Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jennifer Vivienne Filby (1938–1997)

by Tony Marshall

This article was published online in 2022

Jennifer Vivienne Filby (1938–1997), choral director and piano teacher, was born on 17 October 1938 at Devonport, Tasmania, eldest of three children of Tasmanian-born parents William Verdon Harcourt White, furniture retailer, and his wife Reta Mavis, née Yaxley, a former teacher. Jennifer’s father was deeply involved in musical activities in north-west Tasmania as a pianist, cornettist, and dance band leader; her mother was a singer and pianist. While attending Devonport High School, Jennifer progressed through examinations in pianoforte and theory of music held by the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB). She competed regularly, and won awards, at the Devonport Eisteddfod Society’s competitions.

Moving to Hobart, White trained as an infant teacher at the University of Tasmania and won a scholarship to study piano with the distinguished teacher Ann McGarry. Under her tuition, White attained her AMEB licentiate in piano performance in 1961. She also studied voice production with Lucy Purchas and organ with John Nicholls. In 1958 she had begun work as an infant and primary teacher and singing instructor at the Campbell Street State School. She performed on Australian Broadcasting Commission recital programs and was a Tasmanian finalist in the ABC concerto and vocal competition. On 7 January 1961 at the Wesley Church, Devonport, she married Ian Ronald Filby, a radio-television mechanic. The pair had met through inter-school sporting competitions. They would have three children and adopt two Vietnamese-born children.

With the birth of her first child, Filby established herself as a piano teacher at her home. In 1965 she added vocal training to the tuition of her piano students, who then presented carols at their end-of-year recital. Their success led to a request to provide the children’s chorus for a production of The King and I at the Theatre Royal, Hobart, in 1966. From this she developed the Rosny Children’s Choir, named after the Hobart suburb in which it was established. The choir quickly achieved success at Eisteddfods in Tasmania and Canberra, and at the Royal South Street Competitions in Ballarat. In 1971 the choir made its first overseas trip, primarily to compete at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales but also to perform in Liverpool, Birmingham, York, London, and Singapore. It was a family enterprise: Ian served as stage manager, sound technician, and in other capacities; their children sang in the choir; and her father travelled with the choir as photographer.

With success, management of the choir became increasingly onerous, and in 1972 it became an incorporated body. Its inaugural president was the lord mayor of Hobart, Ron Soundy, who, like Filby, was deeply involved with the Baptist Church. She had served as choir director and teacher at the Hobart Baptist Church; following the collapse of the city’s Tasman Bridge in January 1975, she concentrated her efforts on the Eastern Shore Baptist Church. In May and June 1975 the choir, now renamed the Australian Rosny Children’s Choir, undertook the first cultural exchange between Australia and the People’s Republic of China, with performances in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, and en route in Hong Kong and Manila. There were further international tours to New Zealand in 1984 and Japan in 1987.

Under Filby’s direction, the choir travelled widely within Australia, often performing with the Tasmanian and other State symphony orchestras. It also commissioned new works, most significantly the cantata ‘There is an Island’ (1977), composed by Don Kay with libretto by Clive Sansom, performed and later recorded by the choir with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. At its peak 160 children formed part of its training, performing, and touring choirs. Despite the demands of rehearsals and performances, for much of her thirty years as director, Filby maintained her piano teaching practice. She was also a tireless committee member of the City of Hobart Eisteddfod Society.

Gina Richman recalled that Filby used her ‘overwhelming energy to drive the choir to its success’ (1997, 3). She was awarded the OAM in 1984 and, with the choir, an Advance Australia award in 1991. On 3 November 1997 she died of cancer in South Hobart and was buried in the Kingston Lawn cemetery, survived by her husband and their five children. Memorial prizes were established in her name for pianoforte and choral performances at the Hobart Eisteddfod and for excellence in theory or musicianship at Tasmania’s AMEB assessments.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Rosny Children’s Choir. For the Joy of Singing. Videorecording. Lindisfarne, Tas.: Peter Richman, [2007]
  • Australian Rosny Children’s Choir. Tour brochure. [Hobart]: The Choir, 1982
  • Bingham, Mike. ‘Choir Helps Children Get It All Together in Harmony.’ Mercury (Hobart), 13 March 1990, 9
  • Boland, Yasmin. ‘Singing the Praises of a Choral Queen.’ Sunday Examiner (Launceston), 9 March 1986, 17
  • Mercury (Hobart). ‘A Song in Her Heart and an Eisteddfod on Her Mind.’ 22 April 1971, 17
  • Mercury (Hobart). ‘Women of Achievement: A Life Full of Music.’ 3 April 1975, 11
  • Mercury Eastside (Hobart). ‘She Brings the Sound of Music.’ 10 April 1968, 3
  • Oxley, Gary. ‘The Unsung Force Behind an Ageless Choir.’ Saturday Evening Mercury (Hobart), 1 January 1983, 8
  • Richman, Gina. ‘Choir Founder’s Cancer Fight Over.’ Advocate (Launceston), 4 November 1997, 3
  • Tasmanian Archives. NS3832, President’s Papers–Rosny Children’s Choir
  • Tasmanian Mail. ‘When 300 Were Caught for Sly-Grogging! And Other Memories of a Versatile Tasmanian.’ 31 October 1979, 5

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tony Marshall, 'Filby, Jennifer Vivienne (1938–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 23 July 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • White, Jennifer Vivienne

17 October, 1938
Devonport, Tasmania, Australia


3 November, 1997 (aged 59)
South Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations