Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Christie, Constance Mary Charlotte (Connie) (1908–1989)

by Pam Macintyre

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Constance Mary Charlotte (Connie) Christie (1908-1989), writer and illustrator of children’s books, designer and photographer, was born on 31 January 1908 at Kidderminster, Worcestershire, only child of Thomas Robertson Christie, a Scottish-born jeweller and painter in oils, and his English wife Lizzie, formerly Wade, née Williams. From ages 6 to 15 Connie attended Our Lady and All Saints convent school, Stourbridge. At night she took classes at the town’s art school and gained honours for every subject in the South Kensington examinations. She and her parents migrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne in October 1923.

Studying at night at the Commercial Art School in Little Collins Street, Christie designed advertisements and cinema slides for Val Morgan Pty Ltd before joining G. J. Coles & Co. Pty Ltd. She worked for eighteen years in the company’s Swanston Street and Bourke Street stores as a ticket-writer and designer, and was known as the `Coles Orchid’. Her designs included the company crest, the Embassy brand’s emblem, Smart Girl cosmetics, toys, crockery, household gadgets and stationery. On 23 March 1931 at St Matthew’s Church of England, Prahran, she married Winslow Richard Paul, an accountant; they were childless and were divorced in 1938.

In World War II Christie was invited to write and illustrate books for children. Her first, The Adventures of Pinkishell (1939), was the story of a mermaid, a character she invented. The book was an immediate success. She was to publish some fifty volumes, comprising stories, nursery rhymes, counting and alphabet-trainers, rag and painting books, and annuals. As Robert Holden has noted, her `gentle, simple fantasy illustrations’ used `strong colours and definite outlines’, avoiding `over-decorative or unnecessary detail’. Her vibrant and lively artwork encapsulated the effervescence of childhood imagination. The Bulletin claimed in 1950 that two million copies of her works had been sold, but the lifting of import restrictions ended her career in the middle of the decade.

On 28 April 1945 at Scots Church, Melbourne, Christie had married with Presbyterian forms Maxwell Pemberton (d.1988), a manufacturer. Renting premises at Balwyn, near the family home, she set up a photographic studio with facilities for retouching, developing and hand-colouring, and with space for her to conduct classes in portraiture. A member of the Royal Photographic Society, she gave talks on retouching. In the 1960s she worked for Crawford Productions Pty Ltd as a photographer and appeared in television programs such as `Consider Your Verdict’. Subsequently, she illustrated Murfett and Norcross greeting cards with paintings of Australian flora and fauna.

Christie’s watercolours and later oils revealed her versatility. Her creations included portraits, landscapes, striking depictions of animals, ballet dancers in arresting poses, and naturalistic sketches of birds and children. She explained the challenge of illustration: `unlike landscape artists and portrait painters, who are working from something they are looking at, we are illustrating something that doesn’t even exist’. Although not a regular churchgoer, Mrs Pemberton held Christian beliefs and was kind and tolerant. She made and embroidered clothes, and enjoyed the theatre, ballet, amateur dramatics, ballroom dancing and entertaining. Survived by the son of her second marriage, she died on 3 June 1989 at Brighton and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Holden, The Golden Age of Australian Fantasy (1985)
  • S. Lees and P. Macintyre, The Oxford Companion to Australian Children’s Literature (1993)
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 Feb 1950, p 26
  • Bulletin, 3 May 1950, p 18
  • biographical notes on Connie Christie (typescript, 1978?, copy held on ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Pam Macintyre, 'Christie, Constance Mary Charlotte (Connie) (1908–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/christie-constance-mary-charlotte-connie-12316/text22123, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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