Planning for the Back Blocks tour began in 1908 when before returning to England Melba announced she would be doing a tour of the towns of Australia the following year.
The tour had severe constraints to be overcome. Flautist and co-artist John Lemmone was appointed manager and was assisted by the experienced concert manager of W.H. Paling’s & Co in Sydney Harry Southwell.
The concert criteria sounds simple but in 1909 was not an easy one:
- a large hall;
- a piano in tune or a store that can provide one;
- and most importantly to move around New South Wales and Queensland in three months, each town had to be on a railway line.
Communication was difficult and mostly via telegram or mail so careful advanced planning was essential.
concerts dates had to be carefully planned to ensure there was a train – passenger or mail train – to move the party to the various venues in time. A State or Vice Regal carriage was put at Melba’s disposal though I’ve been unable to determine which carriages were used.
The tour started from Sydney early June and the New South Wales and Queensland section finished at Albury on September 6, 1909.
The selected towns and the order were announced in early 1909 but some were subsequently deleted or altered.
The official reason given for the tour was because a few years earlier Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind had done one.
For Melba it was more than copying Lind, it was a chance for her to see more of Australia; spend time meeting with country people and put something back into a country she was so proud to call home. However, Melba was also a shrewd business woman. Ever the entrepreneur the tour provided her with a chance to promote herself as Australia’s royalty – Queen of Song, make some money and promote her records and her secretary Agnes Murphy’s new book: Melba: A Biography.