Cooktown Cantata

Here's my latest project! It's a gift to be involved with this - a large scale writing project, and a chance to work with an ensemble of really talented artists, including 2 Aboriginal artists from Northern Queensland.


I'm composing the Cooktown Cantata - the signature event for the Cooktown 2020 Festival, taking place on July 25/26 when the replica Endeavour will be arriving in Cooktown. It is a 60-minute cross-cultural, cross-genre work for 3 vocalists and 6-piece chamber ensemble, commissioned by the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association (VSJGA) and supported by Cook Shire Council and the Festival 2020 Committee.

The libretto has been written by artistic director/producer Jan Black. It brings together the stories of 3 important Cooktown figures: Joseph Banks, naturalist on the Endeavour; Vera Scarth-Johnson, botanical artist, local environmental activist; and Tulo Gordon, Aboriginal elder, artist, guide, friend to Vera. The songs reflect the theme of the festival, Our Shared Story, and celebrate Cooktown as the site of the first reconciliation between the traditional owners and European settlers.

Each of the three characters in the Cantata is significant to Cooktown. Vera Scarth-Johnson a ‘10£ Pom,’ settled there in the 1970s, drawn to its natural beauty and abundant flora. She was inspired by the Banks Floralegium to draw all the species that he had collected and documented during the Endeavour’s 48-day stay in 1770. VSJ was a well-regarded, vibrant local personality who played a lead role in preventing the locating of a sand mining operation on the North Shore of the Endeavour River. She had a strong friendship with Guugu Yimithirr artist and elder Tulo Gordon who would take her onto country to find plants which did not grow close to the coast. The Cantata binds together these three individuals who each made such a significant contribution to Cooktown’s history and development.

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