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25 October 2001

Award for teacher who brought music to the Ridge

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Ingrid Moses presenting Robert Valler with his award young teacher who brought music to Lightning Ridge is the winner of the University of New England's Young Distinguished Alumni Award which was presented at the University's Spring Graduation ceremony on Saturday, October 13.

Robert Valler trained a choir from Lightning Ridge Central School that was the focus of world attention during its performance of the Australian National Anthem at the flag-raising ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Robert became Lightning Ridge's first full-time school music teacher in 1999, after completing his study at UNE for a Bachelor of Music degree in 1997 and a Graduate Diploma in Education in 1998. He chose the Moree district for his first appointment, and was then appointed to Lightning Ridge Central School.

Only a few months after his arrival there, the school discovered it had been chosen to sing for the raising of the Australian flag at the Australian Olympic welcoming ceremony. For the next year and a half, Robert not only prepared the school's singers, but also worked closely with both the International and Sydney Olympic Committees.

"I wanted to go to Lightning Ridge because the town was crying out for a music program," he said. In less than three years he has enabled Lightning Ridge to be proud of its musical achievements. These include involvement in the Sing 2000 Festival and the Sing 2001 Choir in Sydney, the Central Schools' Band tour of northern NSW in August, a Sydney Opera House concert series in September, and the School Spectacular at Darling Harbour Convention Centre next month. Despite the school's lack of a music program until his arrival in 1999, Robert has repared a preliminary music class for next year's HSC. During his address at the Graduation ceremony, he said: "The most rewarding part of working in remote communities is that you change lives forever."

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Ingrid Moses, who presented him with the award on Saturday, said: "Robert is an outstanding example of our graduates' ability to contribute to many aspects of community life. He has opened new doors for many young people in a remote NSW community. "There are challenges out there in western NSW for teachers,' he said, "but it isn't as bad as people make out. Lightning Ridge is a great community, and the school is brilliant."

One of the challenges is distance, and the whole town has supported Robert in helping the school's musicians travel to Sydney and elsewhere to perform.

"There have been many people, including those in the opal industry, in Lightning Ridge who have been particularly generous with their support," he said. "And when we were going to the Olympics, many anonymous donations arrived."

In return, the school students provide music for a variety of community events, such as Senior Citizens' Day.

Robert's service to the Lightning Ridge community has included presidency of the town's Rotary Club, during which he was the youngest Rotary president in NSW. He has also been appointed to the Northern NSW Creative Arts Council and is now a State coordinator for that organisation.

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