Tuesday, November 14, 2023



A Canberra diplomat, musician, philosopher, poet and raconteur was this evening (November 14) named 2023 Citynews Artist of the Year at the 33rd ACT Arts awards held in the ANU Drill Hall Gallery.

Fred Smith, who with an easy Aussie everyman persona, has become something of a national folk hero and was praised by the critics for his Australia-wide touring concert, a sellout at the 2023 National Folk Festival, and for his book of the same name, “The Sparrows of Kabul.”

Fred Smith and the presenter of the award, CityNews editor, Ian Meikle

Smith has combined diplomacy and music for a long time and had already made his name as a musician years before for his original albums related to Australia’s peacekeeping missions in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

The first Australian diplomat to be sent to work alongside Australian troops in Uruzgan province and the last to leave, in 2011 he released the influential suite of songs “Dust of Uruzgan,” followed by a book of the same name.

He returned to Afghanistan in March 2021 to work at the Embassy in Kabul and ended up as part of the Australian team processing former Australian government staff and thousands of others through the human logjams at the airport’s gates, recounted in his book, “The Sparrows of Kabul.”

Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence in Acting

Earlier in the evening, the Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence in Acting was presented by Canberra Theatre director Alex Budd to Jim Adamik, who was singled out for a remarkable year of acting, especially for his performances in Yasmina Reza’s play “God Of Carnage” at The Q and as envious musician Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” at Canberra Rep.

Diane Fogwell, presenter, with the Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence in Acting winner and Theatre Award winner, Jim Adamik

The award is an initiative of the Tsongas family to keep alive the memory of the well-known Canberra actor Helen Tsongas Brajkovic.

The 2023 Canberra Critics Circle is as follows:

Frank McKone, Helen Musa, Rob Kennedy, Meredith Hinchliffe,

Tony Magee, Alanna Maclean, Joe Woodward, Kerry-Anne Cousins,

Cris Kennedy, Michelle Potter, Simone Penkethman, Bill Stephens,

Brian Rope, Len Power, Graham McDonald, Peter Wilkins,

Dante Costa, Barrina South, Ian McLean, Con Boekel,

Jane Freebury, Samara Purnell, Beejay Silcox, Colin Steele, Theodore Ell.

Canberra Critics Circle Awards

The awards evening, hosted by the Canberra Critics Circle at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, also featured the circle’s own awards, which went to:

Visual Arts

Tom Rowney

For his magical exhibition displaying virtuosity in glass. The exhibition included a new body of work: the Tesserae Series, which include sparkles of gold in coloured glass.  He paid homage to Italian glass artists by using sea horses, which formed the stems of goblets and candelabra.  For his lustrous exhibition at Canberra Glassworks in April and May: “Tom Rowney – Aventurine Spirit".

Visual Arts

Hannah Gason

For her exhibition “Arranging Light” at the Canberra Glassworks, an exploratory essay in light and glass. The artist created a series of beautiful works using light as a key element to play on glass surfaces creating magical illusions of space and movement.

Visual Arts

Linda Dening, Kim Mahood, Sally Simpson, Wendy Teakle

For the exhibition "Staying With The Trouble" at Belconnen Arts Centre. These four artists worked together for over a year to achieve this impressive joint exhibition. Their strongly individual works highlight the expressive power of the graphic mark on paper as well as the nature of the environment that is their inspiration.

Visual Arts

Wouter Van de Voorde

For examining issues of life and death, for his photobook “Death is not here” published in October 2022.

Visual Arts

Peter Maloney

For a revealing account of his multiple media practice from the perspective of his queer sexuality capturing a sense of his engagement with apparently opposing, if related ideas, the image and its mirrored reflection as distortion, “THE MIRROR Angles of Resistance” at CCAS April-June 2023. A posthumous award.


Ruth Osborne

For her significant role, including her own performance,  in James Batchelor’s production “Short Cuts To Familiar Places,”  in which she demonstrated connections with German dancer and choreographer Gertrud Bodenwieser and her Australian followers. For her mentorship of Batchelor and the recording of a universally available oral history interview on Bodenwieser.


Natsuko Yonezawa, Itazura Co

For "Kiku", an outstanding collaboration in the areas of choreography, videography, music composition and sound design in the creation of a short dance film and accompanying documentary that explored dance and the ageing body through the experiences, both spoken and performed, of six Canberra women.


Australian Dance Party

For "Culture Cruise'' and its innovative use of dance to create a unique, innovative experience traversing land and water fusing performing arts, fine dining and Canberra’s cultural institutions.


Gretel Burgess

For her extraordinary achievement in  producing and directing “A Stroke Of Luck”, an informative and moving dance work, which she performed with her daughter, Chloe, and for which she drew on an eclectic choreographic repertoire to depict her lived experience as a stroke survivor.


Caitlin Schilg

For her choreography for the Canberra Philharmonic Society production of "Cats" for which she drew on a whole gamut of demanding dance styles to create a series of brilliantly staged production numbers which were executed with admirable commitment and precision by the large ensemble.


Phillipa Candy

For a stunning premiere performance of “Keys of the Kingdom” by composer Michael Dooley, which featured playing ranging from the lightest, most delicate touch to thundering intensity with every moment of imagery magnificently captured and interpreted.


Edward Neeman, Larry Sitsky

For a bravura performance of "Apocryphon of Initiation", a "concerto" for piano without orchestra composed by Larry Sitsky, in which the full capacity of the piano was explored with performer becoming at once the conductor, soloist and full orchestra.


Liam Budge

For "In His Words - Voices of Fatherhood," a musical exploration of fatherhood based on video interviews with nine fathers, featuring the sophisticated combo of Brett Williams on keyboard, Chris Pound on bass, Ben Hauptmann on guitars and James Hauptmann on drums.


Fred Smith

For his concert, "Sparrows of Kabul," a musical retelling of Australia's Afghanistan experience which comprises a sense of shared collective grief and an astute musical analysis of Australia's 20-year involvement in the Afghan War from a man who witnessed the many shades of war first hand.


Apeiron Baroque

For an innovative, edgy approach to programming and a performance of baroque music of the highest quality featuring forte-pianist Marie Searles and violinist John Ma.

Musical Theatre

Canberra Philharmonic Society

For its production of “Cats”. Directed by Jordan Kelly with musical direction by Alexander Unikowski and choreography by Caitlin Schilg, this remarkable production succeeded in creating a fascinating feline world.

Musical Theatre

David Cannell

For his masterful performance as Sir Joseph Porter in Queanbeyan Players production of “HMS Pinafore”. His excellent diction and mastery of the Gilbert & Sullivan technique stamped him as an exemplary interpreter of these patter roles.

Musical Theatre

Dramatic Productions

For an outstanding production of “Dogfight” which was highlighted by inventive direction, atmospheric choreography, tightly balanced singing and orchestra playing and sensitive character portrayal from a fine cast.

Musical Theatre

Heartstrings Productions

For its production of “The Hello Girls”. This imaginative production with its accomplished cast and deceptively simple setting achieved an impressively professional sheen.

Musical Theatre

Dramatic Productions

For its exuberant production of “School of Rock” for which it fielded two separate casts. This production was an outstanding example of what can be achieved when youthful enthusiasm is supported by clever creative leadership.


K.A. Nelson

For “Meaty Bones”, a poetry collection that combines wry and fond reminiscence with clear-sighted sensitivity to injustice, to bring home the legacy of colonialism to the personal dimension.


Sandra Renew

For “Apostles of Anarchy”, a poetry collection that trenchantly dramatises the antagonism, defiance and hope of lesbian and gay rights activism from the 1960s to the 1980s, to depict an often invisible struggle still haunting the present day.


Frank Bongiorno

For “Dreamers and Schemers: A political history of Australia”, a work of virtuosic sweep and synthesis that perceptively traces institutional machinations and social movements to their roots in personal motives and quirks of character.


Fred Smith

For “The Sparrows of Kabul”, a memoir that presents a unique and humane perspective on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and that testifies candidly and poignantly to the dedication of consular officials to helping people escape desperate circumstances.


Zoya Patel

For “Once A Stranger”, an assured debut novel that braids together narratives of past and present to consider eternally knotty questions of familial belonging.


Wildbear Entertainment

For the documentary “Ford vs Holden” and their evolving slate of Canberra-produced factual content, including “Rachel's Farm” and “The Black Hand”.


Jordan Best

For her direction of “God of Carnage” for which she created a claustrophobic world on stage exemplifying the conflicting contemporary dilemmas of homeless minds.


Jim Adamik

For his performance as the 18th Century composer, Salieri, in “Amadeus”, combining an impressive stillness and thunderous outpourings of emotion.


Natasha Vickery

For her performance in “Collected Stories” for Chaika Theatre at ACT Hub, a challenging role in which she skilfully introduced subtle changes that hinted at past emotional damage as her character matured over the years.


Andrea Close

For her fast-paced, witty performance as the eccentric Judith Bliss in “Hay Fever” by Noel Coward, at ACT Hub.


Mill Theatre

For the riveting production in an intimate setting and a pitch perfect ensemble performance, where the cast carried the complexities of time and space to great effect in Nick Enright’s “Good Works”.

Photos by Len Power. All photos of the presentations can be seen in my personal blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/2023/11/33rd-act-arts-awards-photos.html.