Tag Archives: Dame Edna

L – London…A-Z Challenge.

“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”

– PETER ACKROYD, London: The Biograph

Welcome to London on Day 12 of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. I spent a week in London in August, 1992 while I was “backpacking through Europe” (but mostly based in Heidelberg). Clearly, I don’t know much about London at all. Moreover, I have absolutely pathetic map-reading skills. So, even if I knew the place, I’d still get us lost.

Yet, forging ahead under the stressful demands of the A-Z Challenge, I still had to come up with the goods. So, for awhile there, I was longing for the foolhardiness of youth, where you can know absolutely nothing about a subject, and yet still present yourself as a fully-fledged expert.

So, rather than taking you on an actual tour of London, I decided to focus on what London meant as a cultural epicentre for generations of Australians who went there to get their big break. These included the likes of Dame Edna, the Unmentionable, Clive James and Germaine Greer. It also included my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, who was awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, and became part of this cultural exodus. 

1937 London Debut in June

Eunice Gardiner was born on the 24th February, 1918. At the age of 16, she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However, the scholarship didn’t include her living expenses. An enthusiastic fundraising effort was launched, led by Lady Gordon and supported by pianist Frank Hutchens. These efforts culminated in a Testimonial Concert at the Sydney Town Hall on the 6th June, 1935 where she performed  Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and works by Liszt. There was never any question of Eunice travelling to London alone. Indeed, her father said he’d “rather throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour”. So,  on the 3rd December, 1935 she set off with  her mother on board the Esperance Bay. Four months later, her father died of a heart attack back in Australia, giving some idea of the incredible personal sacrifices performers and their families made to pursue their careers in London. You couldn’t have a foot in both camps.It was all or nothing, and for many that also included their sanity and their very soul.

FT25 Ruby and Eunice

My grandmother (right) and her mother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby was very much the wind beneath her wings!!

Eunice and her mother lived in London for around four years. During this time she performed for the Queen (who we know as the Queen Mother), her hands appeared in the movie Black Eyes and she also had a regular spot performing on BBC TV which came to an abrupt end, when the BBC shut down as soon as war was declared (humph sounds a bit too familiar during this coronacrisis!!)

Pix Eunice TV Screen Test

Press coverage of her time in London on her return reported:

“The highlight of her tour occurred when she played before Queen Elizabeth at a private reception at the home of Lord and Lady Howard de Walden; the function was arranged by Miss Macdonald of the Isles for students and Empire visitors. Miss Gardiner said the Queen was extremely charming , and complimented her on her playing and choice of music. Broadcasting, televising and film work have also come within Miss Gar-diner’s ambit. Miss Gardiner’s film experience was a strange one, as she did not appear on the screen, and her name was not even mentioned. She .provided the music for Mary Maguire in a film entitled Black Eyes, in which Mary, who was supposed to be learning the piano, was playing badly at first, and a three-minute shot was taken of Miss Gardiner’s hands as she played. At first she found she was not playing badly enough for the part ! In the same film she also provided music which the music master was ostensibly playing. In London. Miss Gardiner, said, the midday concerts arranged by Myra Hess at the National Gallery were extremely popular, and only one shilling was charged. Miss Gardiner played at one of these concerts only the day before she left England.” 1.

Eunice crochet group

The Crochet Circle, London. My Great Grandmother (second from the left) is crocheting a shawl for her first grandson, who was born back in Australia while they were away.

Eunice and her mother returned to Sydney on the 23rd March, 1940 partly to escape the war, but also because Eunice was under contract to the A.B.C. for three months, and would be touring Australia with the famed English conductor, Sir Thomas Beeeham.

When my grandmother returned to Australia, I doubt she had any idea of just how long it was going to take to get back to London. Indeed, a full decade had passed. Although she’d planned to go to London in 1948 on her way home from a 12 month stint in New York, a bout of appendicitis and consequent surgery, destroyed those plans.

Of course, there were regrets. London was LONDON.

Eunice returned to London in April 1951 as a music critic for Australian Consolidated Press, and she was one of only two Australian journalists covering the opening of the  Festival of Britain. She was away for three months, and I should also point out that at this point of time, she was married with four children and her mother back home in Australia. I clearly remember her telling me when she was well into her 80’s, how much she loved being spoiled over there. She specifically mentioned having a doorman to open the door for her at the hotel, which clearly didn’t happen as mum back home. As much as she loved her children, she was incredibly driven by her love of music, her career as a pianist and was never one to simply be absorbed by osmosis into domesticity. She ultimately ended up with seven children, and these tensions stayed with her for life, and possibly even beyond the scope of her failing memory. It was never an easy balance.

By comparison, my trip to London seems rather trite. I was only there for a week, and I was only doing touristy things. So, my time in London lacks the gravitas of my time in Paris, which still resonates almost thirty years later.

Geoff Le Pard

Geoff Le Pard and Dog out walking through London. 

In recent years, for me London has become associated with my long-term blogging friend, Geoff Le Pard. I’ve thorough enjoyed his tours of London mostly with Dog. He would clearly do a much better job of guiding you around London. Indeed, a few years ago, we were looking at doing a joint blogging tour of London, after I found an old letter in a London guidebook. I’ve been thinking with the current travel bans, we should resurrect this project and see how far we can take it. After all, it is a rather quirky story of an Australian and an Englishman who’ve never met retracing the footsteps of a mysterious Australian tourist who visited London back in the 1960’s or thereabouts.

Above: Photos Geoff Le Pard.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few links to Geoff’s posts. Firstly, Geoff and Dog went on their Thames Bridge Walk, from Putney to Tower Bridge. I also love his posts covering London’s street art and thought you might enjoy: Street Art in Shoreditch.

There’s much more of London on Geoff’s blog. However, I’ll have to leave you to it. Daylight is rapidly fading and it’s been a few days since I’ve been on a walk. With all this social isolation, I’ve been going a bit stir crazy as soon as the typing stops.

Have you ever been to London and have something to share? Or, perhaps you call London home. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Thursday 21 March 1940, page 4

Royal Wedding…A Front Row View.

Sorry you couldn’t join me for a front row sear for last night’s royal nuptials. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it was a rather exclusive event and since Dame Edna was unable to make it, I went in her place along her my possum handbag. Unfortunately, the pups got out and followed me. Perhaps, you missed the TV coverage, but they had a great time chasing the corgis around Windsor Castle. So, I can assure you that everything you saw on tele last night was something they’d prepared earlier and went through multiple takes and extensive editing. After all, how did you think Meghan’s dress stayed Omo white with all those grubby little page boys and flower girls wiping their fingers all over it. I was aghast. Some idiot had fed the kids chocolate crackles to keep them smiling in the royal automobile, and in the true blue wedding footage, you’ll see chocolate finger painting all over that dress and a huge tear in that precious train from when they were playing tug of way. Just as well Meghan had plenty of acting training and knows how to keep smiling under circumstances that would make an a saint hopping mad. Now, you’ll also understand why Harry was looking so nervous and shedding more than the occasional tear.

Queen

Anyway, we had our own little running commentary as the full Royal cast passed us by. Upon the arrival of the Queen, my son pointed out that she was wearing “Hi Viz”. A friend also pointed out that she won’t get lost in the crowd. Anyway, she always looks delightful and I’m serious impressed at how the Queen and Prince Phillip keep going. They both walked into the Chapel unassisted from what I recall, which is a real commendation to them as well as a bit of good luck no doubt.

Rowena Zac Rosie

Watching the Royal Wedding from my front row seat.

The second thing I really appreciated about the wedding, was how Prince Charles was there to support Meghan Markle and her Mum, through what was quite an emotional thing of walking up and down the aisle. He was the consummate Gentleman and he was just like how I’d expect my Dad to be in that circumstance. He was just beautiful and I felt very compassionate. As Meghan’s Mum left the chapel, the only member of Meghan’s family to attend the wedding, Prince Charles against stepped up and walked her out. While Meghan’s Mum was rather regal herself through proceedings, it must have been a terrifying prospect. Yet, she handled herself with what is described as “aplomb”. I literally took my hat off for her and my high heels and put on my cosy ugg boots.

 

DSC_9754

By the way, my Ugg Boots were a real hit at Windsor Castle, and the envy of most of their guests. Of course, most of them were wearing what I call toe-crunchers and didn’t have the nous to put comfort before style. Indeed, Camilla even tried to snatch them off my very feet. Indeed, I had to threaten to tell the Queen, and it was only then that she let go.

This brings me to the address. Well, to be honest, I’d like to give the Most Reverend Michael Curry my address.In case you missed it or had continuous interruptions like yours truly, here’s a link: Link and here’s a link to the  Full Transcript , which is truly worth an indepth study more than a glossing over. This man not only wore his heart on his sleeve, her radiated love like the sun. Not just any ordinary love either. God’s love. I have a feeling. Indeed, I know, that if there were more people like him in this world, it would be a better place. Moreover, I think we’ll be saying the same about Harry and Meghan before too long. Indeed, they’ve each made a significant contribution to their chosen spheres.

So, to finish off the big day, I pulled out a couple of trays of my world famous lamingtons and shared them with the crowds. I made quite an impression and you might even see me on the next season of Masterchef. That’s if I’m not playing my violin at the Sydney Opera House. My calendar is clearly starting to fill up.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Time Traveling Through A Vintage 80s Magazine…

Everyone has a secret. Well, mine isn’t exactly a secret. I just haven’t got around to sharing  my passion for history and almost anything retro. This hasn’t been a conscious omission. I’ve simply been writing about other stuff. Besides, it’s a bit like stating the obvious.

You see, when you visit our place, there’s a Morris Minor parked out the front. There are rows of antique bone china tea cups which have broken out of the display cabinet and have started to wander. Old, black & white family photos peer through ornately carved, antique wooden frames and my computer is perched on top of an old oak desk with a gorgeous wood grain finish.

Being the eternal good Samaritan, I’m forever salvaging the past from our local charity or “op” shops as we call them. Indeed, you could say that I’m quite the “archaeologist” or even that I’m “kind to the homeless”. While I do have dogged persistence, most of my “finds” are beyond coincidence and were clearly: “serendipity” or “meant to be”. I had to take them home!!

Anyway, while my greatest archaeological weaknesses is vintage tea cups closely followed by illustrated books and cookbooks, another love of mine is collecting old magazines, which is quite odd in a way because I rarely buy contemporary magazines at all. My most cherished magazines are copies of the Australian Women’s Weekly dating back to the 1950s, which I picked up from an antique shop in the Queensland country town of Marburg, where my mother spent some years as a child. I love really getting into how people lived in “the olden days”.

Australia Day Wishes 1988.

Australia Day Wishes 1988.

Recently, I came across a new find for my collection. It was  an Australian Women’s Weekly dating back to January 1988. That’s now 24 years ago. While it is not as old as my other editions, it was the “Bicentennial Souvenir: Special Collector’s Edition”, which celebrated Australia’s “200th Birthday”. The Bicentenary was a very special time in Australia’s history when we really thought about our identity as a nation and there were all sorts of special events as well as much sorrow.

Personally, 1988 was also a very special year. You see, I’d left school at the end of 1987 and you could say life began in March 1988, when I walked through the gates of Sydney University and discovered a social whirl like none other. Aside from having my heart broken by my high school sweetheart, 1988 was a jolly good year!

While the magazine has much to say about the bicentenary, I’ll get to that after further research. I’m sure you can appreciate that any national celebration of that magnitude was “complex”. Meanwhile, I just want to bask in the light of the glorious 80s and soak up the social, fashion and technological changes and let the good times roll back.

Charles & Di: the greatest modern tragedy.

Charles & Di: a great modern tragedy.

With a touch of schadenfreude, I opened up my Women’s Weekly to find the usual suspects, Diana and Charles, who were guests of honour for the Bicentenary. The headline read: “What will Australia see this time…Diana: Royal Charmer or Spoilt Princess?” After finding this little gem, I would probably advise royal reporter Ingrid Seward to stick to journalism as she makes a lousy clairvoyant: “If the fairytale royal romance were going to crack apart, overheated in the furnace of public scrutiny, it would be now. But it hasn’t. And it won’t.”

This, of course, is one of the disadvantages of getting published. Your words really are set in stone and can indeed come back to haunt you.

Not unsurprisingly,fashion was hot.

Lady Sonia McMahon 1988

Style Icon Lady Sonia McMahon 1988

I came across an interesting feature called “Women of Style”, where they interviewed Australian style icons about their views on Australian fashion. Not unsurprisingly, Lady Sonia McMahon, wife of former Australian Prime Minister Sir Billy McMahon and mother of actor Julian McMahon, was interviewed.

Lady Mc Mahon had climbed to fashion royalty in 1971  when, as the wife of Australian Prime Minster Sir Billy McMahon,  she wore “that dress” to a reception held by US President Richard Nixon at the White House. The daring dress was split both sides to the armpits though held together by rhinestones about two centimetres apart from the waist up. While the dress appears quite revealing, it was actually lined with a pantyhose-type, flesh-coloured fabric.

Sonia McMahon in THAT dress at the White House.

Sonia McMahon in THAT dress at the White House.

Apparently, Lady McMahon was too impressed with how Australian women were dressing in the 80s. “She (Lady McMahon) used to think Australian women were among the best dressed in the world. But then came the jeans revolution and women relaxed- something Lady McMahon does not approve of. Smart clothes, she says, make a smart woman. Neatness and attention to detail, which some women are born with, but Lady McMahon says can be learnt, are paramount to style”. (I can’t help wondering what Lady McMahon would think of the current girl’s fashion…denim short shorts…)

Dame Edna Everage wearing a signature piece of Australiana

While Dame Edna Everage wearing a signature piece of Australiana

Meanwhile, not one to be outdone in the fashion stakes, Dame Edna Everage also featured in fashion pages in: What Dame Edna is Wearing Overseas. If you haven’t encountered Dame Edna before, she has a certain je ne sais quoi, which completely defies any kind of interpretation. As my daughter said when I introduced her to Dame Edna tonight: “What kind of person is she?”

Only Dame Edna could manage to incorporate the Auistralian flag and a 3D version of the Sydney Opera House into a frock.

Only Dame Edna could manage to incorporate the Auistralian flag and a 3D version of the Sydney Opera House into a frock.

In contrast to Lady McMahon’s classic elegance,  Dame Edna is wearing a garish canary yellow outfit with two koalas up a gum tree. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s also pictured wearing a blue dress with the Australian flag sequined on the bodice. But wait!!! It gets worse. I just noticed that the white starchy collar is actually the Sydney Opera House. Yikes!!! Hasn’t she ever heard that less is more? Oh my goodness!! I can feel some kind of severe anaphylactic reaction setting in. Oh! I mean… there’s the pink hair, purple hair and I’m not even going to discuss the glasses…Oh my goodness. There just aren’t enough superlatives to do Dame Edna any kind of justice whatsoever!!  She just has to be the most truly cringe-worthy, “national symbol” EVER!!!!!

The big question I have is this: Who allowed Dame Edna to leave the country dressed like that and why on earth did a magazine like the Australian Women’s Weekly publish the evidence?

Quite frankly, someone should have grabbed Dame Edna by the horns and told her in no uncertain terms: “Go to your room. You’re not leaving the house looking like that!!!” I know fashion was a bit out there in the 80’s but I’m flabbergasted.

Indeed, when it comes to managing Dame Edna stronger measures would have been required. The fact that she ended up overseas dressed like that and representing our country makes her fashion choices a matter of national security.  She was destroying our National Credibility Rating (NCR). What with those crazy outfits, the pink and purple hair and all her “hello possums” and parading around as Australian royalty, she was a national embarrassment.

I understand that customs usually stop undesirables from entering into a country but couldn’t they have done something to stop her from getting out??? Anything!!!

Of course, there are the fashion police. If ever there was a case demanding their expert attention, this was it. They should have locked her up and thrown away the key! absolutely!! Sentenced her to life imprisonment rather than let her flaunt her peculiar fashions overseas and in The Weekly.

Yet, as much as Dame Edna has that incredible cringe factor, for some strange reason, we still love her even though we want to hit her with the nearest fly swat!!!

Gee, I hope Dame Edna never gets hold of Lady McMahon’s “dress” from the Powerhouse Museum. Seeing the epitome of kitsch dressed as the epitome of style would be the outrage to end all outrages…especially as I doubt Dame Edna has ever shaved her legs!!

Moving on from fashion, I also found an interview with then 60 Minutes journalist Jana Wendt. Among other topics, she was responding to a magazine article which appeared two weeks after the birth of her son, Daniel. The article had implied that Jana was “afraid of motherhood” and was fearful that motherhood would make her less effective as a journalist. She had not been consulted for this article and explained: “I can’t believe that any responsible journalist, who supposedly values the qualities of motherhood, would come out and try to undermine a working woman’s life by saying that, just because she’s had a child, she’s somehow going to be different, or unprofessional, or, all of a sudden, softer in her interviewing technique. The prejudice that women often lay at the feet of men- well, I think some women should examine themselves for that prejudice because it’s clearly there.”…

“Your priorities do change when you have a child. Not your personal priorities but the fact that your lifestyle has to accommodate another person.You have somehow to work out how you’re going to make that person happy and contented so, yes, it did- or is- taking a lot of thought and I’ve no intention of stopping work at all. My work is very important to me and it makes me a complete person. I don’t think I’d be very successful at just sitting at home,” Jana said.

I personally have mixed views about Jana’s comments. I wholeheartedly support her desire to combine motherhood and career but her assertion that full time parents are just “sitting down” is poorly informed. They’d be lucky enough to sit down long enough to get through a cup of tea uninterrupted.

Another point of interest was a joint photography feature between the Australian Women’s Weekly and Fuji Film: How to Take Perfect Photos…Every Time!

Of course, this was written before digital photography when cameras used film and you couldn’t see how your photo had turned out until you’d had them processed. That’s right. There was a door on the back of your camera for putting in the film and not a screen. You also had to choose the right speed of film and you couldn’t switch easily between colour and black and white either. Photography was a lot more conscious than it is now. You really did need to try to set your shot up well and get it right before you took it, rather than checking as you go. This feature also suggested that if you were traveling and wanted to remember characteristic sound effects, you could take along a small cassette recorder. Now, that really starts to date the magazine.I’d imagine that if we could travel backwards in time and tell them we’re taking selfies on our mobile phones, they’d tell us: “You’re dreaming.”

I also came across this photo of a computer 1988 style:

Computers 1980s style...a terminal connected to a mainframe.

Computers 1980s style…a terminal connected to a mainframe.

However, as much as things have changed since January, 1988, some things have also stayed the same.

Thank goodness for Sao biscuits!!

Thank goodness some things never change!!

Thank goodness some things never change!!

I don’t know if I really miss the 80’s but wouldn’t it be great to be 18 again for just one day!!

Yes, I’d have a lot to say to my 18 year old self!! What about you?

xx Rowena

Sources:

The Australian Women’s Weekly, January, 1988.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/a-love-beyond-understanding/story-e6frg6z6-1111114526775

http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/sonia-mcmahon-elegance-loyalty-and-that-dress-20100403-rkcv.html