Dame Nellie Melba, Part 1. “Melba of Melbourne’s” not yet forgotten dulcet voice

The young Melba was “vain, vulgar, imperious and a snob”. She was also racist, sexist and liked, believe it or not, second-class music. In the 1800s, women were not allowed to forge a career. Melba rejected those over-arching rules. Dr Clare Wright, historian, said “Melba was both a woman of her time and a woman well beyond it.” When she was young, Melba got the surprise of her life. Her coach, a world famous opera singer, dragged her husband by the arm. “Please”, she asked Melba, “sing that aria again.” She turned to her husband and said, “Did I not tell you that Melba is a star.” To Melba, fame beckoned. She was the first Australian to achieve global stardom. “She became a mixture of a modern diva: brilliant, passionate and temperamental, and with a pure voice.” In 1920, she was the first international artist to sing on the new technology: radio broadcasts. In 193l, Dame Nellie Melba died. A newspaper mourned her as “the great Australian.”— FM

Adapted from Time magazine 1927 by Frank Morris

Bounding kangaroos and the not yet forgotten dulcet voice of aging Dame Nellie Melba are all that “Australia” calls up in many a mind. Humans under 30 seldom consciously associate Peach Melba or Toast Melba (very thin, very brown) with the great one-time singer who is the only world-famed Australian.

It was George V, King and Emperor, who inaugurated the Australian Commonwealth two decades and a half ago when he was Duke of York. It was Edward, Prince of Wales, who laid the cornerstone of the Capitol Building at Canberra six years ago.

It is Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, Duke of York, who has arrived with his Duchess in Australia after a tour of New Zealand to open the new Australian Parliament. His Royal Highness … will arrive at Parliament House on May 9 in one of ten British Crossley cars at his official disposal in Australia.

Before an assembled throng His Highness will stand with Dame Nellie Melba, 68, “greatest Australian”, who will lead a mighty singing of “God Save the King.”

Soon the Duke will step within, open Parliament, signalise that the world has a new Great Capital.

Helen Porter Mitchell (Melba) was born in 1859. Mitchell made her first public appearance at six years of age at a school concert when she sang Comin’ Thro the Rye to a delighted audience.

She received a good musical education, mostly at the piano; married when she was 23 to one Captain Charles Armstrong, and sang and played at private musical soirees in Melbourne. But, because of some prejudice against her early marriage to a well-to-do man, the Australian public ranked her “an amateur.”

So she departed for Paris in 1884, trained her voice and studied hard under the famed Mme. Marchesi. Mitchell adopted the name Melba which she hastily derived from (the word) Melbourne.

She made her debut in Brussels in 1887, as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto; and in Covent Garden, London, in 1888, when she sang the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, which has always been her favourite role.

In 1893, she appeared at La Scala, Milan, and made her first visit to the US. Then began her brilliant career; her “liquid voice” became known in every opera house in the world -- in Germany, Austria, Spain, England, Holland and France.

She made many a visit to the US.

[Adapted from Time Magazine cover story, April 18, 1927.]


Teachers are making a series of breakthroughs in the classroom. They are giving students with special needs and ability to do what has been never done before: to do what seemed unattainable.

Adapted by Frank Morris

For parents of children with learning difficulties the ride is not always easy. Take parents Gail and Jim McVeigh. The hurdle for the McVeighs came when they were told that their son, Alex, was falling behind in his reading in year 1.
“He was having difficulty reading and interpreting the written word,” said Mrs McVeigh. “When we spoke to him we would also notice he lost focus quickly. That was one of the characteristics we were told about when we had him assessed.”

Alex was found to have dyslexia, a language-based learning difficulty.

“The disparities can seem like a paradox,” says Vanessa Smith, a team leader of the Vanier Inclusive Technology Program. “Twice exceptional is a term that has been used to indicate a gifted learner who has an additional exceptionality -- such a learning disability.”

Vanessa says they are seeing “more and more students who are gifted or who are above average ability,” says Vanessa, “but have learning needs that are inhibiting them from presenting their high abilities particularly among them students who have a learning disability.”

For 9 year-old Alex, the challenge is in reading the task rather than in understanding or completing it.

Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that is often characterised by general symptoms like difficulty learning to read fluently and accurately. Dyslexia is common among people with extra high intelligence.

Ask yourself this question: Did Winston Churchill suffer from the complaint? He did. He is one example with of a prominent figure who managed his dyslexia.

Up to 10 per cent of Australians are experiencing varying degrees of dyslexia. For some, the complaint has serious social, economic and personal consequences. People with poor literacy skills are more at risk of social exclusion, and furthermore, may have lower levels of education and employment prospects.

However, with the right support, there are many examples of positive outcomes for people with dyslexia.

In Alex’s case, for example, he has very good comprehension and is described as having highly developed visual skills in art and many outstanding achievements in sport and swimming.  But he is frequently challenged in processing language, sequencing sentences, phonetics, and/or focusing and remembering verbal instructions using short-term memory.

Using assistive technology has helped Alex engage more fully with learning in the classroom every day.

“Once Learning Support Teams have assessed and addressed a child’s learning challenges, our team identifies what technologies can be used to build on their learning abilities and strengths,” Vanessa said.

“It’s not magic,” says Mrs McVeigh, “but it does open up Alex’s understanding and improve his literary skills.”

Ask your school about this process.

[About Catholic Schools, June 2014.]


Mrs Movies comes out of retirement to edit a regular feature on her favourite subject: movie stars and movies. She chose ‘Mrs Movies’ as her non-de-plume because that was the name she fostered

Adapted by Mrs Movies

The English poet Adam Lindsay Gordon made a big hit in Australia. In 1916, Lincoln-Barnes Scenarios produced the life and romance of our famous poet, Adam Gordon. The film deals with his early days at Cheltenham to the end of his career in Australia.

The story surrounding Gordon does make for an interesting and bold film script, The Life of Adam Lindsay Gordon, especially on his days as a fighter, lover, trooper, horse-dealer, steeplechase rider, poet and gentleman.

In Eric Reade’s book, The Australian Screen, the scene of the film is set in Cheltenham College, England, where Adam Gordon has a “tempestuous love affair” with Jane Brook. The upshot of that was he had to leave Cheltenham.

Reade takes up the story.

“When he arrived in Australia he joined the Mounted Police. He arrested a clown by mistake but made amends by capturing a maniac singlehanded. He escorted him some 200 miles. Gordon met and married Maggie Park.

“The film covered Gordon’s accident on steeplechaser, Prince Rupert, which he rode at Flemington in 1868. And recorded is his meeting with fellow poet, Henry Kendall; as well as his eventual suicide at Brighton.

“The production’s end came with the pilgrimage to his grave in 1916.”

The Argus, a Melbourne newspaper, observed that the film script’s “preparation and considerable research” should “appeal, to a powerful degree, to a certain section of the public.” Although the story wasn’t gripping, argued the Argus, it “was romantically told.”

Keith Manzie, the paper’s theatrical critic, has an association with The Life of Adam Lindsay Gordon.
Reade continues:

“Manzie’s sister, Elsie Manzies, danced in the Sir Roger de Coverley set in the early part of the film which happened to be placed in England. The scene was actually shot in the old tin shed in Exhibition Street, Melbourne, a site which is now occupied by the Comedy Theatre.

“The role of Gordon was played by two highly experienced actors – Norman Lee and Hugh McCrae. Norman played Gordon as a young man in England; and McCrae played him after his arrival in Australia. Audrey Worth was Jane.

“Mrs Adele Fletcher, still looking vivacious and entertaining, was Adele Inman as Maggie Park. Adele recalls that McCrae bore a striking resemblance to Gordon and still smiles over the sequence where the poet and Maggie were married.

“It was filmed in the middle of winter. The soil was wet and muddy. The pair were shown standing outside St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Brighton, after the ceremony. In those days, the actual marriage was seldom shown. There was fear that one type of religious service might offend a picture-goer of another sect.

“Mr G. H. Barnes, the film collaborator, realised Mrs Fletcher’s predicament to cross the ground in her white satin shoes and gallantly came to her recue, carrying her to the car.”               

Mrs Movies will do the first batch of war films to be released during World War 1. Next month in The Great War.

[Based on Eric Reade’s The Australian Screen; published by Lansdowne Press, 1975.]


Settler and scholars. Elizabeth Guard, wife of a London-born trader, was the first white woman to settle in the South Island. Elizabeth accompanies her husband, John, in his search for whales in the Cook Strait in the early 1830s. Their barque foundered off the Taranaki coast. After a melee with the Maoris they made it to the South Island … Woman to graduate. Kate Evans, who graduated a BA at the Auckland campus of the University of New Zealand, was the first woman to do so not in NZ, but perhaps in the British Empire. She died in 1935, aged 47 … Time to rock ‘n roll! The first record awarded in NZ was for Lawdy Miss Clawdy sung in an Elvis Presley style by the flamboyant hip-shaking rocker Johnny Devlin in the late 1950s.  Born in Wangannui, Devlin was determined to follow in his parents’ footsteps; they had been well known country and western entertainers. From age 12, he started paying off a guitar at fifty cents a week. The gold record was the springboard to success. Devin began to tour the north and south islands with his band, The Devlins. He came to the attention of an Australian promoter and was an immediate sensation. Because of his stage gear he was tagged the “Satin Satan.” – FM.


Posted in: Grand Years with Frank Morris at 22 May 15

Stay Informed

Receive eNews & Special Offers

Brochure Request Order

Tour Reviews Read

Last 12 months