Melba wows far north Queenslanders

While on board the steamer Bingera Melba and her family had the chance to reflect on her years in far north Queensland. While it was not a happy time for her, with son George at her side, the pain must have been more bearable as coastal Mackay slipped by.

At Townsville, the capital of far north Queensland, the many musical groups had rallied an arranged two concerts at His Majesty’s Theatre in Walker Street, behind the School of Arts.

Townsville, today is a big bustling town. It is a university town, an army town and air force town and a town servicing the needs of farmers, miners and the growing population.

Today is has numerous specialty arts and heritage organisations, most of whom I contacted and they helped me with a lot of information.

At James Cook University Haidi from Special Collections produced a real surprise: my first look at a Melba 1909 Queensland concert program. It was amongst many other items donated by a family to the university.  It was so exciting to finally see one after months on the trail of concerts in New South Wales and Queensland.

Front page of Melba's 1909 concert tour program for Queensland.
Front page of Melba’s 1909 concert tour program for Queensland.

I also spent a lot of time in the University’s microfilm library as JCU had a copy of the Northern Register Herald – obtained from the UK – which is not on Trove. Sadly, copies of the Townsville Bulletin for 1909 are lost. The only copies available anywhere are for January to March when I wanted July.

Marilyn, the treasurer of the Family History Association of North Queensland did a fantastic job for me as there is a group of people indexing all their books and research so she was able to turn up a lot of information on Melba in Townsville and elsewhere.

The next port of call was the citylibraries Townsville where Local Collections Librarian Annette Burns was a great help and provided me with wonderful images of people and places of the time.

The Performing Arts Museum turned up some interesting later Melba stories some just a few years ago which shows the impact she still has on the Townsville community today.

The Army Museum North Queensland and the School of Arts. At the School of Arts I was invited into the Ann Roberts Auditorium which was formerly His Majesty’s Theatre. The interior is the same as in Melba’s day and was a real thrill to stand and think about the concerts Melba staged there.

Finally, something I discovered at the Pioneer Valley Museum had been bothering me for a couple of weeks, so I spent time at the Townsville Department of Natural Resources and Mines where I discovered Melba and David Mitchell leased and then owned land at Sarina, south of Mackay. But that’s another story with lots of twists and turns. As the Dept had to get the original files from Brisbane, we spent another week at Townsville finding out more and more about Melba.

We discovered Melba is immortalized in two separate places at Townsville and most don’t seem to realise it – in a bronze plaque on the Strand and on the front pillar of the School of Arts building.

The Heritage Trails plaque on the School of Arts Townsville whic
The Heritage Trails plaque on the School of Arts Townsville which says: “hosted leading performers of the day including Dame Nellie Melba”. (September 2016)

In between we did the touristy things such as a military tour, a trip to Magnetic Island and a couple of lunches at the North Queensland Cowboys club.

Like Rockhampton Melba gave her first concert at Townsville then headed inland to Charters Towers and on her return gave her second concert. After that it was back on a coastal steamer and back to Gladstone for concerts at Bundaberg and Maryborough before returning to Brisbane.

 

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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.

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