our musical melbournites

Dame Nellie Melba was Australia’s first superstar. Her father did not want her to become a singer but his friend John Grainger, father of the composer Percy, actively encouraged her to pursue her dream.

image of Nellie found here

There’s a story about Melba being onboard ship with John Grainger. They’re having dinner. And they have the first course and the second course and the pudding arrives. And the pudding’s a wonderful green jelly, but because the fridges on the ship are down a little bit it’s spread around the plate. And Melba looked at it and said, “There are two things I like stiff and one of them’s jelly.”

Comb Jelly found here

Nellie died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital in 1931. ABC’s Rewind program revealed why when it was aired in 2004

Historians have long puzzled over her death certificate. It says she died from septicaemia, but how did she contract this fatal infection? For 70 years, the nuns at St Vincent’s kept the cause of Melba’s death a secret. NURSING SISTER’S MEDICAL REPORT: “While in Europe, Dame Nellie Melba had a facelift, possibly in Switzerland. But an infection developed, so that by the time her homeward voyage had progressed as far as the Red Sea, she had erysipelas and was seriously ill. Not only was Dame Nellie in great pain from the incision on each side of her face, but she had a heart condition. She was specialised by a Sister of Charity and so strict were the rules of confidentiality that scarcely any other member of the nursing staff knew the nature of the complaint, even to this day.”

Percy Grainger, like Dame Nellie was also from Melbourne. As well as being an extremely talented composer and pianist he was fluent in 11 languages.

image of Percy found here

Grainger’s energy was legendary. In London, he was known as “the jogging pianist” for his habit of racing through the streets to a concert, where he would bound on stage at the last minute because he preferred to be in a state of utter exhaustion when playing. After finishing a concert while touring in South Africa, he then walked 105 km to the next, arriving just in time to perform.

image found here

In 1910, Grainger began designing and making his own clothing, ranging from jackets to shorts, togas, muumuus and leggings, all made from towels and also intricate grass and beaded skirts. The clothing was not just for private use but he often wore it in public.

jacket inspired by Grainger found here

A sado-masochist, with a particular enthusiasm for flagellation, Grainger extensively documented and photographed everything he and his wife did. His walls and ceilings were covered in mirrors so that after sessions of self-flagellation he could take pictures of himself from all angles, documenting each image with details such as date, time, location, whip used, and camera settings.

He gave most of his earnings from 1934–1935 to the University of Melbourne for the creation and maintenance of a museum dedicated to himself. Along with his manuscript scores and musical instruments, he donated photos, 83 whips, and a pair of his blood-soaked shorts.


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37 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Why is it that all the real heid-the-baws are into the more kinkier aspects of painful sex? I once had my nipple tweaked particuarly hard by a rather adventurous young lady, and I nearly got dressed and went home with the pain of it all!

  2. What’s a heid-the-baws Jimmy? and you didnae answer my question about Jackie Leven….

    • A ‘Heid-the-Baw’ is Glaswegian for whackjob, hen. And I did answer your question about wee Jackie, you must still be hungover fae last night.

      • Ta then Jimmy

  3. Is there any correlation between Melba toast and Nellie? I know I could just google it but you’re way better looking, and so much more interesting.

    • Indeed there is. Both Peach Melba and Melba Toast were named after her by Escoffier!

  4. Oh sighhhhh Percy Grainger just got 83% more interesting – hot stuff!

  5. Did the museum ever get created? I suspect it would be exceedingly interesting.

  6. One wonders if Dame Nellie liked fruit in her jelly? I find it get stuck in my teeth. And as for Percy? I understand that his wife always wore slippers in the photos, thus proving what a sensible and caring chap he actually was.

  7. “There are two things I like stiff and one of them’s jelly.” I think my wife has said this a time or two. :D

  8. *rethinking my facelift problem ….. going back to a clothes peg on the back of my neck*

  9. not a fan of jelly. but there are plenty of things that are better stiff… drinks, among them!

  10. Ah I had not idea about her death before.

    I’ll take the Melba toast but I’ll pass on the Grainger relish…

  11. so does the museum give helpful tips and advice?

    • I put the link up above in answer to Dan’s comment, it’s well worth a look. Really interesting photos.

  12. 83 whips seems a bit overboard. I think once you get past 30 or 40 whips you need to step back and reevaluate why you’re buying so many whips.

    • Haha, RF baby, you crack me up!

  13. I’m trying to think of anything I do or possess that would justify the creation of a museum dedicated just to me if I donated tons of money.
    Not surprisingly, I’m coming up with nothin’, nada…

    • I could start a corset museum!

      • I think you already have one, mate!

  14. I thought Percy Grainger composed muzak?! Do you know what that is? Ironically (or perhaps not), listening to muzak would cause you to want to flagellate yourself.

    • I thought he was a pioneer in electronic music? I wouldn’t necessarily equate the two. Muzak makes me think of elevator music

  15. I’ve done my fair share of cataloguing mummified body parts in a museum but I’d hate to be the poor devil opening an unmarked box in the stack room and finding a pair of bloodied shorts.

    • Oooh, Kevin, that sounds really interesting. I think it would be wonderful to have the privilege of handling museum pieces but I’m so clumsy that I’d probably be fired on day one.

  16. Church-going teacher friend M was scandalized when her eight-year-old grand-daughter’s newly-qualified young music teacher gave her — gasp! — Madonna to research for a music ‘hero’ project. Much lip-pursing discussion resulted in the child being given Dame Nellie Melba instead. Should I pass on your revelations about the diva to said eight-year-old? Maybe not …

    • I think 8 is a little young to know about Dame Nellie’s predilection for stiff jelly and the like

  17. What nothing on Air Supply!?!?!?!!??

  18. As you’ve probably discovered by now, Grainger was a prolific and somewhat influential classical composer; his use of English and Irish folk-tunes in his compositions and his talent at orchestration are some of his best-known attributes. I’m a fan of his music, but I must say today I’ve seen far more of Mr. Grainger than I *ever* wanted to! :o)

    • Welcome to the Gimcrack Glenster

  19. Poor Nellie! That’s an exceptionally high price to pay for cosmetic surgery.

  20. Jelly has to be stiff. There’s no other way, I guess.

  21. Peach Melba was such a 70s dessert .. basically a peach trifle http://www.birdseyefoods.com/comstock/images/recipe_img/peachMelbaTrifle.jpg

    But at least it made her famous in the UK …..what a shame she died for vanity though… great pudding though ;-)

  22. Naughty Nellie. Maddeningly, the Grainger museum was closed when I was last in Melbourne. It seems to be undergoing very, very lengthy renovations. Once I found out about his other interests, I felt all the bits of piano music by him I’d been forced to learn at school were really a form of child abuse. Unfortunately, my piano teacher’s dead now, so I have no-one to sue.


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