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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.

Nellie Melba

In their own words

Nellie Melba
Audio: 2 minutes

My first appearance on any stage took place at the Town Hall, Richmond, which is a suburb of Melbourne, and I was aged six at the time. What did I sing? Let me see now! Yes, I sang Shells of the Ocean first, followed by Comin’ thro’ the Rye. It was a great occasion, and I am by no means certain that I am not prouder of it than of anything I have done since.

Even as a child of three or four, I was so passionately devoted to music that I remember frequently crawling under the piano and remaining quiet there for hours while listening to my mother’s playing. Yes, my mother sang also, though she had not a particularly notable voice. But her sister, my Aunt Lizzie, possessed a soprano voice of extraordinary beauty and quality. Indeed, I feel sure my Aunt Lizzie would have enjoyed a brilliant career as a public singer, had she adopted it.

I remember once our family moving into winter quarters at one of my father’s outlying stations. I was 10 years old at the time, but I know I felt furious, on arrival, to find there was no piano. My gentle mother consoled me with the gift of a concertina which I taught myself to play during the three months that we lived there.

One Sunday, I was perhaps 13, we were visited by a worthy man, who chanced to be a particularly poor preacher. At the conclusion of his very long and (as we children thought) somewhat wearisome discourse, he suggested that we should sing a hymn. My mother asked me to play a familiar hymn but in revenge for having been so bored, I played – to the horror of some and the secret delight of others – a music hall ditty which had succeeded in penetrating our wilderness. It was called You should see me Dance the Polka. In the sequel, I received the well merited punishment of being sent to bed for the remainder of the day.

Acknowledgements

Melba, Nellie (1899) Dame Nellie Melba in conversation with Percy Cross Standing, The Strand Magazine, January 1899, London

Attribution

Voiced by Natasha Vickery

Related people

Dame Nellie Melba GBE

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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