Imagining a fabulous century, with music

WHEN glamorous singer-songwriter Alice Cottee takes to the stage in the Senate Rose Gardens outside Old Parliament House on March 10, she’ll be representing Canberra singing to the cosmos.

For Cottee, the prize-winning siren with the “velvet-coated mouth” who was once the creative producer for the Multicultural Fringe, has been asked to underscore film footage of the mighty Mt Stromlo Observatory with a famous Beatles song about the universe.

Artistic director of the “Imagining Canberra” film event, David Sequeira, has absolutely forbidden her from telling us which Beatles song, but you can bet clever “CityNews” readers will work it out.

The footage is definitely in the national treasure category, coming as it does from the huge collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, but Cottee is something of a treasure herself.

An immigrant from Queanbeyan at age 14, she’s been singing and playing here for 15 years, with various bands.

Cottee’s done the rounds from suburban folk rock to “a bit more of a worldly sound.” She and her band “No Hausfrau” won Best ACT Country Artist at the inaugural MAMAs last year.

“I’m honoured to have been asked to sing at this event,” Cottee tells “CityNews”. “I saw the footage and it brought me close to tears… I felt a sense of belonging.”

Offstage but equally glamorous is the flamboyant Sequeira, the best-dressed public programs manager ever to work at the NGA until he left to do art and his PhD.

Sequeira was hired by the livewire Michael Loebenstein, head of the NFSA, to expose the archive’s internationally envied but largely hidden collection and “Imagining the Capital: Canberra on film” is it.

A lavish, free outdoor screening of Canberra-related footage from 1913 to the present day, it’s a chance “to look at where we have come from, where we are and where we are going… bring your rugs, bring a picnic,” Sequeira advises.

“I feel like I have the best job in the world,” he enthuses, predicting that his selection of moving images “will move, inspire and challenge Canberrans.”

Creative director of the Centenary Robyn Archer agrees. “You’ll probably see yourself there, I’ll probably see myself there,” she tells me.

It was Loebenstein who came up with the idea of doing it in the famous Old Parliament House Rose Gardens, where a huge screen and stage will be pitched, but the music was all Sequeira’s idea.

He’s hunted down some of Canberra’s top musicians to perform live to the footage, which is grouped under themes such as politics, children, disasters, science and glamour.

Glamour? I ask. Yes, Canberra was the setting for some heavy-duty fashion parades back in the ‘60s, providing one of the fun parts in an evening which begins as soon as the sun goes down.

One brilliant idea was to engage the indigenous group the Stiff Gins, experts in endangered languages, to sing in Wiradjuri to the restored 1913 footage of the naming of Canberra. The effect is at once touching and chilling, and guess what? It all takes place within a stone’s throw of Canberra’s foundation stone.

“Imagining the Capital: Canberra on film,” in the Senate Rose Gardens, 7.30pm, Sunday, March 10. Cost: Free

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