Epiphany: 'A Night at the Opera' by Deborah Cheetham

It’s such a vivid memory. I’m sitting in the carriage of a train, travelling from Caringbah to Oatley. It’s a Saturday afternoon late in January and I am returning home after a morning of competition tennis. The members of my team, Gilmour 5, have gone their separate ways after another successful start to the year. It is 1979 and for the past two years we have won our grade undefeated, having reached the pinnacle of Junior comp tennis. I am not yet fourteen. Being a Sagittarius, born in late November, I have the best part of a year to compete as an Under 14 in the many fiercely contested junior tennis tournaments that take place all year around Sydney. Tennis is my world, doubles my specialty. This year I have my sights set on the Illawarra Lawn Tennis Association Under 14 singles title.

The rattle and rhythm of the carriage provide a welcome soundtrack for my journey. I’ve been making this journey on my own since I started Year Eight at Penshurst Girls High, when my parents finally granted me that important rite of passage. My destination is Oatley Station. The trip from the heart of The Shire to the shores of the St George District takes thirty minutes; in a pre-mobile phone world my awareness of the journey is significantly heightened. A modulation in the rhythm and melody heralds the crossing of the Georges River via the Como-Oatley Bridge. This particular day it stirs me from my reverie; something catches my attention. On a poster above the window a woman is wearing a large hat, the brim trimmed with feathers of deepest purple. The font is typical of the belle époque style, but my thirteen-year-old self simply sees it as elaborate and wonderful. The poster is advertising a coming performance, but I barely have time for the details to register it when I realise the rhythm and harmony of my journey have fallen silent. I have arrived at my destination. Time only for a last glance at the poster as the train pulls away, beginning a gentle crescendo to accompany those passengers who journeyed on.

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Published in August 2019, no. 413
Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham AO – Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer, and educator – has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than twenty-five years. In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for ‘distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance’.

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