Walter Kirby

  • Do you recognise this theatre?

    Geraldine Starbrook’s great aunt, Allea Fleming Dunstan (1886-1966) was soprano who performed in concerts and musicals during the early 20th century. In September 2023 the Glen Eira Historical Society at the Glen Eira Civic Centre put on a display called Musical Notes from Glen Eira. Included in the display were two photos of Allea. The accompanying notes reads:

    Allea, a resident of Elsternwick in the 1920s-1930s, was a pupil of the esteemed tenor Walter Kirby, ‘Australia’s forgotten Caruso’. In 1929-30 Allea spent a year studying and travelling in Europe, but on her return was unable to achieve her dream of becoming a professional opera singer.

    During the 1920s she performed at many ‘at homes’ and fundraisers.

    The Louise Lovely ‘At Home’, held at the Renown Picture Theatre, Elsternwick, on Monday afternoon will enable the Alfred Hospital Auxiliary Commitee to... maintain their cot in the children’s ward... The music was much appreciated, also the dancing and recitation. Artists were Mrs. Fleming Dunstan, Mr. Bobby Pearce, Miss Ivy Cook, and Miss Sylvia Jones; also Mrs. Ree’s Orchestra and Mrs. Downing as accompanist. (Prahran Telegraph, 4 December 1925, p.3)

    The photo on the left was taken in 1910. The one on the right was taken in July, 1930, possibly by Spencer Shier. He photographed her a few times. It appears to be taken in a theatre. Does anyone recognise this theatre?

    Letters Allea Fleming Dunstan


  • KIRBY, Walter (1877-1934)

    New Zealand operatic vocalist (tenor). Né Walter Joseph Regis Kirby. Born 1877, Auckland, New Zealand. Died 5 December 1934, London, England.

    Noted concert performer in Australia and England. Trained under Pietro Cecchi. Left sizable estate and numerous bequests to charity.

    Riley/Hailes Scrapbook, page 279.

  • Walter Kirby

    I am enjoying Frank Van Straten’s series on tenor Walter Kirby, my great-aunt, Allea Fleming Dunstan, having been one of his many pupils. She was present on several of the occasions mentioned and being part of Melbourne’s musical scene c.1925-1935 was on programs with many of the well-known identities of the period.

  • Walter Kirby: Australia’s forgotten Caruso (Part 1)

    In the first of a five-part series, FRANK VAN STRATEN delves into the life and times of little-known Australian vocalist Walter Kirby.

    Kirby 1.1 Tatler 1898Walter Kirby featured in The Tatler, 26 February 1898. Photograph by Melba Studios, Melbourne. Trove, National Library of Australia, Canberra.‘His voice thrilled with every shade of feeling, expressed every shade of sentiment. It could be gloriously high and clear one moment, and deep and tender and caressing the next, and could sink to the faintest echo, or to the supressed high of a lover’s pain…’

    This is a quote from a piece published in May 1925 in the Melbourne stage and screen journal Revue eulogising the Australian tenor Walter Kirby.

    Walter Kirby? Kirby, who died in 1934, was all but forgotten until Tony Locantro and Roger Neill included him in From Melba to Sutherland, their landmark 2016 CD tribute to Australia’s greatest singers. The accompanying booklet includes a capsule biography of Kirby, but his remarkable life deserves a far more detailed account.

    Walter was born on 12 June 1874 at the family home in Chapel Square, Auckland, New Zealand. He was christened Walter Joseph Kirby, but as his career blossomed, he added an impressive third given name, Regis, from the Latin word for ‘king’, and ‘adjusted’ his birth year to 1877. His parents were both Irish. His mother, born Ellen Mulcahy in a tiny village in County Limerick around 1831-1832, came to Australia an ‘assisted passenger’ in 1857. Officially recorded as a ‘servant’, she went to work for Charles and Ellen Maloney in Geelong in what was then the colony of Victoria. Walter’s father, William, was born in the County Limerick parish of Pallasgreen and Templebredon, probably in 1829. He arrived in Australia about 1853-1854. Initially he worked on the construction of the Geelong Road and as a farmer, but it appears he soon went into business as a building and construction contractor. William and Ellen married in Geelong in 1858, Their first child, Bridget, was born in 1859, and their second, Maurice, in 1860.

    William Kirby’s business ventures ended in bankruptcy, and in 1860 the little family migrated to New Zealand, where William had several brothers. He soon re-established himself as a building and construction contractor. The family originally lived in Dunedin, but eventually settled in Chapel Square, Auckland, opposite St Patrick’s Cathedral, and had six more children: Patrick Michael, William, John Thomas, Daniel David, Catherine (Kate) and, finally, Walter.

    William dabbled in local politics. In 1871 he stood for election to the city council, but he was unsuccessful.

    The Kirbys were a musical family. Bridget was choir mistress and organist at St Patrick’s, Auckland. She, sister Catherine, and Mrs Kirby eventually became music teachers, as indeed did Walter. Maurice possessed a good voice, and William had a short stage career as a comedian and song-and-dance man. His whirlwind eccentric dance with a glass of water balanced on his nose stopped many a show. After some success at the Opera House in Melbourne in the 1900s, he abandoned a stage career for architecture. He died in Adelaide in 1921.

    In The New Zealand Herald of 8 October 1886 there is a report of both Walter (aged 12) and William (19), accompanied at the piano by their sister Bridget (27), appearing at the Auckland Catholic Institute in a concert that Bridget had organised to raise funds for the Auckland Christian Society.

    Revue’s somewhat hyperbolic account of his life claims Walter’s first years were difficult: ‘Delicate from the first, his life was despaired of by the leading doctors of New Zealand. For four years it was an anxious fight, but with the help of the best medical science, the assiduous efforts of his brave mother won the day.’ His father then provided ‘strict training with early morning swimming, boxing and rowing, to which he attributes to his ability to overcome his naturally delicate constitution.’

    To Walter, singing came naturally. As Revue put it: ‘Almost from the time when he was able to lisp, he began to sing.’ It was his sister, Bridget, who recognised Walter’s potential and gave him his earliest lessons. He was 8 when his father enrolled him in the Marist Brothers’ School in Pitt Street, Auckland, and he was 9 when he received his first press notice. On 21 December 1883, reporting on an end-of-year concert by pupils of the Auckland Infants’ School, the New Zealand Herald said: ‘Several recitations were given, and hymns and songs sung by the children. One of the latter, “The Dear Little Shamrock”, was remarkably well sung by Master Walter Kirby, who was much applauded by the visitors.’

    But it was sometimes difficult to get Walter to sing. In 1931 The Arrow reminisced: ‘There was a curious contradictory streak in his make-up. A secular priest, who was his teacher at the school at Auckland that Walter attended as a young boy, said that when the school concert programs were prepared it was discovered that the best way to induce Walter to sing was to leave his name out. If he was starred on the program he would invent some excuse, but the omission of his name from the program was a sure way of getting his services.’

    While the future looked rosy for Master Walter, his father faced an increasingly tortuous series of financial failures and court battles, which inevitably led, in 1887, to his second bankruptcy. The following year the Kirby family retreated to Australia.

    From August 1888 to March 1889 Melbourne hosted its second great international exhibition. Designed to celebrate the centenary of white settlement in Australia, it was centred on the huge Exhibition Building in Carlton that had been built in 1880 for the colonies’ first internationally recognised exhibition. New Zealand was one of the 34 participating nations and colonies, and young Walter Kirby was contracted to represent his native country for six months, Revue says, ‘at the splendid salary of twenty pounds per week’. According to a report in The Otago Daily Times of 26 January 1889: ‘At 4 o’clock there was a concert in the German Court, when Mr Frederick Dark delighted a large audience by his humorous musical sketches, and Master Walter Kirby sang “Come Back to Erin” in a sweet, pretty voice, like a girl.’

    It seems likely that Walter’s handsome remuneration enabled the Kirbys to rent a smart home at 10 Colvin Grove in the genteel Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, and to enrol him at nearby Xavier, the city’s most prestigious Catholic boys’ college. Nevertheless, Walter found an ingenious way to add to his income. In 1931 The Arrow reminisced: ‘When the family were living on the Hawthorn Flats, Walter bought a cow out of his savings and started a milk round. Many a light sleeper heard the dulcet notes of his high soprano as he went on his round in the darkness of early morning. The wife of a prominent turfite told her husband one morning: “In the early hours I heard a nightingale singing for the first time since I left England.” It was merely the dreamy-eyed Walter delivering the milk.’

    Walter loved Xavier. An enthusiastic student, he found that many of his fellow pupils came from some of Melbourne’s most prosperous and influential families.  

    If the 1888-1889 exhibition was a high point in Melbourne’s history, the fall came quickly. The crash that followed the 1880s land boom caused immense hardship. Businesses failed and unemployment soared. This could explain why Walter left Xavier at the end of 1889, when he was 15. Nevertheless, he retained a close connection with the school, helping raise funds by singing at many of their functions and remembering them in his will.

    The family moved to more modest accommodation at 430 Swan Street, Richmond. In 1915 the Richmond Guardian recalled that at his new school in Richmond, Walter’s ‘dulcet toned voice won him the sobriquet of “Dolly” among the local schoolboys,’ adding, ‘but he sings as well today as he did on the first night he went up from his parents’ home in Swan Street and surprised and pleased the audience at the Richmond Town Hall.’ Many of the Town Hall concerts were organized by Walter’s sister Bridget, who had established herself as a peripatetic music teacher.

    Walter’s voice broke in 1890; his father died of tuberculosis the following year.

    Revue explained: ‘Up to this period the family position had made the future career of the boy songster an assured fact, but now the future was of grave concern for all. It meant a hard struggle to even continue the barest necessary lessons and the schooling so essential to establish a future career as an artist.’

    An article published in Smith’s Weekly shortly after his death, claims young Walter was forced to find menial work and sell goods door-to-door. Stoically his mother continued his vocal training, and he gained early experience with the once admired but now forgotten Melbourne Amateur Opera Club.

    In August 1894 23-year-old Walter joined Frank M. Clark’s ‘Alhambra’ Company, which was presenting weekly-change music hall entertainment at the Melbourne Opera House in Bourke Street, renamed the Alhambra for the occasion, and later rechristened the Tivoli. On the bill was the extraordinary ‘facial contortionist’ Ed. E. Ford. In May 1935 he told the Melbourne Herald: ‘Many years ago—it was in the days of Rickards’ shows— some of us players were sitting about the theatre when a shy freckle-faced youth asked the manager to give him an audition. People weren’t as polite about auditions as they are now. You would be given “the bird” right off if you were no good. Workers about the theatre used to load up the property guns and fire them off if an act were bad. But once the shy youth began to sing everyone listened, astonished. He sang “I Was Dreaming” most wonderfully. The next week young Walter Kirby was the hit of our show, and I think he got about £2 [$200] for his week’s work.’ The song, a pensive newly published ballad by a Sydney composer, August William Juncker, went on to international success, as, too, did its singer.

    Kirby 1.2 CecchiPietro Cecchi, Walter Kirby’s first singing teacher. Portrait by Foster & Martin Studios, Collins Street, Melbourne, 1880. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.Young Walter was in luck: the rapidly rising Mrs Charles Armstrong—Melba—had heard him sing. Before her departure for London in 1886 she had introduced him to her first teacher, the esteemed Italian Pietro Cecchi, who had a studio in Allan’s Music Store in Collins Street. Cecchi agreed to teach Walter, and at no cost, but sadly the maestro died suddenly in 1897. Walter then started studying with Amelia Banks, a prominent Melbourne teacher and ‘cultured soprano’.

    More tragedy struck in May 1898 when Bridget, the eldest of the Kirby children, died in an horrific train accident at Pakenham, about 53km south-east of Melbourne, though, strangely, the press reports say it was younger sister Catherine and not Bridget who had died. Bridget was 39. At least she had lived long enough to see her 22-year-old brother make his debut as a serious vocalist.

    In 1896 the celebrated French soprano Antoinette (Antonia) Dolores Trebelli had visited Australia to give a series of concerts. She heard Walter sing and invited him to join her touring company. On 8 June The Age reviewed the third of her concerts at the Melbourne Town Hall: ‘Mr Walter Kirby, a young tenor as yet unknown to fame, made a creditable first appearance. His voice is of agreeable quality, and though it is obviously in need of training, he sings in a naturally free and open style, without a trace of that “squeezing” of the throat which is generally so offensive in tenors who have not been through a thorough course of voice production. Neither of his selections, Stephen Adams’ “The Garonne” and “Alice, Where Art Thou?” can be called specially interesting or novel, but in both cases Mr Kirby was called upon for a supplementary number.’

    In February 1898 Walter was chosen to sing at the Melbourne Town Hall reception to welcome the great Canadian soprano Emma Albani. She told the press she thought highly of the young tenor. He had, she said, ‘tears in his voice’, and she would be happy to help him should he venture to London.

    After singing with Trebelli and the ‘endorsement’ from Albani, Walter found himself in great demand. Apart from numerous concerts for a wide range of charitable causes and lucrative appearances at fashionable ‘At Homes’, he began teaching, sang before Lord and Lady Brassey at Government House, appeared with the Melbourne, Metropolitan, Ballarat and Geelong Liedertafels, and was one of the featured vocalists at the grand industrial exhibitions at Albury and Ballarat in the late 1890s.

    It was an era of vast self-congratulatory civic fairs, and Walter’s birth town was not to be left out. Auckland’s Industrial and Mining Exhibition opened in December 1898 and—yes—Walter Kirby was one of the featured participants. His Exhibition concerts were followed by an extensive tour of the rest of the country. Though the press reports were welcoming and complimentary, they were evenly split in describing him: was he an Australian or a New Zealander? On 17 July 1899, in its preview of a Kirby concert in Gisborne, The Poverty Bay Herald remarked: ‘A splendid program has been arranged for Mr Kirby’s concert on Thursday evening, and we have no doubt the celebrated young New Zealand tenor will be greeted with a crowded house. Mr Kirby’s success on the concert platform has been almost phenomenal. He made a decided hit at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1888. His voice has developed into a fine tenor, and he has met with success after success. Writing of his reception on his return to Auckland in January last, a local paper says: “Mr Walter Kirby not only won a success d’estime as an old Auckland boy meeting with an enthusiastic reception, but his lovely tenor voice and artistic singing created a storm of enthusiasm. His fine natural voice, under the training of Signor Cecchi, has been carefully developed into a smooth, round, even and extensive compass—the quality of tone is exquisite—neither a light tenor nor a tenore robusto, but that rare and happy blending of both. Mr Kirby’s signal triumph is more than gratifying, in view of the difficulty a prophet has to find honor in his own country. He is about to visit Europe shortly to pursue his musical studies, and a bright future undoubtedly lies before him.”

    In 1900 entrepreneur George Musgrove assembled an international company to present ambitious seasons of grand opera in Melbourne and Sydney. With his keen eye for talent, Musgrove chose Walter for the role of Ruiz in Il trovatore. It would have been his debut in staged opera, but it was not to be. On 18 October Table Talk reported that Walter ‘found his nervousness an insurmountable barrier at rehearsals and so wisely decided that his time for grand opera was not yet’—but an item in The New Zealand Observer put it differently: ‘Walter Kirby was first chosen by the management for the part, but he is in serious trouble with an infection of the throat and he has had to decline an offer from Mr George Musgrove to appear in grand opera. By-the-way, Mr Musgrove’s conductor has a high opinion of Kirby’s voice, and prophesizes a great future.’

    As early as 24 February 1898, Punch had reported that at a recent meeting at Allan’s: ‘a large section of the prominent citizens of Melbourne’ had determined to sponsor a benefit concert in the Melbourne Town Hall to raise funds to send Walter to England ‘to study his profession under the best masters—a laudable idea. He is a singer of great promise, only wanting the finishing so necessary to make a good artist. Lady Brassey and Lady Holled Smith are taking a great interest in the concert, and the patronage of nearly all lovers of music has been secured.’ Other reports reveal more of Walter’s distinguished benefactors: the Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Richard Neville, Janet Lady Clarke, Sir Rupert and Lady Clarke, the Honorable Rupert Carrington and the Honorable Mrs Rupert Carrington, and the Victorian Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Madden and Lady Madden.

    Kirby 1.4 Fundraiser 1910Announcement of a concert to raise money to send Walter Kirby to Europe for further study, Melbourne Town Hall, 31 August 1902. Private Collection.On 2 March 1898, the ‘large and brilliant’ attendance at the concert included the Governor of Victoria, Lord Brassey, Lady Brassey, and many of Melbourne’s gracious and good but, reported Punch on 14 April, ‘The financial result has not been at all satisfactory, and will not enable Mr Kirby to seek European instruction as intended. Another appeal in a few months' time to an ever-generous public and worked on different lines might assist this deserving young artist to obtain the continental experience so necessary for a successful musical career.’ There were to be many more benefit concerts and functions.

    A now virtually forgotten phenomenon of turn-of-the century entertainment was the cyclorama. These were huge buildings housing vast painted canvas representations of historic events, enhanced with realistically modelled foregrounds, music and sound effects. Melbourne had two. The first, on Victoria Parade, Eastern Hill, had opened in 1889. One of its most popular presentations had been Jerusalem, a depiction of the Holy City at the time of the Crucifixion. The Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Madden, launched a return season on 31 July 1902. For the occasion, baritone Horace Stevens sang ‘Nazareth’ and ‘Jerusalem’ and Walter contributed ‘The Holy City’ and ‘Star of Bethlehem’.

    Meanwhile, the benefits continued. At a concert at the Melbourne Town Hall on 30 August 1902 he was supported by a roster of leading local singers and, unusually, two great favorites from the musical stage, George Lauri and Carrie Moore (Australia’s original Merry Widow), as well as ‘a successful humoristic recitation’ contributed by vaudevillian Hector McLennan, father of actor and broadcaster Rod McLennan. The Age noticed that, ‘All the more highly priced seats at the Town Hall were full but the back of the hall was poorly attended.’ Its report went on to say, ‘We have often had occasion to speak in favorable terms of the quality of Mr Kirby’s voice, which, it may be remarked, is still in an excellent state of preservation. He sings easily and without effort, gets his effects as a rule naturally and by strictly legitimate means, and uses his voice well; but at the same time, the doubt will arise whether by sending Mr Kirby “home” the best possible service is being done him by his friends. In England they have singers in plenty, and if some of the rumors which travel halfway round the world be true, not every budding Melba who goes to London for a “career” finds one. We have every desire to see Mr Kirby rise as near to the top of the tree as his undoubted gifts will warrant; but Saturday’s concert was in many respects more like a society “function” than a concert.’ The Australasian was similarly grumpy: ‘Such farewell benefits are really very sad. We know by experience that if the beneficiary is very good and succeeds, he will not return, while if he is very bad and fails, he will return. It is a case of heads you win, tails I lose.’

    Though it seemed Walter’s departure was imminent, Melba stepped in again. The great diva was on her first major tour of her homeland. With her was a supporting party including four singers, a harp soloist, and a bevy of accompanists. When her manager, George Musgrove, revealed plans to extend the tour to Western Australia and then to New Zealand, her tenor decided to leave the company and in December 1902 Melba announced that Walter had been engaged to replace him.

    Perth greeted Melba’s arrival in Western Australia with great warmth—and even turned on a heatwave to match. The first concert at the Queen’s Hall in William Street on 13 January marked Melba’s Perth debut—and Walter’s too. The press, like the packed audience, were wildly enthusiastic, but The West Australian had one criticism: ‘Mr Walter Kirby has a tuneful and expressive tenor voice, but his stage manner is not entirely free from affectation.’ It was probably the first mention of a trait that was to characterise Walter for the rest of his career.

    The party returned to Melbourne where, on 31 January 1903, Melba and Walter participated in a benefit concert at the Town Hall marking the retirement of the much-feted Australian tenor Armes Beaumont. It was their only joint appearance in Melbourne. Later that year, when both Walter and Melba were in London, an obscure Melbourne paper, The Arena-Sun, speculated cheekily: ‘Will Walter call on Melba, one wonders, or did that severe slap he received at the Melbourne concert make as much impression on his feelings as on his cheek? The haughty lady had expostulated with him on taking an encore. Walter listened, but erred again. This time Melba did not use words, but her plump, jewelled hand, and Walter’s face bore the impress for quite half an hour after.’

    A concert at Launceston in northern Tasmania was to be next, but Bass Strait’s heavy seas made Melba so ill it had to be abandoned. She and her party took the train to Hobart where they were to board the SS Moeraki for the trip to New Zealand on 13 February. It was a Friday. And Walter missed the boat.

    How this happened was never explained, but in his 1967 biography of Melba, John Hetherington gave an unsourced and largely fanciful account of what followed, and this has been repeated by several other writers. Inherent is the suggestion that the incident led to Walter developing a deep hatred for the diva. Contemporary reports tell a different if less colourful story, confirming that Melba continued to support and encourage him.

    Melba engaged John Prouse, a sturdy local bass-baritone, to replace Kirby in her first New Zealand concert, at His Majesty’s Theatre in Dunedin on 18 February. Earlier that day Walter had disembarked from the steamer Rimutaka in Wellington. He got to Christchurch in time to sing in Melba’s second New Zealand concert there on 20 February.

    Surprisingly, several New Zealand reviewers were less than impressed by their returning prodigy. Christchurch’s The Press grumbled: ‘Mr Kirby was faulty in his singing of “Angels Guard Thee” and also in his second number, “I’ll Sing Thee Songs of Araby”. His production lacks smoothness, and he has a tendency to use the tremolo effect far too much,’ while The New Zealand Observer said: ‘The supporting company was of mixed quality. Local interest naturally attached to Mr Walter Kirby, the tenor, who was an Auckland boy. He has undoubtedly improved since he went to Australia, both in method and in vocal powers, but some of his mannerisms still remain. When London studies have weeded these out, and put the polish upon his style, we may expect to hear great things of Mr Kirby. The rest of the performers made up a concert of good average calibre.’

    The Melba party sailed back into Sydney on 13 March. The country was still experiencing what is recognized as the worst drought it has ever endured. Melba had been moved by the devastation she had seen on earlier tours, so drought relief was a cause close to her heart. To raise funds, she and her party—including Walter—appeared at a hastily-arranged charity matinee at the Sydney Town Hall on 18 March. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that 2800 people had packed the venue and that the proceeds—£700 [$105,500]—were the most yet raised at a charity concert.

    On 11 April, almost on the eve of his long-delayed departure for Europe, Walter participated in an extraordinary Easter event staged in Wirth Brothers’ huge circus tent which was pitched in St Kilda Road, on the site of today’s Arts Centre Melbourne. ‘Bioscope views’ displayed on a large screen hung in the centre of the ring were mingled with mainly religious vocal items accompanied by a military band. The Age was shocked: ‘Most of the items were appropriate to the season, but the introduction of The “Zaza” Kiss, as displayed on the sheet [the screen], would have been in questionable taste at any part of the program, and following, as it did, a rendering of “The Lost Chord” it was almost revolting’.  This intriguing attraction, which had been teasingly advertised for many days, was apparently inspired by a controversial episode in the drama Zaza, then playing at the Princess.

    A few days later, armed with funds for two years’ tuition, dozens of letters of introduction, and an adulatory testimonial from his recently recruited pupils, Walter took the train to Adelaide, where he boarded the fashionable French liner Ville de la Ciotat, bound for Marseilles.


    To be continued


    Special thanks to:

    Christine Buck, Margaret Jarvis, and the extended Kirby Family; Peter Burgis; Brian Castles-Onion AM; Dr Mimi Colligan AM; Jo Gilbert; Miranda Rountree; Loris Synan OAM; Jason Thomson; Claudia Funder, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne; Xavier College, Melbourne; National Library of Australia; State Library Victoria; AusStage; Trove

    Principal references:

    Jeff Brownrigg, A New Melba? The Tragedy of Amy Castles,Crossing Press, Darlinghurst, 2006

    Mimi Colligan, Canvas Documentaries,Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 2002

    Peter Game, The Music Sellers,The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1976

    Alison Gyger, Opera for the Antipodes,Currency Press, 1990

    John Hetherington, Melba,F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1967

    Roger Neill & Tony Locantro, From Melba to Sutherland,Universal Music, Australia Pty Ltd, 2016

    Fred Page, ‘The Auditorium—Birth of a Showcase’, CinemaRecord, Winter 2001

    John Ross, The Sound of Melbourne,ABC Books, Sydney, 1999

    Thorold Waters, Much Besides Music,Georgian House, Melbourne, 1951

  • Walter Kirby: Australia’s forgotten Caruso (Part 3)

  • Walter Kirby: Australia’s forgotten Caruso (Part 4)

  • Walter Kirby: Australia’s forgotten Caruso (Part 5)

    By 1931 Walter Kirby had settled in England, but as FRANK VAN STRATEN discovers in the final instalment of his biography of the NZ-born Australian tenor, he did not forget Australia, leaving numerous significant endowments in his will.

    During the afternoon of 3 September 1931 Walter Kirby was arrested in the men’s toilet at Victoria Station, and charged with indecency in a public convenience, specifically ‘importuning males’. The incident and its aftermath were widely reported in Australia, but again it was the New Zealand press that gave more details, even though Kirby was always referred to as an Australian, not a New Zealander, and his age was given as 48, though he was 57.

    Walter appeared in Westminster Police Court on 8 October. The police prosecutor, Vernon Gattle, said that Walter had been under surveillance for an hour. The arresting inspector testified that when the charge was read to him Walter had said, ‘I am sorry. I did not think I had been here an hour.’ He had spoken ‘in a very peculiar, husky voice, and was constantly making grimaces,’ and he had vehemently denied the charge. Walter listened to the police evidence ‘with his head buried in his hands’.

    Walter described the throat operation that he had undergone earlier that day as ‘shockingly painful’. He said he had haemorrhaged in the bus on his way home, and had gone to the toilet ‘to attend to himself’. He claimed to have thought he had suffered a stroke and lost his memory, and that he felt that he had twenty heads. Sir James Dundas-Grant testified that the cocaine may have affected Walter ‘more than it would an ordinary person’ and that ‘his ordinary moral controls might have been temporarily suspended’. Walter’s counsel, the distinguished Edward Marjoribanks (thankfully pronounced ‘Marchbanks’), said that he would be able to ‘bring most distinguished evidence of good character’. Representatives of the Australian government were present during the hearing. Bail was refused, and Walter was remanded for a week in custody under medical supervision in Brixton Prison Hospital.

    Walter was back in court on 15 October. Edward Marjoribanks was in fine form. He told the court that the alleged offence was ‘a sordid incident, so eccentric and extraordinary that I ask you to believe that, at the time, his moral control was suspended. People have been inspired and comforted by the beauty of his voice, and he still has a long career in front of him if it is not impeded by a term of imprisonment. Already his appearance in court has interfered with contracts, and it would be a real pity and a real shame if a man gifted in this way should have his career destroyed by a single incident of this nature. This was a sordid and unfortunate incident in a distinguished career. His ordinary moral controls were suspended, as Sir James Dundas-Grant had said in the earlier proceedings. Kirby was subject to the extreme apprehensions of men of his age—he was over 50—and was sometimes led into these actions through purely physical causes. He had already paid very dearly for his lapse. He had a long and artistic career before, him, if not given terms of imprisonment. Contracts already made would be affected. l feel sure that if you take a merciful course events will justify it. It would be a pity if a man of his artistic calibre had his career destroyed by one single instance of this nature which can be attributed to a temporary physical aberration, due to a physical cause.’

    The Victorian Agent-General, Sir Walter Leitch, said that he had known the defendant for thirty years, and that he enjoyed a great reputation in Australia. He had never heard of him ‘being nasty or sordid in his ways’.

    It was no use. In delivering his sentence, magistrate Harold McKenna said that he had considered the defendant’s previous good character and the fact that he had already spent a week in custody. Nevertheless, he sentenced him 21 days’ imprisonment in ‘the second division’, a system designed to handle first-time and short-term offenders.

    Walter was said to have left the dock without uttering a word.

    Most of the subsequent Australian press coverage was factual and non-judgmental but, given Water’s colourful reputation, it could have been expected that the country’s popular papers would have pilloried him. The fact that they did the opposite sheds a different light on what we have assumed were the times’ stern attitudes to ‘difference’. Two widely read weeklies, Hugh D. McIntosh’s Sydney broadsheet The Arrow and the Melbourne-based tabloid Smith’s Weekly, published moving stories in the weeks and months after his release.

    The first to come to Water’s defence was The Arrow. An illustrated feature story in its 23 October 1931 edition was headed ‘Anti-Climax of Eventful Career’. It’s worth quoting at length:

    ‘It needs a sympathetic hand to write “Poor Walter” to the epilogue of the career of Australia’s most remarkable native-born [sic] tenor. For no-one knowing Walter’s sensitive complex, forever dreading, like a blow, the imminence of publicity attacking him on the moral side, would expect him to emerge from the ordeal through which he is passing, 21 days’ imprisonment for an act of indecency, except as a broken man.

    ‘The curtain that had seemed to lift for a moment on a new and pleasant career for Kirby in England in the autumn of his life, has come down upon a black-out. And with it go his dreams of dignified retirement at Hendon, where he had pictured himself passing the rest of his days upon the earnings of investments which lean years have since cut down to the merest fraction.

    ‘Kirby’s is not the nature to recover from such a blow. Most of his life has been a recoil from infamous suggestions which, in the judgment of those who knew him, or thought they knew him best, contained no germ of truth. To be a tenor, in the time of Walter Kirby’s youth, was to be set apart from one’s fellow men, in a sense, and given a special classification if, as was Kirby’s misfortune, he exhibited none of the expected vices of a successful singer, but displayed the inconsistencies and vanities of a prima donna. Constantly in the society of women, he was never a lover. They flattered him in droves, and he accepted their homage. He accompanied them to afternoon teas and was their guest. But the very fact that Walter’s relations with the fair sex seem never to have contained a trace of sex interest reacted to his detriment, and a legend grew about him that caused his name to be bandied about in music hall jests, and himself to be lampooned in terms suggesting moral perversion. All this Kirby accepted in silence, but he felt himself a marked man, shunned old acquaintances in the street, and expressed tearful gratitude on occasions when friends of better understanding sought him out in public places to demonstrate their faith in him.

    ‘The worst of these attacks was that they were all by innuendo. Nothing definite, in all the years that Kirby sang in Australia, was alleged against him concerning his moral behaviour. Mainly the curiosity of the vulgar expressed itself in relation to his sex, and it was reported some years ago that certain bold young ladies engaged in charity work at the Melbourne Town Hall, in connection with a Button Day Appeal, unbuttoned Walter in a spirit of mischief, and left him thus, but it was an episode that left no sting, and was never investigated. He probably gave his services to charity more freely than any other singer who has performed in Australia.

    ‘It must always be remembered to Walter Kirby’s credit that though he pursued the path of bachelorhood through life, and cherished no liaisons, he was a father to numerous nephews, whom he had educated at his expense, and was good to his relatives in other ways besides. His friends here knew him for a pampered tenor, whose only faults were his eccentricities—strange outbursts that were the expression of a high-strung temperament. His friends will refuse to believe that this escapade that drew upon him stern retribution at the hands of a London magistrate was a self-revelation of a moral pervert. Far more likely that a sinister reputation, unfortunately and unjustly acquired, has followed him to London, where an unsympathetic magistrate, with an Australian before him, has waved aside the accused man’s story of an utterly irrational act, committed in a state of irresponsibility following upon an operation performed that morning. Those who know Kirby feel that something wrong has occurred—they do not accept this as a final brand of his degradation. He deserved too well of his country for that.’

    Then, on 20 November 1931, Smith’s Weekly published this piece from its London correspondent: ‘Australia has recently heard of the terrible plight that has overcome its great songster, Walter Kirby. Looking drawn and haggard, he told Smith’s that his imprisonment had plunged him into the deepest depths of despair. “I don’t know what to do,” he said, “nor where to turn. My career has been wrecked.” In disheartened tones, Kirby spoke of the bright prospects that had been his before his arrest. “I think it’s ruined my life,” he exclaimed passionately. “No more exclusive clientele was ever given to a human being than mine. There were three Royal command performances to be given, and contracts with the BBC and a leading gramophone company. What my future will be I cannot say. I don’t know whether I am not contemplating the river. Why should I be treated thus?” Kirby added in a burst of despairing passion, “I have devoted my whole life to charity. I have donated to every hospital in London, and I have helped every charity, here and in Australia”.’

    Nevertheless, new research in the BBC archives has revealed that on 20 October 1931 Walter broadcast a song recital with contralto Mary Ogden, and that on 2 April 1932 he was soloist in a concert by the Wireless Military Band.

    Smith’s kept its eye on Walter. On 16 April 1932, it announced that he had been given a ‘fresh start’ and was singing again in London, but under an assumed name: ‘Ever since the cabled report of Walter Kirby’s enforced three weeks’ holiday at His Majesty’s pleasure, speculation as to his whereabouts and doings has been rife in Australia. From time to time all kinds of rumors have been in circulation. One persistent story was that Kirby had entered a monastery in Italy. Another was that he had married a countess, who was an ardent supporter of artistic aims. All, however, are without the slightest foundation. Kirby is continuing the even tenor of his ways under the name of Keating. Recently, at the Albert Hall, Kirby was one of the artists on an important program that included other Australian musicians. The daily newspapers spoke favorably of the other artists, but did not even mention Kirby, although he was singing under his new appellation. It is extremely unlikely that Walter will ever return to Australia. In conversation recently with another Australian, he said: “My deepest regret is that I shall never return to Australia and all my dear friends there.” His future plans are indefinite, but he has expressed an intention of conducting a concert tour of the Continent.’ Instead, he went to Ireland.

    On 2 July 1932 the Irish Independent reported that Walter had been among the vast crowd—said to be approximately 25% of the country’s population—at Phoenix Park in Dublin for the final public Pontifical Mass of the 31st International Eucharistic Congress. Walter had warm praise for the choir and for its conductor, the distinguished Irish composer and musician Vincent O’Brien, and for the singing of the great Count John McCormack. McCormack had begun his career with tuition from O’Brien, and he and Walter had become friends when Walter had visited Ireland in 1903.

    On 12 July, according to a piece in The Cork Examiner: ‘A number of ladies made their vows at the Good Shepherd Convent in Limerick, and among them was Sister Mary of Our Lady of Lourdes, daughter of an Irish divine and cousin of Walter Kirby, the renowned Australian tenor. Mr. Kirby sang most delightfully some of his own compositions at the Mass.’ The Melbourne Herald reported that: ‘Mr. Kirby gave a song recital recently in the ballroom of Flesk Castle, Killarney, before a large and fashionable audience,’ and he sang at the Irish Industrial and Agricultural Fair in Cork and at Tipperary’s historic Rock of Cashel. He also spent time with his cousin, Rev. John Wallace PP, in the tiny village of Cratloe near Limerick.

    On 2 September 1932 The Arrow brought welcome news of Walter’s ‘rehabilitation’. It was headed ‘A Cloud Lifted’ and concluded: ‘All who have heard his golden voice will read with pleasure the news that he has been accepted in the land of his ancestors.’

    Back in London, Walter quietly resumed teaching, only to find that music hall star Randolph Sutton had introduced a saucy little number called ‘When Are You Going to Lead Me to the Altar, Walter?’ It’s been credited to several different composers and lyricists, but its sentiment is remarkably similar to Jack O’Hagan’s 1923 hit, ‘Walter’:

    First verse:

    Walter and me, we’ve been courtin’ for years,

    But he’s never asked me to wed.

    When Leap Year comes ’round I give three hearty cheers,

    As I do the askin’ instead.

    I don’t want to die an old maid,

    So I sing him this serenade:

    First chorus:

    Walter-er, Walter, lead me to the altar,

    I'll make a better man of you.

    Walter, Walter, buy the bricks and mortar,

    And we’ll build a love nest for two.

    My bottom drawer’s all packed and ready,

    My bridal gown’s as good as new.

    Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar.

    And make all me nightmares come true!

    Second chorus:

    Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar,

    I don’t cost much to keep in food.

    Walter-er, Walter, mother says you oughta,

    So take me while she’s in the mood.

    You know I’m very fond of chickens.

    We'll raise a lovely little brood.

    Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar,

    And I'll show you where I'm tattooed.

    Third chorus:

    Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar,

    Don’t say I’ve met me Waterloo.

    Walter, Walter, tears are tasting salter,

    And I’ve lost me handkerchief too.

    Don’t muck the goods about no longer,

    My old age pension’s nearly due.

    Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar,

    It’s either the workhouse or you.

    Sutton’s interpretation of the song was released on the budget Panachord label in November 1932, but it did not truly become popular until Gracie Fields sang it in the 1938 film We’re Going to be Rich. Her studio recording of it remains a classic. While the song’s creation may have had nothing to do with Walter’s reputation, it remains an intriguing possibility.

    On 6 November 1934 Walter led a party of Australian singers in an entertainment for nearly 100 blind ex-servicemen at St. Dunstan’s, the Regents Park headquarters of the Blinded Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Care Committee. It was to form a fitting finale to his long, illustrious career.

    Smith’s Weekly had confided to its readers that Walter was living in grand style in a flat in Bedford Square—an elegant Georgian garden enclave that housed many of the city’s artistic elite—and that he had found ‘an ultimate haven of calm in the retirement of English hostesses on a backwater of the Thames.’ Sadly, it was not to last.

    Towards the end of November he suffered a heart seizure at his flat. Four doctors were called, nurses were in constant attendance, but pneumonia ensued. He died in St. Dunstan’s Nursing Home on 5 December 1934. He was 61. Smith’s Weekly told its readers: ‘The patient, resigned to the inevitable, met the end calmly. So died untimely one who, in the opinion of his staunchest friends, had been dealt with by fate not according to his deserts.’

    After a Requiem Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Notting Hill, Walter Joseph Regis Kirby was buried at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

    On 9 February 1935 Smith’s Weekly published a follow-up piece:

    ‘Two months have passed since the death of Walter Kirby in London, yet the mails have brought letters that tell of the enduring devotion of his friends in Britain to the greatest of Australia’s lyric tenors.

    ‘Walter Kirby, most discussed of Australian singers, left the world guessing of how much money he possessed when he died. Some people, taking too literally his jocular remarks about ‘the poor artist’, were inclined to believe that he was perpetually on his uppers and were disposed either to patronise or to ignore him. Others went to the other extreme and credited him with miserliness and almost fabulous wealth. The truth probably lay between the two extremes.

    ‘Unappreciated, if not misunderstood, he responded to friendly gestures almost gratefully, and held his own as an entertainer. The key of his sideboard was outside the door of his three-guinea flat at the top of Collins Street—a signal to callers to go in and help themselves—and no tightwad ever took such a risk.

    ‘It was no secret that Walter had paid for the education of several young relatives who had not been favoured with the same opportunities as he had. He was ‘discovered’ by two ladies of quality in London—Lady Wantage and her aunt—who provided him with a sound training. When ultimately he returned to Australia in 1912 his reputation was made, and he was able to command good tuition fees and to refuse a performance at less than 25 guineas [$2600], except when he organised one of his numerous concerts for charity. It is denied that when he visited Australia on a concert trip from England many years ago, it was necessary for anyone to finance the tour; but he used to complain that in this profit-sharing venture the usher who showed patrons to their seats did better than he, his share amounting to only 18 shillings [$90] for four concerts. When the then Chief Justice of Victoria (the late Sir John Madden) heard of this he arranged another concert for Kirby, and the prestige attached to the sponsor resulted in a financial success, Walter of the golden voice receiving £200 [$20,000] this time.

    ‘Kirby, who had known poverty, having once worked in a country post office and later sold articles from door to door, put his later earnings into investments, some of which he used to say turned out badly. On the stage it was computed that his invested money totalled about £15,000 [$1,500,000] but it has been explained that this figure, which might have been his total during the depression, increased subsequently. Among his investments was money in tobacco, and in Kandos Cement.

    ‘The rumour that he allowed lady friends to pay for his afternoon tea parties is hotly denied by one of his closest friends, who used to meet him daily, while his hotel acquaintances could not complain that Walter’s throat dried up when it was his turn to “shout”. At any rate, he kept an eye on the future, and in conversations with the writer about three years ago, he had apparently acquired a modest competence, for he spoke of his desire to return to England and live quietly in retirement at Croydon. Instead of which the brighter lights of London lured him.

    ‘Idle curiosity is speculating on the terms of his will. It Is believed that he made one will 12 years ago, by which certain charities of his former benefactresses will derive advantage. But if these provisions existed, they may be discounted by one or more subsequent dispositions.

    ‘A woman who, by the rule of long association, might reasonably have expectations, declined to offer any surmise, and deprecated discussion with the remark, “Very soon we will all know.” But until that moment arrives there will be many who will continue to assess the worth of this remarkable man in strictly cash terms, and remain unsatisfied until Walter “cuts up” for probate purposes in cold, hard figures.’

    The cold, hard figures, when they came, revealed a substantial personal estate totalling more than £19,000 [$1,896,000]—£15,893 [$1,586,000] in Victoria and £3138 [$313,123] in New South Wales. And they raised many questions.

    In March 1935 the Union Trustee Company of Australia Ltd applied for probate on his will, which he had made in Melbourne on 8 November 1923. There were many carefully thought through bequests. Mount St. Evins Private Hospital in East Melbourne, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Northcote, and the St. Vincent de Paul’s Girls' Orphanage in South Melbourne were each to receive £100 [$10,000]; the Sisters of Mercy, Fitzroy, and the reverend mother of the Faithful Companions of Jesus Convent in Richmond were each to receive £150 [$15,000]; while Auckland’s Sacred Heart College and the Auckland Marist Brothers College would each receive £100 [$10,000] to establish an annual ‘Walter Kirby Prize for Singing’. Walter’s two treasured pictures of King Edward’s visit to Chatsworth were bequeathed to Xavier College in Melbourne and to the ‘Melbourne Art Gallery’, and his books to Xavier and the Marist Brothers College in Sydney. He stipulated that ‘my diamond rings, together with my silver cigar and cigarette case presented to me by Princess Christian and the fob presented to me by the King of Sweden to go to Miss E.J. Sheehan.’ It is believed that this refers to Estelle Sheehan, a Melbourne pianist who had accompanied Walter on several occasions. The rest of his personal effects were to go to his niece, Madge Kirby, in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. This was the only provision for his family. The will’s most notable provisions were amounts of £1000 [$100,000] each to the Universities of Melbourne and Auckland to establish annual singing scholarships to be known as ‘The Walter Kirby Singing Scholarships’, and a stipulation that the residue of the estate—estimated to be around £14,000 [$1,398,000]—was to be divided equally among certain public hospitals and charities in Wantage a little Berkshire village which, at the time, was home to 4000 people. Its pride and joy was a statue commemorating the birth there of England’s first king, Alfred the Great, in 849 AD.

    It appears that on refection Walter had decided that his much-loved nieces and nephews should be provided for. His plans were confirmed for Smith’s Weekly by several of his ‘most intimate Victorian friends’: ‘He told them he was very dissatisfied with his first will and intended to alter it in favour of his relations. He hated having anything to do with wills—considering them to be the “death warrant” of the testator—and so he continually kept putting off the task of altering the terms of his original testament.’

    Eventually, in London in November 1932, Walter had drafted a codicil virtually negating the original will and, instead, stipulating that his nephews and nieces should have ‘an equal share each in the values of the estate, to be paid to them every half year from the profits of the said estate.’ The codicil was witnessed by two friends and sent to his solicitors in Melbourne.

    Early in May 1933, on letterhead from the Pierpont Hotel, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Walter wrote to his Melbourne niece, Madge: ‘I have been ill for many months, and I am afraid I will never be strong again. But don’t worry, I am leaving you and your sisters and [a cousin in Sydney] all I have left during your lifetime, and to go to charity at death.’ It was signed: ‘Your affectionate uncle, Walter’.

    The codicil was sent to Melbourne, but because it was signed ‘Walter Kirby’ rather than ‘Walter Joseph Regis Kirby’, it was disallowed, and the original 1923 will was granted probate.

    This was challenged by Walter’s brother, John Thomas Kirby, a volatile Melbourne jack-of-all-trades. He called for an investigation into the circumstances under which the original will was made. He claimed that the town of Wantage had only two small hospitals housing seven patients between them, and that the New Zealand university to which Walter had bequeathed money for a singing scholarship did not exist. He was partly right: Auckland University did not teach singing, but the donation prompted it to hastily establish a school of music. Melbourne University was said to be mystified about its bequest. A spokesperson for the University’s Conservatorium of Music said that as Kirby was a friend of the former director, Professor William Laver, he might have remembered the school for that reason.

    There was similar uncertainty in London. On 2 May 1935 the Christchurch Starreported that the Matron of Wantage Hospital had said: ‘We should like to share in the money left by Walter Kirby, but I am afraid there has been some mistake. I cannot trace any Kirby treated here in the last thirty-two years except Walter Kirby, an aged farmer, who dislocated his shoulder in 1905. He had no connection with Australia.’

    In London, a gentleman described as ‘a close friend’ told The Evening News, ‘I am surprised that Walter was so wealthy. He earned big money but spent it readily. It was a bigger surprise that he left the money to Wantage, which, so far as I know, he has never seen. And it is even more astonishing that Walter left the money to England, which he did not love. He considered that England had not appreciated him as well as Australia.’

    On 29 April 1935 Brisbane’s Courier Mail brought news from London that Walter’s cousin, Mrs. McCourt, had said that he had left his money to Wantage, ‘because he repeatedly visited the town, and sang in the Roman Catholic Church there. Tragically enough, he caught the fatal chill there.’

    Of course, it was not quite so simple. Eventually Walter’s connection with Wantage was explained by two of his Melbourne friends, Esmond Lawrence Kiernan, a Member of the Victorian Legislative Council, and Thorold Waters, his former housemate in London, and now music critic for the city’s Sun News Pictorial. They revealed that this was Walter’s way of showing his appreciation for the help and encouragement of his benefactress, Lady Wantage, who had died in 1920.

    Thanks to the recordings that he had made in Sydney in 1927, Walter was heard occasionally on radio in the years following his death. After the Second World War many old traditions of music making—and of life itself—were swept away. As new generations of Australian singers came to the fore, Walter was all but forgotten. Though John Hetherington included snide references to him in his 1967 biography of Dame Nellie Melba, there was no mention of him in Barbara and Findlay’s seminal work Singers of Australia (1967), nor in Adrienne Simpson’s two books on New Zealand singers, Southern Voices (with Peter Downes, 1992) and Opera’s Farthest Frontier (1996). He is also missing from James Glennon’s Australian Music and Musicians (1968) and The Oxford Companion to Australian Music (1997). 

    In recent years his four surviving recordings have been digitized, and they can now be heard via the internet and, as noted earlier, his recording of ‘Ben Bolt’ is included in the important 4-CD set From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record.

    Perhaps most significantly, Walter’s name lives on in the musical awards he provided for in his will. His old Auckland school, Sacred Heart College, still awards Walter Kirby prizes, but now they cover instrumental and group work as well as voice. Future rock icons Tim and Neil Finn were winners in 1971.

    Over the years the prestigious Walter Kirby Singing Scholarships in Auckland and Melbourne have helped start the careers of innumerable aspiring young singers. ‘Receiving the Walter Kirby Singing Scholarship in 1951 gave me confidence and a sense of the continuity of musical training and, of course, access to the best teachers and vocal coaches,’ says distinguished Melbourne soprano Loris Synan OAM. Her subsequent career in Australia and Great Britain has included grand opera on stage and on television, oratorio, concerts, radio and recordings, culminating in a seven-year tenure as Head of the Voice Department at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University.

    A later recipient, soprano Miranda Rountree, has performed in concert, opera, operetta and musicals in Australia and overseas. She also studied piano, stagecraft and the role of modern technology in vocal performance. She is passing on her knowledge—and her enthusiasm—to new generations of aspiring youngsters through her Queensland-based chain of Rising Stars music studios.

    An early pupil of Miranda’s was soprano Margaret Jarvis. Although her subsequent professional career was limited, she represents a unique link to Walter Kirby: her great-great-grandfather, Daniel David Kirby was Walter’s brother. She and a now vast network of Kirby family members respect and admire their forebear’s artistry and treasure his significant contribution to fine music in Australia, Great Britain and Ireland.

    Walter Joseph Regis Kirby would have been delighted!

    ‘He the sweetest of musicians

    Sang his songs of love and longing …

    That the feast may be more joyous,

    That the time may pass more gaily…

    … Sang in accents sweet and tender,

    Sang in tones of deep emotion,

    Songs of love and songs of longing …’

    Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor



    Walter Kirby’s Melbourne relatives have recently identified his unmarked grave, and are hoping to arrange for an appropriate maker to be installed.


    Listen to Walter Kirby singing ‘A Hundred Moonlit Miles’ (Columbia 0605)

    Special thanks to

    Christine Buck, Margaret Jarvis, and the extended Kirby Family

    Peter Burgis

    Brian Castles-Onion AM

    Dr Mimi Colligan AM

    Jo Gilbert

    Miranda Rountree

    Loris Synan OAM

    Jason Thomson

    Claudia Funder, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

    Xavier College, Melbourne

    National Library of Australia

    State Library of Victoria



    Principal references

    Jeff Brownrigg, A New Melba? The Tragedy of Amy Castles,Crossing Press, Darlinghurst, 2006

    Mimi Colligan, Canvas Documentaries,Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 2002

    Peter Game, The Music Sellers,The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1976

    Alison Gyger, Opera for the Antipodes,Currency Press, 1990

    John Hetherington, Melba,F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1967

    Roger Neill & Tony Locantro, From Melba to Sutherland,Universal Music, Australia Pty Ltd, 2016

    Fred Page, ‘The Auditorium—Birth of a Showcase’, CinemaRecord, Winter 2001

    John Ross, The Sound of Melbourne,ABC Books, Sydney, 1999

    Thorold Waters, Much Besides Music,Georgian House, Melbourne, 1951