Robert Wainwright and ‘Nellie’

Robert Wainwright has been a journalist for 25 years, rising from the grassroots of country journalism in Western Australia to a senior writer with The Sydney Morning Herald. His career has ranged from politics to crime, always focussing on the people behind the major news of the day. He is the author of Rose: The unauthorised biography of Rose Hancock PorteousThe Lost BoyThe Killing of Caroline ByrneSheilaRocky Road and Enid.

Robert finds fascinating, strong, and accomplished women of Australia’s past and shines light on their incredible stories – His past focuses include Australian socialite Enid Lindeman (Enid), Sheila Chisholm born on a cattle station in NSW and died as a Russian Princess (Sheila) and many others. It is no surprise that his research into prominent Australian females led him to Dame Nellie Melba.

Although her face graces our $100 bank note, somehow Nellie’s story and achievements as Australia’s first real superstar singer remain muddied in a sea of misunderstanding, rumours, and jealousies. For most of us the image we get of Helen Porter Mitchell, as she was born in Melbourne in 1861, is of an older, squarish woman in fur hats.

Nellie was fierce and independent, at times arrogant and ruthlessly competitive, unique attributes for a woman of her time. But she was also generous, unapologetic for her plain speaking and belief in issues such as women’s suffrage. Robert’s take on Nellie’s story concentrates more on the woman behind the performer, focused on her youthful rise in the last decade of the nineteenth century. With this great public success came a very private life filled with suffering, physical abuse, a love affair and being a single mother far away from her family support.

Enid has been reviewed in these pages – to read the review, click here.

Nellie – The Life and Loves of Dame Nellie Melba has also been reviewed – to read the review, click here.

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