The Cooktown Cantata - Songs of Love, Place and Identity will hold you in its thrall!

‘The Cooktown Cantata – Songs of Love, Place and Identity’ is a powerful, moving vocal production about botanical artist and activist Vera Scarth-Johnson. Two important relationships guided her during her years as a Cooktown local. Joseph Banks, naturalist on HMB Endeavour with Captain Cook, inspired her to paint the flora of the Endeavour Valley, and Guugu Yimithirr Elder and artist Tulo Gordon shared his knowledge of country, taking her out on collecting trips. Their stories are woven together across time and cultures, with the wonder inspired by the endless beauty and mystery of the natural world as the central theme. The lush poetic and musical imagery delivers a message of hope and reconciliation for Australia’s future.

Commissioned for the 250th commemorations of Captain Cook’s voyage to Cooktown, the show was developed in collaboration with indigenous artists from FNQ, including singer/songwriter Derek Rosendale in the role of his uncle, Tulo Gordon. Vera is dramatically interpreted by noted Australian soprano Margaret Schindler, while celebrated international baritone Jeffrey Black plays Joseph Banks. The libretto, by creative director Jan Black, draws on Vera’s paintings, writing and memorabilia, and interviews with Cooktown residents who knew her. The score was written by composer/pianist Louise Denson.

Venue Format
Theatre, Hall, Black Box Venue
Technical Rating
C, The production can be modified to suit most venues
Touring Party

An all-ages show. The timing (120 min total) represents the musical recital (60 min), a brief intermission and a 45 - 60 min Q&A afterwards. Technical requirements - recital/concert lighting; 8 chairs (no arms); PA with capacity for headset mics.

Jan Black is an Opera and Theatre Director and educator. At Australia House, London, Jan premiered, produced and directed ‘Nelson, The Opera’ (2005). She directed Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ for the Brisbane Shakespeare Festival (2018), and the new musical ‘State of Origin, The Musical’ (Hugh Lunn, Gerry Connolly, 2019). Jan is a member of the Australian Singing Competition Advisory Board and a presenter for Drivetime and Daybreak Classics at 4MBS Classic FM.

Louise Denson is an award-winning pianist, composer and educator. She has written song cycles, chamber works, and countless compositions and arrangements for jazz ensembles of various sizes. Her compositions have been performed and recorded in Australia and abroad. She has issued seven CDs and performed at national/international festivals. Her compositions are published by Wirripang and the Australian Jazz Real Book.

The Cooktown Cantata is Jan and Louise’s first production together. The concept for the show developed over several years. With the libretto largely complete, in 2019 Jan invited Louise to compose the music. Consultation and collaboration with the people of Cooktown and Hopevale took place from 2017 to 2021 in order to ensure approval and support from the Guugu Yimithirr clan groups whose stories form part of the material in the show.

Unique Selling Point

The Cooktown Cantata is a top-drawer, cross-cultural production about a remote region of Queensland, the result of years of planning and development. It celebrates an indomitable pioneering woman who lived life to the fullest and left a treasured legacy to Cooktown – her beautiful drawings, deemed a ‘National Treasure’. She also campaigned to stop sand mining on the Endeavour River, ensuring that the north shore has remained almost exactly as Joseph Banks would have experienced it in 1770. Sold-out audiences in Brisbane and Cooktown have been moved by the singers’ dynamic performances, and challenged and inspired by the courageous and beautiful songs.

Marketing Materials

Currently available: Video of a full performance. 5 minute highlights video. Still images from show. Professional headshots Marketing copy.

To be created: Studio recording of music in Feb. 2022. Posters, flyers as required.

Community Engagement

The presentation will include the 60-minute recital, and a 45-60 minute Q&A/discussion afterwards with all participants. Since the co-creators of the Canata, Janice Black (librettist, creative director) and Louise Denson (composer) are part of the show, the audience will be able to ask questions about the show's genesis and development, background research, the themes, the poetry, the composition and performance of the music - any aspect of the creative process or the production itself. Our experience has been that the cross-cultural nature of the work and the theme of reconciliation has given rise to meaningful dialogue with audience members about the issues facing Australia's indigenous people, and the urgency of finding a way forward towards greater understanding and equity between them and the settler culture.