Tree Changers – Jennifer Parish & Stewart Cameron

Jennifer Parish & Stewart Cameron are a husband and wife team who sing together for their living. This professional pair of opera singers moved to Montville where they run their international business using the Internet and weekly trips to Brisbane.

Why did you come here?

Stewart: We came up for my birthday about two and half years ago to stay in a cabin for three or four days. We weren’t looking to buy then but we saw this house on the Internet. It was perfect for us because it has a separate studio which had been used for yoga. We fell in love with the place. But then we’ve always fancied the hills.

Jennifer: Because we started our own company, Operatif, some time ago, we generate a lot of our own work so it doesn’t really matter where we are really. When we decided to buy this place I said to Stewart, there’s got to be an audience for our singing on the Coast. We’ll be right (she laughs).

Stewart: We had a fair idea there was a strong music scene up here, particularly as there were at least half a dozen choirs we knew about. Our business means we have to go out there talking to venues, generating business and generating ideas. It was always our hope to have fellow performers up here and to have more time to rehearse in a calm environment. You know – stop after a long lunch on a Sunday and go back and do another couple of hours.( he laughs).

What did you have to change in coming here?

Stewart: Well, it was more a case of deciding whether our office was in Brisbane or in Montville. But it didn’t really matter to us with the wonders of the Internet and a 1300 number. So that aspect hasn’t changed very much. Just a few drives on the Bruce Highway – about once a week unless we have a performance coming up. Like now for instance we have Opera in Paradise on Norfolk Island and the Opera Dinner Show at Flaxton Gardens. It just means we have had to get better organised.

Jennifer: That’s right. A lot of people we worked with in Norman Park in Brisbane used to live only a few streets away. It seemed to be a little enclave of singers and pianists. and so people used to come to us. But now, before we can rehearse we have to spend an hour and a half in the car, unless we’re lucky and they come to us. It doesn’t matter where we are really because we’re always busy, and it’s difficult to describe all the different hats you have to wear – singer, promoter, marketer, researcher, producer, ticketing. So the rehearsing and singing is only a small part of what we do. We would happily sing all day but most can’t in this country. You have to be entrepreneurial if you want to do this for a living.

Stewart: Opera is really our specialty. That’s what we were trained to do. Jennifer was trained in Melbourne and I was trained in Auckland, the opera school in Sydney, and Germany and in London. In fact, Jenny and I had the same teacher in London. We must have passed each other on the stairs and not realised it. Jennifer: Then we met back here singing for the Queensland Pops Orchestra, having come here to chase the sun which is a bit silly (she laughs). Stewart: We sing a lot of the repertoire that suits our voices together – those lovely, luscious Franz Lehar and Johann Strauss operettas and opera roles written for the high baritone and soprano.

What would keep you here?

Jennifer: Well, that’s something we do discuss. But if you ask would we go back to a place like Brisbane? No way. The constant, ever-changing vistas, especially on the road to Montville would be very hard to leave.

Stewart: No it’s impossible to get around Brisbane these days. And I think what we’re doing here is important; taking opera out of the major city theatres into venues like Flaxton Gardens and the Cooroy Lake Macdonald Amphitheatre.

Jennifer: That’s right. After we did a dinner performance in the tiny little Montville Village Hall people came up and said, ‘my goodness, that was absolutely fantastic. That was better singing than we’ve had flying down to Sydney and going to the Opera House and what’s more we got a meal.’

Stewart: The environment up here does make you want to be more creative. Jennifer’s threatening to take up painting. It does make you want to write poetry and music and all those expressive things. I have started a vegetable garden which I am really enjoying.

Jennifer: Environmentally, it’s just wonderful to wake up here and see the mists rolling down those hillsides as the sun is rising. And all those little tree frogs stuck on the windows. Mind you I am not so sure about the huge python hanging around out there.

Footnote: Stewart discovered the Python’s skin wrapped around a downpipe.. so he’s gone up a size!!