West Australians making waves here and overseas.

Iain Grandage

Perfect Score

Composer Iain Grandage achieved what he calls a “long-held dream” when his opera, The Riders, had its world premiere in late 2014. But the Helpmann Award-winner isn’t resting on his laurels. Since the opera – based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name – debuted, he’s scored The Rabbits, and signed up to collaborate with another famous Tim.

“I’ve been a collaborator all my life,” says Iain of his fondness for working with others. “I come from a theatre background, which is a very collaborative medium.” So it was understandably difficult to shut himself away for the six months it took to compose The Riders. Less difficult? The research trips to get inside the characters’ minds. “The book is set in Europe, so I went to a lot of the settings in the book to see what it was like,” Iain explains. “It was very helpful for me when I was writing because I had the memories of the places I’d seen, the people I’d met – everything that could place me inside the characters’ heads. You know, for purely research purposes!” Writing from a studio in Fremantle – Winton’s hometown, and the Australian setting in The Riders – Iain was able to immerse himself in the work of a man whose experiences reflect his own. “There’s something that Tim captures of this place that’s inescapable and hard to describe to people not from here,” Iain says. “I feel like there’s a lot he writes that resonates with me.” Admitting Winton’s writing makes him homesick for Perth (he left for Melbourne seven years ago), Iain stays close to WA through frequent collaborations – with Black Swan State Theatre Company, with PIAF for The Rabbits, and with Winton, who Iain has now worked with on four different projects. “I like to work with people I love,” he says. The Australian memorably described Iain as having “such an eagerness to play with others you wonder if there’s a sandpit big enough for him” – a description he approves of. “I’ve always tried to find new sandpits,” he says. His next one will be his biggest yet – Iain’s been commissioned to write the score for a Dreamworks animated feature, to be directed by fellow WA expat Tim Minchin. The Larrikin will be released in 2018 and, for Iain, it’s a new chapter. “I got into theatre because I wanted to write film scores,” he says. “I feel really blessed that those circumstances have come to pass. It’s an immense thrill.”

Sophie Mcneill

Hard-hitting muse

Reporting from war-zones is just another day at the office for this award-winning journalist, whose experiences have inspired a new theatre piece.

Sophie has spent most of the past decade travelling the world, filing hard-hitting stories of human rights issues, from her Walkley-winning 2009 investigation into the deaths of six Afghanis, killed when Australian special forces raided the wrong compound, to her report into an underfunded East Timor health clinic, featured last year for Foreign Correspondent.

But for all that, it’s 2010 – the year she spent settled and living in Dunsborough with her winemaker husband – that she looks on as being a standout. “I have dreams of making it home again,” she says. “I’ve travelled heaps, but nowhere beats it.”

Though she’s still far away from home, with a prestigious new posting as the ABC’s Middle East correspondent, Sophie can at least share her stories with a West Australian audience. This year, local director Mel Cantwell created the performance art piece From the Rubble (which draws heavily on Sophie’s stories) for the Perth Theatre Company.

“I left the creation of the piece in Mel’s capable hands,” Sophie admits. “We come at storytelling from really different places – I’m interested in facts, figures and reality, while Mel has a beautiful abstract and really creative way of putting things together.”


A strong voice

She wrote her latest album with a Grammy winner, and has supported big name acts like Ronan Keating, but now songwriter Shameem is on the road with a national tour of her own. 

Discovered on MySpace by a Grammy-winning songwriter, Shameem may sound like another plucked-from-obscurity success story. But when James Bryan stumbled across some of her demos and invited her to record with him in London, it was the culmination of years of hard work. Now, just months later, she’s back home in Perth after a whirlwind national tour to launch the single they wrote together. “I’ve been a singer and songwriter since the beginning,” Shameem says. “There are no career musicians in my family – everyone is a lawyer or a teacher or a doctor – but everyone listens to music all the time and everyone sings. It was definitely that environment that bred my love of music.” She started piano lessons at age six, taught herself the guitar at 15, and before the end of high school had decided to pursue a musical career. “People weren’t thrilled with the idea!” Shameem admits. But seeing her passion turned them around, she says. Now her family is completely encouraging of the career that has seen her support international stars, including Belinda Carlisle, George Benson and Ronan Keating. She considers the Benson support slot a career highlight, but says she feels most fulfilled when her music touches people. “My proudest moment happens every time an audience member comes up to me after a show and says, ‘That song you played really resonated with me, or touched me, or inspired me’.” That connection is important for the singer whose Baha’i faith teaches the improvement of both self and society. “When I was considering making a career of music, I was thinking about how I could use music to the betterment of humanity,” she says. “I think the problems we face in the world today are all symptoms of the same underlying problem: the lack of justice that stems from greed and disunity. So if I can communicate ideas about unity, I feel like I’m doing my bit for the world. Every time I write a song I’m trying to convey something to this effect.” That connectedness extends to the local music community, which Shameem says is mostly incredibly supportive. “Some people couldn’t care less, because my sound is so niche, but some people have been so helpful and generous, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.” Shameem repaid that support with a national tour that ended in her home city in March, a tour that she says is just the beginning. 

Jemma Green

Dream homes

The JP Morgan banker-turned-sustainability expert returns home to conduct world-leading research into low-cost, low-carbon housing.

Your grandchildren won’t be growing up in the classic red-bricks – they’ll be living in houses made like dongas, under solar-powered lights, if Curtin PhD candidate Jemma has anything to say about it. “I’m looking at challenges to low-cost and low-carbon housing, and how it can be mainstreamed,” she explains. Modular housing – the flat-pack kind of construction used to build temporary shelters – is one part of that, and energy storage is the second. “Not all houses will be built with modular, but as this new technology enters the market, it disrupts the existing technology and we have to reskill to accommodate it.” Modular will shake up the existing construction industry because its houses are better for the environment, take less time to build, and are less expensive. Jemma and two other researchers conducted a case study into Perth’s first modular apartment building in Cockburn Central. “We’ve analysed the carbon life cycle of the building and it’s comparable or better against a conventional building,” she says. The apartment block, with a spider-web pattern exterior, looks nothing like a typical donga. Game-changing? Perhaps. Likewise, battery storage will disrupt the existing energy market by answering the question: how do you use solar power when it’s dark outside? “There’s no limit to the sun,” Jemma says. Storing that energy in lithium batteries – the small, cheap ones found inside your phone or laptop – will degrade the market share of traditional fossil fuel energy producers – which Jemma says will alter the worth of those companies. “As more countries take steps to address climate change we’ll see the value of investments in fossil fuels change,” says Jemma. And she would know – before academia, Jemma worked for 11 years as an investment banker in London. Succumbing to homesickness, she returned home to pursue the sustainable ethos she’d developed while running JP Morgan’s environmental and social risk management team – by building an eco-village. Her PhD is rigorous research that will one day inform the development of the village.  

Max Fairclough

Backstage pass

At just 23, this photographer has already had quite a career, and is now on the road with 2014 Triple J Hottest 100 winner, Vance Joy.

For ex-Trinity student Max Fairclough, his talent has already taken him around the world – from Los Angeles and Tokyo to Kolkata, India – as an acclaimed creative portrait and music photographer.

Max boosted his career and fan base – 18,700 Instagram followers and rising – after photographing national and international bands like The Amity Affliction, Bring Me The Horizon and Green Day. Now he is touring with Melbourne indie artist Vance Joy, documenting his Dream Your Life Away Australian headline tour.

Max says it all started by being interested in music and bands. Although he could play instruments, he decided to pursue his passion another way. “I found myself immersed in photographing musicians, as that is a whole scene I have always dreamt of becoming part of; if I was not a photographer I would be a musician,” he says. “When I was 18, all my friends outside of school were in bands, so I became the photographer.”

This gave him the confidence to shoot local gigs in exchange for free entry. After a chance encounter with the vocalist of Perth melodic hard-core band Break Even, Max landed an invitation to photograph the band at a support gig. “Musicians can be some of the most vibrant and terrifying people you may ever meet,” he says. “That makes for great people to befriend and photograph.”

Despite his newfound fame, Max remains modest. “I began hearing how my work has inspired others – I don’t really believe that. I guess I have just developed enough mistakes to hone in on the style that I have arrived at.”

Joel Creasey

Standout comic

Self-confessed show-off Joel Creasey knew at 15 that he wanted
a career in comedy. Nine years later, he has opened for Joan Rivers,
starred in I’m a Celebrity… and scored his own national tour.

The third time Joel Creasey ever performed stand-up was in front of 1500 people at the RAW Comedy finals… and he was just 16. Joel was inspired to enter the local competition after late night YouTube binges watching the late Joan Rivers. At 23, contemplating his life Eat, Pray Love style, Joel was invited to open one of her shows in New York after a friend of a friend of a friend showed her – love the irony – his YouTube clips. Rivers, who was known for her controversial brand of satire, praised Joel, applauded him, told his parents they were lucky, and then told him to “get the f*ck off her stage”. “I am really proud of that,” he says. “Ultimately it’s my biggest achievement.”

Now 24, Joel has broken into the television and film industry, having been named the ‘funny guy’ in Australia’s first season of I’m a Celebrity…. “A lot of comics have been doing stand-up for 20 years and they still haven’t broken into TV, so I am very aware of how lucky I am,” Joel says, calling the show one of the best things he’s ever done. Even so, he was uneasy about people seeing such a raw version of him. “People have seen me on camera at my worst, being tired and hungry and depressed and sleep deprived. It’s nice that people have seen that and still want to come to my show,” he says. “I have to pinch myself that I even did it, and it was a brilliant experience and something I will be very grateful for.”

The Wesley College graduate, now living in Melbourne, dropped out of university to pursue his dream and knows it has paid off. “I definitely thought of it as a risk but I trusted my gut and I’m so glad I did because I now have a career in making people laugh,” he says. “I love my job and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Yasmin Walter

Good fortune

As one of the country’s Top Female Entrepreneurs Under 40 – for the second year running – and CEO of a multi-million dollar empire, Yasmin really is the business. 

Growing up, Yasmin wanted to go to business school, but her family couldn’t afford the fees. Undeterred, she roped in her younger sister and, at 17, started her first business – a graphic design and adverting agency with one employee. Despite her impressive debut into the world of commerce, Yasmin says she never intended to go down that path: “I just kept grabbing opportunities with both hands as they came along.” Though she admits her grandfather’s business, which Yasmin describes as an “empire”, may have set her on her way, she now runs such companies as a national modelling agency, a cake-topper producer, and Tagroom – a bite-sized content website (think junior Buzzfeed) that draws five million views a month. NASDAQ-listed company Moko Social Media recently bought into the site for an undisclosed amount – a deal Yasmin cut just seven weeks before giving birth. As well as a modelling camp that recently toured to Christmas Island, Yasmin also has a hijab-themed modelling course in the pipeline, which she developed when a Muslim girl expressed concern the garments would get in the way of traditional shoots.

Yasmin says she loves being a full-time mum, wife and businesswoman. “I am blessed to have the support of my husband and family. I didn’t have to choose between having a family or a career.” 

Katy Steele

Flying solo

The former Little Birdy frontwoman has flown the nest with an international move, a solo album and a distinct new sound.

Say the name Steele to a West Australian music fan and, depending on their age, you’ll get a few different responses. Some would think of local music legend and Perth Blues Club founder, Rick. For others it’d be Luke, the costumed frontman of electro duo Empire of the Sun. But for a certain vintage it will always be Katy – the doe-eyed former lead singer of indie band Little Birdy. Sending the band on hiatus in early 2010 – which she later described to The Music as “an adolescence” – Katy moved to New York to develop her songwriting craft. “I learnt a hell of a lot about myself as an artist,” she says of her time abroad. “Little Birdy was such an amazing band to be a part of and I really value the experience, but I really do think of the present time as the most valuable. I now feel completely in control of my artistic output.” So much so that, after a decade of working with bands, she’s releasing her first solo album – a punchy, beat-driven, dance record that departs completely from the acoustic folk tunes that earned Little Birdy an ARIA nomination. Katy says she took years to nail the rhythmic sound – understandable, given she had to learn entirely new instruments for the record. But then, it’s perhaps what you’d expect from a Steele. Katy says she still relishes the freedom she had growing up to experiment with instruments and sounds, and remains influenced by her family’s love of music. “My dad still plays locally four nights a week,” Katy says. “I still get goosebumps when I hear him. The songs we grew up on have really moulded my love for classic songwriting. Still to this day, I cannot listen to music if the song doesn’t touch me in some way. It’s been the ultimate motivation in my career and will always be what I aspire to do.” Though she warns musicians not to rest on their laurels, Katy says she’s pleased with the new record. “This album is so special for me in many ways,” she says. “I’ve taken a long time to find this place creatively, so the output is from such a genuine place.” And, more than that, Katy says it’s good: “I consider the high point of my career to be right now.” 

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