Melba’s married life at Marian

While Melba did not visit Mackay during her 1909 Back Blocks Tour, we could not drive past without calling in and spending a few days with the people of Melba House.

The society and Melba House have had a long association going back about 16 years.

I arranged beforehand to meet with treasurer Vern Lindbergs and the team of the Pioneer Valley Tourism Association which operate Melba House at Marian as a tribute to Melba and also as a visitor information centre.

Melba House, Marian Mackay. Nellie Armstrong's first home and bi
Melba House, Marian Mackay. Nellie Armstrong’s first home and birth place of son George.

Thankfully, the community rallied around and ensure the home Charles and Nellie Armstrong lived in at the Marian Sugar Mill was not demolished but saved, moved up the road and restored.

Today Vern and the team have set up a room in the house purely for Melba memorabilia – images, objects, books and folders with articles featuring Nellie and Charles Armstrong.

I spent two days going through their archives and the recently acquired Valmai Tongs collection of records, articles, images and letters between herself and Pamela, Lady Vestey who became a friend.

Thankfully the association accepted the collection as it was offered to a museum in Melbourne which  declined to accept it. The collection has the largest number of Melba recordings I have ever seen in one place and has some interesting research.

Melba House, through the association’s work is rapidly being recognized as important to Queensland’s tourism industry as the state government is doing a shoot of the house as part of its strategy.

Wally and I were privileged to be invited to the association’s meeting and learnt first-hand of the challenges of promoting tourism in the region.

Lilydale & District Historical Society's president Sue Thompson
Lilydale & District Historical Society’s president Sue Thompson (left) with some of the members of the Pioneer Valley Tourism Association which operates Melba House at Marian, Queensland.

Marian today is a far cry from the Marian of Melba’s time – 1882-1884. Then it was all pastoral land just venturing into the infant sugar cane industry. David Mitchell went to Marian to build the sugar mill which sadly only operated for a short time but on the same site now is one of the state’s largest sugar mills.

Surrounding the mill and up the Pioneer Valley it is a sea of sugar cane and as it is now harvest time trains are rushing around picking up trucks and delivering them to the mill.

Sugar Cane Harvester ready to cut another row of cane at Marian,
Sugar Cane Harvester ready to cut another row of cane at Marian, Queensland.

One of the cane train engines was called Melba and one of the drivers is trying to locate it for me so I can take a photo of her.

Melba House has quite a lot of information about Charles Armstrong so at last we can being to build his story from his time in Queensland through the years to his death in Canada.

The Pioneer River looking west towards the Marian Sugar Mill who
The Pioneer River looking east towards the Marian Sugar Mill whose chimneys are visible in the distance. This was the river in which newly marriage Nellie Armstrong bathed. The millhome occupied by the Armstrongs was west of the mill. Today the home, known as Melba Park, is located in Lloyd Park, Marian

My next stop is the museum and library in Mackay and a meeting with the Mirani Historical Society where I will give a Melba talk so members learn more about Melba’s later life.

Melba House Facebook.







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nellie melba museum

A journalist and historian, for many years I have studied Dame Nellie Melba and written articles, books, and given talks about her. I established the first website int he world dedicated to Melba and still maintain it today as a virtual museum.

2 thoughts on “Melba’s married life at Marian”

    1. Dear Sylvia,
      Thank you for your request.
      The racing industry was a little different in 1909. The silks you saw framed at Coombe Cottage belonged to her son George Armstrong. The first record I have found of her colours being used was in The Argus, September 10, 1909 pg 7:
      The starters for the Melbourne Hunt Club Point-to-Point Steeplechase at Dandenong
      next Monday, will include Barangkali, who is trained by A\r. S. Cox for Mr. George Armstrong. According to present arrangements, Mr. Armstrong- will ride Barangkali himself, and be will wear the recently-registered colours of his mother, Madame Melba, viz., olive green, mauve sash, .white cap.
      That race was postponed so Barangkali was run at the Yarra Glen and Lilydale Hunt Club
      meeting at Moonee Valley on Wednesday, September 15, 1909. Sadly it fell and didn’t finish the race but it was the first outing of Melba’s colours. The first win in Melba’s colours was on September 23 when George Armstrong rode Barangkali in the Melbourne Hunt Club’s point to point steeple chase at Dandenong.
      I’ve not researched other horses Melba may have owned but George Armstrong was a keen horseman and a an active member of the Yarra Glen and Lilydale Hunt Club. An area for future research perhaps.
      Cheers Sue Thompson


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