Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hume, Stella Leonora (1882–1954)

by Nancy Robinson Whittle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Stella Hume (1882-1954), c.1936

Stella Hume (1882-1954), c.1936

State Library of South Australia, 38009

Stella Leonora Harriette Hume (1882-1954), radio announcer, director and producer, was born on 4 October 1882 at South Yarra, Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents William Workman Jeremy, draughtsman, and his wife Laura Savina, née Peregalli. Said to be of 'French, Italian, English and Welsh descent', Stella later adopted the name Violet. On 3 October 1905 at the Methodist Church, Mosman, Sydney, she married Ernest James Hume. They moved to Adelaide where Ernest was in partnership with his brother Walter in manufacturing steel fencing.

While raising her four children, Mrs Hume taught elocution, served as art director of the Adelaide Repertory Theatre, pursued interests in sculpture, music, dancing, singing, and cultivating and arranging flowers, and also appeared in silent films, billed as 'Leonora Starr'. In 1923 her sons Ernest and Jack became fascinated with wireless. Believing in the cultural and educational potential of the new technology, her husband bought a transmitter and ancillary equipment, and set up a studio in their home, Peltonga, on Park Terrace (later Greenhill Road), Parkside. The Humes obtained a permit to make experimental broadcasts. By mid-1924 Stella was 'the voice of 5 Don N', as their station 5DN was known. The station flourished. Live broadcasts were made from the music-room at Peltonga and, by landline, from the Elder Conservatorium of Music and the University of Adelaide.

One of the world's first female announcers and programme directors, she appeared on 5DN as 'Miss Leonora Starr', elocutionist, and as 'Auntie Stella', a children's storyteller. In 1924 the Humes applied for an A-class licence—which would have enabled them to finance high-quality programmes from listeners' fees—but were disappointed when 5DN received a B-class licence, obliging them to seek revenue by transmitting advertisements. Mrs Hume arranged to broadcast the play, Lilies of the Field, in November. In 1925 she engaged and directed approximately one thousand performers and speakers, in addition to orchestras and bands. Her transmissions were received in the United States of America. Because 5DN remained on air later at night than Melbourne and Sydney stations, enthusiasts in eastern Australia tuned in.

A strikingly handsome woman, Stella had a well-modulated voice, a keen sense of humour, a friendly nature and an egalitarian outlook. 5DN performers were unpaid, but were invited to supper at Peltonga before being driven home in one of the family's motorcars. After her husband died in 1929, she declined to take over 5DN's commercial affairs and moved to Neutral Bay, Sydney, where she occasionally gave radio talks and patented a four-valve 'wireless receiver', the 'Accord Four'. She joined the Theosophical Society and took up spiritualism, allegedly believing that radio would become a medium for communicating with the dead. About 1939 she returned to Adelaide. In the early 1950s she moved to Goulburn, New South Wales.

Survived by her daughter and two of her three sons, Stella Hume died on 3 January 1954 in the Mental Hospital, Kenmore, and was cremated. The National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, holds recordings of her voice. A cairn at the site of Peltonga commemorates her.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F. Ross, A History of Radio in South Australia, 1897-1977 (Adel, 1978)
  • D. J. Towler, The First Sixty Years 1924-1984 (Adel, 1984)
  • Hume scrapbook and papers in the 5DN Collection, particularly AUDN, MS 15, 45-72 (National Film and Sound Archive)
  • Minutes of Evidence of the Commonwealth Royal Commission on Wireless (1926-27, National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Nancy Robinson Whittle, 'Hume, Stella Leonora (1882–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hume-stella-leonora-10571/text18775, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Stella Hume (1882-1954), c.1936

Stella Hume (1882-1954), c.1936

State Library of South Australia, 38009

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Starr, Leonora
  • Auntie Stella
  • Hume, Violet
  • Jeremy, Stella
Birth

4 October 1882
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

3 January 1954
Kenmore, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation