Wandering Whitehorse Road
by Marc Fiddian

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Wandering Whitehorse Road by Marc Fiddian
Product details
Paperback: 108 pages
Publisher: Raccoon Tail Books (2014)
ISBN: 978-0-9923455-3-2
Trim size: 210 x 148 mm
SULTRY, overcast weather marked the middle of the day on February 26, 1931 as Melbourne prepared for the funeral of its much revered daughter Dame Nellie Melba. The funeral began at 1pm and a cool change arrived at the same time. The world-renowned singer, who had been born at the inner suburb of Richmond, had lived mostly overseas to pursue her career but had been happy to return to Melbourne when the opportunity arose. This was her final farewell by her home city where a strange stillness prevailed while the funeral took place.
   Five floral cars followed the hearse as the cortege left Scots Church ─ built by her father David Mitchell ─ for Lilydale Cemetery. From Collins St the cortege travelled several blocks to Spring St and turned into Albert St in order to pass the music conservatorium that Dame Nellie had helped to establish. It then turned past Presbyterian Ladies College, which she attended as a girl, and then to Hoddle St and into Victoria St, to Barkers Rd, left into High St, right into Cotham Rd and on to Lilydale.

The crowd of onlookers was particularly dense at Kew Junction and again at the corner of Cotham and Glenferrie roads. There was hardly a spare space until Box Hill was reached. As the cortege wound downhill from Box Hill it was met by Box Hill High School students, who lined up in front of the school, and then at Blackburn where school children were playing in a drum and fife band. There, another wreath was added to the myriad floral tributes.
``At Ringwood the mayor of the borough, Cr Blood, and some children presented floral tokens and this market town ushered in the picturesque countryside through which the cortege was to pass at greater speed,’’ The Age reported. ``Behind schedule there the funeral was threatened by a storm, but a sudden shower fell and the clouds let in welcome chinks of sunshine on the procession. From among the orchards, which make of the landscape beyond Ringwood a pleasant panorama, groups of people had gathered at vantage points here and there.’’
School children from East Ringwood had assembled at the top of Birt’s Hill and many cars and jinkers took up vantage points as Croydon was approached. Another gathering assembled at the foot of Mooroolbark Hill, known today as Chirnside Park. It would not be until 4.30pm that the cortege arrived at Lilydale where an estimated 3000 to 4000 admirers were waiting.
Lilydale was more than aware of the historical significance of the occasion, having known both Melba the girl and Melba the woman. At the war memorial the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage and Melba’s own Boy Scouts2 led the new cortege, followed by the staff of the Cave Hill estate3.
From the township of Lilydale the cortege proceeded to the cemetery in Victoria Rd and Dame Nellie was buried. The pallbearers included musicians of note Fritz Hart and (Sir) Bernard Heinze4. Hart, who lived from 1874 to 1949, was a conductor and composer brought to Australia from England by J.C.Williamson as an opera conductor. He directed grand opera for Melba and became director of the then Albert St Conservatorium in 1913. He conducted the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1927 until the early 1930s when he went to Honolulu to work.
Heinze (1894-1982) was a conductor who had a big influence on music in Melbourne. His work included public orchestral concerts for school children in all major cities as well as ensuring each state had a complete symphony orchestra. He was knighted in 1949.
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