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AUSTRALIA'S COLLEGE OF COUNTRY MUSIC
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A brief history of the Australian College of Country Music
Max Ellis, December, 2002
The Country Music Association of Australia was formed in January 1992 with its first major objective to secure the staging of the Country Music Awards as a gala presentation. This was achieved by May of 1992 when Radio 2TM generously handed over the event to the new industry body.
The first CMAA Country Music Awards of Australia was staged in January 1993 and by then Board members were starting to look at longer term objectives for the organization. Education and assistance for young artists interested in country music as a career, had always been an issue especially for the handful of dedicated professional artists who been elected to the Board of their industry body. Many, like Slim Dusty, Joy McKean, and Brian Young had a record of encouraging new talent by providing opportunities for them to perform.
The Board had discussed a number of alternatives including the possibility of setting up a system of “mentoring” young artists by taking them on tour with experience artists but this became too complicated.
In mid 1994 Gary Robertson then working with Prime and CMAA, came up with a proposal for a College. It was reworked by the Secretariat team of Max Ellis, Bob Kirchner and Kate Nugent and submitted to the Board. On October 4th, 1994, the proposal was accepted and a sub-committee comprising Max Ellis, Deniese Morrison, John Elliott, Sue Jarvis, Martin Cass and Dobe Newton was formed to investigate its implementation.
By late in 1994 discussions had been held with Ausmusic and TAFE and in early 1995 it was decided that the College should be set up in conjunction with TAFE New England. The TAFE representative was Robert Simpson who played an important role in the formation of the College. It was agreed that the course would be accredited by TAFE and students would be assessed before graduation. After a number of meetings with CMAA, TAFE agreed to provide up to $20,000 to fund the preparation of the Curriculum for the College and a number of applicants were interviewed for the job. Fortunately Rob Simpson had investigated other music educational schemes including the famous “Bondi Wave” and after an interview, the CMAA and TAFE commissioned “Bondi Wave’s” co-ordinator Peter Winkler to prepare the curriculum in consultation with the CMAA.
This was completed by March 1996 and soon plans were being made for the first College.
The CMAA was fortunate in being able to secure Calrossy School in Tamworth for the College. Its excellent residential and classroom facilities are perfect and the close association with the girl’s boarding school continues to this day. The first Australian College of Country Music was held from January 4 to 19th 1997, with Peter Winkler as the Musical Director supported by the CMAA Secretariat and tutors Rod Coe, Deniese Morrison, Dobe Newton and Garth Porter plus specialist instrumental and vocal master class teachers.
The now traditional Graduation Concert in West League Club showcased the talents of those first 21 students and a CD with original tracks written and recorded at the College provided hard evidence of the success of the scheme. At the Graduation President, Slim Dusty handed out the CMAA Certificates while Gary Pollack, Head of TAFE New England presented the TAFE Certificates of Achievement.
The first College was an immediate success laying the foundation for the years that followed. By 2005 some 189 young artists from every corner of the nation have graduated including a number who have gone on to became Golden Guitar Winners and new stars in Australian country music.
Over the years funding for the College has come from many generous industry sponsors as well as a grants from the NSW Ministry of Arts, The Australia Council for the Arts, Tamworth City Council, APRA/AMCOS, the Country Music Association in Nashville and many others. Now days a number of students are sponsored into the College by country music organizations and talent quests. Behind the College stands the CMAA providing funds, administration and expertise.
For the CMAA, it has been a proud achievement. Already the College Graduates are having a significant impact on the Australian country music scene not only in term of professional performance and achievement but also in bringing closer together the many members of the expanded “family of country music”.
Photo: John Williamson pauses for "a photo shoot" during a session with "the class of 2004", tutors and guests.
Click here for a rundown on how the College works.