Lismore Citizen of the Year Deirdre Paillas with Mayor Jenny Dowell and Australia Day ambassador Craig Foster.
Lismore Citizen of the Year Deirdre Paillas with Mayor Jenny Dowell and Australia Day ambassador Craig Foster.

Singing her way into history

For Lismore’s Citizen of the Year Deirdre Paillas, music is not just something that she loves, but a part of who she is.

The singing teacher and pianist was awarded Lismore’s most prestigious title at the Australia Day Awards on Tuesday for a long list of achievements that includes founding and conducting local choirs and working with troubled young people.

Deidre was the conductor and artistic director of the Nouveaux Singers for 30 years and co-founded the Lismore Children’s Choir in 1989 with Christine Maughan. It was a choir for children aged seven to 17, and at one time it had around 50 members and both a junior and senior section.

While she has left both those positions, she continues to teach private singing lessons and a few months ago established the Inspired Voices choir at the Caroona Aged Care Facility in Goonellabah.

“When you teach people to sing you are teaching them to be confident with their body, to use the instrument they have,” Deirdre said. “Everyone sings… Some people are too scared to sing in public, but everyone sings.

“As a teacher I love nurturing the person – when you’re teaching, you’re dealing with their stance, their posture, their voice, or even what might be worrying them in their lives. It’s aesthetic and it’s psychological and spiritual.”

She said watching the effect music and singing had on the 35 members of the Inspired Voices choir was magical.

“The choir is not just residents, there’s also some staff and sons and daughters of residents… but for the people in Caroona they really belong. I think they can often feel passive whereas in the choir they have a voice – it’s given them enormous power.

“The family members who come and listen are absolutely overwhelmed because they see this person who might have been dozing off last time they saw them up there singing. And that’s what I love about teaching… you have to motivate them, to be there and be a presence that keeps energy and laughter and involvement happening. I love seeing people let go and sing.”

A decade ago Deirdre’s love of nurturing people inspired her to do a Diploma in Social Services (Welfare) at Wollongbar TAFE, for which she received an excellence award.

For four years she worked at the North Coast Children’s Home (now CASPA), co-ordinating the Home Away From Home program for adolescents going through emotional difficulties.

“I just have a belief in equality and justice and a belief that some people need more help through difficult times,” she said. “I just look for what’s wrong and then what can be done about it. It was amazing, a very rewarding experience.”

Deirdre said being named Lismore’s Citizen of the Year had given her a new appreciation of the many wonderful people she shared a community with.

“I felt emotional just getting the certificate of nomination, and then when I heard my own profile being read out… there was just amazement and a sense of humility that makes you ask, ’should it really be me in this situation’,” she said. “It sounds corny but it’s very humbling to see what everyone else is doing out there in the community.”

Some years ago Deirdre also trained to be a volunteer TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) tutor with TAFE and has spent quite a lot of time with the local Sudanese community helping improve their literacy skills.

However, while welfare work and languages are both great interests, music will always be her greatest love.

“I don’t think I’ll ever not have music in my life. I’ve had laryngitis and know how terrible it feels to lose one’s voice – playing piano and singing is something that will always bring me happiness,” she said. “I have this picture of myself when I’m older sitting at the piano… even if I have dementia I hope I can always remember Bach.”

For more Australia Day photos, see pages 8-9.

And the winners are...

Around 500 people turned out to the Australia Day Awards ceremony at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre on Tuesday, where former Goonellabah boy and soccer guru Craig Foster presented the various awards.

As well as the traditional Australia Day Awards, Lismore City Council also gave out ‘Recognition Awards’ for everything from creative arts and helping the environment to promoting reconciliation and being a good neighbour.

The Lismore Australia Day Award winners were:

Citizen of the Year: Deirdre Paillas

Young Citizen of the Year: Lucy Barker

Aboriginal Citizen of the Year: Si Minniecon

Community Services (individual): Alf Smith

Community Services (group): Lismore Base Hospital Auxiliary

Senior Sportsperson: Jim Armstrong

Junior Sportsperson: Jaiden Walker

Sports team: Northern United Rugby League Football Club

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