Deborah Cheetham

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Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Joy Cheetham

(1964-11-24) 24 November 1964 (age 57)
EducationBachelor of Music, NSW Conservatorium of Music
  • Singer
  • actor
  • composer
  • playwright

Deborah Joy Cheetham AO (born 24 November 1964), is an Aboriginal Australian soprano, actor, composer and playwright.

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[1] 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.[2]


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.[1][3] White Baptist Abba Fan has toured internationally.[4]

As a soprano, Cheetham has performed in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.[5] She sang at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

Cheetham has advocated for the lyrics to "Advance Australia Fair" to be rewritten.[10]

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.[11] The requiem, "Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace" is sung entirely in the Gunditjmara language.[11] The first performance of the requiem on 15 June 2019 will feature Cheetham with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the MSO Chorus and the Dhungala Children's Choir.[11]

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.[12]

Cheetham's second opera, Parrwang Lifts the Sky, will premiere during Victorian Opera's 2021 season and will be sung in the Wadawurrung language.[13]


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".[14]

Cheetham was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2015.[15] In June 2019 she received the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award in recognition of her outstanding service to music.[16]

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[17] Deborah Cheetham Auriel Andrew Memorial Award Won

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 Pending [18]

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[19][20] Deborah Cheetham Live Classical Act of the Year Won


  1. ^ a b "Where did all the children go?", The Independent, 5 July 2000
  2. ^ "Deborah Cheetham", Sunday Nights With John Cleary, 3 February 2001, Radio National
  3. ^ "The sins of the fathers" by Michael Billington, The Guardian, 22 March 2000
  4. ^ White Baptist Abba Fan, Radio National's Arts Talk
  5. ^ Deborah Cheetham Archived 3 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Australia Council for the Arts
  6. ^ "Singing for the world" by Frank Walker, The Age, 14 September 2003
  7. ^ "Shepparton pulls together to face up to indigenous disadvantage" by Peter Jackson, Crikey, 13 August 2009
  8. ^ Pecan Summer Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine at Riverlinks
  9. ^ Karantonis, Pamela (2011). Opera Indigene: Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures. Surrey, England: Ashgate. p. 325. ISBN 9780754669890.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b c "Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace". National Indigenous Times. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "The Queen's Birthday 2014 Honours List" (PDF). 8 June 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2018" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Deborah Cheetham AO honoured with prestigious award". The University of Melbourne. 7 June 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  17. ^ "2018 Recipients Finalists". women in Music Awards. October 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Music Victoria Awards Reveals Line-up And Nominees for 2021". Noise11. 11 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  19. ^ "HERE ARE YOUR 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS NOMINEES!". NLMA. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  20. ^ "AND THE WINNERS OF THE 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS ARE…". NLMA. 5 December 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.