Nicole Muir AM is CEO of the Australian School of Performing Arts where she leads a team of over 200 permanent and casual team members across the country.
Together with Judith Curphey, she founded Girls from Oz. Nicole is deeply passionate about educating girls and has been instrumental in the development of g-oz relationships with funding bodies, supporters, individual philanthropists and government.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity and it led me to thinking about some of the women who have gone before us who worked to achieve a gender equal world in which girls could thrive. Within the ASPA and Girls from Oz communities we have three stand out ‘elders’; how lucky we are to have them and to continue to be inspired by them.
March 7 is the anniversary of the founding of the Australian Girls Choir, by Judith Curphey OAM. In 1984, Judith set out to create a girls’ choir as she was convinced that girls’ voices were as worthy of attention as the celebrated angelic boys choirs. Judith is now 93 and still sits on the ASPA Board, she is avidly interested in everything we do and consistently asks challenging questions when we design change. Judith doesn’t spend much time having self-congratulatory thoughts but she is immensely proud of the community that has formed as a result of her little idea to start a choir, when she was 55. One of her enthusiastic friends and supporters at the time suggested the name which she frankly thought was a bit much considering the fact that she was auditioning a couple of hundred girls in Burwood in Melbourne. The challenges were many and varied as she set out to create a self-sustaining arts education organisation. With the assistance of her 75 year old mother and her sister, Jacquie, in year one she also started the choir in Adelaide and within the first five years she’d also opened in Sydney and run an International Tour to Canada. She periodically questions my workload, and that of the other leaders in the organisation. I say, we’re just getting started if we’re to measure age and bringing big ideas to life.
Soon after we opened the choir in Brisbane we invited, then Governor of Queensland, Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO to a concert. To our surprise, she didn’t just come along one year but in the second year expressed interest in knowing more about us and our aspirations. I’m privileged to have spent many hours in her company since and have been inspired by her for the better part of 20 years. Quentin has been involved with Girls from Oz since we first started dreaming up our charity partner and she’s looking forward to visiting our newest community Bidyadanga in May this year. She will also return to Halls Creek where she first met our g-oz girls back in 2010 when serving as Australia’s first female Governor-General. In addition to being a mother of five, Quentin did many things in her career in pursuit of gender equity. In 1968, she became the first woman appointed as a faculty member of the law school where she had studied, and in 1978 she joined the new National Women’s Advisory Council (later the Australian Council for Women). This was followed by appointment to a number of positions, including the first Director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service, the Queensland Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 1988. Quentin accepted our invitation some years ago to be the sole Patron of Girls from Oz and we are eternally grateful that she continues to be an enthusiastic champion of the work we do to encourage girls and young women, in all settings, to thrive.
Along the path to growing Girls from Oz, I met Dr Lois Peeler AM at an event hosted by the Governor of WA titled “Investing in Our Future: A Shared Vision to improve educational and self-esteem outcomes for Aboriginal girls in Western Australia”. I was incredibly inspired by Lois’ address to the group and she kindly took up my request to meet when we were both back in Victoria. I’m grateful to Lois for taking time to talk, she is a formidable woman who has achieved an enormous amount especially in the realm of Aboriginal girls’ education. In 1983, Lois worked closely with her sister Hyllus Maris, in establishing Australia’s only Aboriginal girls’ boarding school, Worawa Aboriginal College. Her public career included being the first Aboriginal model and first Aboriginal person to work in television (the GTV 9 Breakfast Session in the 60s). She was part of the group that toured Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War and were the subjects of the hit play and then internationally acclaimed movie “The Sapphires”. Additionally, Lois has had a lifetime of involvement in Aboriginal community development and extensive experience in Aboriginal Affairs. She retired as Director of Worawa only last year and was proud to have created a place where girls could have a rigorous education, with their health and wellbeing cared for, and where they could celebrate Aboriginal culture. The Australian Girls Choir and Girls from Oz have links with Worawa and we’ll continue to develop those relationships.
I hope that the work we do to contribute to growing confident young women will improve gender equity; there are many strong and hard working women who have gone before us and there is still work to be done.