July 2nd, 2015

When I was a little girl my first best friend was Katy who was my age and lived a couple of houses down the avenue from me. We played together in our street, and in the quarry and the creek. She was born in Hornsby Hospital but her parents were from Sweden and when we were 9 years old, her parents decided to move back to Sweden. I remember the day they left very vividly. Back then they were the only people in Killara who drove a Volvo. I remember watching their black Volvo drive up the street for the last time from my brother’s bedroom window and feeling my world had come to an end. Everyone else was on the street waving good bye but I was too upset. Any way, at that age I decided I really wanted to go to Sweden. I have had many Swedish friends since, including Peo, who visits us almost every year. And Katy has visited Australia a few times since as well. But it took me till this year to finally get to Sweden. It actually felt very important. Keith and I stayed with Katy and her family and her parents visited and it felt a bit like a family reunion. They were all so warm and for the first time Katy and I spoke of that day they left. She said she told her father to stop the car when they were driving away because i wasn’t there. We both cried talking about it. Childhood friends are important but it possibly takes till older age to be able to really talk about that. Any way, Keith and I had a lot of fun with Katy and her family in Goteborg. We got on so well and I found myself feeling sad again that they weren’t nearby as we would still get along really well. But that is life. We also stayed with Peo and he took us to Stockholm, which is amazing. Then Keith and I hopped on a plane and flew to the north of Sweden, into the Arctic Circle where at this time of year it never gets dark. We have now spilled over into the north of Norway. It is just so beautiful up here, and the most ridiculous amounts of water everywhere. We have done quite a lot of walking. It is cold but I bought a great jumper and have been warm enough. Any way, tomorrow we begin our long journey home with a ferry trip, and then 5 flights before we finally get back to Alice, Such a different environment here, but also the feeling of wilderness and nature really in your face, very unlike Germany. Looking forward to home now and my own bed and seeing family and friends. And boy do I miss Nina!

what singing in heaven is actually like

June 22nd, 2015

i talked the other day about the sublime experience of watching the women singing in cathedrals. well the last day of our trip together got me through the pearly gates although unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to stay.

We attended a reception for the Choir by at the Weisbaden Rat House.I kid you not Germans call the Town Hall the Rathaus. I think it would be a better term for Parliament House in Australia but anyway I like the name. After the reception we were told there was a red church around the corner from the Rat House we should go and have a look at as it was just about to close. I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too hard to find this red church. I turn the corner and there’s this church (red) about the size of the MCG. I figure this must be it as you wouldn’t fit another church in for about three blocks.

We go into this little red church which I think is actually physically connected to heaven vertically as there wouldn’t be room between heaven and the roof to fit anything. So just as normal the women say lets sing here. Now this little red church has had other notables like Bach and Brahms twiddling away so they’re not too fussy about who sings or twiddles here.

notwithstanding our proximity to heaven a wave of selfishness overcomes me and I yell out “Can i sing with the Tenors”. Please Mr Stuart would that be allright. Mr Stuarts wife also decides that the sopranos need company.

We take our place in this choir for an informal singalong with the Dean of the Cathedral watching and cheering. Hes a nice fella who told us all at the reception about a boyhood boomerang he was given that wouldn’t come back when he threw it although it went through windows quite well. I think being able to share such a deep personal setback with a group of Aboriginal women was the perfect tonic for him not kicking us out of his cathedral.

Anyway I take my place alongside the choir tenors and we sing in this place that has the acoustics designed for heaven. It was just amazing. We were all having such a good time and I wished Bach was here to singalong too. Wow what a finish to the most amazing trip with this crazy group of people.


June 20th, 2015

Well,we left the choir behind in frankfurt newrly a week ago. So sad the goodbyes. It was a life changing experince for us travelling with those amazing women. But we,ve been on the go since we left them so not much space to process it all. The story of my life really. We left the choir and went to berlin and keith got sick. Went to the jewish museum and berlin wall memorials and caught up with merran,s son ned for dinner. Then to luneborg and a couple of days with helen, which were great. Also went to bergen belsen concebtration camp. Very interesting to see how germany engaging its history. Now incopenhagen and i got sick. We both have just had colds but very annoying. Any way, we spent most of today in thi huge hippy community. They took over an abandoned military base in the 70s and turned it into a wonderful organic and playful space.. visually so rich. Tomorrow, sweden, al being well. Travelling around on trains with a eurail pass, which all works pretty well.

Mixing with Windsbach Boys Choir

June 11th, 2015

Well, in a couple of hours we are leaving Neuendetttelsau for Weisbaden. The women have all been packed and ready for the last couple of hours. We never have to hurry them along. I think they are worried they will get left behind.
Lat night was pretty interesting. We went to Windsbach and had the privelege of sitting in the rehearsal of the Winsdach Boys Choir, which is meant to be one of the top Boys choirs in the world. We heard them rehearse and then they invited the women to sing for them. It was a fascinating meeting of 2 totally different styles of choir. The Young German Boys who were being pushed to perfection by a very exacting choir master, their voices very pure and ethereal, and then the more soulful depth of the older aborginal women we are travelling with. Neither choir could really imagine the lives of the other, just so different. Morris, who conducts the women is a pretty passionate and exacting choir master himself, but compared this Windsbach guy with the Boys, he is relatively easy going. I think the women were all quite astounded to see such an exacting conductor. It was a bit frustrating as the boys would start singing and it sounded pretty amazing to me and quickly the conductor would stop them and bang his head and prance around making all sorts of crazy gestures. Any way, at the end he did finally let them sing a complete song for us. I kept thinking what an honour to be invited inoto this practice space to see a world famous choir doing its Thing. The doors that open when you travel with an aborginal choir. I loved the Sound of the boys but I prefer our women who seem to hold so much more life in their voices.
The day before, a small Group of us caught the Train to Nurenburg. We didn’t manage to get to the court house where the famous Trials happened as that was a bit further out of town and the women were keen to shop. They just love Shopping!! We did go to the Museum though. It was interesting when the women were confronted with some ancient Skeletons on Display. One woman cried. She told me she was really sad for this Person who had died in Europe about 7,000 years ago but whose remains had not been left in peace in the ground. We ahd a big talk about this. Keith and I also managed to duck away while they were buying so much stuff tot ake back to Family, and we went inot Abert Durer’s house. I’ve always loved this gy and it was great to see his old home and Studio and how ahe made all the paints. We saw some of his art in the Museum as well. Soem fo the aborigianl woemn have been painting at tiems on the trip. We find places they can sit on a sheet and paint. We’re going to be donating a bunch of their art to the place we are staying just before we leave.
Any way, best go find soemthing useful to do. ThereƤ’s always things to do but finding the right tiem and place to inset yoursefl is a bit of an art I never feel I titaly get right but things are all going OK.
Any way, would love some News from home if anyone else would leave a reply or do a blog!

singing in heaven

June 8th, 2015

The choir has now sung in a few churches. Its interesting that its is one of the things you can do in big fancy churches the world over. You turn up with a group of Aboriginal people in a cathedral and just start singing. No permission required. When its this choir everyone in the cathedral stops what they are doing, listens and then cries.

The otherworldly sound of these women singing in these vaulted buildings is an amazing experience. It is a juxtaposition or absurdity and sublimeness all at once. They dont care they just want to sing wherever. A church a bus a plane, the street one of the worlds most famous cathedrals. Lets just sing our praise to God. These women have been teaching me alot about how unquestioning faith works.

No matter where they sing i cry but hearing them in these cathedrals is another thing again. The only word i can think of which isnt a word I pull out that often is ‘heavenly’. Its sublimely beautiful and delivered by people with such humility, faith, groundedness and generosity it shames me.

Ive sometimes said that if I made it into heaven I was not really keen to spend eternity singing christian hymns but they have made me rethink. If they are running the music department in heaven it might just be ok.


June 8th, 2015

Well, we are now back in peaceful Neuendetelslau after a pretty intense 5days in Stuttgart attending the Kirchentag there. I had never heard of the Kirchentag so assume None of you have either. It is a massive Christian gathering that happens every 2 years in Germany. There are apparently over 100,000 People attending, and Speakers including the German PM and Kofi Anan, along with some pretty impressive theologians and academics.ANd every Event had a Musical component too, so engaging both right and left brain. The choir was singing at some of the Workshops and also did a performance of their own. We were all camped out in a large Stuttgart School sleeping 10 to a room on air mattrresses and showering in large communal showering rooms. I have to say I was a bit stressed about it at first as the women were grumbling and I didn’t know how it would go. However, after Initial shyness, we all dealt with the communal shower rooms and somehow managed to sleep on the air mattresses and adjust to all our different night noises. Keith has this theory that often the more uncomfortable you are the more fun you have, or something like that. I am not a total subscriber to this theory but can see a modicum of truth in it. Any way, it was a bit true for this experience because we were sharing the School with people from many other countries, including other musicians from Ukraine, Indonesia and Africa. On the last night everyone was up making Music and singing and dancing till 1:30am. There was a Kind of fun competition with different groups showing off different Songs and Dances. Mostly no one could understand the different languages being spoken but communicated through Music. It was a wonderful evening. One Ukrainin woman who could speak English got in my ear about the history of her Country, which moved me. And then there was the Kirchentag. I don’t know how to begin t tell you about this amazing conference. We only touched the tip of it going to sessions where English was spoken or interpreters offered. But what I heard was so encouraging to me. It was the church really trying to grapple with the issues of our time such as climate Change, Migration, multicultralism, sexual diversity, all in a Spirit of openness. However, what was most moving was that the conference was in Stuttgart and I never knew, but just after the end of WWII (1945) church leaders got together in Stuttgart from all over and the German churches came up with this declaration of guilt for failing to resist and protect poeple from the effects of Nazism. Any way, at the conference, this declaration was often referred to. And the choir sang at a church Service where there were many thoughtful and deeply moving refelctions on this declaration. You could hear German people struggling with their history, and how it affected them. They spoke of the shame they carried and also a sense of needing to hold aspects of this Story as a way of preventing repeats of this Happening again. It was so powerful. The Lutheran Pastor travelling with us also got up and spoke A bit about Australia’s shame in relation to our Treatment of aboriginal people. This has changed how I feel about being in Germany. I had not really been that interested in coming here and I think the history of this Country was the major part of that. But now I feel I am glad I came as it is helpful to be in a Country with a shameful past, as Australia has, and witness how the church in this Country is trying to honestly come to grips with this. I know what I saw at Kirchentag does not speak for all the German church, let alone all of Gerany, and a woman I spoke to after the service of refelction on the Stuttgart declaration said she was pleasantly surprised by how many Germans actually came to it, so it is not as though all is good, but there are real attempts to deal with their history going on here and it is powerful and made me feel there was much to be learend by Australain churches here. I also reflected on the fact that the last Country I visited was Israel. Keith and I managed to get to a few interesting Workshops by ourselves as well. Any way, we are now back in more comfortabel lodgings and I had a really good sleep last night on a proper mattress and a shower in prviate and we are all Feeling rather releived. We are here for a couple more days and then off to Wesbaden. Mzy main Job now is get lots of washing done and the fact that it is raining doesn’t help. Any way, all is good and I still am deeply moved when I hear the choir sing and they tell me thay are still loving singing. Part of the Performance involves screing film form central Australia and I feel a twinge of homesickness when I see it and I htink of you all and it feels good to know I will be happy to go home, but meanwhile a few more adventures to come.

In downtown Neuendetelsau

May 31st, 2015

Well, we have survived the first week of our journey with no major mishaps. All the women are still alive and as well as they usually are, although some struggling with culture shock I would say. Our 3 doctors and one nurse seem to managing everything just fine. The choir had their first proper Performance last night and it was just wonderful and people told us they cried. The choir were even singing on the street after the Performance as people kept wanting more. They sound wonderful. The other part I really enjoy is that as we get around on plane or bus or sit in a Dining room, the women will often just start singing. My life at the Moment is enveloped in Choral Music and I like it very much. I Keep wondering how my life turned that somehow I am here with These women. It all feels pretty Special. Although it is also hard work. Getting everyone’s washing done has been consuming much of my time and energy over the past couple of days. Keith has been trying to manage their finances. The choir have particiapated in a few church Services in These amazing old German churches with the best accoustics out. Germany is very pretty and the people we have met have all been wonderful. However, I can’t say the place really touches me. The towns feel like toy towns and everything feels so ordered and controlled, nothing wild and untouched, everything groomed and pruned to within an Inch of its life. Not really my style, but interesting to experience. We are all eating together and every meal is mostly bread and meat and no wine. I haven’t had a drink since the plane and I can’t say I feel any better for it. Writing this blog is a bit of an effort as <i ma trying to negotiate a German Keyboard where things are in different places, including some of the letters adn every word gets underlined for speell check. So you will just have to deal with all the mistakes.

Germany or bust

May 29th, 2015

The Melbourne leg was pretty busy but it was great to see this mob in action. But all along getting them to germany has been occupying my mind. Many are old most haven’t traveled and certainly not overseas but in the midst of that one was already in Italy as the start assist at the Venice Biennale. So no simple answer.

Check in in Melbourne was pretty crazy. Queues a mile long but 3.5 hours i should be long enough. The check in process had a queue a mile long and after half an hour we negotiated a special queue and that speed it up but 50 minutes was gone. Then the security which was a bit quicker till one of the party got to the other side a couldn’t find their passport. All hell broke lose security people everywhere. Going thru everything. The choir member is in her late seventies and was clear she had it going into security. We couldn’t find it anywhere and the others had moved into customs. As a lst ditch we yell out to the others in customs and one of the others says yes i acidentally picked it up. Happy end but another 50 minutes.
finally the customs with queses out the door. Slowly move forward and the eventually negaotiate the jump queue process. We make it to the gate just as its boarding. For all of the hassle and all the fear they had it was all pretty good really.

Spend the day in Dubai. See the worlds tallest building and then h op e we can get everyon e out of bed by 4.30 to catch an 8.00am flight to frankfurt. i start to check on rooms at 4.45 am to chase everyone up. Get no response from anyone. This is going to be messy i decide. I take my bags downstairs before i do a more concerted door bashing exercise. Walk out of the lift and everyone is downstairs and checked out.

These women are the most amazing learners. They watch once then they know what to do. This is just the most amazing group of people.

On the Dubai leg one drunk man says to the women what are you cunts doing on this plane. The cabin atendant says to the man very loudly and publically that if he doesnt apologise he will be arrested in Dubai. He writes a letter of apology. The things Aboriginal deal with on a daily basis.

On both the Dubai leg and the Frankfurt leg they sing to the passengers to rapturous applause. The sound is ethereal.

Were now in germany and people are getting their energy back. They were just amazing. Some said that theywere really scared. I was a bit scared too but we all made it. So much joking and laughter on the way through.

First concert tomorrow. I

Blogging again for Germany trip

May 26th, 2015

Well, hello blog world again! Keith and I thought we should probably make a bit of a blog record of our trip to Germany with the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir. If anyone is interested,there is a bit about this choir and the trip on a webpage : grweb.org/desertchoir2015. We have the great privilege to be travelling with this choir in a support role that we have yet to quite figure out just what it means. So far it has largely meant making sure the women’s choir robes and songbooks are in the right place at the right time and finding the toilets.
We all piled onto a plane from Alice Springs to Melbourne last Saturday. Only one choir member didn’t make it. Now down to 32! Getting passports for these women had been a huge achievement! In Melbourne they have sung at 3 church events, at the Melbourne museum, at the ABC, and at the Richmond AFL football club. They have an amazing sound -it really can make you weep! When we heard them in the ABC recording studio, it was just such a pure sound, the harmonies sublime, I wept. These women mainly sing old hymns in Pitantantjara and Western Aranda languages. Some of our friends have been troubled that the women sing Christian hymns and are going to Germany at the invitation of the Lutherans who had sent missionaries to Central Australia many years back. There is some idea here that these women are brainwashed victims of colonisation returning to the colonisers. I can understand this way of thinking and it is hard to concisely respond. All I know is that many central Australian aboriginal people hold onto their traditional spiritual beliefs and also value the Christian stories. Their experience with the missions is mixed – some terrible oppression, to be sure, but many also remember with deep fondness many missionaries who, unlike most white fellas today, actually lived for long periods of time in Aboriginal communities and built very deep relationships with the people and actually did a lot to help preserve their culture and language and protect them from massacres. It is a complex picture which I think is important not to simplify one way or the other. What I do know is that these women are so excited and proud to be on this tour. They are singing the songs they picked and told Morris, the conductor about. They are showing enormous dignity and to define them as brainwashed victims would be insulting to them. I am going to think more about this as we go. Any way, time to pack up again and head for the airport………

Thank you Nelson Mandela

December 6th, 2013

This poem below was read by Nelson Mandela every day for 27 years years while he was in jail. This was the message that sustained his spirit.

This year Morris Stuart wrote some music for this poem that our choir in Alice Springs sang during our season. Morris also sent a recording to Nelson Mandela in September. I am not sure that he would have ever heard it as I think his condition probably would not have allowed it. Whatever, it was a small offer of connection and engagement of this remarkable man. For me he is the most influential public figure of my conscious adult life. I want to be like Jesus but Nelson would do.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

And then there is also Eric Bibb’s beautiful 1999 tribute

Nelson Mandela gave us a gift
Worth more than all the diamonds and gold in Africa
Nelson Mandela gave us a gift
Courage and vision cannot be imprisoned
His wisdom and love showed us all

Nelson Mandela, tell them what you’ve seen
They’re blind and they’re afraid of the light in their own hearts
Nelson Mandela, help us all to see
Courage and vision cannot be imprisoned
Only love can unite us all

Mandela is free
Mandela is free

Yes he’s now free