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Rugby Hamish Kerr Ben Fakataha Combined 1st XV webListening in during the team talk at training this week were Mid Canterbury Combined players Hamish Kerr (left) and Ben Fakataha. Photo Erin TaskerThey’re a relatively new team and they don’t have any big stars, but the players that make up the Mid Canterbury Combined 1st XV are hoping to rattle a few cages this season.

Today, they head into battle in the first round of the Crusaders rugby region’s schoolboy rugby competition – the UC Championship – well aware that they’re in for just that, a battle.

Marlborough Boys’ College will be the Mid Canterbury side’s opposition at the Ashburton College field today, and the home side know starting the competition with a win won’t be easy.

While the Ashburton College and Mt Huttt College combined side has retained the services of just seven players from the 2018 season where Mid Canterbury Combined didn’t win a game, they understand the traditionally strong Marlborough Boys outfit have only lost about three players from last season.

Mid Canterbury Combined is being coached by a partnership this season, of Brent Middleton, Warren Donald and Andrew Morgan, and while they know it’s probably going to be a tough season ahead, they’re excited by the potential of their young side.

Middleton said the players are excited, too.

“They (Marlborough Boys) will be tough but for the kids to get out there and go through the whole haka, and preparation of how they do things in the UC Championship, it’s exciting really,” Middleton said.

“This is some of the fastest rugby, and possibly faster than they will ever face again.”

A dislocated shoulder and a a head knock pre-season means Mid Canterbury Combined’s backline is light on numbers and experience, but they’ve got good numbers in the forwards.

Brynmor Workman will captain the side from halfback in what is his third season in the team.

“Our forwards will be small compared to the opposition, and as a team we haven’t got any superstars, so to go any good they are going to have to play as a team and trust each other,” Middleton said.

Their depth might not be huge, but they’ve got plenty of ability – as they showed in their pre-season win over Waitaki Boys’ High School.

Middleton said the side will be relying heavily on the experience of their seven returning players to lead the way.

“They are only going to get better as the season goes, obviously, and the first game will let us know where we are at,” Middleton said.

Mid Canterbury Combined will begin their UC Championship campaign against Marlborough Boys’ today at the Ashburton College field, with kick-off at midday.

By Erin Tasker © The Ashburton Guardian - 3 May 2019

Ashburton CollegeEvery day Ashburton cafes and restaurants prepare food for sale; every day some of that food is unsold and finds its way into the town’s waste stream.

And every day there are people in Ashburton who cannot afford to buy even the most basic food they need for themselves and their families.

Members of Ashburton College’s student executive want to bring the two together as a community initiative that will create a community of winners.

They hope to establish a central town free-food store where cafes can leave surplus food and where those in need can collect it.

They say similar initiatives are running successfully in Christchurch and they’re confident the free food store concept would work in Ashburton.

The students are already leading a school-based initiative to provide morning tea for students who may have to come to school without breakfast or lunch.

They know the difference that initiative has made in students’ lives and they know there is significant need in the wider community.

Rather than just talking, they want to make the food exchange happen, but they know they cannot do this without significant community input.

Executive members are hoping for community feedback and ideas on the food project and they want to hear from cafe owners to understand better just how much food could be available.

They know there will be significant work involved in taking the project from idea to reality, and they know that buy-in from cafes and restaurants will be critical, but they believe the food project is long overdue.

They plan to meet with Ashburton Mayor Donna Favel to present their idea and are keeping their fingers crossed for support from her and district councillors.

While making no commitment, Favel has indicated she’s keen to meet with the students and to listen to their ideas.

Students are also keen to have a central town vegetable garden that could be cared for by volunteers with produce available to the community.

By Sue Newman © The Ashburton Guardian - 3 May 2019

290716 AK 100 Zara Hollis CC 700x467The face of opera singer, music tutor, mother and wife, Zara Ballara. Photo supplied.(Story dated August 26th 2016) - Ashburton’s talented youth learn their skills on home turf; inevitably they hone those skills on the international stage. Often, however, those same stars return home to perform and to inspire those wanting to follow in their footsteps. One of those is Zara Ballara, an opera singer who spoke to reporter Sue Newman about her journey from a child who dreamed to an adult who realised that dream.

A tiny girl in a pink tutu, hair neatly in a bun, steps out on stage.

Her classmates follow. The little girl runs, trips and falls. The audience gasps in sympathy.

Fast forward 30 years, that same little girl, now dressed in an evening gown, hair a tumbling mass of curls, steps out on stage – the audience gasps, but this time at the purity of her voice.

That little girl was Zara Hollis; her adult counterpart is Zara Ballara opera singer, teacher, international star.

Back in Ashburton for the Phoenix Chorus fundraising concert Zara admits that each time she steps out on stage the memories of that tutu-clad child falling, still slips out of her memory banks.

The former Ashburton College student was home as a guest artist in the fundraising concert and shared the story of a life that many would say was extraordinary.

Zara can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to sing.

“I think I was at kindergarten and someone told mum that I could sing. I started singing lessons when I was eight. Back then not everyone wanted to take me on because we didn’t have a piano at home and in those days you couldn’t just be a singer, you had to have an instrument as well.”

That didn’t deter Pam McCormick, she saw Zara’s potential.

In her early years she did the round of competitions, performing in concerts and at family events. Initially her experience was of music that was light years away from opera where she would carve out a career.

“The standard songs in the back seat of our car were things like Ferry Across the Mersey and Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” she said.

At her grandfather’s persuading she even tried country and western, but admits that was a far from successful venture; once tried, easily forgotten.

Opportunities came when she started at Ashburton College, but college was almost responsible for derailing her music career as well.

A careers visit by police and Zara was inspired. Her lack of height would not be a problem; as a Maori student she was told she could work in the education field. Zara was intrigued; her mother wasn’t.

“I announced to mum that I was going into the police. I got an unequivocal no. Mum said that’s non-negotiable.”

As a member of the Phoenix Chorus she quickly learned the pleasure of shared music and the fun factor of school musicals. Those school musicals, however, did come with some frustrations.

“We were so desperate to do West End and Broadway shows and here we were doing school musicals, they were awful but a lot of fun.”

Zara’s talent was obvious to the school’s music tutors and hers was a regular name on the programme for musical performances, prizegivings and public events.

Through her college years Zara had huge support from teachers Robert Aburn, Ann Robinson and Christchurch tutor Mary Adams-Taylor.

After her brief flirtation with a career in the police, there was never any doubt in Zara’s mind that her career lay with music.

“My worry, however, was how my mother could ever afford for this to happen,” she said.

With college wrapped up she auditioned for music programmes at both Victoria and Otago universities, was accepted for both, but the lure of a brand new music department saw her head north for what would prove to be a several-year stint as a student.

“I was terrified when I started. The minimum requirement to be accepted was grade eight in an instrument and theory. My instrument was my voice and

I was studying with students who were very strong in this discipline, but this just made me want to try harder.”

The world of academia proved difficult to leave. Zara completed a three-year under-graduate degree, stayed on to do honours and still couldn’t leave, remaining in the cloistered student world to complete her masters.

“I felt I was still not savvy enough to leave life in an institution.”

Remaining part of the student corp meant Zara was able to secure some major roles in university productions and gain valuable exposure.

“We had so much fun. We were in our 20s and still had no real idea, but it eventually got to the point – a bit like coming to the end of school where you know that time is up and it’s time to go.”

Leaving university was a giant step towards becoming a “responsible” adult, she said, the second was marrying violinist Carlo Ballara.

“He found me really. He was in the pit and I was on the stage and he decided he was going to marry me, it seems I had no choice.”

The couple married and moved to London, a move that would set Zara’s career on fire.

“But we left on a one-way ticket. We knew ourselves so well, we knew if we’d had a return ticket we’d have come back,” she said.

Zara was accepted by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and represented the school at several international events. She also appeared in many master classes and won sought-after roles in a number of operas.

During her two years at Guildhall, Zara studied several languages, and in 2000 she won the prestigious Maggie Teyte prize and performed a solo recital at the Royal Opera House.

She made her debut at Wigmore Hall, London in 2002 and performed in companies and as a soloist throughout the United Kingdom.

“I was singing so much and I was surrounded by singers. It was wonderful, a time when you said ‘yes’, to every opportunity,” she said.

The world of music was at Zara’s feet but she admits that as a couple they realised it might be time to grow up, put roots down. It was time to start a family.

“The boys came along and it was an excuse not to sing anymore. I was rash, I said, ‘I’ll never sing again, it’s a young person’s game’.”

As their boys grew, Zara and Carlos started to think about the kind of upbringing they wanted for their children. That wasn’t in London. They wanted their boys to experience their growing years surrounded by extended family and in a simpler environment.

Returning to New Zealand four years ago meant Zara was turning her back on the opportunities she had worked so hard to create in London, but she wanted to be able to enjoy music without pressure.

Today she is an itinerant music teacher at Medbury School in Christchurch and as head of voice at Canterbury University tutors in performance music.

She’s part of a wave of new, younger tutors who have returned from overseas with fresh, new ideas and that creates an exciting and stimulating environment in which to work – or be a student, Zara said.

“I’m now doing what I want and with no pressure. It’s a mentorship role now and for students it’s great, they get to work with professionals and they get to have fun. I love teaching. I guess it’s part of getting back into performing, I keep making demands on my students; I’m putting their shoes on again.”

For some singers, time is an enemy, for others a friend and Zara says time has been kind to her voice, she’s lucky she is still able to sing, but she no longer takes lessons.

“I should have a teacher. I can hear in my students things I want to fix and I can tell them how to fix it, but I should have that too,” she said.

Her work is not just with talented singers, Zara admits she gains huge satisfaction from working with students who just want to improve their singing, not build a career.

“I’m very lucky to be able to do both, having high pressure university all the time would be too intense.”

While opera is her genre, Zara describes herself as a closet pop singer. “I’d listen to pop concerts by choice.”

That dream might be lived by son Luca. He has a good voice but claims he doesn’t want to do mum’s kind of singing, he wants to be a rock star.

Zara says she looks at her boys, at the way they’ve grown as people since their return to New Zealand and knows the decision to come home was the right one.

“I always wanted my children to enjoy their grandparents because my nana was an important part of my life; she was significant in defining who I am. I look at my boys though and realise I’m getting older, I’m 43 and in denial.”

And in spite of vowing when Luca and Matteo were born that her singing days were over, she does sing, likes to prove to herself that her talent is still alive.

She was on stage in Ashburton recently as guest artist in a fundraising concert for the Ashburton College Phoenix Chorus for its trip to the Gold Coast to participate in the finals of the Glee! Competition.

The lure of being part of her old chorus was too strong to resist, Zara said, but she admits that before stepping out on stage she was nervous.

She has her own way of dealing with nerves. “I always think about the treat I’m going to get when the singing is over and it’s always a burger, it doesn’t matter which kind.”

Zara might have reached the point of comfort in her career, but says she still has goals to achieve.

The next one is likely to be working towards a doctorate.

“It’ll be a long-winded thing, I’m not stopping working to do it. I’m in a really good place in my life. I’ve worked really hard and I didn’t know I wanted to be here until I came back for the boys; it was divine intervention.”

© The Ashburton Guardian