Indigenous singers forge new ground

Australia’s ranks of classically trained Indigenous singers will grow substantially this week, with the graduation of three Aboriginal men from the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts.

Fellow student Ben McKeown will also graduate with a Master of Fine Art on Thursday, and become the VCA’s first Indigenous Valedictorian.

Deborah Cheetham, the head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the VCA and Australia’s only professional Indigenous opera singer, said graduation was a time of celebration for the group.

"Don and Tiriki are the first Indigenous students to graduate in classical vocal music," she said.’
Mrs Cheetham said their achievements shine a light on Aboriginal excellence, providing positive role models for the next generation of Aboriginal tertiary students.

"Both men commenced their studies at the VCA following selection for the Wilin Centre’s 2008 Spring Intensive program, which included master classes, vocal coaching and ensemble learning.

"Indigenous Australians have long been under represented in the powerful world of opera.

"Developing a career in the opera is a long, slow process. It is an elite pursuit. But that isn’t reason enough to prevent Indigenous men and women from forging a professional career."

The talents of the three performers are already being celebrated:

* Tiriki Onus (Yorta Yorta nation, VIC) last year won the inaugural Harold Blair Opera Scholarship through the Melbourne Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust, and will reprise the role of Bill in the Perth opening of Pecan Summer in September before travelling to Uganda for an artist-in-residence choral performance.’·

* Don Bemrose (Gungarri nation, QLD) earned an Opera Australia School Company placement and has now been cast in the Opera Australia production of Magic Flute.

* Zoy Frangos (Wemba Wemba nation, NSW/VIC/SA) is currently performing in Sydney as the lead’s understudy (and an ensemble member) in the big-budget musical, An Officer And A Gentleman.

Visual artist Ben McKeown (Wirangu nation, SA) has had his work displayed in the National Gallery of Australia, State Library of Victoria and the United Nations Geneva Collection Geneva, among others.