Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Healy, Gertrude (1894–1984)

by Peter Lynch

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

Gertrude Healy (1894-1984), musician and Sister of Mercy, was born on 18 March 1894 at Ballarat East, Victoria, third surviving child of Victorian-born parents, Michael John Healy, railway engine driver, and his wife Mary Helena, née Costello. Educated locally at Sacred Heart College, Gertrude demonstrated prodigious gifts as a violinist, first coming to prominence in the Royal South Street Society competitions, where she competed against (Sir) Bernard Heinze in 1906, 1907 and 1908, winning many awards for violin. In 1907 she gained first prize for solo violin at the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, and came to the attention of George Marshall-Hall, who awarded her a scholarship to his Albert Street Conservatorium of Music, East Melbourne. She studied violin with Franz Dierich and cello with Louis Hattenbach and in November 1908 made her Melbourne Town Hall début, performing Beethoven’s Romance in F with the conservatorium orchestra.

Having endured twice-weekly trips from Ballarat to Melbourne for more than a year, in 1909 Gertrude moved with her family to North Melbourne. Marshall-Hall, supporting her registration as a teacher of violin, noted that Healy’s `musical intelligence’ was `quite exceptional’. After coming second to Heinze in contesting the Clarke scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1912, she determined to make her own way to Europe. As one critic noted of her fund-raising concert, held at the Melbourne Town Hall in April 1913, she was `easily first’ among `all the violinists who have come forward in recent years’: her tone was `pure and rich’, and her intonation `almost beyond reproach’. In February 1914 she sailed from Melbourne with her sister Kathleen.

Healy studied with Siegfried Eberhardt in Berlin until the outbreak of war, and then in London with Albert Sammons, to whom she owed her affinity with the works of Bax, Delius and Elgar. While in England she undertook patriotic work, playing in hospitals and for charities. She also performed in Ireland and would later play Irish airs with conviction. The sisters returned to Melbourne via New York in 1920.

A highly respected teacher of violin at Albert Street from 1923, and later conductor of its chamber orchestra, Healy exposed Australian or Melbourne audiences to works by Bax, Bloch, Delius, Dohnanyi, Elgar, Roussel, (Sir) Eugene Goossens and Peggy Glanville-Hicks. The often provocative modernity of her programs also encompassed Franck, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Nielson. In 1925 she impressed the visiting Austrian violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler, who invited her to return to Europe and continue her studies with him—an offer she declined. As a soloist, and in ensembles including the Melbourne Trio with Rita Hope and Dallas Fraser, she appeared on many concert stages, performing for the Australian Musical News Chamber Music Club, the British Music Society, the Melbourne Music Club and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Following Kathleen’s death in 1947, Healy resigned from the conservatorium and in January 1948 entered the Convent of Mercy, Ballarat East, joining her sister Eileen (Mother Bonaventure) and taking as her name in religion Sr Catherine of Siena. She taught music at Sacred Heart College, tutored the college orchestra and in 1950 established its annual Music for Strings concerts, through which she continued to introduce new works, including those of Britten and her own compositions. These activities, and her teaching, enhanced the college’s reputation for excellence in music education. Remembered for possessing a profound spirituality, she died on 6 October 1984 at Ballarat and was buried in its new cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Musical News, 1 Sept 1920, p 47, 1 Feb 1923, p iii
  • Herald (Melbourne), 31 Jan 1977, p 13
  • P. J. Lynch, Gertrude Healy (MA thesis, Monash University, 1996)
  • Marshall-Hall Conservatorium diary (Melba Memorial Conservatorium of Music Archives)
  • teacher registration file, VPRS 10061 (Public Records Office, Victoria).

Citation details

Peter Lynch, 'Healy, Gertrude (1894–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/healy-gertrude-12613/text22721, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 December 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 17

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