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 in the Sky

So the sky

So the earth

So the bird

So the earth

The big the small

One thing within the other

Andrew Batt-Rawden, Moorambilla composer in residence, is writing fast and furiously to create his choral and instrumental piece for our senior vocal ensemble MAXed OUT this year.


Moorambilla Composer Andrew Batt-Rowden and         pianist in residence Ben Burton.



Originally an oboist, Andrew is working with a big company – the children, TaikOz percussionists and flute, conductor and Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and Jacob Williams from Queensland Ballet, to create a soundscape of parts that blend as one. It’s all coming together using the artistic elements of this year’s Moorambilla theme – the Emu in the Sky [see Emu in the Sky story].


Andrew discusses the piece with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

“The first thing I’d like to say is that we have not created this piece in a way that I am used to!,” laughs Andrew.


“For Earth Sky Bird I created chords and a melody, and then threw it into a cauldron of a various musical elements – taiko drumming, dancing, flute, traditional Japanese elements, singing bowls, as well as piano. There is very immediate and intense process here. It’s site specific and very time sensitive, and there is a lot of momentum behind it.


The text is inspired from the Indigenous legend about Seven Emu Sisters in the Sky which originates from this region. “We were lucky to have Aunty Brenda explain the legend to us and that conversation was really important in helping me understand it,” says Andrew.


Andrew works with soloists Nathan Byron and Billie Palin.


Andrew with TaikOz percussionist Anton Lock.


“The legend has many aspects to it, but the one that I particularly was inspired about was the message that people on earth shouldn’t eat too many emu eggs – it’s a metaphor for the preservation of the environment and it has a spiritual dimension as well, as it discusses the greater universe and our position within that.”

“I commissioned a poet, Chris Mansell, to write the first verse for me that the children could use to bounce off. They then wrote some incredibly deep and phenomenal text – they are awesome kids! They will do anything for the piece, even considering putting beat boxing behind difficult lyrical lines. It’s amazing working with Michelle to put this together.”

Andrew is also working with pianist in residence Ben Burton to bring the piece to life. “Ben picked up on my rhythmic and harmonic language – and he’s been improvising parts around the material I have given him, which is great,” says Andrew.


“I play whatever Andrew comes up with on the day,” laughs Ben. “Last night he wrote something at 3am and then at 9am I was trying to work out what was going on. You are creating on the spot and the end product is something you get to work out over a period – it’s experimentation and it’s great fun.”

“For the concert we will have a small chamber ensemble – piano, soprano saxophone, double bass, violin, taiko percussion, as well as 8 professional vocalists from the Song Company. Whatever I can do on the piano to help the kids get an idea of that, and what it might sound like – I try to do. I also help Andrew and Michelle figure out what’s going to work or not – or whether it makes sense.”

“You don’t normally get an opportunity to write something with the people who are actually going to be performing it,” says Ben. “Here we have 50 kids at out disposal for five days – if you try it out and it doesn’t work you try again – that’s a great thing for a composer.”


MAXed OUT Company sings and writes text with Andrew

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“I wish I had another week!” says Andrew. “But I am really excited to see the piece within the entire context and I can’t wait till September. lucky i get them by themselves before the professional musicians come in  for another day!”



So the sky

So the earth

So the bird

So the earth

The big the small

One thing within the other


Celestial blaze of the star spirit emus

The stars, a moving passage in the night 

Six sister star spirit emus lay eggs in the universe

The link of earth and Byaamai

So far so long the world of celestial silence


One sister star spirit emu lays eggs on earth

She drinks from the rivers and creeks and roams the bush

From one comes many

Take only what you need


Six in the sky the seventh too old lay eggs now joins her sisters

Within the Milky Way

Her children now roam the bush


We walk in spirit

We walk as one

We don’t be greedy

More will come


[Text: a culmination of work by Chris Mansell, Moorambilla MAXed OUT Company, and elder Auntie Brenda and artist Frank Wright]

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Dancing with Sensu – Japanese Fans

The drums of TaikOz are beating so hard you can hear them down the end of the main street of Baradine. “I knew we had a large group this year so we have planned something really special says TaikOz’s Anton Lock.


Anton has been working with the high school children for the last three days, incorporating dance, music and percussion into the plan for the Moorambilla Gala Concert. It’s his fourth year here.

“I want to challenge some of the kids rhythmically, so we’ve created a separate group for them. Last year I thought the dancing worked really well, so I wanted to push some of the kids in that area with dancing and drumming at the same time.

“I’ve always had an idea to use a Japanese dancing fan, or sensu, with these kids – it’s such a beautiful thing. A professional fan maker in Tokyo made them for us and even though they are normally elaborate designs and different colours, the white was so simple and matched beautifully with the incredible backdrop created this year, we had to use them.


Anton Lock demonstrates the traditional Japanese dance with the sensu fan.


MAXed OUT participants begin learning           hand movements.


Learning to hold strong lower body movements and delicate hand movements.

“The fan dance exposes a juxtaposition of strength and delicacy – the fan movements have a kind of feminine energy and I like that for guys as well as the girls to try and express,” says Anton. “The lower body is held strong and solid and the movement of the fan is soft – it becomes like a bird that is flying all by itself. It has a life of its own – your body is just moving with it – and you can really get enthralled by the fan itself.


“Fan dances are also traditionally performed by communities – there are local clubs in Japan that perform them and Anton is the only percussionist and dancer in Australia that can perform both these movements,” says TaikOz’s Sophie Unsen.

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“This year everyone will be dancing and also playing drums – that’s not so traditional in Japan,” says Sophie. “You tend to have to choose one form or another. Some kids favour one particular activity – like drumming – and they are not so keen on the dancing. That’s fine – everyone likes different things but here at Moorambilla we encourage everyone to everything to the best of their ability.”


Anton demonstrates the correct stance                    for taiko drumming.

The children are playing a piece written by Anton, inspired by the Emu in the Sky theme of this year’s Moorambilla Gala Concert. “What we do doesn’t have to literally represent the emu – but what we do will connect with the spirit of the emu.”

Overlaid with the taiko dance is another interpretation by Jacob Williams, the school program coordinator for Queensland Ballet.

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“Jacob and I came up with a common language,” says Anton. “While we were performing our movement with the fan, Jacob was interpreting it from a contemporary dance perspective. That was awesome. So the children get the same language throughout – they are doing interconnected dances.”

Jacob agrees. “Working with TaikOz is a lot of fun. I’ve been able to manipulate the fan dancing and slow it down and elongate all the shapes into a contemporary dance segment.”

“I have to also say that Moorambilla has been a fantastic professional development opportunity for me. I used to arrive with a set plan and work through that in order – but I am learning that it’s much more effective if artists sit down and work together. I have learnt to have faith in the artistic process – you don’t know what you are going to be doing in the first or second day. It’s amazing how fast it comes together.

“These kids are constantly surprising me with all the ideas that they are coming up with – it’s not me choreographing on them, it’s them choreographing themselves.

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“Working with these kids is different from working with other kids,” says Anton. “They have a different type of determination. When we are here they are so hungry for it and I love that. I love coming here and spending time with people in this area – staying on the farm and spending time in Baradine. When we blast the main street with drums they know we are back!”



Real Life Stories Behind the Performances

We’re gathering lots of stories about everyone’s experience at Moorambilla this year. It all culminated in powerful Festival performances! Behind that are a lot more stories – about collaboration, community building, confidence, dedication, change, friendship and a new outlook on life.

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Hey MAXed OUT Team! I wanted to tell you how well you did on Saturday night…. It was off the chain! A lot of people came up to me and said… “You must be proud?” And it’s true, I am proud but more so I was honored to share the stage with you all… as a team! Look what we achieved with two weeks’ hard work; imagine what we could do with that kind of dedication always! Peace! Anton Lock, TaikOz, Ensemble in Residence


I had the most fun this year. It really helped me realise that working with youth is what I really want to do. This year Moorambilla picked me right up and I’m feeling great and ready to explore the world and its opportunities. It’s honestly saved me from a life of procrastinating, not thinking I was good enough, excuses and regrets. Michelle, I can’t think of any way to thank you or tell you how much everything Moorambilla has done for me really means. Thanks again, I really appreciated the opportunity 🙂 Justin Welsh, Moorambilla Voices and MAXed OUT Youth Mentor


My Hunter School kids had fantastic gigs and loved hanging and jamming with MAXed OUT. They got both performance opportunities and chance to “share” their passion and skills. The initial disappointment of the change of venue from the Dandry Gorge was quickly replaced by sheer joy. My students LOVED that first concert; it really set the energy/standard/variety for the rest of the festival. It was a great way of establishing mutual respect between my gang and yours. It also gave them some conversation starters. I get the enormous energy required to make a vision reality. Having chatted with lots of the MAXed OUT kids I can see the huge impact and change you have made in their lives. Sarah Reeve, Hunter School of the Performing Arts, ensemble in residence


I have been in MAXed OUT for five years and I have never seen a new group excel this quickly. We learnt our repertoire in four days and ran it twice on the last day with no trouble. You guys did so well it makes me tear up. I hope for generations to come MAXed OUT will have the same outstanding kids as you guys! Yue Liang, MAXed OUT


The thing I love most Moorambilla is that it’s really a massive artistic vehicle – with hundreds of creative minds coming together from all over NSW to create something incredible; in the middle of nowhere. That, along with the once-a-year catch up with friends, is why I came back for my second year in 2013; and is why I can hopefully come back in 2014. Nathan Bryon, MAXed OUT soloist, Dubbo

If you don’t go to Moorambilla or see it your life is not finished when you die. It was awesome, amazing – anything that you love [is] crushed with the new memories of Moorambilla. Pat Skinner, MAXed OUT,  Trangie


I’ve been a part of the Moorambilla Festival for seven years. Michelle Leonard, the artistic director, is a teacher, mother, artist, friend, wife, conductor, and musician and still has time to be a comedian! She takes the time to travel across this third of the state to audition students from all walks of life to be a part of a project involving music, dance, fun and family. What is there not to like about Moorambilla? In lots of schools, many students are ridiculed for being so interested in music and dance. At Moorambilla you are with everyone else just like you. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. You won’t leave the festival unhappy with your experience. All of Australia, even the world, should experience Moorambilla once in their life. Taylor Nasmith, MAXed OUT, Coolah



My daughter, Sophia Hayden was involved in the girls’ choir and I cannot thank everyone involved enough for how much the experience of Moorambilla has effected her. She is a really bright girl who does well at school academically but has always struggled a little socially – she is quiet and hopeless at anything sporting which can, in a country town, be a little isolating! When she was chosen to participate in the program Sophia was so excited and rang up all of the family. I was so happy for her. That is when the changes in Sophia really began.

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She loved the camp experience. I was worried about how she would cope because she didn’t know a soul. Sophia reported that she loved everything – the singing, dancing, art, and hot chocolate around the campfire, racing the other girls to get a warm shower…. and learning so many new things. She came back from the first camp with Alice’s practise CD and didn’t stop singing. Thankfully the music was so heavenly because her younger sister and I have heard the music so many times that we know every word! Though according to Sophia we are pronouncing ‘ground’ wrong and not reaching the notes correctly! She sounds like an angel singing those beautiful songs. I can’t really believe that Michelle was able to help her sing like that.

The performances were brilliant. The concert was inspiring. The carers at camp were absolutely lovely. I don’t have a word of complaint. I’ve been in education for a long time and know how hard it can be to manage such a large group of kids – even just getting them off and on stage in some semblance of order is tricky however you guys had the transitions perfected and the way all of the children were so completely focussed on Michelle’s conducting! So impressive. During the last school holidays Sophia started writing her own songs. She’s happy and confident – I cannot thank the Moorambilla team enough for helping my little girl discover more about herself and the endless possibilities that are available to her.  Jacqueline Murtagh, Assistant Principal, Trangie Central School

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“This was an amazing and wholesome festival experience. Michelle, your passion and verve are astounding and inspirational! Thank you for inviting us! Already looking forward to next year!” Song Company, ensemble in residence


While accompanying the Moorambilla Voices children’s choir (made up of hundreds of children from around the regional area) I couldn’t help but feel quite humbled to be able to share in what was I’m sure a very special occasion for the children, many of whom who were experiencing music for the very first time.

After a very successful Gala Concert there was celebratory function (complete with fire sculptures!), which gave us the chance to mingle with our colleagues from the festival, composers and performers, professionals and amateurs, all together – in a way encapsulating the very spirit of the festival. At the ‘Buck and Bull’ we met some colourful and cheery Irish folk living in Coonamble, who were fascinated to hear what a group of young classical musicians were doing so far from Sydney! Heading home at last. Exhausted.


From the Sydney Symphony Fellowship Blog

Leichhardt Espresso Chorus is so proud to have been the choir in residence at the Moorambilla Festival for the last eight years. Every year for us is a different experience, an certainly this year a highlight was working up close with the Song Company, experiencing the MAXed OUT performances, and going back to a community we have built strong links with. Singing in so many different venues and under pressure of a completely different nature to Sydney, makes as all such a better ensemble. And there’s no better bond up than a bus ride out west! Lliane Clarke, President.


Outback Arts is clearly making a big difference with its partnerships and collaborations. And the Moorambilla Festival and Voices were extraordinary.  Warm regards, Mary Darwell, Executive Director, Arts NSW

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None of us are afraid of cameras now – we were filmed the whole time!

We’re looking forward to the ABC documentary about Moorambilla Voices children and their lives released early next year.




The Moorambilla Experience: New skills spark new ideas


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Beth Stanley was the International Education Observer at this year’s Moorambilla, attending both residential camps and Festival events. She was amazed at the learning and educational experiences the children were exposed to. We’re excited to release some of the latest pictures for this story as well.

A memorable image at the completion of the Moorambilla Voices Festival was the fire sculptures, lit outside the massive Coonamble Pavillion at the end of the Gala Concert, which signified the end of this magnificent project. As I saw the participants, with pride and tears in their eyes, I realized the impact this event had on their academic and personal life.

Fire sculptures light the sky

Fire sculptures light the sky


My role as the International Educational Observer allowed me to contemplate the fulfillment this group of children had after taking the creative risks and challenges provided by Michelle Leonard and her talented ensemble.



The Moorambilla Festival became the vehicle to apply the children’s prior and present knowledge. For instance, the application of fractions as musical notation reinforced what was been taught in maths class. The children were given a reading assignment in the evenings, to read the Aboriginal stories they were to sing about, which helped with their interpretation of the music. Writing rap poetry was also part of building the musical composition that was performed during this event.

Still, the learning experiences did not stop there!  Moorambilla Voices provided every single one of the participating youths with an opportunity to take chances and discover hidden potential and new qualities of their being. They learned it was okay to be away from home, to meet new friends, to communicate and to develop interpersonal skills, to get out of their comfort zone, and to work very hard to fulfill a common goal with the end result being the commanding festival.

All singing ensembles together on stage at the Plaza Theatre.

Moorambilla Voices, Hunter School of Performing Arts and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus with Sydney Symphony Fellowship  together on stage at the Plaza Theatre.

I was especially gratified when a MAXed OUT student, came to me to reveal that he now has a clearer vision of what he wants to do in his future. Due to his involvement in this endeavor, he is no longer afraid to pursue his dreams. Again, this demonstrates the significance this project had on influencing the life’s of young adults and providing a safety net to take risks and learn about their potential.


MAXed OUT Company on stage at the Gala Concert.

MAXed OUT Company on stage at the Gala Concert performing their dance sequence.


Taiko drummer Anton Lock performs with the children of MAXed OUT Ensemble.

The glowing embers of the fire sculpture signified the end of this years 2013 Moorambilla Festival.  Yet, for the participants, it also signified the beginning of a lifelong voyage with newly acquired skills that should help in both their educational and personal endeavors.


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About Beth Stanley: “For the past 36 years I have had the pleasure to work as an educator in the US.  After graduating from Buffalo State University in New York State,  with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Family and Consumer Science, I applied for the opportunity to teach in Australia. At the last minute the program lost its funding and I then started my teaching career in Baltimore, Maryland until 2012.  I advanced through the system starting as a high school instructor, to a department head, to finally a deputy principal in a large and nationally ranked high school.  I immigrated to Australia in January of this year, and received my casual teaching credentials.  I welcomed the opportunity to be a member of the supervisory team at Moorambilla Voices to learn, observe, share in this valuable experience.”

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.

ABC Western Plains broadcast at Moorambilla Festival

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.”


For more information go to

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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