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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hoban, Mary Elizabeth (Maie) (1887–1984)

by John Rickard

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

Mary Elizabeth (Maie) Hoban (1887-1984), speech and drama teacher, was born on 29 September 1887 at Spring Mount, near Creswick, Victoria, daughter of Victorian-born parents Edmond Butler, farmer, and his wife Rosina, née McCormack. Maie was educated at Mary’s Mount convent, Ballarat, and, encouraged by the eisteddfod culture of that city, attained licentiates of the Royal School of Music and Trinity College of Music, London. She played the piano and organ, and appeared in concerts. Her true métier, however, was discovered in preparing Ballarat children and adults for speech and drama examinations and for the South Street eisteddfod.

On 18 November 1915 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Maie married Daniel James Hoban, an auctioneer who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. In March 1916 he embarked for the Western Front, where he lost a leg. Invalided back to Australia, he established a real estate agency in Melbourne and became particularly associated with the development of Springvale. His death in 1931 left Maie with five children to support.

In the depths of the Depression, Maie Hoban returned to teaching, renting a studio and soon acquiring a loyal following of students, many of whom joined the amateur theatre company she established, known as the Unnamed Players (later, the Australian Repertory Players). Using venues such as suburban town halls, she drew mostly on such English dramatists as John Galsworthy, Sir James Barrie and (Sir) Noël Coward. A more unusual recurring favourite (because of its all-female cast) was Christa Winsloe’s Children in Uniform. Other adventurous choices included T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party and Jean Cocteau’s The Eagle Has Two Heads. She encouraged Australian playwrights by various means, including competitions for new work, but she regretted their general lack of stagecraft.

In 1939, after brief sojourns in rooms at Her Majesty’s and the Garrick theatres, Hoban moved her school, now known as the Australian School of Speechcraft and Drama, to a workroom in the grounds of St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill, which she converted into a small theatre—the Pilgrim Theatre. Already a public figure, she was a frequent commentator on controversies concerning Australian speech. Australians, she maintained, spoke more correctly than other English-speaking nations, but their voice production was poor. In 1948 Hoban travelled to the United States of America, where she lectured under the auspices of the English Speaking Union and studied remedial speech technique. She toured the USA again in 1954, partly investigating television production, and also visited England, attending a course sponsored by the British Drama League.

A woman of considerable presence, Hoban had the entrepreneurial drive needed to make a career in a marginal field. While her own vocal delivery has been described by Patricia Kennedy as mannered, no one doubted her gifts as a teacher. Several of her students later became professional actors, Kennedy, Coral Browne, Frederick Parslow and Terry Norris among them. Others were coached in public speaking; the swimmer Dawn Fraser was `fascinated by her poise’ and inspired by her capacity to stimulate awareness of `an inner life’. Brought up a Catholic, Hoban remained loyal to the Church, often organising entertainments in support of its charities. She closed her school in 1968. Maie Hoban died on 10 September 1984 at Kew, Melbourne, survived by her four daughters and son. She was buried in Springvale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Fraser, Dawn (2001)
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 4 Mar 1950, p 26
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Feb 1954, p 6
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 Apr 1954, p 21, 10 Feb 1968, p 27
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Rickard, 'Hoban, Mary Elizabeth (Maie) (1887–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 12 August 2020.

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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