EMERITUS Professor William “Bill” Hawkey has come a long way to get to Port Macquarie.
Bill is in town for six weeks as the guest conductor of Hastings Choristers.
The academic and musician resides on the south coast of NSW these days, which itself is a long way from where he was born in New Zealand.
“I was born and raised in Timaru, just south of Christchurch and always had an interest in music,” Bill says.
That interest was consolidated when the young Kiwi moved to Christchurch for university.
“I’ve never been able to do anything useful, except for music,” Bill says.
“I played piano and pipe organ and realised that if you really love what you’re doing you can be tremendously lucky.”
After concluding his studies Bill translated his love of music to assisting people in need.
“I formed a choir in a disadvantaged suburb of Christchurch which became my own personal project for a few years,” he says.
“The choir involved children of all ages, from as young as eight all the way through to older teenagers.”
At the same time Bill was busy as the accompanist of Christ Harmonic Society, a position he held for five years.
There were further opportunities when he became the choir’s conductor including a notable international tour.
“We were asked to represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965,” he says.
“On that trip I led 153 choristers to London and we performed on the opening night.
“That evening we performed alongside the group representing Australia, which was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.”
Bill continued in his capacity with the Christchurch choir for a total of 14 years.
After the excitement of collaborating with Australians in London Bill made the permanent move across the Tasman Sea.
From 1976 until 1979 Bill headed up the School of the Performing Arts in Adelaide.
“At the time Don Dunstan was the South Australian premier, and he was very interested in promoting the arts in the state,” Bill says.
“He was a great man with wonderful vision.”
Bill’s success as a conductor and academic attracted the attention of influential people in the nation’s capital and in 1979 he was asked to work in Canberra.
“I was the assistant director of music at the Canberra School of Music at The Australian National University,” Bill says.
He worked under Ernest Llewelyn until 1994 and served as director of music until 1998.
“I was actually meant to finish earlier than that, but they asked me to stay a little bit longer until a suitable replacement could begin,” Bill says.
During his time in Canberra he met his wife Elizabeth.
The two met through the Canberra Community Choir in 1991, which Bill had founded.
Upon his retirement Bill and Elizabeth moved to Akolele on the south coast of NSW.
“It’s very beautiful down there, with the wetlands sloping down to the sea,” Bill says.
“When we got there nothing much was happening in terms of classical music so I started the Montague Choristers.”
The Montague Choristers perform regularly throughout their local area and invite national and international artists to visit the area.
Bill started the Visiting Artists Series to attract high calibre professional writers, musicians, painters and sculptors to the area too.
“I might be retired, but I’m certainly still very busy,” he says with a laugh.