Glorious!

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Thursday 5 April 7:30pm at Frankston Arts Centre – 110 minutes, including interval

Directed by Denny Lawrence, HIT Production’s Glorious! is set in 1944 New York and focusses on the relationship between Florence Foster Jenkins and her piano accompanist Cosme McMoon.

McMoon, played by highly versatile and engaging actor Joshua Sanders, begins and ends the play with thought-provoking soliloquy, showing the audience just how much his experiences with Jenkins changes him. McMoon starts out as a polite but cynical musician, desperate for Jenkins’ job opportunity in order to keep food on the table. By the end of the show, McMoon has changed to a sincere, loyal friend and colleague who comes to understand and appreciate Jenkins for the qualities that her fans love: her overwhelming generosity, her dear love of music, her flamboyant personality, and her tenacity for performing despite her lack of singing talent.

Diana McLean effortlessly conveys these before-mentioned qualities in her role as Florence Foster Jenkins. McLean cleverly combines slightly off key, pseudo-operatic singing and funny antics with innocent behaviour to give the impression that Jenkins thinks she sounds brilliant. Backed by Sanders’ accomplished singing, piano-playing and hilarious facial contortions and Kaarin Fairfax’s very funny performances of cantankerous housemaid, Maria, and Mrs Verrinder-Gedge, Glorious! had the audience in stitches from start to finish.

When Mrs Verrinder-Gedge cracks the façade created by Jenkins supporters and turns up to the Society Ball to tell Jenkins how bad she really sounds, the generosity and tenacious spirit of Jenkins is validated. Despite the awful things that Mrs Verrinder-Gedge says, Jenkins looks past her mean-spiritedness and gifts her with a bottle of sherry because every Society Ball attendee gets one. The audience gets a glimpse into the complex character of Jenkins, who may indeed know that she isn’t a great singer but is not going to let that stop her from being who she is and doing what she loves. ‘People may say that I can’t sing, but no-one can ever say that I didn’t sing’, says Jenkins, and along the way we see that her indomitable spirit and the loving way she treats others is what matters the most.

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Play written by Peter Quilter

Diana McLean – Florence Foster Jenkins

Joshua Sanders – Cosme McMoon

Kaarin Fairfax – Dorothy/Maria/Mrs Verrinder-Gedge

Christine Harris – Producer

Denny Lawrence – Director

Jacob Battista – Set, costume and lighting designer

Sophie Woodward – Set, costume and lighting designer

 

Glorious! The story of Florence Foster Jenkins

 

Upon discovering that Frankston Arts Centre is showing Glorious! next month, a play about the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, I immediately booked tickets. I recall how much I loved the 2016 film Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The biographical film is set in the 1940s and is based on the heart-warming and funny story of a wealthy New York heiress who becomes well-known for her off-pitch voice but is determined to sing anyway.

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Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant feature in the 2016 movie Florence Foster Jenkins

In Glorious! Australian actress Diana McLean, who is best-known for The Young Doctors, Number 96 and All Saints, stars as Florence. The play was premiered in 2005 and its success has taken it over the world to over two million audience members.  Nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2005, the production has been described by The Independent as “infectiously joyous … At once hysterically funny and strangely moving”. There is nothing quite like live theatre to captivate the senses and convey the nuances of a good story.

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Diana McLean stars as Florence Foster Jenkins in the hit play Glorious! showing at Frankston Arts Centre on Thursday 5 April 

Much has been written about the life of Florence Foster Jenkins and yet, the details seem to vary depending on who is telling the story. What is certain is that young Florence Foster was born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family in 1868, and when her father died in 1909, she was left with an inheritance that gave her the freedom to pursue her love of singing in New York. She used her finances to support local opera companies and exclusive clubs, and funded her own concerts, including her sell-out performance at Carnegie Hall just days before her death at age 76.

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The real Florence vs Meryl Streep

Florence contracted syphilis, an incurable disease at the time, which precipitated an end to her marriage to Frank Thornton Jenkins. Despite this, she kept the Jenkins name throughout her life.  In New York, Florence met actor St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager and with which she had an obscure life-long partnership.

 

It is thought that Bayfield, amongst others, gave Florence a false sense of confidence in her abilities and protected her from public criticism. Despite her inability to pitch notes correctly, sing rhythmically or sustain musical phrases, it remains a contentious issue whether Florence realised how badly she sang or whether she realised that her audiences’ enjoyment was in comedy-value rather than appreciation. Florence’s poor health is purported to be a contributing factor to her lack of perception, but it is possible that being ill simply made her all the more determined to do what she loved despite what others thought of her.

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Diana McLean plays Florence Foster Jenkins in Glorious!

Florence Foster Jenkins loved singing with her heart and soul. Her story appeals to the heart of each of us who enjoys pursuing an activity in which we have little talent. It is the expression and participation amongst others with shared interest that is important, giving a sense of joy, empowerment and satisfaction. If Florence did know how bad she sounded and yet sang anyway for the pure joy of performing, she leaves a legacy far greater than being known for poor vocal skills. The story of Florence Foster Jenkins teaches us to never let a lack of talent stop us from pursuing our dreams.

I look forward to seeing Diana McLean bring to life the hilarity and eccentricities of Florence Foster Jenkins in Glorious!

Glorious! is showing at the Frankston Arts Centre on Thursday 5th April at 7:30pm.

Book your tickets here

 

 

Mornington Peninsula’s Coastal Walk

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Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is upon us. It is the time when many Australians take a holiday to enjoy the warmth of Summer. We are drawn out of doors and away from our usual occupations to play in the sand, swim in the salty water and walk through the bushy foreshore areas of our vast coastline.

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The stretch of coast between Cape Shanck and Point Nepean on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is a particularly stunning and rugged area popular with holiday-makers and locals who come to traverse the ‘The Coastal Walk’ track. This holiday season, I have walked several sections of the 30km track with my loved-ones, and have been uplifted and amazed by the beauty of the views and beaches. There are many access points along the way with areas to park your car, which makes it easy to walk the parts of the track that suit you best. Cape Shanck to Bushranger Bay; Fingal Picnic Area to Fingal- and Gunnamatta Beaches; No. 16 Carpark to Bridgewater Bay and Koonya Beach were amongst my favourites.

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Imagine my delight in discovering that Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery are currently showing an exhibition called ‘Coast: the artist’s retreat’, featuring visual art documenting the area along The Coastal Walk. The exhibition is an inspiring mix of media ranging from painted landscapes to sculptural installations and digital video. Several landscape paintings on display are from the 1860s and -70s when the British colonies were yet to be federated and Australia was being overrun by bushrangers and those lured by the promise of finding gold. Stirring curiosity about Australia’s colonial beginnings, paintings such as Eugene von Guerard’s “Tea trees near Cape Shanck, Victoria” 1865, provide clues about the history of the area and perceptions of the landscape at the time. Guerard’s use of soft lighting, curvature of the vegetation, and the inclusion of a fox and a pigeon-shaped bird in the foreground indicates that the artist is trying to bridge the gulf between the familiar home landscapes in Europe with those of rugged Australia.

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Eugene von Guerard’s “Tea trees near Cape Shanck, Victoria” 1865

Guerard’s soft, rounded image of Cape Shanck is dramatically contrasted by Kerrie Poliness digital video artwork “Time to go, open air seascape painting exhibitions” 2017 and photographic still image of the same area, “Seascape painting exhibition: black, blue, orange, green, Cape Shanck”.

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Kerrie Poliness “Seascape painting exhibition: black, blue, orange, green, Cape Shanck” 2017

There is no hiding the hard, rocky edges of the landscape in Poliness’s works, and the way that the coloured diamonds interact with the natural environment seems to increase the impression of desolation in the landscape.

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Instead of adding shapes to the landscape as Poliness does, artist GW Bot looks into the forms of landscapes and sees abstract shapes that she uses to create ‘glyphs’. These lively shapes, reminiscent of human and animal forms, are part of the artist’s own visual language representing Sphinx Rock at Sorrento.

 

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GW Bot “Cliff Glyphs – south of Sphinx Rock, back beach, Sorrento” 2017

Sorrento’s popularity as a holiday location attracted artist John Perceval to stay at the beach house of his friends Anne and Tom Purves in 1957. Paintings from this visit, “Ocean beach Sorrento” and “Quarantine boundary, Portsea”, are striking in their vivacity. Thick application of paint in scratchy, circular motions convey turbulence of the water. Dabs of white, blues, reds and greens over earthy background colours give the paintings a unique sense of liveliness.

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John Perceval “Ocean beach Sorrento” 1957
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Image from Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail with sign featuring John Perceval “Quarantine boundary, Portsea” 1957

An image of Perceval’s painting “Quarantine boundary, Portsea” is displayed near London Bridge as part of the Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail. Fourteen images of works by a range of different artists, each inspired by the landscapes of this area, are displayed along this trail for the public to enjoy.

There are so many wonderful natural and artistic delights on the Mornington Peninsula that I have yet to explore them all. Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail and the untrod parts of The Coastal Walk are definitely on my bucket list for the next holiday period. May you be inspired to seek out this breathtaking part of the Mornington Peninsula!

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Matthias Schlubeck’s Magic Pan Flute

Sunday 12 November at 2pm

Matthias Schlubeck – pan flute

Joachim Neugart – piano and organ

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There is no better way to spend a sunny Spring afternoon than soaking up the glorious music of pan flute and pipe organ within the historic surrounds of St John’s Anglican Church in Flinders.

St John’s Flinders is a well-known venue hosting the annual Peninsula Summer Music Festival in January and attracts world-class musicians throughout the rest of the year. The most recent concert at St John’s brought musicians Matthias Schlubeck and Joachim Neugart all the way from Germany for a five-concert tour throughout Australia. Neugart is currently the choirmaster at the Basilica of St Quirinus in Neuss. Schlubeck is one of the world’s leading pan flutists, having graduated with distinction from the highest degree in music at the Music College in Wuppertal, launching his career as a world-renowned soloist and recording artist.

phoca_thumb_l_schlubeck13-03-lSchlubeck delighted and amazed Flinders audiences with baroque and classical repertoire beautifully adapted and played on pan flute, accompanied by Neugart on the Bechstein grand piano and William Anderson 1874 pipe organ. Many of the works were originally written for oboe (Albinoni’s Concerto Op. 9 No. 2), flute (Mozart’s Andante from Concerto in D and Rutter’s Suite Antique) and choir (Rheinberger’s Abendlied), and yet Schlubeck was able to play each and every note of these complex and demanding works with great virtuosity, artistry and finesse.

Schlubeck’s self-composed work Deep Colours, written specifically for pan flute, explored special sounds and colours not overtly shown in the classical pieces, including flutter tonguing (rolling the tongue whilst blowing to create a unique vibration through the tone of a note) and resonant tonal ‘pops’ made with the open mouth cavity to create a kind of pizzicato (the sound that stringed instruments make when they pluck a string).

Accompanying Schlubeck on the grand piano with seemingly effortless musical flair, Joachim Neugart also brought the church pipe organ to life with two virtuosic solos, Louis Vierne Carillon de Longpont and Johann Sebastian Bach Toccata in D Minor.

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Together Schlubeck and Neugart made a vibrant team that was a pleasure to witness. Apart from the magical virtuosity and skill of these two musicians together, what truly captured the audience’s heart was Schlubeck’s personable nature, sense of humour and passion for the pan flute. These qualities enabled him to further engage with the audience through the music itself and also by explaining some of the principles of pan flute playing, saying a few words about the history of the instrument and making people laugh with the occasional musical joke.

After the concert, Schlubeck was genuinely pleased to discuss his artform with those  lingering in the church. Schlubeck shared the story of how and why he began playing the pan flute. He spoke of how, at the age of 5, when the other school children were learning the recorder, his primary school teacher found a pan flute and began learning how to play it so that he could teach Schlubeck. Because Schlubeck was born without hands and forearms, it was an instrument that he could play. It is remarkable to think that if Schlubeck had been born with arms like most others, he may never have had the opportunity and impetus to pursue playing the pan flute, developing into the musical wonder he is today. It is a blessing to have met him and experienced the magic of his fine music. Matthias Schlubeck is truly an inspiration.

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Peninsula SMF2018

Visit these websites for more information:

Matthias Schlubeck – schlubeck.com

Peninsula Summer Music Festival – peninsulafestival.com.au

 

Thank you to Bendigo Bank who kindly supported this event

Australian Dance Theatre: Be Your Self (redux)

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Friday 8 September 2017, 8pm at Frankston Arts Centre main theatre

Conceived, directed and choreographed by Garry Stuart

Images courtesy of Australian Dance Theatre

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Photo by Chris Herzfeld

If you could go on a journey inside your own body, what would it look like and what would it sound like?

Australian Dance Theatre’s production of Be Your Self sets the tone of this journey with a bare, white stage, white clothing and rumbling drones. A woman, actor Cathy Adamek, begins narrating an unbelievably detailed and unrelenting medical-book description of the slow motion of a single dancer’s leg. The audience cannot help but think, “How can so many complex processes and body parts be engaged in this one simple movement?” From here, the audience is taken from this cold, clinical space of the ‘operating theatre’ on the stage, and deep into the familiar, yet alien landscapes of the inner human body.

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Confronted with a soundscape to match, the dancers throw themselves into organised successions of movements emulating heartbeats, laboured breathing, squelching and squeezing of liquid, electrical impulses and stiff creaking noises. Many of the movements are rapid and sharp, followed by moments of stillness like the pulsing of blood or convulsing of cells deep within the body.

As the soundtrack begins to introduce coughing, muffled speech and traffic noises, the audience is made aware of distant happenings outside the body. There is a vague notion that the life within the body is separate from the life going on outside. The narrator returns to the stage with another impressive recitation of biological concepts and lists the inner parts that make an ‘I am’: “I am 6 trillion brain cells…I am my urine, my faeces, my sweat.” The recitation combined with the music suggests that the body has awareness of itself, and the dancers twist and contort on the stage floor in response.

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The rough, almost violent movement of the dancers at times, is enhanced by the use of cold blue light and the increasing variety of hard, digital pulsing sounds and metallic, industrial machine sounds. The human body is portrayed as having qualities of a machine with the sharp, angular dancing in this section. Violent coughing, gasping and choking become part of the pulsing dance. It is repulsive at times, but is somehow familiar and induces an overwhelming fascination of the body and the complex processes happening within it. It is mesmerising.

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The dance becomes increasingly hypnotic as it evolves into the biology of feelings and sexuality. Motion is made against the poetic recitation of biological chemicals that generate human feelings, and stilted, pulsing, ‘micro movement’ of the dancers induces a rhythmic, entrancing effect. This robotic motion loosens up as rave music becomes more melodic, and sexual pelvic thrusts change to fluid, emotional expressions of embrace and care. As the dance becomes an expression of social dynamics, cultural expression, looking, observing, fighting, dancing for joy and working together as a group, there is a sense of arriving at the ‘real’ qualities of the human being, not just the mechanics and chemicals of physiology. A spotlight then shines out into the crowd drawing the audience into the experience, merging mind and body in the medium of light.

The lighting and music in this production is simple, yet highly effective. It firmly grounds the brilliant performances of the dancers whose displays of strength, resilience and stamina are as engaging as their artistry and expression. Although the word ‘redux’ explains that this show has been distilled from the original dance theatre production, all seven of the dancers are of muscular body types suited to this incredibly demanding routine. Be Your Self is a 60 minute adrenaline ride, which clearly engaged the large proportion of young people in the audience who cheered and hooted in appreciation at the end.

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The abstract nature of the performance, Be Your Self and the marketing team at Frankston Arts Centre successfully drew in a high percentage of audience members, particularly new audiences, engaged in the immediacy of self-discovery. Naturally,  this theme of self-exploration, coupled with the vibrancy and youth of the dancers, caters to the interests of young people in the community, and generous ticket prices, enabled all to attend.

Why is it important to get young people interested in the arts? The arts provide a unique avenue for exploring what it means to be human. They allow people to witness complex artistic expression in which they can relate the difficulties and joys of their lived and felt experiences. Watching a master dancer or other artist can give someone a sense of shared emotional connection and a positive and creative outlet to place the feelings that nothing else can express. These qualities enable young people to develop balanced emotional states and resilience, engage in culture that connects them positively to others and fosters a pathway towards a successful life and a positive, creative contribution to society. The arts, especially performances like Australian Dance Theatre’s production of Be Your Self, provide an imaginative and engaging space for people of all ages, but also, particularly for the young, to explore who they are.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre, Monday 10 July at 7:30pm

Lior and orchestra

Westlake – Flying Dream

Westlake – Spirit of the Wild, featuring oboist Diana Doherty

Westlake/Lior – Compassion

Australian Youth Orchestra conducted by Nigel Westlake

Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra erupted with the energy and optimism of young professional musicians intent on sharing their artistry with the world. Indeed, each of the three pieces in the concert program explored three significant issues that concern young people today: finding solace and triumph in pursuing a dream; protecting the Earth’s natural places; and seeking peace and reconciliation across cultural divides. Conducted by the composer, this inspiring program featured Nigel Westlake’s Flying Dream, Spirit of the Wild for oboe and orchestra, and Compassion for vocalist and orchestra.

Flying Dream is a short orchestral piece based on Westlake’s soundtrack for the 2015 Australian film Paper Planes. Paper planesIn the film, 12-year old Dylan, who is grieving over the recent death of his mother, immerses himself in making and flying paper planes, leading him to the World Paper Plane Championship in Japan. The film captures the essence of youthful resilience and passion, as lofty dreams become reality. Undoubtedly, resilience and following a dream are themes that musicians of the AYO could relate to as they soared their way through Flying Dream. Each year, the AYO brings together the finest young musicians from around Australia to help launch their musical careers with an intensive training period leading up to a concert series. Lior and the Australian Youth Orchestra was part of this year’s concert series. Charged with fresh passion and professionalism, the AYO’s performance was exciting, vivacious and authentic.

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Another Australian musical icon who breathes excitement and energy to classical music is principal oboist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Diana Doherty. Her solo in Spirit of the Wild seemed effortless, despite the fiendish tempo of many sections of the piece. The perfectly cascading melodies and runs that arced around the concert hall were a delight to listen to as much as they induced amazement. These ascending and descending flourishes, inspired from Doherty’s freeform improvisations, are reminiscent of the pristine mountains and valleys of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area that gave Westlake the impetus to write the composition.

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Diana Doherty – Photo by Richard Dobson

Westlake’s appreciation of the natural world can be heard in the immensely popular music from 1991 IMAX feature film Antarctica, which catalysed his career into writing music for film. Many will remember the Golden Globe winning film Babe: Pig in the City, and more recently in 2006, Miss Potter. In Antarctica and Spirit of the Wild there is a compassionate element of Westlake’s work that recognises the need for beautiful places, such as Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, to be protected and nurtured.

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Westlake and Bob Brown in Tasmania

This sense of nurturing extends into advocacy for peace and reconciliation with Westlake’s collaboration with ARIA-award-winning, Australian-Israeli vocalist, Lior Attar, in creating Compassion. This exotic and mesmerising work, made up of seven songs with orchestra, is based on ancient Hebrew and Arabic spiritual texts. Musically and vocally expressing peaceful religious ideals from Judaism and Islam, Lior and Westlake bridge cultural divides by showing religious similarities and their potential for beauty and peace. Lior’s captivating intensity and smooth vocal quality were a superb match for the vigour of the AYO. Together they brought this incredible work to life, digging into the raucous sections framed by the percussionists having a ball, and then moving into entrancing bliss in the still, meditative sections.

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Lior and Westlake

As this cohort of AYO musicians progress through their careers, they will take with them the essence of this concert program. They will have absorbed the musical understandings of pursuing a dream, protecting the earth, and the importance of peace and compassion. They will have felt the power of delivering these human messages, so desperately needed in our world, in an artistic form that slips, almost unnoticed, beneath the barriers of their audience’s fears and inhibitions. Music is a back door into people’s feelings, perceptions and attitudes deep within. It can change the world by changing people’s minds and hearts. Wielding this incredible power, these promising young musicians can look forward to playing an important role in making the future world a better place.

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Southwest National Park in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area – Photo by J. Harrison

National Reconciliation Week – Story, song and Jessie Lloyd

Monday 29 May 2017 at 11am, Wallaroo Community House, 6 Wallaroo Place Hastings West

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As part of 2017 National Reconciliation Week, Indigenous musician Jessie Lloyd gathered with local people from the Mornington Peninsula area to share true-to-life stories and heartfelt songs. These stories and songs are from her Mission Songs Project. The Project has taken Jessie to different parts of Australia to meet Indigenous Australians who were affected by Christian missions, state-run camps and relocation. As part of the Project, Jessie collects songs that Indigenous Australians have written and sung depicting their mission experiences. Through sharing songs from the Mission Songs Project and encouraging others to do the same, Jessie aims to preserve and pass on this precious cultural practise and in doing so, shed light on the history of Indigenous families, elders and communities.

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Jessie’s warmth of spirit and openness with which she shared the knowledge and stories of her family delighted each of the 40-odd people who attended this unique and inspiring event. Jessie’s impact was immediate, as many people went away humming a tune before enjoying the delicious lunch provided. Adding to the atmosphere of warmth and sharing was the enthusiastic address and attendance by the Good Shepherd staff who organised the event, and the friendliness and hospitality of the volunteers at Wallaroo Community House who hosted the event.

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Jessie Lloyd’s visit was inspiring for our local community, bringing people together in the spirit of reconciliation. What is more, recognising the historical experiences of Indigenous people through music fosters the healing that will unite the people of Australia towards a better, fairer future.

For more information on 2017 National Reconciliation Week and events near you visit reconciliation.org.au/nrw

Visit the Balnarring Hall on Friday 2 June at 7:30pm for a free film event hosted by Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association. Prison Songs, a groundbreaking documentary that gives voice to Indigenous Australians behind bars – through song.

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Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker