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Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers

Ngarra-Burria are Dharug words meaning to hear, to sing.

Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers is an initiative intended for First Peoples skills development and industry connections in the new music/classical composition arena.

The program was developed by Aboriginal composer Dr Chris Sainsbury, and started in 2016 with partners including the School of Music at the Australian National University, Ensemble Offspring, the ABC and the Australian Music Centre. In 2017 Moogahlin Performing Arts also joined and served with valuable administrative assistance and in producing the composers cultural expressions through new music until 2022. From 2023 and going forward partners include the School of Music and also the Yil Lull First Nations Studio at the Australian National University, Ensemble Offspring, the ABC and the Australian Music Centre. Yil Lull will be producing the 2023 program with support from Ensemble Offspring.

We pride ourselves on achieving an Indigenous-led impact on the Australian art music sector which has resulted in one national award (the Art Music Awards: National Luminary Award for director Dr Christopher Sainsbury) and one international award (Classical:NEXT Innovation Award for the program and all partners) for effecting positive change, namely introducing the missing voices of First Nations composers, some of whom now have careers in this field.

First Nations voices through music always were, and always will be present.

Past participants of the Ngarra-Burria program include: Eric Avery, Rhyan Clapham, Marlene Cummins, Brenda Gifford, Tim Gray, James Henry, Will Kepa, Mark 'Munk' Ross, Troy Russell, Elizabeth Sheppard, Nardi Simpson, and Aaron Wyatt.

Classical:NEXT Innovation Award Recipient 2022

Ngarra-Burria 2023-24

Mentors Christopher Sainsbury and James Henry are working with performers Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble and Alister Spence in support of these First Nations composers developing new techniques and skills in instrumental composition and notation, as well as industry knowledge and relationships.

The Ngarra-Burria program provides for its participants:

  • The opportunity to write work/s for recording and performance by Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia‚Äôs leading new music ensembles.
  • Periodic face-to-face and online mentoring sessions with program facilitators, developing their work/s
  • Workshops with the performers during the year, developing and refining the work/s
  • Involvement in ANU School of Music sessions
  • Rehearsals, recording, and a final performance in Sydney
  • A modest honorarium, along with travel costs to attend workshops/recording session.


Dr Chris Sainsbury

Chris Sainsbury is the founder, mentor and champion of the Ngarra-Burria First Nations Composers Initiative. Chris is an established composer and musician, having produced orchestral music, chamber music, folk songs, choral music, and solo instrumental pieces, mostly focusing on his main instrument, guitar, since the 1980s. A Dharug composer, Chris has been at the forefront of Indigenous art music in Australia.

Dr Christopher Sainsbury - biography


Shauntai Sheree Abdul-Raman

Bio coming soon.

Gabe Fromyhr

Bio coming soon.

Adam Manning

Adam Manning was born on Awabakal Country and has Kamilaroi kinship. He is a musician, artist, producer/ researcher, educator, and the Conservatorium Coordinator at the University of Newcastle, NSW. Read more

Nicole Smede

Nicole Smede is a multi-disciplinary artist of Worimi and European descent, living and creating on Dharawal Country. Proud of her heritage, she works through language to reconnect to ancestry and culture. A classically trained Mezzo Soprano, she ran away from classical music early on to pursue wider artistic interests. Now, Nicole uses voice, song, sound and poetry to explore ideas around landscape, connectedness, and ancestry.Read more.

Gary Watling

Gary Watling is a proud Wiradjuri man, musician, composer, and musical director, who currently resides on Wadarurrung Country. Gary graduated from Southern Cross University with a Bachelor of Contemporary Music (Performance), before completing a master's in music (Performance Teaching) at Melbourne University, and a Master of Teaching (Secondary) at Monash University. In addition, to being an in-demand session player, Gary has served as Musical Director and Co-Composer on works such as ILBIJERRI Theatre Company's 'Heart Is a Wasteland' and Australian Dance Theatre's 'Tracker'. In 2023, Gary won a Green Room Award for his work on 'Heart Is a Wasteland'.Read more.


If you have further questions about this program, please with the subject 'Ngarra-Burria'.

Program partners

  • ANU School of Music
  • Ensemble Offspring
  • ABC Classic
  • Australian Music Centre

  • Australian National University

    Ensemble Offspring

    ABC Classic

    Australian Music Centre

    Music by Ngarra-Burria Composers

    Find scores in the AMC Catalogue