'You own it': the power of song behind rural award
Michelle Leonard knows what magic looks like.
It happens when country kids stand shoulder-to-shoulder and let their voices soar in song as their parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents proudly watch on.
"We call it Moorambilla magic. It's so glorious you almost can't explain it, but when you're in the space you know this is what it's meant to be," Ms Leonard told AAP.
"People want to talk about all the problems in remote and regional areas, but the resilience, the tenacity, the joy and their problem-solving is world class if you give them a vehicle."
That vehicle is Moorambilla Voices, a youth choir program that travels to 60 towns stretching from Wellington to Wilcannia in western NSW.
Children and teenagers learn about musical literacy, movement and singing and can become part of a 350-strong choir that often performs in traditional language, accompanied by a chamber orchestra.
Nearly two decades after creating the program Ms Leonard has won the NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women's Award for her work bringing music and creativity to the regions.
Ms Leonard, who grew up in Coonamble and trained at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, sees the award as long-awaited broader recognition of the art and music produced in regional areas.
"We're challenging people's perception of what excellence can look like in regional and remote people," she said.
"You've got that constant conversation around the brain drain and education and health issues, so this is a beautiful beacon of collaborative hope, and that's our future."
Announcing the award at the State Library in Sydney last week, Minister for Women Jodie Harrison said Moorambilla Voices was driving momentous change.
"Michelle's passion for collaboration and celebrating cultural identity has sparked an innovative way to engage regional youth with music, dance and respect for the land and for others," Ms Harrison said.
"She is driving change in how our children learn to tap into their creativity, resilience and sense of joy while gaining a deeper understanding of Australian and Aboriginal culture."
The national Rural Women's Award will be announced in Canberra in September, with state finalists recognised for their achievements across agriculture, sustainability, arts and social work.
Over the years, Ms Leonard said she has seen young people change their outlook and strengthen bonds in their communities through the "beating heart" of a choir.
"It is so important to give yourself a voice and carry that voice with you for life.
"And you don't have to buy an instrument: you own it."