Celebrating creativity and culture at the 2021 Australia Council Awards

The peer-nominated awards recognise outstanding and sustained contributions in music, literature, community arts and cultural development, emerging and experimental arts, visual arts, theatre and dance.

Community arts and cultural development leaders Marianne Wobcke (established leader) and Mama Alto(emerging leader) receive awards for their exceptional work. They are joined by leading artists Sue Healey(Dance), Chelsea McGuffin (Theatre) and Cat Jones (Emerging and Experimental Arts).

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts the Hon Paul Fletcher MP congratulated the recipients.

Cultural and creative expression add to the richness and diversity of our national life, something which has been reinforced through the COVID-19 pandemic as Australians have turned to arts and culture for inspiration, connection and well-being, Mr Fletcher said.

“The Australia Council Awards are a fitting recognition of the distinguished contribution the recipients have made to cultural, economic and social well-being through their art forms and practice,” Mr Fletcher said.

In lieu of a physical awards event, this year’s recipients will be showcased in a series of online presentations which will be streamed on the Australia Council website from 19 April at www.australiacouncil.gov.au/awards.

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette AM said the online format of this year’s awards allowed for everyone to share in the celebration.

“Everyone is invited to join us in celebrating the contributions of eight remarkable Australian artists, who each in their own way reflects the vibrancy of Australia’s diverse cultural life,” Mr Collette said.

“Arts and creativity reflect who we are as a nation, helping us to see different perspectives and understand and connect across different experiences and cultures. They are crucial in understanding and shaping our sense of national identity.”

The recipients of the 2021 Australia Council Awards are:

  • William Barton (NSW) – Australia Council Don Banks Music Award
  • Arnold Zable (VIC) – Australia Council Lifetime Achievement in Literature
  • Sue Healey (NSW) – Australia Council Award for Dance
  • Vivienne Binns OAM (ACT) – Australia Council Award for Visual Arts
  • Cat Jones (NSW) – Australia Council Award for Emerging and Experimental Arts
  • Mama Alto (VIC) – Australia Council Kirk Robson Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development
  • Marianne Wobcke (QLD) – Australia Council Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development
  • Chelsea McGuffin (QLD) – Australia Council Award for Theatre


William Barton – Australia Council Don Banks Music Award

William Barton
Photo by Keith Saunders

William Barton is a proud Kalkadunga man, is a distinguished artist of extraordinary musicality and a virtuoso performer of the didgeridoo. He is also a renowned composer of the highest acclaim.

Over his long and remarkable career, William has performed across Australia, from large concert halls to regional music festivals. William has performed at many landmark events, reflecting the central importance of his music to Australian identity.

His generosity of sound and spirit have seen his work commissioned by some of the most outstanding ensembles from around the world.

The importance of William’s outstanding and enduring contribution has been recognised by many awards including the Artist Residency Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composers House (2020), Artist in Residence Melbourne Recital Centre (2019), Best Original Score for a Main Stage Production – The Long Forgotten Dream – Sydney Theatre Awards (2018), ARIA Best Classical Album – Kalkadungu: Music for Didjeridu and Orchestra (2012).

In his performances and compositions, William holds the awe and attention of audience members around the world.

Arnold Zable – Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature

Arnold Zable
Photo by Peter Casamento

Arnold Zable is an Australian writer, novelist and human rights advocate.

His works include the memoir Jewels and Ashes, three novels: Café Scheherazade, Scraps of Heaven, and Sea of Many Returns, and collections of stories: The Fig Tree, Violin Lessons, The Fighter and The Watermill. With his books, essays, articles, plays and others stories, Arnold shares his unique understanding of memory, history, displacement and community.

Arnold has worked in the USA, Papua New Guinea, China, and across Europe and Southeast Asia. In 1998 he worked with curators to produce the script for Victoria’s Immigration Museum. He is a University lecturer and can often be found at writers’ festivals across the country.

In 2013, Arnold received the Voltaire award for the promotion of free speech and human rights advocacy. He is a patron of Sanctuary, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Eastweb Foundation, the Victorian Storytellers Guild, and a former member of the Victorian Immigration Museum advisory committee. He was also president of Melbourne Centre – PEN International – for many years.


Sue Healey – Australia Council Award for Dance

Sue Healey

Sue is a choreographer and dance filmmaker who has achieved national and international acclaim.

Sue was as a founding member of the seminal post-modern company Danceworks and in 1993 she created Vis-a-Vis Dance. Sue was also a member in the ground-breaking Australian Research Council project exploring choreographic cognition.

Sue’s large-scale investigations into cross cultural collaborations in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan have extended global understanding and appreciation for Australian contemporary.


Cat Jones – Australia Council Award for Emerging and Experimental Arts

Cat Jones

With a career spanning over 25 years, Cat has pioneered critically acclaimed artworks and contributed to the careers of many practicing artists.

Cat was CEO of PACT centre for emerging artists, and co-director of Electrofringe. She has performed with a number of experimental artists and companies including Force Majeure, Chicks on Speed, ANAT, wired lab, Experimenta, The League of Imaginary Scientists, Blast Theory, Playworks, Pony Express, pvi collective and many more.

Cat’s work investigates neuroscience and the natural world through immersive experiences. Her work, Century’s Breath received the Sadakichi Art and Olfaction award.

In her practice Cat deals with concepts of sexual and gender politics, human and inter-species empathy, anthropomorphism, and science. Her practise impacts many other fields of research including health and medicine.

Cat’s work with Australian neuroscientists to investigate chronic pain and research into plant signalling have had significant impacts on human understanding of our relationship with the world around us.


Mama Alto – Kirk Robson Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development

Mama Alto describes herself as a jazz singer, cabaret artiste & gender transcendent diva. She is a transgender & queer person of colour who works with the radical potential of storytelling.

Mama Alto provides space for trans people to tell their unique stories, with a focus on providing support and nurturing artists in her community. She amplifies, celebrates and advocates for artists of colour to ensure the stages she works on are truly reflective.

There is strength in her softness and power in her vulnerability. Her prowess in community dynamics, language usage and navigating institutional barrier is known throughout Melbourne.

Her work creates stories in which people can see themselves and explore their varied experiences both on stage and as audience members.

Her play, Ancestress, was about the history of Transgender Performers and her show Queerly Beloved was designed to heal some of the trauma that had been caused by the marriage equality postal survey.

The show was free to anyone who lived in a no Majority electorate and pay as you can afford for other patrons.

From acting in committees and shaping the landscape behind the scenes, to performing and hosting in front of audiences with her wonderful voice, Mama Alto continually uses her voice to better the lives of others.


Marianne Wobcke – Australia Council Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development

Marianne is a Girrimay woman from North Queensland who was born on Wakka Wakka land. She is the third generation of Stolen Generation women, and has been reunited with her family.

Marianne is a trained nurse and midwife working specifically on birthing practices and trauma recovery.

As a professional artist graduating with Honours at Queensland College of Art, Marianne has brought together a practice called Perinatal Dreaming.

Perinatal Dreaming is a process for working with women, their babies and families to support them to birth on country, with culturally rich, supportive and safe practices. This may not mean physically birthing on country but a process instead that ensures all birth practices are culturally safe, using art as a tool for empowerment and expression.

Marianne speaks at national conferences and writes about this work in science and industry journals, sharing the role arts in community plays in holistic wellbeing.


Chelsea McGuffin – Recipient of the 2021 Australia Council Award for Theatre

Chelsea McGuffin
Photo by Rob Blackburn

Chelsea has played a leading role in placing Australian Contemporary Circus centre stage in the international performing arts realm.

Chelsea trained at The National Capital Ballet School with Janet Karen and at The Centre for Performing Arts in Adelaide, at Fruit Fly Circus School, and Circus Monoxide.

Chelsea worked with Sally Forth (from Australian Dance Theatre and Circus Oz) and with Extra Bimbo, Tony’s Imaginary Circus, the Queensland Theatre Company and Rock N Roll Circus where she spent nine years working with Director Yaron Lifschitz. Together they recreated the company as CIRCA Contemporary Circus.

In 2008 she founded Company 2, which has gone on to create impressive, award winning works which have toured both nationally and internationally.

Chelsea also maintains a strong and steadfast commitment to the next generation of circus performers. She ensures they see a place for their own voices on the contemporary circus stage.


Vivienne Binns OAM – Recipient of the 2021 Australia Council Award for Visual Arts

Vivienne Binns OAM

Vivienne’s illustrious career as an Australian artist spans over sixty years where she has worked primarily as a painter. She has also continually experimented and, alongside her painting practice, has also embraced the mediums of printmaking, performance, sculpture and drawing.

Vivienne has made an outstanding contribution to Australian art, particularly in regard to feminist art and community art.

She was one of the first artists in Australia to critically engage with feminism and pioneered dialogues between Australian art and international feminism.

The emphasis on the lives of women since the beginning of her career also relates more broadly to her social perspective of art.

Seeing art primarily as a human activity, much of Vivienne’s artistic practice has revolved around community work since the 1970s. She sees communities as the site of both art production and reception.

Throughout her extensive career, Vivienne has engaged with intentional discourses while maintaining a close, genuine and receptive involvement with the communities and people she depicts.

Vivienne has also made important contributions to Australian art outside of her own practice. She has nurtured the generations of artists through her work in support organisations and as an educator across the country.

Peter J Snee

Peter is a British born creative, working in the live entertainment industry. He holds an honours degree in Performing Arts and has over 12 years combined work experience in producing, directing and managing artistic programs & events. Peter has traversed the UK, Europe and Australia pursuing his interest in theatre. He is inspired by great stories and passionately driven by pursuing opportunities to tell them.

Peter J Snee

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