News & Stories

Ossa Prize the launching pad for singer’s burgeoning career

Talented Tasmanian-born singer Naarah Barnes has hit the high note of her career, landing a starring role in the hit stage show The Sapphires.

The University of Tasmania alumna is being catapulted onto the national stage, spending 2020 performing in the award-winning musical.

Naarah is delighted to be fulfilling her dream of touring Australia in the show, which is based on the true story of the first popular Aboriginal all-female group.

This year she will perform in more than  90 locations, including Burnie, playing the role of Cynthia in the story of four Yorta Yorta women who sing classic soul music during the Vietnam War.

“I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to represent my culture, tell stories and entertain people, which is what I love to do,” Naarah said.

It’s also amazing to go straight from university studying a Bachelor of Music into a professional position.

Writer and director Tony Briggs said he hoped the audience will get  a sense of joy and understanding of who Aboriginal people are and walk away from The Sapphires with a smile on their faces.

“I hope the audience will feel a fresh sense of connection to a story that has already successfully infiltrated the psyche of the Australian theatre and movie going public.”

Naarah is a member of the Gidja people from the Kimberley in Western Australia and the first person in her family to attend university.

More than two decades ago, her parents left their small Aboriginal community to start a family in Tasmania.

When Naarah was a child her parents bought a book from a Hobart op shop, providing her first opportunity to learn music. Her parents soon saw her passion and potential, and formal lessons began.

In Naarah’s final year of her degree at the University's Conservatorium of Music, Naarah was propelled into the spotlight after winning the coveted Ossa Musical Performance Prize. 

It is awarded to a student to help them pursue excellence in musicianship and performance by funding a solo tour.

The Ossa Prize really set me up for what I am going to do next. All of a sudden I was performing all the time and learning so much in the process, including how to talk to an audience and what to do when you make a mistake. The difference from the first show to the last was huge. It was an amazing opportunity.

The benefactors of the prize are former University of Tasmania deputy chancellor, prominent businessman and alumnus Rod Roberts and his wife Cecile.

Rod said that he and his family were keen to support the University in its endeavours and ensure that money was directed to areas that were often difficult to fund and could lead to greater community participation and enrichment.

“I’m keenly aware of the general lack of exposure to the arts in regional Tasmania,” Rod said.

“As a family we talked about the fine arts, which seems to be relatively well catered for, however, there is little public emphasis on music, particularly classical music.”

“The tour is a modest attempt to bring high quality music to places where it is rarely visited.”

The couple were anonymous donors, but they recently changed their status. Rod is on the board of the Royal Flying Doctors Service where he has seen how public donations may inspire others to act.

Part of what is important to the Roberts family is that the prize has the potential to increase participation in music, whether that’s performers, supporters or concert goers. 

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