At THA's 11th Annual General Meeting, held on 16 May 2020, a special presentation was made to Elisabeth Kumm, in recognition of her 25 years of service to the Committee. In presenting Elisabeth with a Lifetime Membership, THA President Simon Piening spoke of Elisabeth’s extraordinary contribution to the organisation.
At last year’s AGM, we bid farewell to one of our founding members, Dr Mimi Colligan, who decided that after almost a quarter of a century on the committee, that it was time to step down. In this, our 25th anniversary, we thought it was only appropriate that we acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of another long serving member—indeed the last remaining founding member—Elisabeth Kumm.
In 1995, when Evan Hercules was looking to establish a new organisation modelled on the UK Theatres Trust, he got in touch with Rohan Storey at the National Trust, who recommended Dr Mimi Colligan and Elisabeth Kumm—both of whom subsequently became founding members of the newly constituted Victoria Theatres Trust.
Prior to that, in the 1980s, Elisabeth had been a founding member of City Heritage Watch, where she was involved in ‘behind the scenes operations’ to document buildings that were deemed at risk. City Heritage Watch was an alliance of professionals and interested parties that met at the National Trust, but was independent of the National Trust, who were keen to take a more active and interventionist role in preserving and documenting Melbourne’s heritage in an era when government and business mostly considered the destruction of heritage as a necessary requirement for progress. Incidentally, it was at City Heritage Watch, that she met a dashing young activist called Mark, who shared her interest in cultural heritage, and whom she later married.
Elisabeth’s contribution to the Victoria Theatres Trust and subsequently to Theatre Heritage Australia has been huge. For 25 years she has been at the very heart of the organisation.
In the early days of VTT, the main activity was publishing the quarterly VTT Newsletter, which became the On Stage Magazine in 1999, and subsequently went on to become a major performing arts publication, running for more than ten years. The first edition of the On Stage magazine lists Elisabeth as the VTT Secretary and as a member of the magazine’s editorial committee. In addition, she was a regular contributor to the magazine, including a featured column called 'Pets of the Public', focusing on ‘yesterday's heroes’—stars of the early Australian stage.
In the 1990s, along with Rohan Storey and Dr Mimi Colligan, Elisabeth curated the Lost Theatres of Melbourne Exhibition for the National Trust, which was held at the Melbourne Lower Town Hall.
In 1999, at the suggestion of Frank Van Straten, Elisabeth was appointed Editor on a new book by Viola Tait examining the history of pantomime in Australia—the result was Viola’s second book, “Dames, Principal Boys... and All That.” This led to a lifetime friendship with the Tait family, and of course when Viola began work on her memoirs, it was Elisabeth she once again turned to, to act as editor. When Viola died in 2002, her memoirs were unfinished, and indeed they remained unpublished for 15 years, until Elisabeth submitted a proposal to the THA committee to complete the work that was started all those years ago. “I Have a Song to Sing” became a major project for THA, and the book was finally published in 2019.
Elisabeth was also instrumental in efforts (along with committee members Dr Mimi Colligan and Peter Johnson) to preserve the Eastern Arcade building—better known as Dimmey’s—and previously the site of George Coppin’s Haymarket Theatre. Elisabeth, with other interested parties, petitioned Council and the Developers for the project, but unfortunately the 1980s concept of progress requiring development at all costs prevailed, and the building was subsequently demolished in 2008.
Elisabeth has contributed directly or indirectly to numerous books and articles on Australian architecture, heritage and theatre history. In 2016, her extensive knowledge of early Australian stage artists led her to publishing an article in the La Trobe Journal about performers during the First World War. She also, reputedly, has an unfinished book of her own in the works, focussing on the history of The Brough-Boucicault Company.
In the relatively brief time I have known her, Elisabeth has once again taken up the role as Secretary of the organisation; she is the Editor of the THA Newsletter and website (last year alone she co-ordinated, proof-read, formatted, edited, and sourced images for almost 50 articles); she was a major contributor to the JCW Scene Books project and the Riley/Hailes Scrapbook; as mentioned, she edited the Viola Tait memoirs; she has lead the development of the Falk Album project; she is one of our most knowledgeable and experienced researchers; and of course, she serves as director of our unofficial Social Club, coordinating our regular lunches and get togethers.
Her contribution to this organisation over the past 25 years (and counting!) is without equal.
Elisabeth, thank you. We are truly grateful for all you have done—and indeed all you continue to do—for this organisation. Theatre Heritage Australia wouldn’t be the same without you.
As a token of our appreciation, we would like to present you with a Lifetime Membership.
The Falk Album
The Falk Album contains over 1600 albumen prints of predominately theatrical sitters taken during the 1890s by H. Walter Barnett’s Falk Studios in Sydney. The album includes portraits of some 170 sitters, photographed in both casual dress and/or costume. Significant personalities include Sarah Bernhardt   , Robert Louis Stevenson   and J.C. Williamson    , as well as members of the London Gaiety Company and the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company. Many of the performers were brought to Australia by J.C. Williamson Ltd, such as Mrs Brown Potter and Kyrle Bellew, Olga Nethersole and Charles Cartwright, along with noted proponents of ballet and comic opera and pantomime.
The leather and fabric covered album measures 49 cm (high) x 35 cm (wide) x 7cm (deep). It contains 187 pages (not including covers) of which 172 are photographs by the Falk Studios and 15 are items added by J.W. Hazlitt. The pages of Falk photographs typically comprise a grid of 9 images per sheet. These images are 10.8 cm x 16.5 cm cabinet size prints. While the majority of the prints are in very good condition, a small number have been defaced and some images removed. The pages are broadly arranged in alphabetical order by surname of the sitter, and many of the pages are numbered. Some of the pages in the sequence appear to have been removed, some completely, while others have been re-inserted in the wrong place.
It is not clear who assembled the original album. It may have been compiled by a collector or by the Falk Studios themselves for perusal and selection by the public. What is certain, is that by the 1910s, the album was in the hands of J.W. Hazlitt, a manager for J.C. Williamson Ltd in Sydney associated with the Royal, Criterion and Her Majesty’s theatres. Hazlitt was responsible for adding in the portrait of Oscar Asche on page 2, the silk programme on page 3, and the numerous signed photographs, many addressed to him, found on pages 176 to 188.
After Hazlitt’s death in 1943, it may be surmised that the album was entrusted to Frank Tait, the Melbourne-based general manager of JCW, as Frank S. [Samuel] Tait’s name is written in blue pencil on a label on the front cover along with the inscription (in gold): Theatrical and other Celebrities of Bygone Days. It is possible that the album remained with J.C. Williamson Ltd until the 1970s when the company was disbanded.
In 2014, the album was acquired by the current owner, having been gifted to him by a friend. This friend had in turn been gifted the album in the 1970s by an acquaintance who had rooms in a big old Edwardian house in Mary Street, St Kilda. It is not known if the album was found in the house or if he acquired it somehow while living in St Kilda.
This album is a rare survivor, not only as a record of the work of H. Walter Barnett’s Falk Studios, but for illustrating the vibrancy of the Australian theatre scene during the 1890s. Though the work of the Falk Studios is well represented in Australian collections, many of the images in this album will not be familiar.
The album has clearly been through many hands. Fortunately for us, its various custodians have recognised its value and it has been preserved. It is through the generosity of its current owner that Theatre Heritage Australia has been given the opportunity to make it available, through digitisation, to a wider audience. We hope to be able to discover more about the origins of the album and to explore the stories of the sitters within its pages.
Full list of sitters
Just published, The Australian Musical: From the Beginning by Peter Pinne and Peter Wyllie Johnston is a landmark book on Australian musical theatre. ***THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED***
This introductory talk by Dr Denise Whitehouse explores John Truscott’s early Melbourne years with the National Theatre Movement and Melbourne’s Little Theatre prior to his 1963 Camelot production which transported him onto the international stage.
How could the arts exist without philanthropists? This public talk will look at the state of private giving in the 21st century. Join leading philanthropist Primrose Lady Potter AM as she speaks of her personal experiences, followed by Rupert Sherwood, Director of Development at the Melbourne Theatre Company, as he talks about raising funds from the public.
Free download – I Have a Song to Sing by Viola Tait
DOWNLOAD THE E-BOOK
The e-book is available in a variety of formats – download your preferred format by clicking on the links below:
Please note: the .epub and .mobi versions of this e-book use a fixed-layout format to preserve the page layout of the printed book. Not all e-reader programs (in particular some older e-readers) can read this format. To read these e-books, you will need to use a compatible reader.
Examples of free fixed-layout EPUB readers include:
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- Google Play Books for Android. This is a free app in the Google Play store.
- Readium for Chrome. This is a Chrome browser extension, available free in the Chrome Market.
This publication is made available as a FREE download. If you would like to support the work of Theatre Heritage Australia, please consider making a donation.
Theatre Heritage Australia Inc is a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation established in 1995 (originally known as the Victorian Theatres Trust) to promote greater understanding of Australia's rich theatre history. We reguarly publish original research, undertake digitisation projects and produce a series of free events throughout the year.
Please consider supporting the ongoing work of THA by making a donation* to:
Theatre Heritage Australia Inc
Cheques can be mailed to:
29 Northumberland Street
Collingwood, Vic 3066
You can read out more about our Purposes and Rules here
Theatre Heritage Australia Inc
CAV Association No. A0052375A
ABN 94 873 005 034
* Please note – donations to THA are NOT currently tax deductible