Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Younger lovers of today’s classical or semi-classical music may not be familiar with the name June Bronhill. I know her well. I remember sitting with my ear glued to a not very good wireless in the 1950s as June and others of that period transported me from rubber boots and sloppy cow bails to the magic of somewhere in Europe. June Bronhill’s Vilia became an earworm.
Those who preferred classical music competed, and lost, with I’ll Buy You a Rainbow and similar pop tunes. Popular music was coming into its own, but still a mere support event to the massive music of the 1960s. It was raucous and loud. Classical music became the little brother. Yet among all the noise, the pure tones of June Bronhill could not be drowned out. Her name was recognised and her music applauded in Britain and Australia for four decades.
Everyone in the classical music fraternity, everyone who enjoys musicals, variety, radio concerts, and even television recordings, should know the name of this great artist. Born in Broken Hill, an (at the time) insignificant outback settlement, June stripped away the dusty curtain that hid her town from view, and with the willing support of the townspeople, placed Broken Hill on the lips of many Australians. June’s singing abilities were almost stymied from the beginning, when Leaving Certificate in hand in 1946, June was required to join her family in Robe in South Australia. Fortunately, her family allowed her to return to Broken Hill and, aided by an amazing singing voice and the ability to act a part convincingly, June Bronhill began her career.
June Bronhill’s story is told by one of the most talented writers working in the field of biography today. Richard Davis is the holder of a prestigious award that recognises his scholarship in writing the idiosyncratic biographies of musicians. A soprano like June Bronhill benefits from the services of a writer who can document her strengths and explain her shortcomings while remaining honest with readers and listeners. Davis’s talents are the reason we know so much about Bronhill. A singer may be the toast of New York but, when her voice can no longer compete, she is forgotten…unless a writer like Richard Davis chooses to commit her significance to paper.
Because of Davis we gain a deep knowledge of June’s career from its beginnings in the late 1940s to her retirement in 1994. Davis has had the drive to follow her career, most often in newspaper or specific sources that trace June Bronhill’s life and career. He shows her love of performance and her lackadaisical approach to documentation. Bronhill lived to sing and she did it beautifully. She is depicted in the book as patient – one would have to be to be content to sing the same role night after night for months at a time.
A Star on her Door is a fitting description. June Bronhill’s career was long and filled with high quality entertainment. Scroll through the highlights in the list at the end of the book. Absorb the information in the text, and consider what Davis has done to ensure that the marvellous person who was June Bronhill, the immaculate tones that were June Bronhill’s, have not slipped away to be lost in history.
A well-researched and informative biography.
By Richard Davis
$34.95; 258 pp