Founding the Harold Blair Scholarship

A landmark achievement in 2012, Melba Opera Trust proudly announced the establishment of the Harold Blair Opera Scholarship.

Named after Australia’s first Indigenous opera singer, tenor Harold Blair (1924-1976), the scholarship’s foundation was to ensure promising young Indigenous singers have the opportunity to develop their potential and excel.

Harold Blair was born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve and raised at the Purga Mission near Ipswich, Queensland. He received little or no formal education and from the age of 16 worked as a labourer on a sugar farm. His singing ability was ‘discovered’ in a radio talent quest in 1945 but, although funds were raised for voice training by a group of supporters, he was denied entry to the Sydney and Melbourne Conservatoriums because he did not have the requisite educational qualifications. This prompted Australian composer Margaret Sutherland to call her friends, John and Gwenda Lloyd. The Lloyds nurtured him, taught him to read and write and after much agitation Harold was accepted into the Melba Conservatorium where he completed a three-year diploma in 1949 with honours.

Following John Lloyd’s death in 1964, Gwenda set up a fund in his memory, created in the spirit with which they had supported Harold, and it provided valuable support for

Indigenous education programs. After Gwenda died a year later, it became the John and Gwenda Lloyd Trust, championed by the Lloyd’s children, Philip and Elizabeth Lloyd, Jenny and Neville Crew and their son David Crew.

In 2009 the family approached Indigenous opera singer Deborah Cheetham AO about the future of the John and Gwenda Lloyd Trust. Deborah had been associated with Melba Opera Trust through her opera company, Short Black Opera, and in 2011 Melba supported the Melbourne premiere of Deborah’s opera, Pecan Summer. On Deborah’s recommendation, the Lloyd Trust funds were transferred to Melba Opera Trust for the purpose of establishing an Indigenous opera scholarship in Harold Blair’s honour.

The Melba has since continued to raise money to endow this scholarship in perpetuity with recipients benefiting from the Melba’s staple program of artistic development, mentoring and performance.

In 2012, Yorta Yorta baritone Tiriki Onus was honoured to receive the inaugural Harold Blair Opera Scholarship. Following in Tiriki’s path were Wiradjuri sopranos Shauntai Batzke and Georgina Hall.

Dorothy Blair with inaugural recipient Tiriki Onus

The Ruskin Opera Award

The Ruskin family’s commitment to opera has been longstanding, with the late Alfred Ruskin AM (1914-1996) and his wife Pamela being tireless supporters of opera, ballet and the theatre for many years.

Yet Alfred had a particular fondness for the Melba Conservatorium, where he served as Chairman of Council from 1972-1996 and indeed it was Alfred’s foresight that saw the Conservatorium purchase their premises in York Street Richmond, the subsequent sale of which became seed-funding for Melba Opera Trust.

Following his death, Alfred’s son Jeremy and his wife Roz Zalewski, both lawyers, made a substantial donation to the Conservatorium in 2004, instituting the Alfred Ruskin Memorial Award. This generosity continued following the closure of the Melba as a teaching conservatorium at the end of 2008 and, from 2012, the family confirmed the Award would become endowed in perpetuity.

Thanks to a loyal syndicate of supporters who have joined Roz and Jeremy in contributing to the Award, it is now recognised as a scholarship. The community enjoy annual soirées featuring performances from Ruskin recipients: Stacey Alleaume, Nikki Hill, Panayiota Kalatzis, Daniel Carison and Georgina Hall.

Roz Zalewski-Ruskin and Jeremy Ruskin with recipient Daniel Carison

Government House honours

HE, the Honourable Alex Chernov AC QC & Mrs Elizabeth Chernov with Tiriki Onus


Patrons-in-chief His Excellency, the Honourable Alex Chernov AC QC, then-Governor of Victoria and Mrs Elizabeth Chernov, hosted a special reception at Government House to honour and raise the profile of the recently established Harold Blair Opera Scholarship.

Moving performances from inaugural recipient Tiriki Onus, together with Short Black Opera’s Deborah Cheetham AO and Toni Lalich OAM, thoroughly inspired audiences.

Deborah Cheetham AO with recipient Tiriki Onus in performance

Cranlana ‘Meets the Scholars’

2012 Scholars in performance

The 2012 Meet the Scholars was held for the first time at Cranlana, the magnificent Toorak mansion owned by the Myer family. It was a fitting venue.

Following a welcome by our generous host Lady Southey AC, returning scholar Lauren Fagan addressed the guests. In her inspiring delivery, Lauren told of her decision to do a business degree at university, and then how

her acceptance into Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust gave her the opportunity to take her singing more seriously.

To put it in perspective, just over a year ago I was working as a Sales Manager at an IT company, wondering where my dreams of becoming an opera singer were going. Now I am preparing to move to London to study opera full time.

– Lauren Fagan 2012

Since then, Lauren has been a young artist with Royal Opera, Covent Garden and was recently selected to represent Australia in the Cardiff Singer of the World.

Hannah Dahlenburg

Lady Southey AC continues to support Melba Opera Trust as a driving force behind the Mentor Program and has hosted many of our master classes at Cranlana.

Zoe Drummond


In 2012, the Melba forged a new collaboration with the Opera Society of Victoria, a not-for-profit organisation committed to supporting opera in Australia. The Society is passionate about helping young opera singers access the development opportunities their talent deserves.

It was this aspiration that connected the two organisations in 2012 and resulted in the first Opera Society Vocal Scholarship with Melba Opera Trust, awarded to tenor Robert Barbaro. Following Robert, recipients have included baritone Daniel Carison, tenor Damian Arnold and baritone Stephen Marsh.

A bequest left by long-standing member of Opera Society, Eleanor Blakemore, enables the Eleanor Blakemore Opera Society Scholarship now to be offered annually along with support for the Mentor Program.

Damian Arnold


Brenton Spiteri

Brenton Spiteri’s win in the 2012 Herald Sun Aria, one of Australia’s most prestigious singing competitions, represented a significant breakthrough for the Melba – the first time one of our scholars won a national singing prize.

Brenton awed audiences with his wonderful performances of ‘Il mio tesoro’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.


Appointed to Board

2012-present Dmitry Danilovich, Treasurer

Jenny Sutherland retires from Board after 31 years.


Lauren Fagan

Siobhan Stagg

Stacey Alleaume

Samuel Sakker

Brenton Spiteri

Kyla Allan

Hannah Dahlenburg

Janet Szepei Todd

Tiriki Onus

Dame Nellie Melba Scholarship

Patrick & Vivian Gordon Award

Amelia Joscelyne Memorial Scholarship

Amelia Joscelyne Reserve Scholarship

Ruskin Opera Award

Margaret Schofield Opera Scholarship

John & Elizabeth Wright-Smith Scholarship

Melba Opera Trust Scholarship

Melba Opera Trust Scholarship

Mel & Nina Waters Award

Beleura-Tallis Opera Scholarship

Harold Blair Opera Scholarship

The articles contained within this page were curated and compiled from previous editions of Melba Opera Trust publications da capo and The Melba.