While digitising albums in the RHSV Images Collection, volunteer Zoe Lyons came across a wonderful scrapbook of theatre personalities. It contains signed photographs and newspaper cuttings of musicians and actors who performed in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s. Zoe researched the portraits, uncovering the story of musicians and lovers John Amadio and Florence Austral (born Florence Wilson).
First, let’s meet John Amadio, the celebrated flautist hailing from New Zealand. At the young age of eleven, John’s prodigious talent was recognized when the iconic Australian singer, Dame Nellie Melba, invited him to join her 1902 tour. Unfortunately, his stepfather declined the offer due to his tender age. Pursuing music, John studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, improving his skill and touring throughout Australia. He was once again requested for Melba’s tour, and in 1911 played first flautist in her orchestra, setting him on a path to a European career. His journey eventually led him back to Australia, where he became a proud member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Hailing from the regional town of Ballarat, Florence Austral’s musical journey is a testament to her dedication and resilience. Her formal training didn’t begin until university, when she studied under Madame Elise Wiedermann at the Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne. Florence’s passion took her to the United States, with hopes of securing a contract with the renowned New York Opera. However, her dreams were met with a heart-wrenching rejection. In a daring last-minute decision, she boarded a ship bound for the U.K. to try her luck one last time. Florence’s first performance in London was at Kensington’s Albert Hall in 1921, but it was not until May 1922 that she made her formal debut as a soprano with the British National Opera Company.
John and Florence’s paths first crossed during their studies in Melbourne, him specialising in instrumental music and her in singing. In the latter half of 1925, a mere two months after Amadio’s divorce from his first wife on the grounds of impropriety, John and Florence married, much to the dismay of Austral’s parents. Together, they returned to Australia in the 1930s, touring separately throughout the United States and Europe for many years, with intermittent returns to their homeland. It was World War Two that abruptly halted their careers. Florence returned to Melbourne, while John relocated to Sydney, marking the end of their time together. While Amadio and Austral never legally divorced, it was recognised by the media and fans alike that they had gone their separate ways, and the whirlwind of their careers was over.
AL64-0001: Signed portrait of John Amadio
AL64-0002: Signed portrait of Florence Austral