Deborah Cheetham Fraillon

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Deborah Cheetham Fraillon

Deborah Joy Cheetham

(1964-11-24) 24 November 1964 (age 58)
EducationBachelor of Music, NSW Conservatorium of Music
  • Singer
  • actor
  • composer
  • playwright
EmployerSydney Conservatorium of Music
(m. 2023)

Deborah Joy Cheetham Fraillon AO (born 24 November 1964), is an Aboriginal Australian soprano, actor, composer and playwright. In February 2023, she was appointed a professor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Cheetham is a member of the Stolen Generations; she was taken from her mother when she was three weeks old[2] and was raised by a white baptist family. Jimmy Little was her uncle.

Cheetham graduated from the NSW Conservatorium of Music with a Bachelor of Music Education Degree.[3]


In 1997 Cheetham wrote the autobiographical play White Baptist Abba Fan which tells of her experiences of coming to terms with her homosexuality and racial identity while trying to reunite with her Aboriginal family.[2][4] White Baptist Abba Fan has toured internationally.[5]

As a soprano, Cheetham has performed in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.[6] She sang at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.[7][8]

In October 2010, Cheetham's opera Pecan Summer, based on the 1939 Cummeragunja walk-off, opened in Mooroopna, Victoria. She wrote, composed and performed in the production by the Short Black Opera Company.[9][10]

Cheetham has advocated for the lyrics to "Advance Australia Fair" to be rewritten.[11]

In 2018 Cheetham was one of 52 people who contributed to Anita Heiss's book Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, along with Adam Goodes, Miranda Tapsell and Celeste Liddle.

Cheetham wrote Australia's first requiem based on the frontier wars between first nations people in South Western Victoria and settlers between 1840–1863.[12] The requiem, "Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace" is sung entirely in the Gunditjmara language.[12] The first performance of the requiem on 15 June 2019 featured Cheetham with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the MSO Chorus and the Dhungala Children's Choir.[12]

In November 2019, Cheetham was appointed Professor of Practice at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University. She is also the 2020 Composer in Residence at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.[13]

Cheetham's second opera, Parrwang Lifts the Sky, will premiere during Victorian Opera's 2021 season and will be sung in the Wadawurrung language.[14]

Her work Ancient Land Processional performed in three indigenous languages, was commissioned by the University of South Australia and is performed at every graduation ceremony [15][16].

In 2022, a new short work, Ghost Light, was performed as part of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 50 Fanfares Project.

Cheetham was appointed to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in February 2023 as the first person to hold the Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Cheetham is openly lesbian. In 2022 it was announced that she was dating the conductor Nicolette Fraillon,[18] and she is now known as Deborah Cheetham Fraillon after the pair married on 2 January 2023 at their home in Church Point, NSW.[19] Previously, she had been in a long-term relationship with Toni Lalich, with whom she also enjoyed a lengthy artistic partnership.

Awards and honours[edit]

In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed 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".[20]

In April 2018, the University of South Australia awarded Cheetham an Honorary Doctorate (D.Univ.) in recognition of her distinguished service to the community.[21]

Australian Women in Music Awards[edit]

The Australian Women in Music Awards is an annual event that celebrates outstanding women in the Australian Music Industry who have made significant and lasting contributions in their chosen field. They commenced in 2018.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2018[22] Deborah Cheetham Auriel Andrew Memorial Award Won
2021[23] Deborah Cheetham Lifetime Achievement Award awarded

Bernard Heinze Memorial Award[edit]

The Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award is given to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to music in Australia.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2019[24] Deborah Cheetham Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award awarded

Helpmann Awards[edit]

The Helpmann Awards is an awards show, celebrating live entertainment and performing arts in Australia, presented by industry group Live Performance Australia (LPA) since 2001.[25] In 2020, Cheetham received the JC Williamson Award, the LPA's highest honour, for their life's work in live performance.[26]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2020 Deborah Cheetham JC Williamson Award awarded

Music Victoria Awards[edit]

The Music Victoria Awards, are an annual awards night celebrating Victorian music. They commenced in 2005.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2021 Deborah Cheetham (with Byron Scullin and Tom Supple) Best Experimental Act or Avant-Garde Act Nominated [27][28]

National Live Music Awards[edit]

The National Live Music Awards (NLMAs) are a broad recognition of Australia's diverse live industry, celebrating the success of the Australian live scene. The awards commenced in 2016.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
National Live Music Awards of 2019[29][30] Deborah Cheetham Live Classical Act of the Year Won

Victorian Honour Roll of Women[edit]

The Victorian Honour Roll of Women was established in 2001 to recognise the achievements of women from the Australian state of Victoria.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2015[31] Deborah Cheetham Victorian Honour Roll of Women awarded


  1. ^ Galvin, Nick (20 February 2023). "'Making us jump': Singer Deborah Cheetham Fraillon joins the Con". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Where did all the children go?", The Independent, 5 July 2000
  3. ^ "Deborah Cheetham", Sunday Nights With John Cleary, 3 February 2001, Radio National
  4. ^ "The sins of the fathers" by Michael Billington, The Guardian, 22 March 2000
  5. ^ White Baptist Abba Fan, Radio National's Arts Talk
  6. ^ Deborah Cheetham Archived 3 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Australia Council for the Arts
  7. ^ "Singing for the world" by Frank Walker, The Age, 14 September 2003
  8. ^ "Shepparton pulls together to face up to indigenous disadvantage" by Peter Jackson, Crikey, 13 August 2009
  9. ^ Pecan Summer Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine at Riverlinks
  10. ^ Karantonis, Pamela (2011). Opera Indigene: Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures. Surrey, England: Ashgate. p. 325. ISBN 9780754669890.
  11. ^ Cheetham, Deborah. "Young and free? Why I declined to sing the national anthem at the 2015 AFL Grand Final". The Conversation. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  12. ^ a b c "Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace". National Indigenous Times. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  13. ^ "Australian opera legend Deborah Cheetham AO named Professor of Practice at Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music". Monash Arts. 15 November 2019. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  14. ^ Miller, Nick (5 October 2020). "A magpie's song that lifted the darkness: new opera tells potent tale". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  15. ^ "Ancient Land Processional". Intranet. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  16. ^ "Deobrah Cheetham - OA, composer, singer and Abba fan". ABC Radio National. 26 April 2019. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  17. ^ "Deborah Cheetham Fraillon joins Sydney Conservatorium of Music". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ Fraillon, Deborah (10 January 2023). "Deborah Fraillon - Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  20. ^ "The Queen's Birthday 2014 Honours List" (PDF). 8 June 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  21. ^ "UniSA awards opera singer, composer and arts leader, Deborah Cheetham an Honorary Doctorate". Home. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  22. ^ "2018 Recipients Finalists". women in Music Awards. October 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  23. ^ "2022 Australian Women In Music Awards Winners". Scenestr. 19 May 2022. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  24. ^ "Deborah Cheetham AO honoured with prestigious award". The University of Melbourne. 7 June 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  25. ^ "Events & Programs". Live Performance Australia. Retrieved 17 August 2022.
  26. ^ Yanko, Suzanne. "Tognetti’s Award triumph." Classic Melbourne. Edited by Suzanne Yanko. Published online 31 May 2017. [2] Accessed 5 September 2019.
  27. ^ "Music Victoria Awards Reveals Line-up And Nominees for 2021". Noise11. 11 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Music Victoria Awards 2021 Winners". 9 December 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  29. ^ "HERE ARE YOUR 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS NOMINEES!". NLMA. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  30. ^ "AND THE WINNERS OF THE 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS ARE…". NLMA. 5 December 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  31. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2018" (PDF).