Dame Nellie Melba DBE 1861-1931

Dame Nellie Melba

Dame Nellie Melba

Melba died in Sydney on 23 February 1931. She was 71. Her funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Australia.

Melba was buried, as she wanted, in the cemetery at Lilydale, not far from her treasured Coombe Cottage. Her grave bears the inscription, ‘Addio senza rancor’ (‘Farewell without bitterness’), a quote from Mimi in her beloved La Bohème.

 

Melba died in Sydney on 23 February 1931. She was 71. Her funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Australia. Mourners remembered her farewell message: ‘I have done my best. For all that Australia has done for me, for all the beauty she has shown me, for all the love she has offered, I wish to say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart.’

Melba was buried, as she wanted, in the cemetery at Lilydale, not far from her treasured Coombe Cottage. Her grave bears the inscription, ‘Addio senza rancor’ (‘Farewell without bitterness’), a quote from Mimi in her beloved La Bohème.

Her name is still spoken with reverence and respect. Today, busts of Melba grace the foyers of Covent Garden and the Met. There are extensive collections of Melba memorabilia in the Performing Arts Collection at the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne and at the Lilydale and District Historical Society Museum. Virtually all her recordings are still available on CD. There have been two films based on her life, several biographies, two radio series, a television mini series and a play. Her portrait is on our $100 note and a Canberra suburb is named in her honour. They wrote songs about her, too; there were no less than three ‘Melba Waltzes’ over the years and Cole Porter mentions her in a song in Anything Goes. And in 1963 the American country musician Marty Robbins wrote something called ‘Melba from Melbourne Town’. Hank Snow recorded it. And of course there’s Pêche Melba and Melba toast. Melba herself was cautious: ‘While I have no objection to Pêche Melba,’ she said, ‘I do have the strongest objection to my name being calmly taken for any object which the proprietor considers suitable – from scent to hairpins.’ 

Sadly, though, the Melbourne Conservatorium that bore her name has closed, and there’s no major memorial to her in the country that she represented so admirably; she was, after all, the first Australian to be known overseas as an Australian. A truly great achiever, Melba was a woman of immeasurable importance. And she was undoubtedly, by popular acclaim, ‘the Voice of Australia’.

 

Frank Van Straten, 2007

Biographical references

John Hetherington: Melba,  F.W. Cheshire, 1967
Nellie Melba: Melodies and Memories, Thornton Butterworth, 1925; republished by Nelson, 1980
William R. Moran: Melba, a Contemporary Review, Greenwood Press, 1985
Thérèse Radic: Melba, the Voice of Australia, Macmillan, 1986
Pamela Vestey: Melba – A Family Memoir, Phoebe Press, 1996