The AP experience – What our accompanying people remember from our tours

Since our tours began as part of the WW1 Western Front Centenary Choir project, we’ve always shared experiences from our choristers’ perspectives.

So, for this post, we’ve taken a different approach, asking our APs (those non-choristers who have accompanied our tours) to share their memories.

Tour 1: 2015 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir (Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux and Service at the Digger Memorial, Bullecourt) 

Philip and Sally Willington toured in support of their daughter Jane Murtagh and her husband, Brendan. The trip was especially relevant to the Willingtons having an ancestor who served on the Western Front from 1916 – 18.

2015 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir

The 2015 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir, taken by the Willingtons at the Victoria School.

“We had the great pleasure of accompanying the choir on the tour to Villers-Bretonneux for the Anzac Day Dawn Service and each of the other performances in the various battlefield towns around the area of the Somme.

“The afternoon service on Anzac Day at Bullecourt was very inspirational in beautiful spring afternoon weather. There seemed to be a great sense of relief that came over the members of the choir once they had finished their formal performance commitments after several days of touring. This relief culminated in some drinks in the main road of Bullecourt, and an impromptu performance of The Parting Glass as a show of thanks to the organiser of their tour. I understand it was the favourite song amongst the choir members and it was very emotional and inspirational.

“The members of the choir spent some time experiencing the history of the war at local museums and other displays and seemed to be quite affected by the tragedy. They were wonderful ambassadors for Australia, delicately balancing the celebration of the Anzac landing centenary and also demonstrating great respect for the tens of thousands of Australians who were killed or wounded in the area of the Somme.

“I am sure they impressed everyone who had the pleasure of seeing them perform with both their singing ability as a choir and also as young Australian ambassadors to an area of France that holds Australia in such high esteem.

“One highlight was the choir’s performance in the Villers-Bretonneux Covered Market with some of the local primary school children singing Waltzing Matilda which resulted in a rousing standing ovation and was very moving. It was a fitting end to an evening in the town which proudly displays the sign ‘Do Not Forget Australia’ in the nearby primary school playground, with local students apparently sings the Australian National Anthem every day.”

Tour 2: 2016 Anzac Day Centenary Choir (Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux and Service at the Digger Memorial, Bullecourt) 

Miree Le Roy supported her daughter Isabelle Fielding on this tour.

“The Dawn Service was very organised but somewhat sterile (not to mention freezing), however, the service at Bullecourt was much more intimate and meaningful. The rain during the service seemed very fitting,” she said.

“I would highly recommend the experience. The visiting to the various memorial sites and museums is not something you would typically do except on a trip such as this.

“It gave me a greater understanding of a terrible time in history that we tend not to consider here in Australia.”

Tour 3: 2016 Western Front Centenary Choir (Centenary of the Battle of Fromelles and Pozieres) 

Kym Boon toured as an AP in support of Sarah Morton.

“The beauty and solemnity of the ceremonies was a highlight. It was great to be a part of it all and witness it in person.”

Other highlights included being able to “… share in some small way the choristers’ experience of this special event, to experience the beauty and magic of what the Birralee choirs can do in such an emotional tour, to learn in a more intimate way about what happened to those who defended our country during WW1.

“Observing the obvious bonds between the choristers and seeing them further develop during the tour was another highlight. The impromptu performances in Amiens and Albert cathedrals were intimate and beautiful and reflected the emotional investment of the choristers in the overall experience.”

Tour 4: 2017 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir (Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux and Service at the Digger Memorial, Bullecourt) 

Brigitte Deeb accompanied her son Anthony, while being a manager of the tour. While she didn’t have a family member who served in WW1, she was grateful to learn so much and enjoyed hearing family stories from others.

Reflecting upon the services she attended, she noted:

“It was an almost sombre, eerie feeling, and I had to pinch myself a few times. It was a wonderful experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone considering being a part of such an event and tour,” she said.

For those future APs, Brigitte offered the following advice:

“Do some research on your family prior to tour to make it more memorable. There is quite a lot of free time for APs, particularly in Paris so make the most of this amazing city and make some plans.”

Claire Grebert supported Tilly Lawson on the same tour, with the family having two distant relatives remembered at The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux. She laid a wreath at the Anzac Day Dawn Service in their honour.

Reflecting on the service, she noted:

“It was very cold – the conditions 100 years ago must have been horrific, I also wondered about the experience of the locals and their interaction with the troops,” she said.

Experiences that will stay with Claire include “… the choir’s performances in the churches. The sound was magnificent. Also, the war graves were sobering.”

“Overall, the tour was excellent – the care taken at the beginning of the trip when we received our envelope of metro tickets and other items touched me with the thoughtfulness of it.”


The APs! Michael, Phil, Steve, Robyn and Sandra.

Tour 5: 2017 Western Front Centenary Choir (Centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood, Belgium) 

Steven and Robyn Davey, parents of chorister, Georgia, attended the tour where our Western Front Centenary Choir performed at the Centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood.

“It was so memorable to have the opportunity to join with members of the choir representing our county at these important events. On many occasions the emotions were overwhelming for the choristers and personally for us. It was extremely well organised in terms of performances, visits to cemeteries and memorials, museums, as well as accomodation. The Birralee tour organisers were amazing too. It was a very happy tour group as well.”

For the Daveys, there were many highlights including the choir singing at Menin Gate on two occasions, meeting the locals for choral performances, impromptu performances upon visits to various cemeteries, along with the Dawn Service at Polygon Wood.


Steve and Robyn Davey.

“As dawn broke, a mist rolled in on us. After entering via the impressive re-enactments during the Reflective Trail we experienced the haunting sound of a didgeridoo and later the bagpipes were played.

“It was a chilling reminder of what it might have been like for the young men who sacrificed all for their country over 100 years ago. The Australian Memorial sits high on the butte as a reminder of the sacrifices made.

“There are rows and rows of headstones as reminders of what occurred here and how significant it was. It was special to be a part of the commemoration with the choir, the Australian Army Band, Crown Princess of Belgium- Princess Astrid and our Governor General. It was great to be an Australian overseas.”


Thanks to all of the APs who have been involved in each tour and have added so much to the experience through supporting our choirs as a cheer squad and providing support during emotional experiences.

Are you a past AP? Tell us about your experience by commenting below, or email

Seasons Greetings from Birralee!

Thank you for a great, action-packed year! Here’s a few messages from the artistic team at Voices of Birralee as we begin our break. Have a wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year and if you loved your time with us in 2017, make sure you enrol for 2018 here.


“Congratulations Voices of Birralee on a very successful, action-packed year and thank you to everyone involved, from the conductors, our office team and to our volunteer managers, your contribution and passion has been once again greatly appreciated. There were many highlights for 2017 including the very successful and far-reaching three-part Voices from the Trenches Festival where our choirs were joined by school and community choirs across Brisbane and Toowoomba, while the final instalment was tied in with the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival, which was a pleasure to join with men’s choirs from Australia and abroad in celebration of male singing.

“This year included two tours as part of our Western Front Centenary Choir Project commitment with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, where in April we sent our first U18 choir who did us proud at the Anzac Day Dawn Service in France and other concerts. Our second overseas choir performed at an incredibly moving Anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium. A personal highlight for me was seeing our Birralee Singers grow in their tour to Tasmania and I’m sure many of the accompanying parents would agree, they sang beautifully. They also did us proud performing in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen In-Concert!

“As we move onto 2018, we’re excited for another big year of activity and opportunity to see our choristers flourish across each ensemble – I look forward to you joining us!” Julie Christiansen OAM, Founder & Artistic Director (BBV & Birralee Singers Conductor) 


The Birralee Singers head to Tasmania. 

“Blokes has grown to be the largest it has been for several years which has been exciting. The highlight of the year was Pemulwuy and it was great to have other blokes from the Birralee family join us to sing at this festival. The involvement in Voices from the Trenches Festival concerts in Brisbane and Toowoomba was also a fantastic way to remember the sacrifice of servicemen and women who gave so much and most at an age the same as many of our Blokes. I am sure for those Blokes who had the chance to travel to France this year for Anzac Day it was also a reminder of this gift from the young men of an earlier generation. Finally let me give a big thank you to Kate, Justine, Dominik, Brigitte and Tania who have been fantastic support to the Blokes this year.

Resonance: For me the personal highlights of the Resonance year were the performances of Annelies and the performance given in our June concert. To have risen to the challenge of performing a work like Annelies was something I was very proud of the ensemble for achieving. It was also great to renew our relationship with the Qld Pops Orchestra in their Celtic Spectacular concerts. Part of the joy of that gig was performing with Birralee dad Kevin Higgins on uilleann pipes and also with the adorable Sarah Calderwood who then joined us for our June concert. Bravo also to the Resonance members who sang so beautifully in Belgium in September. And also thanks to John Farnham for popping in to lend his voice to the QMF You’re the Voice event along with Kate Ceberano and Katie Noonan. Finally thanks to Brendan, Sue, Amirah and Judy for their work with the team this year. Looking forward to an exciting 2018.” – Paul Holley OAM, Associate Director (Birralee Blokes & Resonance of Birralee Conductor) 

You're the Voice

John Farnham pops in for Queensland Music Festival’s You’re the Voice event. 

“What an incredible musical journey 2017 has been. Once again, I have been surrounded by the magic of music making with BBV and it is such a pleasure and privilege to work with these young musicians as they explore life through song. In April this year I was honoured to tour with 30 very fine young men and women from BBV and Blokes, as they represented Australia at the Anzac Day commemorations in France. In every capacity they were outstanding ambassadors not only for Birralee, but also for our country. Their youth, energy, vibrancy, integrity and tenacity touched so many hearts along the way as did their beautiful singing. A life-changing touring experience on the Western Front filled with memories that will last a life-time and friendships forged through stories, adventures and song. Does it get any better than that?” – Jenny Moon, BBV Assistant Conductor


The 2017 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir performs at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris. 

“What a wonderful year I’ve spent with the Piccolos! It has been a delight to watch the children grow in confidence, sing with joy, and learn what it means to sing in a choir. My highlight of the year was our inaugural Teddy Bear’s Picnic where we had fun singing with our teddies, our friends and our family members, and where we performed a Teddy Bear song composed by the Piccolos. I’m looking forward to more Piccolos’ fun in 2018.” – Katherine Ruhle, Birralee Piccolos Conductor 

“This is my first year with the Birralee Singers and I’m grateful to have been so warmly embraced by this energetic ensemble. It has been a privilege to watch our choristers bond and grow in confidence through numerous experiences across 2017 including our tour to Tasmania, singing for Southbank’s 25th birthday and sharing the stage with our mums and dads at The Young and the Recycled concert. I would like to thank our choir managers Lou, Raylene and Michael for all the hard work they’ve put in this year as well as our student helpers, Evelyn, Ally, Abbey, Josh and Sophie. Without them we would not have been able to create such beautiful music. A very happy and safe holiday season to all members of the Birralee family and I’m looking forward to new adventures in 2018!” – Clare Finlayson, Birralee Singers Assistant Conductor 

“How incredible it was to visit France in April and discover so much about our history and the poor men who suffered over there. It was very emotional and there were many tears from both the adults and the teenagers who sang so beautifully. One thing I would encourage is to delve into your family history. Until this event I knew very little but discovered that not so long ago there was someone to be proud of, which made the trip even more meaningful. Thank you Birralee for yet another life-changing experience.” – Justine Favell, Birralee Principal Accompanist (Birralee Blokes & BBV). 

Jenny Moon - IMG_8929

Justine, Jenny and Kate on tour. 


“This year saw the birth of many more notes during rehearsal and performance but also of our first son Philip. Jane and I claim him as the first joint Resonance baby and look forward to him joining the Piccolos although hope that time doesn’t come around too soon! Merry Christmas to all of Birralee and we look forward to sharing an exciting 2018!” – Brendan Murtagh, Piano Accompanist Resonance of Birralee, Birralee Recycled and Birralee Singers 

“2017 – what a year! It’s hard to believe that, already, it is almost at an end. The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of lessons, rehearsals, performances and occasional welcome moments of quiet reflection. As always, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with the fabulous Kids staff and choristers – we have worked on some enormously fun repertoire and had some great performances. As we approach the summer holidays I hope everyone is looking forward to a well-earned break; better rest up now because 2018 looks like it is shaping up to be another fantastic, action-packed year!” – Kate Littlewood, Piano Accompanist Birralee Kids 


GUEST BLOG: Nature vs nurture: what matters most when bringing music into a child’s life?

In this post Voices of Birralee welcomes guest blogger, Boppin’ Babies founder and Birralee parent, Vicky Abad who gives her thoughts on how music can be encouraged in the home, no matter a parent’s musicality. 

Recently one of my piano students bought me a T-shirt for Christmas that says “I don’t sing all the time, oh wait, yes I do!” and it is so true. 

I sing constantly, in my head and out loud. I also have a child who sings constantly – out loud (never in her head!).

I had a father who sang all the time. He was a beautiful musician, truly talented and self-taught; and a mother who loved to sing and did so with great enthusiasm but couldn’t hold a tune to save herself (and still can’t bless her).

This shirt got me thinking about my daughter, Miss BB and her singing. She loves to sing all the time, in the shower, in the pool, in the car, as she goes to sleep.

She has sung with Voices of Birralee’s children’s choirs for five years, starting as a Piccolo when she was just six years old.

Last month she sang in her first opera stage concert with internationally acclaimed lead singers! I may have been more excited than her, given my music training in opera, but wow what an opportunity for her!

Because I value music so very much, I prioritise it in our lives, I budget for her choir and tuition fees and I make time to support her practice (and drive her to endless rehearsals). 

But does she sing because she is nurtured to or is this nature?

Does she sing because genetically she comes from a long line of singers? Or is it her musical environment?

I would say all of the above.

Musical home

Music is a part of our DNA

From a research perspective, archaeological evidence suggests we humans have sung to communicate, connect and engage with each other since the time of our earliest ancestors.

In fact, theorists believe that ancient humans communicated emotion through vocalising long before we had language and words.

Certainly mothers tap into this primal use of music to soothe their babies from before the time infants can understand the words that are being spoken to them. 

But babies can understand the emotion that is being portrayed through song, and in particular through melody, pitch, rhythm and timbre, and the way that it is being sung.

That is to say, we sing emotionally and expressively when we sing to babies.

We also speak to them in a similar way. Adults from all cultures speak and sing to their young in a particular way (in the research world we call it infant-directed speech).


The case for nature

Parents are hard wired to sing to their babies. It is a part of our evolution.

When we sing we feel good because singing increases the release of endorphins in our brain. Our little babies will often engage and vocalise and interact back, which means, while we are maintaining close physical and eye contact with them, we are in fact falling in love (more endorphins!). 

You can see how music is a part of our genetic makeup when we look at it this way.

Babies can hear their mother’s voice long before they are born. During the third trimester they can even associate certain music with emotion, remembered via the limbic system.

When bubs are born they will seek out their mother’s voice in this new and alien world. And many mothers will hold, rock and talk/sing/vocalise to soothe their new born infant in these moments.

We are designed to do this. Babies are born with competent hearing capacity and they are ready to hear you. They prefer high pitches and frequencies, and this could well be their mother singing.


The case for nurture

What baby doesn’t love being nursed and sung to while they lull off to sleep?

If it were just nature, we could argue that all parents do this comfortably and competently.

My current PhD research (still to be published) suggests that many parents don’t feel confident to sing to their little ones, and in fact, many think that an iPod or music edutainment program marketed as ‘good for baby’ would be better.

Some also believe that they should not sing unless they are a music expert. Neither of these is true.

You are the expert of your baby, and you are human which means you can sing.

Very few people are actually tone deaf. There is some new and fascinating research in this area, that show most people can sing or learn to sing (my mother is not one of them unfortunately).


Find time for music every day

The other thing I find that impacts on the nurturing of musicality these days is time.

Parents are super busy, especially if they work. CDs or DVDs seem an excellent stimulating way to provide a little one with musical engagement while the grown-ups get jobs done.

Research shows us that nothing replaces the magic that is a parent singing to their child.

This is when neural transmitters fire, and new neural pathways are formed. Little brains light up when they interact musically with a human that they love.

You can nurture your child’s musicality by finding the time to sing and be with your child in a crazy busy world.

It’s not as hard as it sounds.

Say no to technology and overstimulation and focus on the simple pleasures, such as sitting and singing nursery rhymes together, or having a cuddle and a tickle to a favourite song.

Nurture them with a home environment full of live music, full of your singing and banging the pots and pans together. 

And be sure to have song books and age appropriate CDs on hand if you run out of puff singing!

About the author

Vicky Abad is a Registered Music Therapist with extensive national and international clinical experience in paediatric and early intervention music therapy and music early learning.

She is founder of the Boppin’ Babies Music Early Learning Program for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers and their parents conducted with a music therapy focus.

She is a widely published  researcher at the University of Queensland where she is currently completing her PhD on music early learning and the impact of this on family well-being.

Vicky is also the President of the Australian Music Therapy Association.


What was your 2017 highlight? Let us know!

As we get closer to the end of the year, we’ve decided to base this blog on some of the many Voices of Birralee highlights for 2017. We’ve gone into detail on a few below, but you can check out the full list here.

Here we go: 


  • Birralee started back for 2017, with BBV uniting for its focus camp at Twin Waters.


  • The first instalment of the Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival was held at St Lawrence’s College, involving the Birralee Singers, Birralee Blokes and 2017 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir, along with various school choirs. The entire three-part project was proudly supported by the Queensland Government.



  • We farewelled our 2017 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir – our youngest group to perform in our Western Front Centenary Choir Touring Project as part of our commitment to the DVA.  Their massive tour culminated in performing at Anzac Day services at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux and at the Digger Memorial, Bullecourt, France. Catch up on their tour via their blogging series here.






  • Our Birralee Piccolos, Kids and BBV delighted many at our annual Cupcake & Cushion Concert at The Old Museum. This year’s concert was held as a special Mother’s Day treat.
  • Resonance of Birralee took part in the Queensland Pops Orchestra’s Celtic Spectacular at QPAC and Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre.
  • Birralee was back at the Empire Theatre a week after Celtic Spectacular with the second concert of the Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival which united Birralee and Toowoomba school and community choirs to honour our Anzacs.


  • Resonance of Birralee, BBV and the Birralee Blokes performed a mid-year concert, A World Full of Music at the Gehrmann Theatre, Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School.


  • From 29 June – 1 July a highly successful Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival was held, involving around 400 male singers from across the country, with some from Japan. The finale of Pemulwuy took on the Voices from the Trenches theme and was held at QPAC’s Concert Hall.

  • Our Resonance of Birralee choir, with select BBV members performed in the Queensland Music Festival’s You’re the Voice event, raising awareness of domestic violence. A surprise guest performer was The Voice himself, John Farnham.
You're the Voice

Pic by Tony Forbes


  • Our Birralee Recycled ‘give it a go community choir’ project proved strong in its second year as Peter Ingram and Brendan Murtagh led around 60 choristers in their debut concert at the Young & the Recycled, which also involved the Birralee Singers and September’s Western Front Centenary Choir.
  • The annual Young Voices Festival involved the Birralee Kids with fellow school choirs.


  • Birralee Piccolos’ conductor Katherine Ruhle initiated the ensemble’s first Teddy Bears’ Picnic which was an afternoon of fun singing and teddy bear dancing.
  • The Postcards Trivia Night was held, co-hosted by the Ashgrove – the Gap Lions Club to raise funds for our touring projects.
  • Our Western Front Centenary Choir, made up of 16 choristers set off on a tour to perform at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood, Belgium. Catch up on the blogging tour here.

  • Around 60 Birralee Singers were also on tour in September, singing across Tasmania.  Catch up on their tour blogging series here.


  • Led by Paul Holley OAM, Resonance of Birralee performed an emotive Annelies, a full choral work based on the diary of Anne Frank, by James Whitbourn. Resonance were joined by soloist Cara Fox and a chamber ensemble comprising Julie Elvery, Josie Pollicina, Gwyn Roberts and Brendan Murtagh.

Resonance of Birralee perform Annelies.

And still to come…


  • Our Birralee Singers, with some BBV members performed as the children’s chorus in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen In-Concert on 25 November.

DECEMBER: Choristers across our organisation were involved in a swag of concerts over the festive season, including:

  • Resonance of Birralee, Sing Noel, St John’s Cathedral
  • BBV and Resonance performed in Queensland Ballet’s The Nutcracker (QPAC).
  • BBV with Birralee Singers performed in Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols
  • The Birralee Singers performed at South Bank’s Christmas Village 
  • Birralee Singers, BBV, Resonance of Birralee, Birralee Recycled and alumni performed at Spirit of Christmas (QPAC)


What was your 2017 highlight? Send any comments or photos, to be included in the blog! Or comment below!

Exploring dialects through music

Voices of Birralee is getting ready to fulfil its exciting end of year commitments with a number of events including performing in the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols and QPAC’s Spirit of Christmas.

Another exciting opportunity is coming up for 45 of our Birralee Singers and BBV who will perform as the Children’s Chorus in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen In-Concert on Saturday 25 November.

The concert, celebrating QSO’s 70 year anniversary, conducted by Music Director, Alondra de la Parra, with some of the roles in collaboration with Lisa Gasteen Opera School, will see our young choristers singing in French.

It is going to be a wonderful opportunity for our choristers to perform in the presence of professional singers, while brushing up on their language learning skills.

“We see great value in including repertoire in our ensembles’ programs of varying dialects to open our choristers’ minds to different cultures, while encouraging them to challenge themselves with a language that isn’t their own,” Voices of Birralee Artistic Director & Founder Julie Christiansen OAM said. 

Some of the pieces Voices of Birralee have performed in a non-English language include Riu, Riu, Chiu (Mateo Flecha) performed by the Birralee Blokes above at Voices of Birralee’s 20 Year Anniversary Concert in 2015.

The Polish Mironczarnia (music by Jakub Neske, words by Białoszewski) was performed by BBV above, also at Birralee’s 20th Anniversary Concert.

Resonance of Birralee performed Spiritus Sanctus (Daniel Brinsmead) with Latin dialect at their 10th Anniversary Concert in 2016.

Learning repertoire with lyrics in a non-English dialect can be challenging, however there are lots of tips and tricks our choristers have developed over time.

These include:

1. Write out the words phonetically 
2. Listen to the words being spoken via audio recordings supplied by your conductor, or via sources such as YouTube or Soundcloud. Listen to various versions of a song to compare pronunciation 
3. Find translations of the words and discuss these with your fellow choristers and conductors to ensure a correct or agreed meaning 
4. Think of the translation while you’re singing to build emotional memory 
5. Practice! 


Do you have a special method of learning non-English lyrics? Comment below!


If you’d love to support our choristers at Carmen In-Concert, book your tickets here.


Birralee Singers – celebrating a wonderful tour

Final days of tour for the Birralee Singers 

Content by Joshua Clifford 

With the Singers’ performances officially behind us, the sight-seeing began! Day five was full of learning about Tasmania’s rich history and discovering the hidden wonders of its natural beauty.

After breakfast, we boarded coaches and hire cars to leave camp to begin the trek to some other parts of the east coast of the island. Our first stop was Eaglehawk Neck Lookout, where we were all shown a view of the stunning vista of Pirates Bay.

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Plenty of group pics and selfies were taken here; the deep blues of the ocean and the curve of the distant cliffs were truly awesome! Next up were the intriguing natural formations known as the Tessellated Pavement, a flat rock surface where the fractures have formed into regularly shaped rectangles and blocks. Here the Singers saw up close the intricate balance between land and sea in Tassy, and the omnipotent powers of nature.

Following this our touring group progressed to Remarkable Cave. This enchanting part of the coastline featured a walk surrounded by beach scrub and at the mouth of the Cave, superbly smooth rocks and pebbles, obviously corroded over time by the roll of the waves into such exquisite shapes. After exploring these spots, we were all taken to Port Arthur Historic Site where our choristers gave a spontaneous performance of Michael Row the Boat Ashore. 

The Singers travelled to the Port Arthur Lavender Farm Restaurant to enjoy a hearty, warm meal of salad, vegetables, roast chicken and lamb and a flavoured ice cream for dessert.

This was such a glorious meal – many Singers (and myself!) going back for seconds – as a token of our appreciation, the choir gave a lovely performance of the simple yet affective Be With Me.

The owner of the Lavender Restaurant was so impressed by this piece, and the impeccable manners of all the Singers during the meal, he gave us a very special presentation of how the farm operates, and how the bunches of Lavender are dried, distilled, and then turned into a huge variety of products from perfume to paper.

With full stomachs and happy hearts, we parted ways with the people at Port Arthur Lavender and began the bus ride home, many of the Singers succumbing to tiredness on the way!

As the evening drew to a close, I’m sure each tourer could feel a much deeper engagement with Tasmania and its history.

Before we knew it, it was the final day of touring.

The past week has been a great journey for all the Singers; the opportunity to tour as a chorister is such a special one, where lifelong memories are made!

As everyone finalised their packing and communally cleaned the Bush Cabin spaces, a sense of excitement at the day ahead was delicately balanced with a slight sense of sadness that the tour was almost over.

Our first attraction of the day was the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Berriedale, outside Hobart. Here the tourers wandered the winding halls of this contemporary art gallery, observing the art exhibits.

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Highlights included an interactive station where lights flickered based on the rate of your pulse, a room full of televisions broadcasting various people singing Madonna and the ‘Museum of Everything’ where they pretty much indeed had everything! Such a diverse range of finely curated artworks! This led into a delectable lunch provided by the York Hotel, only a short coach trip from MONA.

The Singers enjoyed a selection of pre-ordered food including pizza, avocado smash sandwiches, caesar salads, nachos, and fish and chips. As a gesture of thanks, we performed the uplifting Michael Row the Boat Ashore. A staff member commented afterwards to me on how well mannered each child was – she was very impressed!

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Our final destination before heading to the airport was the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility provides protection, rehabilitation and rehoming services for injured native animals across this region, and the Singers met some of the animals, most notably the Tasmanian Devil.

Seeing these little beasts up close was a highlight of the day for many. We also got to stroke the fur of a very sleepy Koala, scratch the back of a cuddly Wombat, speak to a very chatty cockatoo and feed some very welcoming kangaroos. Bright smiles lit up the open kangaroo enclosure as the Singers’ fed and scratched these gentle animals.

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At long last, the moment we had all been putting off in our heads had arrived. Arriving at Hobart Domestic Airport was bittersweet; the desire to go home to our familiarities was strong, but that meant the tour would be over! We checked into flights, baggage was dropped and planes to Melbourne and onward planes to Brisbane were boarded.

I truly believe the connections and friendships formed on this tour will continue to grow back home!

The Singers should be incredibly proud of their singing and performances in Tasmania and what they achieved with their angelic voices.

A huge congratulations to Mrs C and Miss Claire for being such dedicated and inspiring leaders on this tour, and an extra thanks to all the other Tour Personnel including Ruth, Sarah Meagher, Sonya, Sarah Crisp, Codie and Sally! And of course, our tour manager, the fabulous Louise Wall – you’re a star! Thanks for all your hard work and commitment to ensuring things ran as smoothly as possible!

To those singers from Brisbane Birralee Voices who stepped up every day as leaders in the music and as helpers to the adults, a HUGE thank you – you’ve provided amazing assistance and we can’t express our gratitude enough.

Until next time, Keep Singing!

Day 7: Polygon Wood – We will remember them

At 12.45am Tuesday morning, we were on the bus.

Performing in the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate just a few hours earlier, it was a bit tricky to get a rest in – some of us managed, but most were too excited for the day ahead.

Having heard so much about the Remembrance Trail on site, set up by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, our tour manager / mum, Rochelle, arranged for the choristers and APs to be dropped off at the beginning of the trail to experience what the attendees would witness. It would also set the tone for the morning of reflection and remembrance.

The trail through Polygon Wood was lined with information plaques and as we got further, we were an audience to various activations, most we weren’t expecting. There were actors in replica trenches or huts taking on the roles of army cooks, officers or soldiers. It was so incredibly surreal yet authentic to witness all this in the misty darkness.


In the distance there were gunfire and explosive sound effects, while the informative plaques took us on a journey explaining the events that took place which claimed more than 5,000 Australian lives, as well as those from New Zealand and other countries in September 1917.

One path led us off the trail to Scott Post, a German bunker captured by Australians. It was named in honour of Distinguished Service Order awardee Lieutenant Colonel Allan Humphrey Scott, Commander of the 56th Australian Infantry Battalion, killed on 1 October 1917.

Visual presentations showed soldier life in WW1 and what this now beautiful site had looked like 100 years ago, when it was completely destroyed by warfare.

The final checkpoint before Buttes New British Cemetery was a field of handmade poppies. The poppies were from 5000 Poppies, an organisation who stage activations across the world planting poppies that people send in with images of soldiers who have served. Lynn Berry from 5000 Poppies informed us that she had provided 3000 poppies to the Rotary Club of Armentieres to be planted at commemorative events such as this.

The effect was beautiful! Voices of Birralee’s Birralee Blokes’ rendition of In Flanders Fields was played. (On a side-note, James, one of our choristers, was one of the Birralee Blokes who recorded for this track in 2004).

At the end of the trail, our choristers had a quick look around the site in the dark and eeriness of the morning before heading to our greenroom / tent for breakfast, before warm ups.

Our first set was a part of the pop-up entertainment to engage the audiences as they arrived. In this set we performed four songs – a great chance to break the ice and overcome any nerves before the filmed pre-dawn and Dawn Service began.

We then headed back to our tent for the final break and to add layers to withstand the cold especially as dawn approached.

Voices of Birralee on stage with the Australian Army Band (pic by Rochelle).

On the main stage, we performed pre-service entertainment with the band and some by ourselves.

By then most of the crowd had arrived, along with the VIP parties, including Australia’s Governor General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, Princess of Belgium.

We were sat together on the stage with the New Zealand Memorial behind us, thousands of graves in front of us and as we glanced up we could see the iconic rising sun on the Fifth Australian Division Memorial at the top of the buttes.

When the official Dawn Service began, it started to get cooler. All was put into perspective, however, when remembering the horror that took place on this site 100 years ago. All we had to do was sing the beautiful pieces we had rehearsed and stay awake for an hour or so – a very small task in comparison.

The service was very moving with speeches delivered by Sir Cosgrove, Princess Astrid and more, and we sang O Valiant Hearts, the Australian National Anthem and music to accompany the wreath laying.

We lay a wreath on behalf of Birralee and on behalf of Geraldine and Bernie Knapp for their relative Patrick Bugden VC.


We also lay a wreath for the family of Private James Alexander McAllister who was killed on 26 September 1917 and has no known grave.


When the Dawn Service ended, we sang our post-service set with the band. Just as we finished the last note of our final song, My Country, the Governor General appeared on stage and told us that Princess Astrid would like to meet us.

Exercising perfect protocol, our two singers in the front row, Jules and Olivia, greeted the two dignitaries, while it was joked that Jules was about to pass out from excitement.

The Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove with Princess Astrid from Belgium joins the choir and Australian Army Band on stage for an encore (pic by Robyn)

The press by this point had swarmed forward around the stage to take pics of this exchange. It was pretty exciting. We then sang an encore of Waltzing Matilda with the band, as requested by Sir Cosgrove.

Remaining on stage we took photos of our group, while various attendees requested photos with us.




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Here we met Michael Whitty – he is cycling through all the battlefields in Europe and Turkey during the centenary period, with his ancestor’s diary in his pocket who served in WW1. One of our choristers’ Amirah remembered that her mum chatted with Michael in July last year when one of our choir’s performed at the Anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles. We look forward to catching up with him next year in either Le Hamel or Villers-Bretonneux in France.


After the service we headed back to our tent with the APs to regroup after an emotional morning as the sun began to rise, adding a glow to the 5th Australian Division Memorial.

The Fifth Division Memorial as the sun begins to rise at Butts New British Cemetery (pic by Kerry).

We sleepily headed back to our hotel in Kortrijk for a few hours’ rest before the tour would officially end that night with a group dinner, and of course a final song by the group before parting ways.


It’s been an awesome tour for all involved, but not possible without the input of a number of people. Thank you to:

  • Julie Christiansen OAM, Voices of Birralee Founder & Artistic Director
  • Paul Holley OAM, our conductor
  • Rochelle Manderson for her behind-the-scenes work in the lead up to the tour, while ensuring all ran smoothly
  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • Australian Army Band conductor Major Glenn Rogers and his musicians
  • Sue Edwards, Definitive Events 
  • The International Singers and Christ Church Lille 
  • Protestantse Kerk Brugge
  • Sint Maartenskerk, Kortrijk, the Pro Ecclesia Choir and congregation
  • The Ashgrove – the Gap Lions Club 
  • And thank you to everyone at home for your support!


If you missed it, you can catch up on the pre-dawn and Dawn Service via this link.

Thanks so much for reading and for following us on this incredible journey!

We look forward to sharing more blogs from our overseas trips in the future as part of this very special commitment.

#Belvob2017 #ww1 #wewillrememberthem