Diana Lawrenson

— Writer —

Diana Lawrenson Pages to Places Blog

Welcome to my blog that takes you from pages to places. Come and discover some quirky, little-known, or loose-but-relevant links from books to places around the world. You might even like to add a book suggestion of your own to the topic.

30 December 2017 | Australia, Coldstream, Victoria

SINGER OF NOTE

 Nellie Melba's cottageThere’s always been an air of mystery about it. The landmark people whiz past on their way to visit Healesville Sanctuary or the Yarra Valley vineyards in Victoria.

Growing up we knew it as Nellie Melba’s Cottage, although Coombe Cottage was, and still is, firmly out of sight behind a huge cypress hedge, wedged in the fork of the Maroondah and Melba Highways.

A few years ago Dame Nellie Melba’s granddaughter, Lady Pamela Vestey who lived at Coombe Cottage, died. As a child she had known and loved Melba and after her death it was decided to open the gardens to the public. We booked a tour, the only way to see what lies behind that hedge.

Pieces about the Australian diva, born Helen (Nellie) Porter in 1861, appeared in newspapers, magazines and opera programs this side of the world and the other. Today, more than 85 years after her death, her portrait is on Australia’s $100 note. Melba was her stage name, after Melbourne, Victoria’s capital 54 kilometres (33 miles in Melba’s day) away.

Nellie Melba built Coombe Cottage in the early 20th Century. The garden was established on seven acres and now is studded with mature oaks and cypresses. English herbaceous borders, an Italian section, a small orchard and a pond surrounded by Australian bush are carefully tended and maintained.

We wandered along gravel paths lined with lavender, admired roses in full bloom tumbling over a trellis and discovered the Italian loggia beside the swimming pool — said to be the first in-ground pool built in Victoria. Oriental poppies of various hues nodded in the breeze while wisteria curled about an external staircase attached to the house.

The house, still lived in by Melba’s descendants, is not open to the public but there’s no doubt the garden is a song in itself.

BOOKS ABOUT NELLIE MELBA

  • Melba: a Family Memoir by Pamela Vestey
  • Marvellous Melba: the extraordinary life of a great diva by Ann Blainey
  • Melba the Voice of Australia by Therese Radic
  • Meet Nellie Melba by Janeen Brian (for children)
  1. Yes, I agree Diana, there has always been an air of mystery about it.
    Once, many years ago, I worked for her nephew. He was the Advertising and Sales Promotion Manager at an oil company and I was his assistant. Sadly, he never talked much about Melba, but he was a character to work for. Once again, thank you for a lovely piece of writing.

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