My husband Peter Egan and I were both amateur singers. Peter was a broadcaster, presenting classical music on ABC FM, and we sang all our lives, and quite a lot for charity. We’d do some opera in the first half of the program and then in the second we’d sing lighter music. Well, it turned out that the songs Gladys Moncrieff made famous suited my voice, and so I sang them often and knew them well. When my husband died in 2011, I came up to Bundaberg to be with my siblings.
I joined a classical music choir, the Orpheus Singers, and I started to meet people who loved classical music. I remembered that Gladys Moncrieff was born in Bundaberg (or as I later found out, in North Isis, near Bundaberg) so I started to look around for evidence of her.
Gladys Moncrieff (1892 – 1976) was the most famous, best-loved singer of operetta and musical comedy that Australia has ever produced. Her father was a pianist and a beautiful baritone and her mother was a professional singer. She was the youngest of four children, all talented musically. When Gladys was six, she sang The Merriest Girl That’s Out at a concert in the Queen’s Theatre in Bundaberg; we have put a plaque there. Her father said, “if you get an encore, I’ll give you a shilling”. Well, she got the encore and the shilling.
She toured outback Queensland and became known as Little Gladys – The Australian Wonder Child. In late 1911, she went to Sydney and auditioned for JC Williamson. There was a lady sitting next to him in the audition, who said to her, “you’ve got a good voice, you’ll do well”. It was Melba, who rarely gave away compliments.
Gladys spent three years with JC Williamson, then at age 29 she became famous when she played Teresa in The Maid of the Mountains, which she sang 2800 times. Many roles followed and she had a triumph in London in Franz Lehár’s The Blue Mazurka. While overseas she made many recordings. When she returned home, she toured Australia and was adored by people all over the country. She was affectionately known as Our Glad and Australia’s Queen of Song, and she had a fan club called the Gallery Girls.
Looking around Bundaberg, there wasn’t much about her. I found a photo of her father and a copy of her autobiography in the library, and a very tired sepia photo of her in the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, along with a silver 78 rpm record presented to her by Columbia Australia in 1928 as a memento of her first Columbia recording. I went to the historical museum but couldn’t find anything, so I asked and they said the material relating to Gladys was on a sliding door. You wouldn’t know it was there. I was shocked. I thought, “I’m a singer, I know her work, I’ve read her book, so if no-one is managing an archive about her, it’s up to me”.
I was introduced to Nina Higgins, who is a local identity and has lived in Bundaberg all her life, so we formed the ‘Our Glad Association’, which we registered three years ago. Then I began collecting as many artefacts relating to Gladys as I could before they are lost forever.
I’d love to make contact with any of the Gallery Girls and hear their stories relating to Our Glad before they die. An old friend sent me a lot of information from London about her success in The Blue Mazurka.
I’ve bought a lot of memorabilia off eBay. When people ask “where is her memorabilia now?” I say “in my bedroom!” Stuart Greene of the State Theatre in Sydney has generously donated the Don McPhee Collection, which will swell what we already have. There is another wonderful personal collection on the Gold Coast, we need a generous donor to help us acquire it.
We’d love to establish a centre in Bundaberg to acknowledge Our Glad’s heritage and house the archive; a place where we can also establish a school for voice. There must be so much more Moncrieff memorabilia our there, desperate to find its rightful home in Bundaberg.
Leonie Egan is President of the Our Glad Association. She can be contacted at their website: www.ourglad.com