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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Hilda Spong

In their own words

Hilda Spong Portrayed by Tash
Audio: 2 minutes

In the first part I ever played, I wore a crinoline, and I had five lines and a laugh. A laugh is considered hard but I found I got on beautifully with it, and I have been laughing ever since. I always like to have a play with plenty of laughs in it. I love comedy. It is the first laugh that people think is hard but after that, once you learn to laugh on stage, it’s no trouble.

I was only a little girl then – I wasn’t fourteen. I used to go behind the scenes of the theatre in Sydney and I’d take tea with Fanny Brough, and there I became stagestruck. I was very anxious to go on the stage and my family did not wish me to, but after a great deal of persuading my father consented to let me try it once. He thought that after one experience, I would be tired of it. I went on in the company of Brough and Dion Boucicault, the younger. In one of the lines of my part I had to pick up the cassock of a clergyman and ask with a laugh: ‘What’s this, darling?’

Then we went to Melbourne and they were afraid people would take offence at those words. I’m sure I couldn’t see anything wrong about them. They cut them out and it nearly broke my heart. But that was my first experience in having lines cut. It is a great trouble to have lines cut out and scenes transposed after you have once learned them.

I was a particularly ugly child at that time. My father used to say that I would never get on with such an ugly face and squeaky voice. I think that was one reason he didn’t want me to go on the stage in the first place. I used to have essays and books sent me by the people in front, saying they had seen my performance and were sorry that I didn’t know how to manage my voice. Oh, the people of Australia are delightful. They were awfully sweet and kind to me. I love every gum tree and every stone in Australia. No one would have any trouble in getting along on the stage there, if he had any talent at all, for people appreciate it. You go entirely on your merits in Australia.

(Interview in the New York Times, February 18, 1900)

Acknowledgements

Spong, Hilda (1900) Interview in The New York Times, 18 February 1900, New York

Attribution

Voiced by Natasha Vickery

Related people

Hilda Spong

Related information

Practising the Minuet

'Who was Hilda Spong?'

Portrait story

Broadway star Miss Hilda Spong was painted by Tom Roberts in 1893.

An actress and her fans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2008

Dr. Sarah Engledow discovers the amazing life of Ms. Hilda Spong, little remembered star of the stage, who was captured in a portrait by Tom Roberts.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency