We record with sadness the death of Wilma Farrow, actor, educator and theatre lover. Wilma, who died in Melbourne on 26 December 2019 aged 85, will be best remembered for her impersonations of historic figures. A long-time member of the Professional Tour Guide Association of Australia, she founded a business called Historic Rambles where she guided groups around Melbourne dressed in costume playing characters ranging from Lord Melbourne and Queen Victoria, to Caroline Chisholm and Vida Goldstein.
Educated at MacRobertson Girls’ High School, she went on to study at the Melbourne Teachers’ College, specialising in elocution, speech and drama. She spent twenty-five years teaching speech and drama in primary and secondary schools, including Siena College and Sacre Coeur. One of her pupils was the actor Jane Turner.
Wilma’s love of the theatre was apparent at an early age and in her teens she had aspirations to become an actor. While working as a teacher she presented many school plays and musical productions, including My Fair Lady, Salad Days, The Boy Friend and Half a Sixpence. In the 1970s and 1980s, she performed with many of Melbourne’s ‘little theatres’ such as La Mama, Viaduct, Arena and Malvern Theatre Company. She played a diverse range of roles including Emilia in Othello, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, Mother Courage in Mother Courage, Mum in A Bunch of Ratbags, and Mabel in Separate Tables.
Wilma also appeared on television, notably as a nursing sister in two episodes of Prisoner.
As a tour guide, Wilma did copious research to inform her impersonations. She led tours for organisations such as the National Trust and Probus, as well as for cruise ship visitors. She also conducted tours of the Princess Theatre, dressed as Nellie Stewart. In November 2008, as ‘Sweet Nell’ she entertained members and guests at the 1st Annual General Meeting of Theatre Heritage Australia.
Wilma was an enthusiastic supporter of Theatre Heritage Australia, serving on the committee from 2008-2016, during which time she regaled us with numerous stories from her career, often much to the frustration of the Chair!
Compiled by Elisabeth Kumm, Mimi Colligan, Judy Leech, Peter Johnson and Frank Van Straten.
Wilma Farrow conducts a tour of the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, August 2011
Wilma Farrow as Caroline Chisholm at a lunch at Graduate House, Melbourne University, February 2015