SHE's Australia's forgotten diva and she spent her last years teaching music students in Newcastle, before dying poor.
Meet Florence Austral, the "delightfully ordinary" but hugely talented lady once regarded as one of the world's greatest opera singers. Sadly, however, she slipped into obscurity after her death.
But there's a push in Newcastle to have the great Wagnerian soprano finally officially recognised with a monument in Civic Park some 52 years after her passing.
Fellow soprano, the legendary Dame Nellie Melba, also an Australian, appeared with Austral in 1923 (a year after the newcomer's Covent Garden debut) hailing her as "one of the wonder voices of the world".
Ironically, both Melba (born Helen Mitchell) and Florence were born in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.
Born Florence Mary Wilson, she adopted her professional stage name of Austral in honour of her homeland. She found major success in London and Berlin, toured Australia twice, visited America nine times until 1935, and also went to Holland and South Africa.
Austral (1892-1968) made more than 100 records (remember them?) for music company HMV (later EMI) during the 1930s. These are still treasured by music collectors who admire the beauty, rich tone and powerful sweep of her voice.
Austral's operatic career suffered though after she showed the first signs of multiple sclerosis surprisingly early on, from 1930.
The debilitating disease forced her to retire in 1940 after appearing in several early benefit concerts in WWII England. She returned to Australia in 1946. With many of her possessions lost in a fire and declining royalties from her recordings, she suddenly found herself in need of a steady income.
Famous conductor Eugene Goossens then threw her a lifeline, offering her a teaching role at the outpost of the new music department in Newcastle (now the Newcastle Conservatorium). She worked here from 1954 to 1959 when her illness made it impossible for her to continue.
She'd married Australian flautist John Amadio in 1925 and, in retirement in Newcastle, she was content to teach and to be known simply as Mrs Amadio, after a man she always adored.
Florence lived in a small, unassuming house in Caldwell Street, Merewether, and gave few interviews in later life. She died at a Mayfield nursing home in May 1968 aged 76.
Now there's a move to raise awareness of the woman called Australia's finest dramatic soprano, especially while some of her former Hunter pupils are still around.
In the vanguard is Florence Austral researcher Hilary Oliver, of New Lambton, who wants to not only promote the memory of Florence but commemorate the names of the first 11 teachers at the original Newcastle "Con" when it was a humble wartime-era timber hut on the edge of a barren Civic Park in the 1950s.
"They must have been hard days. The wooden building got eaten by borers, for example," Oliver says. (The Conservatorium finally moved into a permanent home nearby; the multi-storey former 'People's Palace' on the corner of Auckland and Laman streets.)
"Florence's home at 52 Caldwell Street, Merewether, is not even there anymore. It's a pity there's not even a plaque or anything to remind people of her life," Oliver says.
"Even her former students didn't know she once lived there. I also know of people who have her make-up case and her opera travelling trunk. It's so sad. Florence died intestate and her items were auctioned off up at Tocal.
"I went up once to Beresfield and took a picture of her plaque. Interestingly enough, her proud mother (who died in 1925) has the inscription, 'Mother of Florence Austral' on her gravesite.
"And why not? Florence was adored in England and America where she dazzled audiences. Her career was extraordinary, she went on stage as an unknown singer one night in London and woke up next day as a celebrity.
"Over time, Florence has been forgotten but there's a portrait of her in the role of Tosca still in the bowels of the university. Wouldn't it be nice if it could be put prominently on show again sometime? The painting was done by artist Giuseppe Risicato from a 1934-35 photograph and commissioned by Newcastle connoisseur Bill Bowmore in 1960 while she was still alive".
Oliver, a founding member of the Florence Austral Society, is helping to spearhead preservation of the late singer's memory with the help of the City of Newcastle and the University of Newcastle.
Her passion to recognise Florence's neglected achievements was ignited by fellow Novocastrian Phil Warren, who also appreciated the late singer's talent and mourned her sad end.
"Florence herself wrote to her mother after her Covert Garden audition that she 'nearly took the roof off'," Oliver says.
"She had a huge, magnificent voice, but the wheels fell off when her disease struck. Her career was truncated, but she brought an awareness of how great you can become".
The former Sydneysider, who laughingly describes herself as "an opera singer of no note", says that music students study other famous sopranos such as Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas to learn their craft, and that Florence Austral should be no exception.
Oliver describes Austral, who made her name as a superstar as the formidable helmeted lady in the Wagnerian operas, was "down-to-earth and modest, good natured, unpretentious and generous" in real life.
The campaign to recognise the woman once praised as HMV's most important recording artist in the 1920s seems to be gaining traction.
Besides once raising Austral's profile on ABC radio and just recently online, Oliver also influenced the National Library of Australia into promoting her life and career in an extensive two-part blog posted in 2018 to recall the singer's achievements.
To paraphrase the library blog: "Austral debuted with the British National Opera Company in Covent Garden (in 1922) as a last-minute substitute singing the role of Brunnhilde in Wagner's Die Walkure. With little or no rehearsal, wearing a costume that didn't fit, and in the best showbiz tradition of being unheralded and unknown, she was soon universally acclaimed. She took 11 solo curtain calls that night".