Deborah Cheetham AO
A world-renowned Indigenous opera singer, composer, playwright and creator of Australia’s first Indigenous opera. Deborah has a passion and strong commitment to improving access to careers in the arts for young Indigenous Australians.
A Yorta Yorta woman, Deborah Cheetham AO is a soprano, composer, playwright, producer, director and educator. Since her international debut in 1997, Deborah has performed in theatres and concert halls across Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, and at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Deborah created Australia's first Indigenous opera - Pecan Summer. In April 2007, she was awarded a two year Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council for the ArtsAustralia’s first Indigenous opera. The success of Pecan Summer led her to establish the Short Black Opera Company, a national not-for-profit organisation devoted to the development of Indigenous opera singers.
Currently Associate Dean (Indigenous) at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, having served as the Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development from 2011 - 2014. Under Deborah’s leadership The Wilin Centre advanced it’s reputation for providing Indigenous artists with pathways to a future in the visual and performing arts and promotes and supports their dreams and aspirations. In 2010, Ms Cheetham was a finalist for the Australian of the Year in Victoria and in 2014 she was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia for her 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 March 2015 Ms Cheetham was inducted into the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria. Deborah serves on the Board of Directors of Parks Victoria 2003-2006 Deborah served on the Board of the Australia Day Council of NSW.
I really wanted to include Deborah in this series as she is achieving excellence in her space and helping to build so many other's future successes. A friend who I sing with suggested Deborah and we both set about trying to contact her. Due to my random way of finding contact details (Google) I had not met with success, but said to Andy "I'm not giving up I really want Deborah for the project". Next thing I walked straight into her at the market... As Den the Fish says "The old people are watching over you..."
In her portrait she has ochre in her hair as she is preparing to sing the role of the Spirit Caller in Milky Way the ballet by Larrikia Choreographer Gary Lang. This beautiful ballet was created in collaboration with the WA Ballet Company in January this year. In this portrait she is painted in reverse as if looking into the mirror of time.