Sculptures of three renowned female musicians on display 

The sculptures of three renowned female musicians are now on display at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Made of ceramic, brass and other elements by Sydney-based artist Anna-Wili Highfield, the sculptures depict Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, Hildegard von Bingen and Nina Simone.  

The sculptures are located in the Library at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which is open to the public on Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm.  

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO 
b. Yuin Country (Nowra), 1964 

Deboarh Cheetham Fraillon AO describes herself as a “21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, stolen generation by government policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice.” 

Professor Cheetham Fraillon is the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies, joining the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2023. A graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium, she has forged a dynamic and trail-blazing career as a multi award-winning composer, soprano, academic and activist.  

Her operas, ballet and orchestral works have been commissioned by Australia’s major companies. She was appointed Composer in Residence with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2020 and First Nations Creative Chair in 2021.  

Professor Cheetham Fraillon has established several flagship companies and projects devoted to the development of Indigenous voices in the performing arts. These include Short Black Opera, Dhungala Children’s Choir, One Day in January and Ensemble Dutala.  

She is the first Indigenous composer in this country to write an opera, Pecan Summer (2010), and the first Indigenous person given the honour of ‘Chief of Parade’ at the Sydney Mardi Gras, leading the Dykes on Bikes in full leathers in 2006.  

Her pioneering, innovative leadership and distinguished service in the arts was recognised with her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours. 

Professor Cheetham Fraillon is the first subject of the three busts made by sculptor Anna-Wili Highfield. This bust was commissioned by the Composing Women group on the initiative of Bree van Reyk and presented to the University of Sydney Library in March 2021 in a gesture of ‘gift activism’. 

At our first meeting in person Deborah presented ochres from Mt Gulaga as a gift to her portrait.  These precious ochres, ground from the rocks of the mountain now colour her ceramic form. The possum pelt that lines the inside of her head was also chosen by Deborah as a material to symbolise and celebrate her First Nations identity. Framing her face is the shape of a collar inspired by one of her gowns, this is for Deborah the diva, a powerful soprano and magnificent presence on stage.

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor 

Read more about Deboarh Cheetham Fraillon AO on ABC News and hear her music on ABC Classic

Hildegard von Bingen 

Hildegard von Bingen was a visionary 12th-century Benedictine abbess, visionary and polymath, who was chosen for this sculpture to reflect the legacy of women composers who were also nuns. She is one the first identifiable composers by name in the Western Art Music tradition. 

The contradiction that she represents—a woman presiding over the earliest stages of the male-dominated Western canon—has had a galvanic effect on contemporary female composers, who see in her the shape of sound to come.

Alex Ross, The New Yorker 

Hildegard von Bingen’s accomplishments included her composition of Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (a cycle of 77 sacred songs pushing the boundaries of Gregorian chant); three major volumes of writing: Scivias, Book of Life’s Merits and Book of Divine Works; a medical treatise Causes and Cures; a discourse on science and healing Physica; and a musical morality play Ordo Virtutum. Her legacy also includes hundreds of letters in correspondence with popes, emperors, and religious leaders.  

She is also known for her invented language Lingua Ignota or ‘Unknown Tongue’ which she used in her writing and compositions.  

Her face is open for the mystic and visionary she was. She wears gold leaf like armour, as a radical activist within the church. Inside her head is sage. Hildegard was a herbalist and said that sage was for the voice.

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor 

This artwork was commissioned by the University of Sydney Library on the advice of Composing Women.

Nina Simone 

Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon) is one of the most extraordinary and iconic artists of the twentieth century – she was a singer, pianist, songwriter and civil rights activist.  

Simone released the quintessential protest song Mississippi Goddam in 1964 in reaction to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Other classic releases included My Baby Just Cares for Me; I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free; Sinnerman; I Put a Spell on You; Feeling Good; Four Women; I Ain’t Got No/ I Got Life; To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Baltimore. Simone published her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You in 1991. 

She said ‘an artist’s duty is to reflect the times’ and famously, ‘I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear’. 

Simone took up the classical piano at the age of 6 and specialised in playing the works of J.S. Bach. She earned a scholarship for a one-year program at the Juilliard School in New York. She also auditioned for the Curtis Institute of Music who denied her admission which she later understood to be due to racism. The Institute later awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in music and humanities in 2003 (two days before her death).  

In 2008, Rolling Stone named Simone to its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and, in 2018, Simone was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Ebony piano keys make up her hair. She was a classical and jazz pianist, composing, songwriting and performing at the piano. Hair was often in her lyrics, referencing her race and pride but also as a motif for difference and racism. In Nina’s eyes I placed diamonds, for the diva and for the woman with a vision. The vintage diamonds were given by Liza Lim, composer and integral person in this project. Nina’s face is ceramic mixed with iron oxide; iron and oxygen represent strength and life.  

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor

Commissioned by the University of Sydney Library on the advice of Composing Women. 

New All Gender Accessible Bathrooms at Fisher Library

Image of a hallway with bathrooms on the right. Signs say All Gender Ambulant Toilet.
Hallway with people walking in the background and bathrooms on the right side.

We are pleased to share that three new all gender accessible bathrooms are now open on level 1 of Fisher Library.

Ensuring that our spaces are welcoming to all visitors is a priority for the Library; we’re committed to celebrating diversity and including people from all backgrounds.

Following feedback from the Library’s gender diverse stakeholders we committed to implementing these additions.  

The world is changing and so are the needs of our library staff and clients. This flexible project increases amenity for all.

Philip Kent, University Librarian

Fisher Library is located in a heritage-listed mid-century modern building, so we worked closely with University Infrastructure and their contractors to identify a suitable location close to existing plumbing.

Heritage consultants were also engaged to ensure the design was sympathetic to the heritage building. The wood panelled exteriors of the bathrooms blend consistently with the building’s interior style. Ensuring flexibility, the additional bathrooms are also accessible. The Library also took the opportunity to incorporate a shower to provide end-of-trip amenity. Construction on the bathrooms began in late 2022 and they were recently opened in May 2023.

The bathrooms are located on level 1 of Fisher Library close to the lifts, staff workrooms and connection to the Law Library.

Find out more about the Library’s diversity and inclusion initiatives here.

Reconciliation Week 27 May – 3 June, 2023

Reconciliation Week is a time for everyone to learn about our shared stories, histories, cultures and achievements. For 2023, the theme is “Be a Voice for Generations” which urges us all to keep up the momentum for change. 

The theme and Reconciliation Australia “encourages all Australians to be a voice for reconciliation in tangible ways in our everyday lives – where we live, work and socialise.”  

A History of Reconciliation Week:  

  • Runs from the 27th May to the 3rd of June. Two very important dates of significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The 27th of May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to remove the clause in the Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The 3rd of June marks the 1992 Mabo decision that say the High Court of Australia recognising native title.  
  • The day before, the 26th of May is National Sorry Day, commemorating those who are apart of the Stolen Generations at the hands of the Australian Government.  

What is Reconciliation?  

  • At its core, reconciliation is an action to strengthen relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. It is an action to acknowledge the trauma of the impact of colonisation by the Government and society. It is to acknowledge the discrimination and racism that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have experienced and continue to experience. 
  • It is an on-going journey for all people in current Australia, and is a reminder to remember those who have fought hard for equal rights and continue to fight for Country and Culture.  
  • Reconciliation Week asks allies in their organisations, schools, university, community groups and workplaces to work on their own actions towards reconciliation and to amplify the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.  

How to get involved:  

  1. For the community and our Allies, this is a great resource on practical and impactful actions that you can do to “be a voice for reconciliation”: 
  1. See what events are running around your workplaces and communities and attend.  
  1. Read and share the stories and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Here are some that speak to the theme from our Library catalogue:  

Songlines: The Power and Promise (First Knowledges Series)  

Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly  

Apart of an amazing series of First Nations knowledges, Songlines is an insight into the power and significance of songlines. They are complex systems of knowledges that hold stories, songs, dance, ceremonies and art. It weaves close personal and cultural storytelling from Lynne Kelle. A beautiful read on how to engage with First Nations knowledges and adapting them into our lives.  

Discover this title in our catalogue

Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Aboriginal Women and Feminism  

Aileen Moreton-Robinson  

This book is for everyone! Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson critiques, the whiteness of Australian Feminism and how this has ignored and rejected Indigenous women. She interrogates western feminism and its rootedness in power, privilege and colonization.  

Discover this title in our catalogue

The following books are written by Non-Indigenous authors but document important histories of First Nations activism in Australia.  

Redfern : Aboriginal Activism in the 1970s 

Johanna Perheentupa  

A great read for those wanting to learn more about Redfern (a close neighbour to the University) as the epicentre for Indigenous social justice and political movements throughout history. Within this book, you will learn about how through the determination of the community, health services, legal services, child care centres, a black theatre and schooling was established. All of these institutions still have an important legacy today.  

Discover this title in our catalogue

Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism  

John Maynard  

Within this important read, the history of Aboriginal activism is told. From as early as invasion itself and through to today there has been resistance and activism. In the early 20th Century the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) was established. It was a significant all-Aboriginal activist group that demanded land rights, citizenship, prevention of forced removal of children and defending cultural identity. An important history that needs to be told and remembered.   

Discover this item in our catalogue

Library statement on Honi Soit incident

Approximately one thousand copies of a queer-themed edition of Honi Soit were maliciously removed from stands across campus on Tuesday, 16 May. The edition, produced by the Queer Action Collective (QuAC), is titled Fagi Soit.

The University of Sydney Library is dismayed to learn that these acts of censorship and bigotry occurred in our spaces. We stand in solidarity with the creators of Fagi Soit, whose freedom of expression has been suppressed, and extend our sympathy to any LGBTQIA+ students, staff, and community members that have found this incident distressing. We reaffirm our commitment to supporting free and equitable access to information and to making the Library a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQIA+ people. The Library has worked in partnership with the Student Representative Council over many decades to preserve Honi Soit for perpetuity, and we hold both print and digital copies within our collection.  

To learn more about this incident and to read Fagi Soit online:

For those wishing to show their support for the queer community on campus:

  • Attend the speak-out called by QuAC at 12pm Thursday 25 May on the Law lawns on Eastern Avenue, Camperdown Campus.

For those feeling distressed and seeking support in the wake of this incident:

IDAHOBIT Day, 17 May 2023

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia has been observed on 17 May each year since 2005 to raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ rights violations including violence, discrimination, and repression of LGBT communities worldwide. The date was originally selected to commemorate the 1990 decision by the World Health Organisation to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. 

The stated goals for IDAHOBIT include to take action, and engage in dialogue with the media, policymakers, public opinion, and wider civil society. The idea behind setting a global date for IDAHOBIT celebrations is that they are globally visible while not requiring them conformation to a particular format or type of action because of the diversity of social, religious, cultural, and political contexts in which rights violations occur. Despite the nature of IDAHOBIT celebrations being very different across the world, they share common themes of pride in oneself, happiness, love and caring within the community, and countering different rampant forms of hate in the world. 

Some of the things the official, Australian IDAHOBIT Day website suggests you can do to show your support and celebrate IDAHOBIT Day at uni or at work are: 

  • Go Rainbow! Wear rainbow face paint or clothes on the day, or decorate your office with rainbow. 
  • Host an event. No matter how large or small, whether it is a fabulous party or a small, rainbow cupcake afternoon tea, your event will make a difference. 
  • Raise awareness. This can be done on IDAHOBIT Day or at any time of the year, whether by inviting a guest speaker, hosting or attending an inclusion training session, or listening to those with lived-experience. 
  • Change the world with your generosity. Think about how you can help other LGBTQIA+ young people in need through organisations such as Minus18

Rare Bites: Sydney’s Chinese Ghosts

The Rare Books Library at the University of Sydney holds a copy of the 1891 NSW Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality, a rare and valuable document which invites us to view life in 19th century Sydney through Chinese eyes.

The stated aim of the commission – as Shirley Fitzgerald explains – ‘was to establish the extent of bribery and extortion within the Chinese gambling community, and between gambling syndicates and the police.’ Ostensibly a tool of the state to enact surveillance on Chinese urban life at a time of heightened anti-Chinese xenophobia in the city.

Sophie invites us to read the Commission against the grain, excavating the Chinese lives evidenced in its pages. What can the Commission tell us about Sydney’s Chinese ghosts?

Speaker: Sophie Loy-Wilson is a lecturer in Australian history at the University of Sydney. She is the recipient of an ARC DECRA Grant for her project Chinese Business: social and economic survival in white Australia, 1870-1940.