A new seaside Victorian retirement village has been named after a prominent Aboriginal Australian music and stage star, who is also a prominent anti-discrimination advocate.

Ryman Healthcare today announced its new retirement village at Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula will be named in honour of Deborah Cheetham AO. 

Ms Cheetham is a well-known soprano, composer, playwright and educator. She joins other prominent Australians such as Weary Dunlop, Nellie Melba, John Flynn and Charles Brownlow who have a Ryman village named after them.

Ms Cheetham was born in Nowra in NSW but was taken from her mother when she was just three weeks’ old.

As a soprano, Ms Cheetham has performed in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand and ang at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2003 Rugby World Cup.

On 7 July, more than 120 people attended the unveiling of the new village’s name at The Dunes restaurant in Ocean Grove.

Ms Cheetham was among them and said she was honoured to be recognised in this way.

“In my conversations with Ryman I discovered a level of understanding, a duty of care to its residents and a welcoming heart,” she said.

“Ryman are pouring their understanding of country and their willingness to learn further into the bricks and mortar of their establishment.

“I’m so incredibly proud to be associated with them in this way.”

Ryman Healthcare’s Victorian Sales and Community Relations Manager Debra Richardson said it was fitting the announcement of the first Indigenous Australian to be honoured in this way took place during NAIDOC Week. 

“Today is about acknowledging one outstanding Australian in her own right – a once-in-a-generation talent and a national treasure – but we hope in some small way it will also be about healing,” Ms Richardson said.  

“And I don’t mean to suggest that putting an Indigenous Australian’s name on a retirement village is in itself the balm for what ails race relations in this country. 

But by amplifying the voice of someone who has been an agent of understanding and reconciliation we hope to help hasten the process of healing in our own unique Ryman way."

The unveiling also included performances by the Dhungala Children’s Choir which was formed by Deborah Cheetham in 2009.

Deborah Cheetham accepts Live Classical Artist of the Year at the 2019 National Live Music Awards

The Deborah Cheetham Retirement Village will include villas, assisted living in serviced apartments and an aged care centre. 

It will have a gym, a bowling green, a hair and beauty salon, a chapel, a cinema, a bar, a cafe and an indoor swimming pool, among other amenities.

The village will be home to around 280 people when complete. The first residents moved in in December last year, and more will join them as the rest of the village is completed. 

Ms Cheetham has been an influential advocate for First Nations people and a powerful public voice in the fight against all forms of discrimination.

In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for 'distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance'.

See a three bedroom dwelling available at Ryman's Ocean Grove village