workshops. “Even posture is a challenge for a lot of people!” laughs Jacob. “But these regional boys dance really well. They learn a lot of material in a very short time! There was a vast improvement in just 15 minutes.”

“I love collaborating with the Moorambilla boys and developing something that will showcase their strengths. Over the next couple of days they will create movement of their own.”

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Jacob grew up in Dubbo, a larger regional centre that gave him the chance to experience dance. “I had three sisters who danced before me so I was lucky I could just join their studio. Boys don’t have a lot of expectations to dance – there wasn’t many boys who were dancing while I was growing up in Dubbo.”

Jacob works on a movement that is slow and sustained. “That requires a lot of strength and discipline and technique – it becomes more obvious if you are not in unison,” explains Jacob. “It’s about moving slow and keeping energy in your arms – the intent behind the movement. By the second day, the Moorambilla boys really understood the beginnings of it.”




From his experience of Narran Lakes, Jacob divides the boys into groups of four around different themes – water from the lake, sand by the lakeside, animal bones, and birdlife. “I wanted large movements to reflect the expansiveness of the space without being too literal – I want to take an element of various concepts and put them into a new context.”

Jacob says boys are often braver than girls when faced with a new creative medium. “They will really have a go and commit – it’s our job to keep their focus.”

“Working with professional composers, dancers and musicians gives these boys an opportunity that they find almost impossible to access where they live,” says Michelle. “We are so proud of the legacy of creativity we are leaving with these young primary school  boys.”

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke


Opportunity Knocks – Iyasa!

MAXed OUT Company is back in rehearsal on Dhinawan, the MAXed OUT segment of this year’s Gala Concert.  Very, very few high schools offer music to HSC level in this region – with ensemble experience rare and opportunities to perform few.


Some of the teenagers have been practicing their contemporary and taiko choreography at home, calling out Iyasa! as they do. Some have memorized their music, some have been in school musicals, some have had support at home, some have not. One thing is clear in Baradine Memorial Hall – all of the 51 teenagers are excited to be back, seeing friends they only see twice a year, and working hard together for the highest standard of performance they can deliver.

MAXed OUT signs in with Camp Manager Dot Thompson and Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz

MAXed OUT signs in with Camp Manager Dot Thompson and Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz



Coonabarabran High School produces a musical every two years. Annabel Park had a few parts in the show this year and has been hard at work at home memorising Andrew Batt-Rawden’s piece Earth, Sky, Bird written especially for MAXed OUT. She’s practised her taiko dance moves too, so she can step up alongside the professional musicians at Moorambilla.

Annabel Park and friends

Annabel Park (second from right) greets her friends in Baradine.

Abigail Irving only has one performance opportunity this year, and “Moorambilla is it for me!” says the Warren Central School student. “I’m so looking forward to the Gala Concert. I love Moorambilla Voices because it gives me this chance to perform – it’s why I’ve done it for two years.”

Abigail Irving: "this is my only performance opportunity."

Abigail Irving: “this is my only performance opportunity.”

Working alongside professionals who are at the top of their field, and Australian composers writing world premieres for the Company, fires up the young performers. Nathan Lenord from Lightning Ridge Central School is happy to be back, and while he sang in his school musical about opals last week, he loves working with professionals like Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and the TaikOz percussionists.

Ryuji Hameda from TaikOz rehearses the fan dance with MAXed OUT. Working with professionals is a hallmark of Moorambilla.

Ryuji Hameda from TaikOz rehearses the fan dance with MAXed OUT. Working with professionals is a hallmark of Moorambilla.

Hayden Priest from Gilgandra High School and Katie Colwell from Coonamble High have also been practising every day at home. Anton Lock from TaikOz gave the children stretching exercises, to maintain upper body strength for their impressive Japanese fan dance, as well as many rhythmic and vocal exercises to practice. “I’m so looking forward to our Moorambilla concert,” says Hayden. “I love Moorambilla.”

Hayden Priest and Katie Colwell take a break in rehearsal

Hayden Priest and Katie Colwell take a break in rehearsal

Learning their music in the break is paying off. “The Gala Concert is going to be amazing,” says Katie. “I know we’re going to nail it.”


Text and photography: Lliane Clarke