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First Stories of the House

18 October 2023

The life, contribution and legacy of Opera singer Harold Blair AM

Nerida Blair, Kim Walker, Don Christopher, Nina Korbe, moderator: Daniel Browning

Conversation meets classical performance as we celebrate the life and contribution of Wulli Wulli tenor Harold Blair AM, the first Australian Aboriginal opera singer and performer at the House in 1973. The panel discussion will bring into focus his contribution to Australian culture, followed by a special Opera performance by Soprano and proud Koa, Kuku Yalanji, Wakka Wakka woman, Nina Korbe.

In the Joan Sutherland Theatre

Talks & Ideas

The life and contribution of Aboriginal opera singer, Harold Blair

Join us for an evening celebrating the life of Harold Blair with a panel discussion moderated by Bundjalung and Kullilli journalist and broadcaster, Daniel Browning. Daniel will be joined by Harold’s daughter, Nerida Blair along with contemporary Aboriginal opera singers and other performers inspired by Harold’s life. Staged in the Joan Sutherland Theatre –  with the stunning Curtain of the Sun hanging in the background – this is an event not to miss.

Wulli Wulli tenor, Harold Blair AM was the first Australian Aboriginal person professionally trained in opera singing. He enrolled at the Melba Conservatorium in Melbourne in the mid-1940s graduating with a Diploma of Music with honours in 1949. He travelled Australia and the world performing for diverse audiences including at the Iron Curtain in West Germany in the late 1950s and Dalgerie, the first opera staged at the Sydney Opera House in July, 1973.

The discussion will cover his life, bring to light lesser-known First Nations stories of the House and examine the social and political landscape of Australia in the 1940’s-50s. A performance will follow the discussion with singers performing the ‘native lullaby’.

Presented by Sydney Opera House and Museums of History NSW

A man sitting at a desk talking to a woman who is standing nearby behind him.
Harold Blair teaching at the Melba Conservatorium. Photographer unknown, 1956. Image Courtesy of Dorothy Blair
NSW Government

This program is proudly supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW’s Blockbusters Funding initiative

Meet the speakers

Nerida Blair Panelist

Nerida was born in the Kulin Nation and lives and connects most to Darkinjung Country on the Central Coast of NSW.  Her father’s (Harold Blair) Country is Wullil Wullil Country central Queensland and Wakka Wakka Country, Queensland. Nerida has spent three decades working in universities in NSW and Victoria and over one decade in the Public Service Canberra; Department of Education, Department of Foreign Affairs and with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Sydney. She is passionate about education and believes it’s the most powerful tool to enable Indigenous peoples to live a safe and fulfilling lifestyle; education that is participatory, imagined, creative, holistic, sensual and story-based.

Kim Walker Panelist

Kim began dancing with his mother, Margaret Walker AM, and his dancing career continued with the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre (NAISDA Dance College) where he graduated with an Associate Diploma in 1979. NAISDA was instrumental in Kim’s entry into the arts as a dancer and led to him joining Sydney Dance Company in 1980. In 1982 he was appointed a principal dancer and danced with the company until 1990.

Kim’s chorographic career started with the Sydney Dance Company and since then, as a freelance choreographer and director, he has worked with major companies and directors in Australia including Opera Australia, Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Company, Richard Wherrett, Neil Armfield, Wayne Harrison and Roger Hodegman.

In 1998 Kim was appointed as Artistic Director of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and has not only created a number of new and innovative works but also toured the company both nationally and overseas to great acclaim. 

Kim currently sits on the boards of Ausdance NSW, Barang Regional Alliance, Create NSW  Dance and Physical Theatre Board and The Arthouse Theatre Board. In 2008, he took up the position as CEO of NAISDA Dance College.

Don Christopher Panelist

Don Christopher (nee Bemrose) is a Gunggari baritone who made his operatic debut with Short Black Opera in 2010 creating the role of James in Deborah Cheetham’s landmark opera Pecan Summer. Don reprised this role in 2011 and was the baritone soloist for the on-country premiere of Cheetham’s Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace.

Don has performed with major companies and productions around the country most notably; From a Black Sky for The Street Theatre (ACT) 2013 and in the role Bob Crab for the world premiere of, Cloudstreet for State Opera of South Australia. In 2012 Don made his debut with Opera Australia in the chorus of Turandot and on tour with Oz Opera in the role of Papageno in an adaptation Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Currently Don is Director Strategic Governance; Policy, Partnerships and Performance Branch – First Nations Health Division at the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

Nina Korbe Panelist

Soprano and proud Koa, Kuku Yalanji, Wakka Wakka woman, Nina Korbe received her Bachelor of Music Performance from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University before heading to London to undertake her Master of Arts studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She has had an illustrious opera career, with performance highlights including as Arminda from Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera, Héro from Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, and Little Ms Manifest, in the critically acclaimed world premiere of Freya Waley-Cohen’s Witch. Since returning to Australia, Nina has been appointed as Queensland Youth Orchestra’s Artist in Residence and will be touring internationally with Queensland Youth Symphony as their guest soloist later this year. Nina sits on the board for Queensland Youth Orchestra’s Reconciliation Action Plan, is an Opera Queensland Young Artist for 2023, and is this year’s recipient of the Harold Blair Opera Scholarship and the Ruskin Opera Scholarship through Melba Opera Trust.

Daniel Browning Moderator

Daniel Browning is an Aboriginal journalist, broadcaster, documentary maker, sound artist and writer. Currently, he is the Editor of Indigenous Radio with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) overseeing the long-standing flagship programs Speaking Out and Awaye. He also presents The Art Show on ABC RN. A visual arts graduate, Daniel is also a widely-published freelance arts writer. He is a former and inaugural guest editor of Artlink Indigenous, an occasional series of the quarterly Australian contemporary arts journal and his critical essays on Indigenous art have been published by the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and Queensland Art Gallery/ Gallery of Modern Art as well as prominent magazines. He is the inaugural curator of Blak Box, a specially-designed sound pavilion commissioned by Urban Theatre Projects to amplify the voices of First Nations storytellers, language custodians and artists working in spoken word, performance and music. Daniel is a descendant of the Bundjalung people of far northern New South Wales on his father’s side and the Kullilli people of south-western Queensland through his mother. 

Other information

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