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Queensland's longest continuously-performing choir

About Us

The Cambrian organisation

The Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir was founded in 1886, as an adult choir, with the express purpose of competing in what was to become the Queensland Eisteddfod. It is now reputed to be Queensland's longest continuously-performing choir.

Since these early days, the choir has developed into a more broad-based organisation. It has fostered the development of artistic and musical excellence among the young people of the Ipswich area through the establishement of additional choirs for young singers.

The organisation currently incorporates five choirs:


The Leonard Francis years 1906-1946 1986 - Blodwyn Whitehead conductor The Leonard Francis years 1906-1946

Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir

The story of the Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir is interwoven with the history of the early Welsh miners of Ipswich during the late 1800’s, the United Welsh Church, ‘Coal King’ Lewis Thomas and the Queensland Eisteddfod.

Ipswich had a distinct Welsh community for many years and there is still a United Welsh Church at Blackstone and a St David's Society (St David is the patron saint of Wales).

Among the early arrivals in Ipswich there were a few Welsh people. One of the best known was Lewis Thomas who arrived in 1859 and, after working for a short time on railway construction, went into partnership in a coal mine. He later bought out his partner and in 1866, began to mine the rich Aberdare seam of coal at Blackstone.

A significant Welsh community began to establish itself in the 1880s when a group of young men arrived from Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, together with others from the coal mining districs of South Wales, and started work for Lewis Thomas. This community established a Welsh Church and choirs such as the Cambrian Choir. The first Welsh singing competition (the eisteddfod) was held in the Welsh Church on New Year's Day 1887.

The present Cambrian Choir is the result of very early amalgamations between two smaller groups, and today is experiencing a resurgence of pride in its Welsh heritage. The early records of the choir have been lost, but it seems that early conductors included Thomas Howells and James Scourfield. In 1907 the legendary Leonard Francis was appointed conductor, and for fourty years he led the choir to success after success in the annual eisteddfodau. In 1908 the choir travelled by steam ship to the Royal South Street competitions in Ballarat and returned as the champion choir of Australia. Two years later, it again travelled by sea (pictured) to contest the Commonwealth Eisteddfod in Sydney and was again champion choir. The Cambrians had established their famous reputation.

After the death of Francis in 1947, the choir endured some difficult years as membership fell, but when it began to produce annual musicals, both the membership and audience numbers rose again. Conductors Lyla McGuire, Nancy Jones and Bryan Capern (a third generation Cambrian) led the choir through those difficult years and to some significant eisteddfod victories in sections available to smaller choirs.

Blodwyn Whitehead (nee Edmunds), an Ipswich teacher of music, later took over as conductor. She is the fourth generation of her family to belong to the choir. More recent conductors have included Dr Guy Jansen and Christopher Kiver.

1986 - Cambrian Junior Choir 1986 - Youth Choir in Canberra 1970 - the first Youth Choir

Junior Cambrian Choir

An early attempt was made to form a junior choir in 1931 when assistant conductor Warrie Hurford formed the Cambreens with pianist Joan Vincent. Mr Hurford was not in good health, and was not able to continue the group for long.

A junior choir was formed in 1947 by conductor Lyla McGuire with pianist Kathleen Gee. This choir lapsed in 1959 but was reformed as the Junior Cambrian Choir (for 8 to 16 year olds) in 1965 with Blodwyn Whitehead as conductor and Valerie Hucker as accompanist. Within a few years the membership had grown to over 100 voices. The Junior Cambrians were successful from the very beginning, winning at the Ipswich Junior Eisteddfod, holding balls, concerts and operettas, and helping to sustain the choir financially.

During the absence of Blodwyn Whitehead, Mrs Norma Fox conducted. In the late 1960's the Juniors were asked to sing at Cribb and Foote at Christmas, the beginning of a continuing tradition. The Juniors are now conducted by Michelle French.

Cambrian Youth Choir

The Cambrian Youth Choir was formed in 1969. It was established out of a percieved need to provide a greater musical challenge for the older members of the Junior Choir and to provide an opportunity for young singers attending secondary school to continue their choral music experience prior to qualifying for membership of the Senior Choir.

Blodwyn Whitehead (OAM, ATCL) was appointed conductor of the Youth Choir and their first accompanist was Therese O'Brien, a school music specialist.

The first performance by the Youth Choir was at the Queensland Eisteddfod held in Ipswich during Easter 1970. At that time, adjudicator Patrick Thomas commented that 'the performance standard of the set works was of world class'. Since then, the choir has never missed competing at the Queensland Eisteddfod and, on most occasions, has been awarded Champion Youth Choir in the junior choral, intermediate choral, modern chorus and theatre competition sections.

With an established reputation for choral excellence, the choir was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to record a series of half-hour programs, broadcast nationally, on choral music. As guest artists for the ABC, the choir performed the Australian composition "A Dozen of Dennis" with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Werner Andreas Albert.

The choir has represented Australia in a world-wide radio competition for young people's choirs; performed at the first Australian National Choral Festival in Hobart; and competed in the Australian National Eisteddfod in Canberra.

In 1996, after 27 years with the choir, Blodwyn Whitehead resigned her position as conductor to travel overseas. Ten years earlier, in the centenary year of the Cambrian Choir, she had been awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her services to music, especially young people. Her place with the Youth Choir was taken by current conductor Berniece Hicks.


The Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir is an incorporated, community-based, not-for-profit organisation.

It is governed by a management committee, with elections for all positions on the management committee held each year in March at the annual general meeting.

Management Committee

  Warren Haag
Vice President
  Murray Milliken
  Rena Stevens
  Marellen Haag
Assistant Treasurer
  Warren Parcell
Publicity Officers
  Lauren Roche
  Nicola Harris
Membership Officer
  Becky Pick
  Jeremy Lloyd


  Murray Milliken


  Blodywn Whitehead
Senior Vice-Patron
  Wendy Walker
  John Whitehead
  Elaine Barrett
  Shirley Dawes
  Frank Robinson
  Brian Thomson
  Dorothy Graham-Wilson






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Copyright © 2008 Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir Inc.
PO Box 4, Ipswich Qld 4305 - tel: +61 7 3282 1088 -