‘Trip to Italy’, a film and TV series of recent times, featured in its soundtrack a recurring theme comprising a loud, sustained chord that resolved gradually into a slow expansive melody of great aural beauty. It was so perfectly matched to the action, especially the sedate yachting scenes, that I wondered just how the director came to select such a piece of music. Did he have all this music already in his head, or did he visit a library of background music and ask for a suitable piece? Indeed, how does any director, especially for TV documentaries, select the background music?
Evidently other viewers of ‘Trip to Italy’ had also liked the piece which, thanks to Google, was identified as ‘At Sunset’ from ‘Four Last Songs’ by German composer, Richard Strauss, and composed just before his death at 85. Interestingly, the premiere was given posthumously at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950, sung by Flagstad, accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. The performance was made possible due to the magnanimous effort of the then Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahudar. Though he could not be present, the music-loving maharaja put up a $4,800 guarantee for the performance, so that the Four Last Songs could be recorded for his large personal collection – then estimated at around 20,000 records – and the recording then shipped to him in Mysore.
What we do in our spare time is often more interesting than our regular employment. It helps to flesh out our personalities and define us as individuals. I am finding this more and more at our Probus Club where individual members present a cameo speech each month. Our September cameo speaker was Joan Jerrard and was introduced by her husband, John. Joan’s talk enlightened our members on the art of turning books into Braille so that blind people can read them. For forty years, Joan has been a member of the Queensland Braille Writing Association, which began for her just a few days after the last of her children started school. Joan related the life of Louis Braille (born 1909), who as a child was involved in an accident which left him blind. To help with his schoolwork, his father made him a set of blocks into which of each had been nailed a letter of the alphabet. Louis received a scholarship to France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth, where inspired by the military cryptography of Charles Barbier, Braille constructed a new method for blind people which now bears his name. His code comprised 6 dots which can be used in 64 combinations to represent the alphabet, numbers, music, as well as prefixes and suffixes etc.
Joan also brought along her Perkins Brailler and demonstrated how she transfers text into Braille.
Louis Braille died of TB in 1852, but it was not until many years later that his system was adopted world-wide. In 1952, his remains were transferred from his birthplace of Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris. His grave bears the inscription: “He opened doors of knowledge to those who could not see.”
Further to my blog of 5th September, I was fortunate to be contacted by Ellen Hill, Communications Consultant from the Escarpment Group who has just sent me a large amount of information and photos of the Hydro Majestic since its recent renovation, four images of which I have included here. I must say that they exceed all my expectations, and are in keeping with the original specifications of the outrageously over-the-top design of its creator, Mark Foy.
However, for historians such as me, it’s the hotel’s guests who breathe life into its buildings. Its famous visitors have been well documented: opera singers Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Clara Butt; munitions heiress Bertha Krupp, who donated a Bechstein grand piano to the hotel; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, for whom the Blue Mountains were the inspiration for ‘The Lost World’; and more recently, Russell Crowe who was asked to remove his baseball cap while dining in the Great Dining Hall in 1994; boxer Tommy Burns who set up a training camp at the Hydro Majestic ahead of his world title fight against Jack Johnson in Sydney in 1908, running for miles on mountain tracks in preparation; and, perhaps best known, Australia’s former first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton – he had retired from politics and was then a justice of the High Court – who died of a heart attack at the hotel while holidaying there in 1920.
But there must have been countless other interesting guests over the last century: honeymooners, health enthusiasts, wealthy Sydney businessmen enjoying a lost weekend, and just ordinary people. It’s their stories that I would like to collect, so if you know of any, please let me know!
While travelling in the Blue Mountains from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, one has to pass through the village of Medlow Bath, whose main claim to fame is its Hydro Majestic Hotel, built in 1903 by Sydney department store mogul, Mark Foy. The hotel sits on an escarpment overlooking the Megalong Valley. The mere mention of such names still brings a thrill of excitement and a yearning to return there again for another look-see.
In 2003 our family stopped in for morning tea, and we discussed then how the somewhat neglected building would look after refurbishment.
We called again in 2010, but were dismayed to find the place deserted, and the gates firmly padlocked, without any word of explanation. Was this the end of our dream?
Then just last week, an article appeared in the Australian Design Review announcing the reopening of the restored hotel to its former glory. The details can be found in the following link:
I’m not sure about the red walls. The family says it reminds them of the Overlook hotel from ‘The Shining’ movie. Now that’s a bit scary, but it would add more atmosphere to the place. Must go back there again soon, but hope Jack Nicholson doesn’t appear (especially if he were rugged up like Phyllis’ photo.)
Oh, and just what is in a name? Well, Medlow Bath was originally known as Brown’s Siding (how colonial Australian!), while the name Megalong Valley is derived from an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘Valley Under The Rock’. The Hydro Majestic Hotel stems from the hydropathic therapy (health spas) that the hotel originally boasted, and no doubt from the majestic views that it commands from the escarpment overlooking the Megalong Valley.