From Wauchope, NSW, Helen has been writing songs since her late teens, and has worked as a professional pianist since the age of 21. Of her songwriting, she says: “ideas and stories come and I have to express them in what I feel is hopefully the most poignant way I can. I have been told by many that I am a storyteller in my music and I guess that’s a dominant focus in my songwriting.”
Helen’s poignancy comes through her songs, and her capacity to convey ideas in an original way was one of the things that earned her the title as the 2001 ASA Songwriter of the Year , with ‘They Told me “This Is Africa”’, winning ahead of 650 songs in the Pop/Ballad category, and ‘Two People’, winning first prize in the Sacred category.
‘They told me “This is Africa”’, was directly inspired by the 13 months she spent living and working in Zimbabwe. In December 1990, Helen gave up a full time piano bar job in a hotel in Sydney for a teaching position in a little school in Eiffel Flats — a mining town about an hour’s drive west of Harare, Zimbabwe. Ironically, it is this transition which helped her to become the 2001 ASA Songwriter of the Year, as Africa provided the life experience which produced her winning song.
Helen formed a singing duo with an English girl while there, and it was her singing partner’s comment about something Helen saw whilst travelling back to Eiffel Flats that became the title of the song. As Helen remarked on something, her partner said “Helen, my love, This is Africa!” The song was written about 2 weeks after returning to Australia in 1992.
“Two People”, Helen says, “was inspired by a true story told me by my close friend Shelley about this peasant women in Russia and how she had found God, and a science report I saw several years ago where the physicist was doing just exactly what I’ve described in the song. The idea of combining their 2 stories fermented in my mind for quite some months before I sat down one afternoon and the whole song lyrics and music came within an hour.”