Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Broadhurst, Florence Maud (1899–1977)

by Anne-Marie Van de Ven

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Florence Maud Broadhurst (1899-1977), designer, businesswoman, singer and banjolele player, was born on 28 July 1899 at Mungy Station, near Mount Perry, Queensland, fourth surviving child of Queensland-born parents William Broadhurst, stockman, later a grazier and hotelier, and his wife Margaret Ann, née Crawford. After winning prizes in local eisteddfods, Florence joined 'the Diggers' and sang at the Princess Theatre, Toowoomba, in 1918. On 4 December 1922 she left Australia to perform with a musical comedy sextet, the 'Globe Trotters', in South East Asia and China under the stage name 'Miss Bobby'. She also performed with the 'Broadcasters', 'Carlton Follies' and 'Carlton Sparklers', received favourable reviews for her singing and Charleston dancing and was photographed for the English-language newspapers—including the Eastern Mail (Delhi) and the South China Morning Post. In 1926 she established the Broadhurst Academy in Shanghai, offering tuition in violin, pianoforte, voice production, banjolele playing (taught by Florence), modern ballroom dancing, classical dancing, musical culture and journalism.

Returning to Queensland in July 1927, Broadhurst was involved in a car accident before travelling in October to England in the Orvieto. On 22 June 1929 at the Brompton Oratory, South Kensington, she married with Catholic rites Percy Walter Gladstone Kann, a stockbroker. In the early 1930s the two were co-directors (and she designer and dress consultant for) Pellier Ltd, Robes & Modes, in New Bond Street, Mayfair. But Kann soon departed and she and her second husband Leonard Lloyd Lewis, a diesel engineer, lived at Banstead, Surrey, from 1939. During World War II she joined the Australian Women's Voluntary Services, offering hospitality to Australian soldiers. In 1945 the Lewises moved to Worthing, Sussex, where Florence obtained fishing and passenger boat licences. She became honorary secretary of the Art Women's Movement Against Socialisation.

In 1949 she came back to Australia with Lewis and their son. Taking up painting, she drove around northern and central Australia, reportedly producing some 114 works in two years. Solo exhibitions of her 'Paintings of Australia' were held in 1954 at David Jones's art gallery, Sydney, and next year at Finney's gallery, Brisbane, and at the Art Society of Canberra gallery. She also participated in group showings, including the All Nations Club's Ten Guineas and Under exhibition at David Jones. Florence became a foundation member of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales and a member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia.

In the 1950s, as Mrs Lewis, she became involved in charitable and fund-raising activities. But by 1961 Leonard had moved to Queensland, leaving Florence and her son to run a motor-sales business at St Leonards, Sydney. She continued her charity work, designing the festoon decorations for the 1964 Die Fledermaus Opera House Ball and acting as vice-president and honorary organizer for the United Nations Association of Australia international ball committee in 1966. In the 1970s she was connected with the Royal Art Society, the Sydney Opera House appeal and the Australian Red Cross Society.

In 1959 Broadhurst had established Australian (Hand Printed) Wallpapers Pty Ltd, in premises behind the motor business. With a small staff, she designed, manufactured and marketed locally produced, high-quality, handcrafted wallpapers in luxurious, oversized patterns with vivid combinations of colours, inspired by an eclectic range of sources. Brightly coloured peacocks were a feature, as were bold geometrical, striped and floral designs. Innovations included printing onto metallic surfaces, the development of a washable, vinyl-coating finish and a drying rack system that allowed her wallpapers to be produced in large quantities. Moving to Paddington in July 1969, the company became known as Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd, advertised as 'the only studio of its kind in the world' and exporting to North America, England, Hawaii, Kuwait, Peru, Norway and Paris. In 1972 the Australia News and Information Bureau issued a press release claiming an international reputation for the designer. By then her wallpapers reportedly contained around 800 designs in eighty different colour ways.

A striking-looking woman, Broadhurst was renowned for her flamboyant clothes, antique jewellery and coiffed, hennaed hair. In 1973 with her eyesight and hearing failing, she flew to Britain to attend a cell therapy clinic in the hope of improving her health and rejuvenating her body. Back in Sydney, she was brutally murdered on 15 October 1977 at her Paddington premises; the killer has never been identified. Survived by her son, Florence was cremated. The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, holds a collection of her work. The Broadhurst collection was acquired by Signature Prints Pty Ltd, and in 2005 many of her boldest wallpaper designs were still available, some reinterpreted as fabric prints by Akira Isogawa, Nicole Zimmermann and other leading Australian fashion designers.

Select Bibliography

  • S. O'Brien, A Life by Design (Syd, 2004)
  • People (Sydney), 16 Jan 1963, p 54
  • Australian House and Garden, Apr 1965, p 101, May 1977, p 22, Oct 1979, p 17
  • Vogue Living, 11 Feb-11 May 1972, p 103, 15 June-14 Aug 1975, p 10
  • Harper's Bazaar, Oct 1984, p 132
  • Shanghai Daily Times, 27 Dec 1925
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 16 Nov 1969, p 140
  • Australian, 17 Oct 1977, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Oct 1977, p 2, 5 June 1999, ‘Good Weekend’, p 34
  • Australian News and Information Bureau, press release, November 1971, Q980.106/18 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Broadhurst papers (State Library of New South Wales and Powerhouse Museum).

Citation details

Anne-Marie Van de Ven, 'Broadhurst, Florence Maud (1899–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broadhurst-florence-maud-12818/text23139, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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