Dame Nellie Melba, Australia’s first international celebrity superstar, died this day, 23 February, 81 years ago in 1931.
As historian Rebe Taylor has said: “Our first true A-lister mobbed by fans and intimate with royals was an opera singer. Soprano Dame Nellie Melba earned more for a single performance – $250,000 in today’s money – than any other artiste in the world. Raved and gossiped about everywhere, she had the voice of an angel and a diva’s taste for the outrageous.”
Despite living and touring overseas for lengthy periods, her love of Australia never diminished. In 1924, during a farewell concert at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, she movingly pronounced: “For all that Australia has done for me, for all the beauty that she has shown me, for all the love she has offered, I wish to say, thank you from the bottom of my heart… I never was prouder than I am tonight to be an Australian woman.” [Moya McFadzean]
She died of septicaemia, resulting from facial surgery (a face-lift) performed in Europe. The Australian Dictionary of Biography sums up the stunning effect of her tragic demise. “ …the obituaries read as though for the passing of a monarch. ‘Is it too much to say’, asked the Argus, ‘that she was the greatest Australian?’; in Canberra parliamentarians stood with heads bowed to honour her memory.”
Thousands lined the streets of Melbourne to pay their last respects as her funeral procession passed by. Among the mourners at the service were politicians, royal representatives, religious leaders and other high-ranking members of Australian society.
Today is a great day to reflect on Dame Nellie’s legacy and her iconic status, which was recognised by The Perth Mint in 2011 with this beautiful pure silver anniversary tribute, which you can acquire by clicking here.