ACOCo Board

The Australian Contemporary Opera Inc. and associated ACOCo Fund is governed by an exceptional board of directors (committee).


Their considerable knowledge and expertise from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, law, arts & culture, public engagement, finance, economics, environment and social justice, guide the strategic direction of the Company.  In addition to considerable time commitments, board members contribute financially to ACOCo.

Amy Poynton (Chair)

Bill Gillies (Dep Chair)

Linda Thompson (Founder/Artistic Director)

Brian Castles-Onion AM

Josie Rizza (Treasurer)

Dale Simpson

Neil Pharaoh

Rachel Cobb


Amy Poynton

B.A. (USA), MBA (Monash) Grad Cert. INSEAD 

Over thirty years of global executive and senior partner roles in ASX top listed companies, big-4 consulting firms and large-scale family enterprise. Expertise in big change including driving growth and learning for organisations, leaders, and teams. Worked across sectors in banking, insurance, and resources.

Chair at Project Respect and 3 non-executive director positions at Children's Ground, The Lyceum Club and 16th Street Actors Studio Foundation. It is my privilege to provide the governance and strategic direction to these organisations that do so much for women, first nations communities and the arts. I am sought after by media and specialist conferences to provide opinion, insights and advocacy on business transformation, and women matters.


Bill Gillies
Deputy Chair

LL.B, Dip. Crim. (Melb)

Member of the Medico-Legal Society, the Maritime Law Association of Australia & New Zealand and the Institute of Arbitrators and has written Practical Medicine for Lawyers. He is also admitted to practice in the A.C.T., N.S.W., Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.
Bill Gillies is a barrister in private practice in Queen Street, Melbourne. He has been on the board of The Opera Studio - Gertrude Opera since 2008, and Chair since 2009. Pro Bono board and philanthropic interests include Chair of Living Museum West, West Space and UN Magazine. Bill is a Volunteer Guide at Heide Museum of Modern Art, and a sports (rugby) historian and Tribunal Member. Bill has a keen interest in contemporary opera, literature, and visual arts.

Bill Gillies was Chair of ACOCo from 2009 - 2021


Linda Thompson
Founder / Artistic Director

BMus (HonsPerf Melb) GCHE (Monash)


Founder and Artistic Director of Australian Contemporary Opera Co (formerly Gertrude Opera) and Yarra Valley Opera Festival. An award-winning soprano, stage director and producer, described as "a cultural entrepreneur for the 21st century". Having worked with as a principal soprano with leading Australian opera directors Barrie Kosky, Baz Luhmann, Gale Edwards, Lindy Hume and Neil Armfield, Linda now leads the professional development of established and emerging Australian and international artists through the staging of contemporary works, engaging new and diverse audiences, with a view to enabling access and appreciation for opera theatre. Linda is a Member of the German Australian Opera Grant Adjudication Panel, and a board member of TightPants Theatre Co.

Why ACOCo?
In giving everything I have to offer to a new generation of opera creators and opera-goers, I relish the platform to dispel perceptions of elitism and inaccessibility, by telling stories in compelling and imaginative ways on stage - and in a 2020 upside, in the virtual arena. The operatic voice is a vehicle to express what is deep and shared within us all. This company is built on generosity of spirit, determination and skills of artists and creators who continue to inspire me daily.  

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Josie Rizza 

Josie combines expertise in accounting, financial management, strategy, corporate governance and risk management with a passion for systems change that improves outcomes for people and communities. Josie’s experience over more than 25 years has ranged from large multi-national, public company providing value added tax structuring and planning advice to membership of the Royal Commission into the collapse of the Tricontinental Bank to the Audit Committee for the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance.

Josie has served as a non-executive director on a range of health and community service organisations and major public hospitals. Her current portfolio includes Board roles on organisations driving major social change initiatives including Caraniche, Impact Investing Australia and Children’s Ground. Josie is qualified as a Chartered Accountant, and is a Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. 


Brian Castles-Onion AM

Born in Cessnock, Brian Castles-Onion is one of Australia’s most exciting and well-known opera conductors. Completing his tertiary studies at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music, his outstanding achievements speak for themselves.

His career expands internationally having worked at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Julliard School of Music. He has worked at the Rossini Festival in Italy, held the position of Artistic Director of Canterbury Opera in New Zealand and currently continues his long run association with Opera Australia.

Well known as a Public Speaker and compère, he has made guest appearances at Corporate Dinners, various Opera Forums and presented over two dozen ‘Opera in the Park’ in Perth, Sydney and the Hunter Valley – amassing a large following of fans. His book “Losing the Plot in Opera” has been a Best Seller in Australia and the UK.


His recital and concert appearances have seen him as conductor and pianist for Kiri Te Kanawa, Sumi Jo, Frederica von Stade, Placido Domingo and José Carreras.


Brian became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2017 Australia Day Honours List.


Dale Simpson 

Fellow Governance Institute of Australia, Life Fellow Institute of Directors (FIOD); Fellow Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD), Professional Member Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA).

Dale is the Managing Director of Bravo Careers, specialising in performance, leadership and career enablement. Dale has worked in the Governance and Human Resource Management and Development field for more than 30 years. He also lectures in leadership and governance with the Governance Institute of Australia (GIA) and DeakinCo.


Why ACOCo?

I fell in love with ACOCo (Gertrude Opera) when attending performances in the garden of 2 dear friends.  I loved what Linda has achieved in bringing opera into a contemporary space, and with a focus on giving aspiring singers and musicians an opportunity to perform in honing their craft.

Company website:

Neil Pharaoh 

Neil Pharaoh has more than fifteen years of domestic and international experience in campaigning, advocacy and stakeholder engagement. He is an experienced Senior Consulting & Corporate Affairs Executive, across strategy, impact, outcomes and engagement across the social purpose and business sectors.

Neil has previously worked in various senior fundraising, marketing, communications, campaigns and government relations roles including education and child welfare and, internationally, in geopolitical risk and international aid and development organisations.

Neil currently serves as director for a number of environment, philanthropic, health and education organisations. He has a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting and Marketing) and Bachelor of Laws from the Australian National University and is a Graduate of the Australia Institute of Company Directors (GAICD). Neil is also a lecturer of leadership and governance at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Sydney. 

In his spare time he kayaks, gardens and hangs with his Italian Greyhound on his property near Kyneton.


Why ACOCo? 
Neil has had a love of opera since a young age when his nonna & mum would share stories of opera in their home town of Giarre, Sicily. He believes ACOCo is unique in its accessibility and power to share modern & Australian stories with all the passion and depth of those sung historically in Italy. 

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Rachel Cobb 

Over 30 years as an executive in senior positions across financial services, management consulting and aviation.   An experienced Board Director (CommSec & Independent Reserve and various General Electric and Latitude Financial Service’s boards).   

An investor and advisor with Scale Investors with interests in a portfolio of early stage businesses as well as a partner mentor in BCG’s CX program.  Non Executive Director with Bully Zero Foundation, a mental health charity.  Member of Chief Executive Women. 

Position Vacant
Is this you?

Our Board has a Vacancy for someone with proven expertise in Fundraising & Partnerships.

If you think you have the expertise and enthusiasm to contribute to the vitality and viability of ACOCo, please get in touch.

ACOCo acknowledges, with appreciation,
the significant contribution of past board members


Robert Taylor (2008-2019)
Linden Golding (2010-2019)
Jeremy Vincent (2010-2017)

Prof Charles Qin OAM (2019 - 2022)

Dr Celina Yu (2019 - 2022)