Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival is a triennial event based in Brisbane, Queensland. It aims to encourage males throughout Australia and visiting choirs from overseas to engage in singing at whatever level of experience they find themselves and to build networks between conductors and artists who work in this unique field. In 2023, the festival will take place from 7 - 9 July 2023. 

“Journey through Song” 

Unite through the celebration of music in this place together, and discover connection and self-expression.

The festival takes it’s name from a piece of music written by Australian composer Paul Jarman about the Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy who led resistance against the colonial settlers in the Eora nation (Sydney area).


In 2006, the Australian composer Paul Jarman wrote the popular choir song ‘Pemulwuy’. Pemulwuy was the strong and fearless Eora man and leader who defended his Country against the invading British in the late eighteenth century. However, as Paul remembers, there was little known about the story at the time. Paul was passionate about Australian history and had been writing projects about interesting Australian histories such as Irish Settlers, Chinese and Jewish immigrants.


He was conscious of the absence of Indigenous histories in compositions. He had been touring and working with Indigenous people and visit communities, as well as working as musical director for the Deadly Awards. Paul also worked in collaboration with Gai-mariagal author and academic, Dennis Foley (author of Repossession of Our Spirit). They got together and inspired school children from all over the Northern Beaches of Sydney to learn more about the local Indigenous history. With Dennis guiding him, Paul wrote three pieces that were sung by schools in that area.


Paul was given Aboriginal scholar Eric Willmot’s book Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior (1987), which had inspired him to write the song. Paul said, ‘I felt passionate about getting a history out there about Australia’s first freedom fighter, an Indigenous hero. I felt slightly ashamed that our country had chosen in a way to ‘erase’ his existence - that is the main reason I wrote the piece.’

In 2006, Paul was commissioned to write a song for a small choir group in Canberra. Paul wrote a choir song about Pemulwuy, with lyrics that included some traditional language words.  Paul researched extensively and consulted Aboriginal people about his work who gave him feedback to improve the song. The song’s first performance was in a church close to Parliament House. The song has been performed by choirs across Australia and overseas. It opens up on a history that had been hidden. The story of Pemulwuy reaches a wider audience so that Pemulwuy the resistance fighter, is remembered, honoured and celebrated.


Extract from True Tracks - Respecting Indigenous Knowledge and Culture  Author Terri Janke


Following the national spotlight on male voice singing in 2006, when the Birralee Blokes won the ABC Classic FM Radio National Choir of the Year and Youth Choir of the year… a spark was ignited and the need to generate support for such a popular art form became a passion. 


Hence we gathered and brainstormed with many respected choral leaders and the creation of a festival for male singers emerged. It was a privilege to bring those who had experience in this unique field together and the results spoke for themselves. Conductors were inspired, camaraderie was extraordinary and the music soared throughout the performance venues. 


The inaugural national event involved 400 multi generational males and a group of delegates who were treated to open rehearsals and professional development sessions. Knowledge and understanding of the changing male voice was a strong focus. 


The paucity of Australian literature for male voices at that time was also something which we recognised as an urgent priority. In 2008, eight recognised composers (Colin Brumby, Nicolas Buc, Sarah Hopkins, Elena Kats-Chernin, Stephen Leek, Harley Mead, Paul Jarman & Joseph Twist) were commissioned to write with specific themes and differing levels of complexity for male voice trebles, youth and adult men. This important feature of the festival now continues and guest ensembles will often commission a piece for their own performances. Emerging composers are now also featured. Remarkably, a rich library of Australian works for male voice now exists. 


The sheer strength and passion of male voices joining together from all parts of Australia led to a collaboration with QPAC in the 2011 festival. QPACs support also provided the resources to offer scholarships to the event for indigenous male singers in 2011 and 2014. 


The stunning QPAC Concert Hall for the subsequent festivals and Paul Jarman’s powerful composition ‘Pemulwuy’ has never disappointed as a magnificent finale feature. 


When men's voices join together something magical happens. May the ‘Pemulwuy National Male Voice Festival’ continue to provide inspiration for men and boys in Australia and throughout the world. 


Julie Christiansen OAM

Founder and Artistic Director 2008-2021

Values & Philosophy

The Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival is an important and unique opportunity for boys and men to unite and celebrate choral singing. The festival supports gender equality and inclusivity, however, each participant must, in the spirit of the event, identify as male and sing within the traditional male voice ranges.  For the sake of performance presentation and unity, all participants will be expected to adhere to the rehearsal and performance attire for their ensemble, as specified by their conductor. If you have any queries, please contact events@birralee.org.

Pemulwuy! launches a new brand identity


In 2020, Voices of Birralee released the new Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival logo, specially commissioned to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Festival is held. After consultation with QPAC's Indigenous Protocol's Office, Voices of Birralee engaged in a culturally guided process with Keisha Thomason, an Aboriginal Graphic Designer and Artist based in Brisbane. Keisha is a proud Waanyi and Kalkadoon (Mount Isa, Queensland) and Chinese woman who designed the logo to reflect the "Journey through Song" - unite through the celebration of music in this place together, and discover connection and self-expression.

The design reflects the key messages of stories, diversity, discovery and celebration, and visually incorporates references to the Brisbane river, Songlines and sheet music. 

Click here to read more about the design's DNA.