Deborah Cheetham, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for “distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance”. In 2009, Deborah Cheetham established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia’s first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.
Composer Deborah Cheetham about the piece:
The name Eumeralla is unlikely to be among the theatres of war that you could name. The history of battles fought and the lives that were lost have drawn only a deafening silence in the 170 years since the last shots rang out in the country of the Gunditjmara. But the land is not silent – the voices of those who lost their lives in defence of their country ring in your ears when you stand amongst the lava flow of this part of southwest Victoria. Unlike other theatres of war such as Anzac Cove and the Somme, where peace was declared and relationships restored with the Turks and Germans, no such peace was declared in the resistance wars; no such restoration. Whilst the Gunditjmara uphold the memory of the men, women and childen who were slain, most Australians have little knowledge of this history – and so the land remains haunted. I first walked on this battlefield in 2013. I felt it right away. I was moved and I was disturbed. Given the chance to camp on that land I could not sleep or find rest. The voices of those that were lost was so loud I couldn’t stay for more than one night.
It woke something in me and my immediate response was music. A song, A Requiem. A War Requiem. It would be called Eumeralla and named in recognition of one of the most brutal resistance wars fought on this continent. It would be sung entirely in the dialects of the Gunditjmara people and it would be designed for non-Indigenous Australians to sing alongside their Indigenous brothers and sisters. We need a way to ease the troubled spirit of the battlefields of the Eumeralla. It is my hope that this war requiem for peace will help the spirits of those who fell – those who resisted and their aggressors, to find a lasting peace and that we their descendants might find our way to a deeper understanding of the legacy of these battles. For you, for me and for all who were lost in a war Australia has yet to find a way to talk about. Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace will break the
silence of so many decades and serve to amplify the importance of our nation's shared history. One day I hope to walk on that country and feel no restless spirit – just the strength of a thousand generations of lives lived and culture sustained.