First Nations Composer Program

What is our First Nations Composer Program?

Ensemble Offspring’s First Nations Composer Program is unique in the Australian art music scene. Our multifaceted program actively addresses the disparity in opportunities afforded to First Nations musicians and artists with, in the words of Christopher Sainsbury, a ‘gentle correction’ to past approaches. We recognise the damaging legacy of colonisation and see the immense value that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists contribute to the cultural landscape. Key to our First Nations program is local industry engagement and partnerships prioritising ‘First People First’.

Explore works by First Nations composers:
First Nations Works List

Read Ensemble Offspring’s Commitment to First Nations Artists:
Download PDF

Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers

‘Ngarra-Burria’ are Dharug words meaning ‘to hear, to sing’. Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers builds bridges for First Peoples musicians to step forward, further develop their composition skills, and connect with the art music sector. Initiated in 2017 by Aboriginal composer Christopher Sainsbury, the program takes a two-year cohort of composers on a voyage spanning the many realms of art music, including contemporary classical/new music, jazz, experimental, sound art and installations. This deep engagement sees its participants joining Ensemble Offspring in residence in annual workshops, recordings and performances. Founding partners are Moogahlin Performing Arts, Australian Music Centre and Australian National University School of Music. Moogahlin stepped down in 2023 with the role of First Nations lead partner taken up by Yil Lull First Nations Studio at the Australian National University.

Learn more about the Ngarra-Burria composers and discover their music:
First Nations Works List

First Nations Composer in Residence

Our annual First Nations Composer in Residence opportunity was launched in 2020, with Brenda Gifford the first recipient. It offers a flexible mentoring and workshopping environment for the chosen composer including one-on-one sessions, involvement in local and regional touring programs and workshops and the premiere of a new Ensemble Offspring commission (valued at $2500). In 2021 our FNCIR was Nardi Simpson (Yuwaalaraay) and in 2022 our FNCIR is Eric Avery (Ngiyampaa/Yuin/Bandjalang/Gumbangirri).

Application Process
Applications for First Nations Composer in Residence are by invitation. However, if this is something that you are interested in, please email claire@ensembleoffspring.com

Our First Nations Composers

James Henry (2023-2024)

James Henry is a composer and sound designer who blends traditional Aboriginal and contemporary genres. His diverse skill set has seen him compose for Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choir and musical director for the Dreamtime at the G opening ceremonies, and as musical director of ‘Tanderrum’ Melbourne Festival Opening Ceremonies. Also a singer/songwriter, James has toured nationally and internationally as a solo performer, and with the Black Arm Band and Buried Country. He performs as a DJ and produces House and Techno music under the alias of Nurra. James has worked closely with communities to revive their languages through song, and recently completed his fellowship studying traditional Aboriginal music and its incorporation into contemporary genres.

James Henry – Big Swell (2023) from Dreamscapes
First Nations Composer in Residence 2023
Premiered at Mondays @ The Church 2: Reconciliation

Eric Avery (2022)

Eric Avery is a Ngiyampaa, Yuin, Bandjalang, and Gumbangirri musician, violinist and dancer. He has studied at NAISDA and the Australian Institute of Music, has completed a mentorship at the Australian Ballet, and has engaged with Marrugeku for 5 years, attending their Intercultural Indigenous Choreographic Laboratories and dancing in Cut the Sky nationally and internationally. Eric has recently developed a solo work, Dancing with Strangers, with Belgian Choreographer Koen Augustijnen for Marrugeku’s triple bill Burrbgaja Yalirra. Eric has performed with the Black Arm Band internationally and locally and opened for Rhiannon Giddens for her Australian Performances at the Factory Theatre, Newtown. Eric regularly plays violin with his father, Graham King (Yidaki/Didgeridoo), recently performing at Boomerang-Byron Bay Bluesfest 2018.

Eric AveryBiamanga Juxtaposed (2022)
First Nations Composer in Residence 2022
ABC Fresh Start co-commission

Nardi Simpson (2021)

Nardi Simpson is a Yuwaalaraay composer, songwriter, storyteller and performer. Nardi was part of the 2019-2020 Ngara-Burria: First Peoples Composers cohort. One half of Stiff Gins, Nardi has performed at TEDxSydney and was the 2018 winner of Queensland’s Black&Write! Indigenous Writer’s Fellowship. The Stiff Gins was formed by Emma Donovan, Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs in 1999, after meeting at the Eora Centre while studying music. The band’s name uses the word gin (a derogatory word for Aboriginal woman which was also a Dharug word for woman/wife) with the word stiff to become strong black woman, a name which caused debate about use of the word gin.

Nardi Simpson-barra (2021)
First Nations Composer in Residence 2021
Premiered at Sydney Festival 2022

Brenda Gifford (2020)

Brenda Gifford is a Yuin woman, originally from Wreck Bay on the south coast of NSW. A composer and classically trained saxophonist, pianist and teacher, she has twenty years of extensive experience as a musician. She was a member of the band ‘Mixed Relations’ with Bart Willoughby from No Fixed Address. She has toured extensively around Australia and internationally to Native American communities and the Pacific Islands. Brenda has been commissioned by the Canberra International Music festival, Ensemble Offspring, ABC and the Sydney Symphony. She has conducted over 100 interviews and oral histories with Aboriginal musicians and has curated notes and blogs. Brenda is currently studying composition at ANU and is part of the Composing Women program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Brenda GiffordDjana (Talk) (2020)
First Nations Composer in Residence 2020
Premiered at Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers 2020

First Nations Stories

To Lisen, To Sing CD Out Now!

This album celebrates the creative vision of twelve of the program’s leading alumni: Eric Avery, Rhyan Clapham (Dobby), Marlene Cummins, Brenda Gifford, Tim Gray, James Henry, Will Kepa, Mark ‘Munk’ Ross, Troy Russell, Elizabeth Sheppard, Nardi Simpson and Aaron Wyatt.


Ngarra-Burria: A Vibrant Concert

“Filmed at the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and streamed by the Australian Digital Concert Hall this is an exciting, challenging and exuberant concert by Ensemble Offspring.”


Ngarra-Burria Educational Resource

Celebrate the works of composers Christopher Sainsbury, Brenda Gifford and Aaron Wyatt with this educational resource for secondary students.


The Australian Wars | SBS On Demand

The story of Australia’s first wars, calling for the nation to acknowledge the First Peoples who died in these conflicts and for the Australian War Memorial to recognise them.


Ngarra-Burria 2022 Showreel

The Ngarra-Burria 2022 Showreel is now online! Follow the link below for an insight into this important initiative.

Watch now

Ngarra-Burria: Starting Over by Marlene Cummins

Watch Ensemble Offspring in the ABC studios recording Starting Over by Guguyelandji and Woppaburra composer Marlene Cummins.

Watch now

Ngarra-Burria: Mark Ross's Streets of Sydney

Peek inside the studio as Ensemble Offspring record a new work by Jardwadjali/Wotjobulak composer Mark Ross.

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Ngarra-Burria: Cirrus by Aaron Wyatt

Ensemble Offspring record Cirrus by Aaron Wyatt in the ABC studios.

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Rivers, rhythm and rhyme with DOBBY

Muruwari and Filipino artist DOBBY (Rhyan Clapham) is about to premiere WARRANGU; River Story, a suite of songs sharing cultural knowledge of water and Country.


Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers

“It’s an Indigenous-led change to the Australian classical and new music sectors that enriches us all.” – Fred Copperwaite


Watch the showreel: Nardi Simpson's -barra

Yuwaalaraay artists Nardi Simpson, Lucy Simpson and Brendan Odee Welsh have come together in 2022 to create a sonic mapping of the land they call home.

Watch now

Moogahl Yarns

Nardi Simpson is joined by fellow composers Marlene Cummins, Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell & Tim Gray to have a yarn about being First People composers in the arts music scene of so-called Australia.

Watch now

First Nations Resources

Over the past 5 years Ensemble Offspring has forged valuable new relationships with an impressive list of First Nations composers. Click below for a list of works written as part of Ngarra-Burria.


Black Panther Woman

Marlene Cummins breaks a forty year silence to tell the story of her abuse in the Australian Black protest movement, to overcome her demons of today.


World Premiere: James Henry's Zoom Meeting

Composer James Henry reveals how video conferencing in quarantine shaped his bluesy new work for Ensemble Offspring. Listen to Zoom Meeting (2020) here!


Firestarter: The Story Of Bangarra

Celebrating Bangarra’s 30th Anniversary, Firestarter tells the story of how three young Aboriginal brothers turned a new dance group into a First Nations cultural powerhouse. Watch on ABC iview


SOH Stream: Yarning Country

Curated by Warlpiri woman Rachael Hocking, this is a night for dance and laughter, spirit and survival, community, creation and love. Welcome to country by Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, music, poetry readings and more!


National Indigenous Art Fair

NIAF is an ethical marketplace, offering a unique opportunity to buy artworks directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from community-owned art centres in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.


DOBBY | Digital Season (Premiere)

DOBBY is a Filipino and Aboriginal rapper, drummer and speaker with family from Brewarrina on Ngemba land. He combines cultural stories and experiences with his impressive vocal, keyboard and drum skills to create rap that is contagious and unforgettable.


Sydney Writers' Festival: Whose Country Is It Anyway?

Literature has played a significant role in the colonial imagination and domination of First Nations people. Author Melissa Lucashenko, musician/author Nardi Simpson and writer Nayuka Gorrie have a profound discussion on writing Country.


NAIDOC Week 2020: Nardi chats with Lamorna and Claire

To mark NAIDOC week 2020, Nardi Simpson joined Claire and Lamorna for a virtual panel discussion. Click below to get to know Nardi and her creative practice.


Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu (Magabala Books)

Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers. Watch his TED Talk.


Tara June Winch’s The Yield (PenguinBooks)

The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha. Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed.


In My Blood it Runs

Dujuan is a child-healer, a good hunter and speaks three languages. As he shares his wisdom of history and the complex world around him we see his spark and intelligence…his family fight to give him a strong Arrernte education alongside his western education lest he becomes another statistic. Watch trailer.


Nardi Simpson’s new novel Song of the Crocodile (Hatchette Press)

Full of music, Yuwaalaraay language and exquisite description, Song of the Crocodile is a lament to choice and change, and the unyielding land that sustains us all, if only we could listen to it. Listen to Nardi’s interview ABC Conversations here.


Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk

This remarkable book (watch trailer) is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex, science and spirits. Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective asking how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation.


Australia Council Protocols for Indigenous Music

Australia’s unique Indigenous artistic and cultural expression is rooted in thousands of years of heritage and continuing practice. ‘Indigenous music is a voice that crosses boundaries. It is the true voice of this country.’ David Milroy


Chris Sainsbury’s Ngarra-Burria Platform Paper

In a considered account of composers’ pursuit of an Australian sound in contemporary music Christopher Sainsbury uncovers the powerful bond between heritage and musical expression in Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers.


ABC Classic on Ngarra-Burria

Culturally and historically, the people that do all the talking – they need to listen. And the people who have done all the listening that need to have that platform to talk.’ Rhyan Clapham, Muruwari man – composer, percussionist, and rapper


Listen to the music of the first cohort

Listen to 2017 Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers studio recordings on Soundcloud. This was the first year of the program with recordigs by Ensemble Offspring’s Lamorna, Jason, Claire and Freya.


Resonate Magazine on the Indigenous Composer Initiative

This article by Chris Sainsbury is edited from his presentation at the 2017 IAML Australia conference in Canberra in 2018. The music he refers to is available for listening as part of ABC Classic FM’s New Waves podcast on ABC Classic.