Humbled by such people

This year I feel there is a rather exceptional Queen’s Birthday Honours List. There are the usual suspects, if you like, but also a rather impressive roll call from the arts and sciences, and that is so good to see.

Let me single out one because I happen to have known her.


That’s Dorothy McRae-McMahon on the left, and Jeannie Kelso on the right, at South Sydney Uniting Church in 2008  – Jeannie was long a member but by then had moved to South Australia and was visiting.

JEANNIE Kelso stops playing her keyboard and gently chides the rows of choristers gathered before her.

“You didn’t come in when you should. Wake up!” she says.

Like every Friday morning, about 40 people, including many from nearby boarding houses, have gathered at St Bede’s Church Hall at Semaphore to fill it with song for an hour.

They finish with a stirring rendition of John Farnham’s That’s Freedom, complete with actions.

Ms Kelso founded the Hope and Harmony Choir in 2008, two years after retiring from a 20-year career in Sydney with the Australian Opera and returning to Adelaide. The 71-year-old had been inspired by her friend Jonathon Welch, who successfully ran the ABC’s Choir of Hard Knocks for disadvantaged people.

“When I saw the Choir of Hard Knocks on the television, I realised I could do that,” she says. “I felt terribly lost at the start (of retirement) but this choir grounds me and makes me feel part of the community.”

The choir, which performs regularly at events such as Anzac Day ceremonies and the opening of the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal, is open to all and attracts many members of locally-supported residential facilities.

“Nothing’s asked of people except that they turn up to rehearsal so we get a good standard when we go out singing,” Ms Kelso says.

The Osborne resident also directs a singing group at the Stepney Women’s Centre and regularly plays for services at the Le Fevre Uniting Church. She also does regular solo performances and teaches individual students.

In Sydney, she was a character role and chorus member on the Opera House stage and a regular solo performer at Sydney City Council events…

A very lovely woman.

Watched Mabo last night

Did you? It lived up to the hype well and truly. Also humbling.

Shudders at the very thought of Joe B-P…. Gone, thank God, and may the spirit of that one stay dead.

See also Frank Brennan (2002) and “It’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe…” (#Mabo).

Director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, First Australians, One Night The Moon) and writer Sue Spencer (Bastard Boys, RAN, Brides of Christ) consulted with the Mabo family extensively and deliver us a story rich with love – Eddie for his wife Bonita; Eddie for his people; and Eddie for his birthplace. Mabo is deeply attached to his home on Murray Island – the islands and waters around them. When he learns after his father’s death that he does not have a right to their land, he knows something must be done. He seeks help and challenges it in the Queensland Supreme Court and thus begins the battle to overthrow the principle of terra nullius, and a claim of native title. Perkins offers particular deft touch with some of the sequences throughout the story including Mabo’s dance on the train tracks.

The casting of Bani and Mailman is perfect. He swaggers on-screen as a youthful Mabo and commands attention the entire film while her electric presence draws the eye each time she’s in frame. Their performances are considered and deft, and while Mailman is known for her skill as a character actor it’s a joy to anoint Bani in the same manner. A leading couple so direct and reflective of the characters they play we’re yet to see. The supporting cast are no slouches either, with a who’s who of the Australian acting fraternity in Colin Friels, Miranda Otto, Rob Carlton, Ewen Leslie, Tom Budge, Felix Williamson and Leon Ford delivering solid performances in their moments in and out of the courtroom.

Rachel Perkins is the daughter of the famous Charlie Perkins. See also Blackfella Films.