All the world still remembers the Australian-born opera diva, Dame Nellie Melba. Her recordings are regularly remastered and reissued and she has been the ongoing subject of numerous films and books – most recently in the marvellous biography by Ann Blainey, “I am Melba” – and so she certainly isn’t in history’s bucket.
Not so well-known is Melba’s contemporary, Nellie Stewart. Although occasionally revived in museum restrospectives, such as that currently on at the City Museum of Melbourne where this portrait from the National Gallery of Victoria is on display, she is largely forgotten.
Haughty Melba might have been the acme of high-brow operatic perfection, but Nellie Stewart was the actress-singer and musical theatre star popular with all ages. Very pretty, good-natured and accessible she was known as “Australia’s Sweetheart” and was famous for playing young roles right up until she died in 1931, coincidentally, in the same year as Melba.
Melba had famous dishes named after her – eg Peach Melba and Melba Toast – but Nellie’s lasting trademark was a simple gold bangle that she always wore and which was imitated and became a fashion statement of young Australian women.
The angel on Nellie’s tomb in Booroondara Cemetery, Kew, Melbourne even wears a bangle!
Read more about Nellie here