Alice Eather – Commemorating her life through composition

In our upcoming programme next weekend Behold - The Sea! being performed in both Sydney and Wollongong, Sydney Chamber Choir is premiering a new work: Yúya Karrabúra by Dan Walker. Ed and Jane Suttle, long time supporters of the choir, have commissioned the piece.


Commissioning new music is an important part of Sydney Chamber Choir’s tradition. Once composed and performed, it’s out there and available for use by other choirs across the globe.

Ed and Jane Suttle have wanted to commission a piece for the choir for some time.

Ed and Jane’s family are passionate advocates of Aboriginal rights, especially their son Dave. His work brought him into contact with Alice Eather, who in Dave’s words, “… was a unique and inspiring person; an incredible woman whose story resonates deep in the bedrock of this country. Alice’s mother was a Gunibidji woman from Maningrida in Arnhem Land; her father a direct descendent of a convict on the 1788 second fleet.”

In 2017, at just 28 years of age Alice ended her life in the solitude of her home in the NT community of Maningrida. To commemorate Alice, Dave posted a poem on Facebook at the time, which reached his parents and deeply moved them both.

The words of this poem were still in their thoughts when they were looking for inspiration to commission a piece. It resonated with musically caring Ed and politically motivated Jane.

Sharing her thoughts on the piece, Jane says, “I don’t have a musical background like Ed does, but the first time I realised that music could be more than something you enjoy was when Paul Stanhope introduced me to his programmes during his tenure as Sydney Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director. I'd come to the choir’s concerts to find out what stories he was going to tell. I have developed a love of choral music because it engages with issues I care about.”

Composer Dan Walker is a long-time colleague of Ed having sung with him in many groups over the years. Ed was certain that Dan would treat the words with the sympathy and sensitivity they deserve. With Alice’s family’s permission, Ed edited the words to the poem which have now been set to music. They are emotionally difficult both to read and to sing, but it also reflects Alice’s courage & strength.

Dan’s composition uses a haunting motif reminiscent of traditional Aboriginal music to portray “I walk between these two worlds, a split life, split skin, split tongue, split kin”. Ed confesses: “It’s really hard to sing it without tears in my eyes.” Jane reflects, “This is the burden that was too much for Alice to carry.”

Yúya Karrabúra, keep the fire burning is Alice’s legacy to us all.

When asked what they wish to say to people who hope to commission a composition in the future, Ed replies: “Many people have original works of arts on the walls of their home, but far fewer have pieces of music that can be enjoyed by everyone. A piece of art can only be seen by people who walk passed, but a piece of music can be performed anywhere around the world. It's a far more significant legacy.”

Jane has a slightly different opinion. “People do commission things: pieces of furniture, clothes, paintings etc. With music, they have a unique opportunity. It’s like setting your children free. Once it’s out there, it has its own life.”

Ria Andriani

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We hope you'll join us at 7.30pm on Saturday, 6th October for what promises to be a wonderful concert at Verbruggen Hall - Sydney Conservatorium of Music.