Abermain Eisteddfod

Today I pay tribute to the Abermain Eisteddfod, which celebrates its ninety-second year. Recently I had the good fortune to assist with the Abermain Eisteddfod in a small way. Unfortunately, the organisers were short on hands and put out a last-minute call for assistance and I spent the day with them. However, this is not about me. The main organisers are Catherine and Warren Parsons, who have been organising the eisteddfod for more than 20 years. The Abermain Eisteddfod is an amazing opportunity for young schoolchildren to go on stage. I am an enormous advocate of opportunities for young people in particular to perform on stage because of the potential for building self-confidence. I believe that standing in front of a crowd and speaking, singing, dancing or acting is one of life’s great challenges. The Abermain Eisteddfod offers this opportunity over several weeks.

The first of the days started with the choirs participating at Mount View High School, one of my local high schools. The choirs travel from throughout the Hunter to the town of Cessnock to participate at the school. I want to acknowledge—this is by no means a criticism—that the majority of schools that participated were from the Catholic and Christian independent schools. I understand having been a former teacher in a public school that there are many pressures on schoolteachers. Hopefully in the future we will have more public schools participating as has been the case historically. Of course, every student and teacher who participated in the Abermain Eisteddfod needs to be congratulated and commended.

The eisteddfod continues. During the school holidays the drama and dancing sections will be held at the Plaza Hall at Abermain. Warren and Catherine have already put in hundreds of hours of work in organising, preparing and scheduling the eisteddfod and making sure the sections involving the bigger school groups have already concluded. They will now go into two weeks of full-time work, six days a week from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. to create the opportunity for smaller children and some bigger children to participate and test their talents against each other.

One of the things that are truly wonderful about the event is the opportunity for feedback from the judges. It is very public feedback. The judge stands up at the end of each section and gives an appraisal of the performances. Of course, the judges, being wise people, always give very positive, warm and supportive appraisals that are also true and honest. They offer suggestions for improvements but the students should never feel bullied or that they are being disrespected for their efforts. The judges’ comments are always about how well they have done and how they can do a little better. I thank the judging panel for their participation.

The Abermain Eisteddfod will continue and will celebrate its ninetythird year next year. Given the service that Warren and Catherine Parsons have provided over the past 20 or 25 years I would like to think they will still be organising the event when it celebrates its magical moment of 100 years. As with all things, they are always looking for more volunteers and people to help. I guess there has to be succession planning and transition under which Warren and Catherine will gradually reduce their involvement with the event and some others will take it on. Hopefully there are some parents and friends and families who have seen how wonderful the event is. Maybe they have benefited themselves or their children have benefited from the event and they value what it does and what it offers to young people.

The Abermain Eisteddfod is not just about the electorate of Cessnock. It services the entire Hunter Valley and probably more than 1,000 students participated this year. I imagine that over the 90 years it has existed tens of thousands of students have participated in the Abermain Eisteddfod. Congratulations to the organisers, Warren and Catherine Parsons, all the supporters and volunteers and the judging panel. Congratulations too, of course, to every single student and schoolteacher who participated in the event.