Sir George Tallis 1869-1948

George Tallis

Sir George Tallis

Through the 1920s The Firm’s theatres hosted a glittering array of attractions – international actors such as Oscar Asche, Marie Burke and Ada Reeve, two Melba opera seasons and two ballet tours by Pavlova.

In one way or another he had been associated for 56 years with the organisation that he had joined as enterprising office boy in 1886. Sir George Tallis died on 15 August 1948.

 

Through the 1920s The Firm’s theatres hosted a glittering array of attractions – international actors such as Oscar Asche, Marie Burke and Ada Reeve, two Melba opera seasons and two ballet tours by Pavlova. Gladys Moncrieff starred in The Maid of the Mountains, there were big American musicals like The Vagabond King and Rose-Marie, and endless revivals of Gilbert and Sullivan. And in 1928 The Firm gave Melbourne a fine new playhouse, the Comedy.

But the end of the decade brought some severe setbacks: another foray into West End production ended in disaster; in Australia the very expensive musical Show Boat sank swiftly; The Firm’s radio interests were subsumed by the newly formed ABC; Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne was gutted by fire; and Williamson’s Tivoli venture finished in a messy bankruptcy. The depression and the introduction of ‘talkies’ made things much worse.

Tallis was now in his sixties and in indifferent health. He had been with Williamson’s for 45 years and he felt he deserved a rest. He stepped down as chairman, but he retained a significant shareholding in the company. He retired to spend more time at ‘Beleura’, the sprawling seaside retreat that he owned on the Mornington Peninsula, an hour’s drive from Melbourne. He rejoined the board in 1934. That year Devon Buildings Pty Ltd, a company owned by Tallis and the Taits, purchased the freehold of the Melbourne Tivoli. Tallis sold most of his Williamson shares in 1937, but he retained an interest in its successor, Australian and New Zealand Theatres Ltd until that company was liquidated in 1942. In one way or another he had been associated for 56 years with the organisation that he had joined as enterprising office boy in 1886. Sir George Tallis died on 15 August 1948.

By family agreement, Beleura was acquired by Tallis’s youngest son, John Morton ‘Jack’ Tallis, a reclusive composer, musician, historian and gardener. When he died in 1996 he bequeathed the Italianate mansion, with its fascinating family memorabilia and its ornate gardens, to the people of Victoria, together with a substantial trust to finance their restoration and maintenance. Under the management of the Tallis Foundation, the property opened to the public in 2004. The Foundation also supports several significant music and drama scholarships and visual art awards.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Alwyn Capern, George Michael Tallis: ‘George Tallis KT’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency, 1995
Mimi Colligan: ‘Sir George Tallis’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12, Melbourne University Press
Claude Kingston: It Don’t Seem a Day too Much, Rigby, 1971
Viola Tait: A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, 1971
Michael and Joan Tallis: The Silent Showman, Wakefield Press, 1999