Inspiring Cooee Cabaret

Dorothea Mackellar in Gunnedah
 Brendan Smith
Nigel Ubrihien with a statue of Dorothea Mackellar

Nigel Ubrihien, creator of the NFSA’s new touring sounds show Cooee Cabaret, came face to face with one of the show’s inspirations when in Gunnedah recently… well, at least face to statue.

Nigel – who recently produced the faux tourism jingle Canberra ! for ABC’s Hungry Beast – was in Gunnedah to check out the Civic Theatre and recruit local performers for the show. Cooee Cabaret was commissioned by the NFSA to showcase the Sounds of Australia registry, and it includes a recording of Dorothea Mackellar reading her iconic poem My Country.

‘We drove up to the lookout to have a bird’s eye view over town, and there she was – Dorothea, riding side saddle while her horse drank from a fountain. She wasn’t all that chatty but it was unmistakably her’, said Nigel of the encounter.

After checking out the view from the lookout – ’sunburnt country: check, sweeping plains: check, far horizon: check, wide brown land: check…all seems to be in order here’ – we wheeled down and met with the staff at the Civic, a gorgeous regional theatre…with some very lurid pink seats – ‘they should be nominated for the Sounds of Australia, those seats, so loud…’.

The Gunnedah Sing Australia choir is one of the local sound makers joining Nigel and his cast on stage in mid May at the Civic along with local poet Anne Knight, who offers a bit of competition for old Dorothea with her piece Driving Home from Currabubula: ‘the wake of the road unrolls in a spray of dust, and lonely sign posts, unfamiliar, point their long, bony fingers to the light’.

Nigel and his cast and crew will be heading back to Gunnedah and the lurid seats of the Civic, to wrestle with Dorothea and others, in May.