Frances Burtt Bolton Thompson (Davis) left us this year (2009). Here are some of the memoirs that we persuaded her to jot down during the last decades. They are presented - unedited - because they speak for themselves.
Visiting her in hospital and having her happily returned to us at 84 Waverly St
(Mother in hospital …. and convalescent home Redcliffe).
Too soon after this, mother and dad were working a little café in Eagle St. I sat on
a footstool my head on the newspapers.
Strolling along Bribie Beach at 6:00am picking up shells for miles before the rest of the island’s inhabitants woke.
Walks to the lagoon where we could see fishes (quite big ones) swimming in the shallow part. How brackish the water was from the ti-trees. Felt we were the only people to have ever been here.
Walks to the ant-hole. Very deep hole in the sand dunes along by the “one mile” tree.
No sound but the gentle swish of breeze in shee-oaks and surf rolling.
Swimming in the beautiful surf anywhere along the beach in those days, But of course, very carefully the further away from the area where our house was.
Dad had built our house bit by bit using a lot of the timber we had brought back along the beach. As the steam-ships entered the bay, they dumped timber overboard and we collected it, twisted vines onto it and brought it back in the shallow water to our place. Our parents originally camped on our piece of land, which was about ½ mile North from the kiosk and lifesavers area.
Then dad, in spite of his handicap, put up the first section of the holiday home. Four bunks, strung one above the other on two sides of the room, with a primus and a table at the end. Later he added the same sized room on the South side, and then to the North, another.
Our water pump was at the back of the original room, and a shower was made behind with hessian walls. Our toilet also had hessian walls, and was quite a distance “down the back”.
Bush-fires were quite regular, but thankfully we did not lose our precious place in the sun.
My father and mother loved young people and our house was always full of my sister’s
friends until sadly the war intervened.
For some time we were unable to go to Bribie, as the army had gun emplacements along the dunes, and very high lookouts.
Eventually our hose was taken over by the Army. I really don’t know whether we were ever given any compensation for it.
Many of my sister’s friends were lost in the war, some in the Air Force and some in the Army. My friends at that time were too young for war service.
My sister served in the AWAS (Australian Women’s Army service) in Brisbane and Townville on searchlights, which was where she met her husband.
My war service consisted of dancing for the troops n Mrs Allen’s concert party, and also in an American concert party run by TommyVatoglian (?). Most weekends we were away with one or the other to distant camps or hospitals always with mother to accompany me on the piano.
Danced mostly a spectacular gypsy dance with tamborine and/or several advanced tap
routines. Noticed the Americans were quick to recognise which parts of the tap
dances were extremely difficult and clapped appreciatively. At this time, one
of my pupils brought a tap dancing Yankee soldier in to meet me, and he danced
and showed me some new steps but was rather weird as he kept telling me we were
practicingfor some competition & I knew he was making it up. However he drifted
off thankfully as I was getting tired of dancing for hours after my teaching
afternoon had finished. We later heard that he had be AWOL for months.
Some of our trips to the camps were quite enjoyable, others were really tiring, but it was all we were equipped to do to help.
Mother used to help in the Air Force Club making huge batches of her wonderful apple pie and as i was at high school at that time I would sometimes go in and wait for her.
Do not remember my first Ballet lesson with Miss Danaher, but I do remember her young, pretty face looking up into mine as she squatted down to talk to me about an imaginary sore ankle I had developed.
I had some lovely friends at ballet in those days and I suppose the reason I still
remember a lot of their names is due to the fact that mother kept a scrap book of
paper cuttings and photos and also the programmes in which I appeared from the age
of 5 as little boy blue.
Little blonds curly headed Marcia Godbold (?) Shirly Clarke, Ina Bakhovyeff and Marcie Bradford and Valma Lock to name a few.
Mother took me away from my beloved Miss Danaher because I was the only girl of my age learning Elementary and I had to dance with my own age group.
Luckily we found the Bassetts who had recently taken over from Thelma Robertson and they has three or four of my age and grade so I had made some new friends and friendly rivals. Pat White, Patricia Macdonald, Shirly McCorkindale, Carmen White Elva Gunn Gladys Gillingham, etc.
Here was a go-ahead school with Joy and Faye Bassett really setting a standard in showmanship and intense study. We were entered for eisteddfods, dancing at garden parties, entering major exams two at a time because of the two year break between examiners coming over from England.
This was until Miss Danetree came out during the blitz years and decided to stay and we were able to be examined every year.
Miss Danetree examined me for all my major exams up to and including Solo seal.
Miss Danaher’s school still was the leading classical school but the Bassetts’ came high on the list of successful schools and Pat mead’s school was a very prominent school producing dozens of dancers who revelled in tap and jazz and then Ballet. Elsie Segus had been a young teacher just arriving on the scene when Mother had been looking for a new teacher for me and had been impressed with Elsie’s little Dutch dance in a Brisbane Eisteddfod.
She went to see Miss Segus to see if she would take me on, but she said she had no students up to that standard at that time, only little beginners.
Now more than fifty years on, Elsie Segus is still one of Brisbane’s best and still is one of the few teachers who enters students for Solo Seal and has repeated successes in this very difficult exam.
Have memories of watching Colonel de Basil’s Russian Ballet in the thirties and lovely Tamara Toumanova, who while in Brisbane came to Miss Danaher’s studios and gave we little children a lesson. Also Algeranoff the character dancer and Roland Gourard. I seem to remember the insistence Algeranoff placed on the correct pressure onto the floor in the Hungarian break and have remembered to impart this ever since.
Was also able to go to see Tamara off at the station with flowers and saw David Lichine and his wife Tatiana Riabouchinska, whom we had seen do Blue Bird so beautifully a few night’s before. Naturally we had been backstage and received autographs from most of the company, but this was an added bonus.
The next professional Ballet performance I saw was at Albert Hall and director was Leon Kelloway with the National Ballet.
In this company, we saw Lyma Golding a petite dancer of some ote and friend of my teacher Fay Bassett.
By this time I had learned quite a lot of traditional Ballet solos and as I was to do the waltz from Les Sylphides at the Brisbane Eisteddfod, Fay, who had taught it to me asked Lyma to watch me do it.
That is just what she did too.
Quite impassively without changing her expression and without one word of encouragement praise or condemnation, and just walked away into the office.
So of course “Miss No-Confidence” went on practicing and to the surprise of quite a few took off the championship at the Eisteddfod with this dance.
Lorraine Norton was the adjudicator and she told Miss Bassett that I did it better on the following night when all the various winners were performing at an appeal concert at the City Hall.
On this night the hall was so packed that people were crammed up on the stairs behind the stage. Maybe I was more at home in that atmosphere than in the stuffy competition atmosphere which I have never enjoyed.
Miss Norton, an examiner for RAD [Royal Academy of Dancing] choreographed a dance which she taught to Joy Bassett and which I danced as my demi-character dance for my Solo Seal exam in 1944. It was the parable of the Unwise Virgin for which I still have the sheet music, but which now has faded from my memory apart from the very first entrance and one step to follow. How I wish I had written it down as it was a very beautiful dance and very moving. I loved dancing it and would have loved to have taught it to my daughter Nadia.
How I loved choreographing for my pupils back in the forties when my school was small
and so was I.
My dear father had barres set into the walls of his cement home in the lounge and my mother sat for hours at the piano playing and repeating and repeating as I stared into space which was not space at all but bubbling with ideas in a very young mind. We had Chinese mandarins and slave traders and milkmaids and blue bells, red Indians harem girls, swagmen, dancesfrom every country in the world and all in our front lounge.
Our beach ballet was inspired by taking a group to bribie for a weekend. It was great. Very much later, the disasteruos fires of Tasmania set me to choreographing a special Ballet for a concert in which our local organisations were asked to supply an item to raise money for these poor folk who had lost everything. This concert was done in [the Park Presbyterian Hall in West End] and a gentleman who was looking after this hall painted a lovely backdrop depicting the end of a bad bushfire, and we were so pleased with the end result both financially and in every other way.
When our poor lounge could not stretch far enough to contain our growing class I took my students up to the Congregational Hall in Cracknell Road, not the one near Chardon’s Hotel, but the original one further along Cracknell Road which has long since been demolished.
At the end of Saturday morning class we had to shower and remove the bird lice from
My class grew and Miss Bassett asked me to take over teaching St Andrews Girls Club South Brisbane, which I enjoyed but during one class we had a black-out and so we were forced to give up, after trying really hard with one torch which I usually carried when walking home to the tram. They were lovely girls all about my age and I really enjoyed my Monday night classes. We did callisthenics neo-classical, tap and had lots of fun.
At the end of the year we gave a demonstration and the girls won prizes for their efforts.
Some of our concert parties were quite memorable, but mostly I simply remember the tiredness of the cast and the endless driving in busses and ???. I also remember dancing in and out amongst beds of Americans with bad injuries, legs strung up to the ceiling and heads bound up in the Indooroopilly hospital which was n the high school! Finding it rather peculiar having audience all around me all smiling bravely.
Remember Bill Sherman an American singer in the concert party telling me he wanted to take ma back to Broadway. Ho hum! All of sixteen at the time.
The Southport Boys school was being used by the Americans also and I remember some of our party tip-toeing upstairs to see what was there and found a lot of sleeping nurses in a long ward. Quick exit was made. Three dancers in the group were popular – Janet Gentle (red hair) and a blonde and brunette, and all did tap and Jazz.
Pitceathly sisters used to go at times, and Robyn, who was quite small, used to
sing “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” and tap away.
My first recital of my own students was held in St Aidon’s Church Clifton Hill, and I was so proud of them. We did “Alice Blue Gown” with several girls. The elder Dutton girls danced a Dutch dance with skipping ropes.
My first class consisted of Joyce and June Dutton, Betty Filer, Barbara Niells (my cousin), Jean Roberts, Diana Minchin, Joyce Williams, Faye Soden, soon to be joined by Marie Dutton, Diane Cilento, Alacia moore, Alileen Hildebrand, Shirly Crawford, Dalma and Joan Pye and Marie Townson.
During this period of depression, my parents who used to place any leftover sandwiches from their shop in Eagle St opposite the fig trees discovered a young man was one of the destitute folk who would come along looking for any spare food. He was only 29 years and very intelligent but out of work. He was invited to do some odd jobs by my dad and became almost one of the family. He was a great help later when he found his feet and mum and dad were still battling to make ends meet. By now, mother had turned the shop into a tiny café and was making scones and apple tarts and sandwiches, but the profits were very slim, and accidents do happen like the day a carton of cigarettes fell into a bucket of water which mother had just used to wash the floors. The two shillings profit on the sale of the whole carton was lost that time, along with the original cost of same.
Arthur eventually went to war, and went through Greece and Crete, Egypt and then, on returning was made member of the Allied Intelligence and worked behind the lines in Borneo leaving a knife or two behind in the chest of Japs.
He was lucky in that he returned from the war, afterwards worked in Sydney, his original home town. He married, but since died.
Betty Filer’s mum was often having little concerts in aid of Red Cross and other charities and asked me in 1944 to teach some American soldier friends of hers a burlesque ballet. I said I would but when the time came to teach came they “chickened out” and I was left to find someone else to be the “fairies”.
My friend Dawn Reid who has boarded with us for many years when working at the munitions factory at Rocklea said her brother Don could gather some friends and fill in, so that was the beginning of my destiny. I picked out the most handsome for fairy queen and he wore my tutu laced across very widely at the back. There were four others, but Jim Thompson (my husband) was “queen”. Don Reid, Ron Perkins, Lester James, Bill North were the others all in the 56th squadron of the Air Training Corps.
This year of 1944 was quite an exciting one. I passed Solo Seal at first try. It
was held in the Rex Theatre in the Valley. There were nine entries and in those
days we had to do two set classical dances, a demi-character chosen by our teacher
and an impromptu dance which the examiner came up with on stage and dictated to us,
and then went down into the theatre and watched. She was alone in the theatre except
for the pianist and the candidate and all the other candidates were out in the
dressing room with their teachers behind a large locked door. Quite scary.
I can remember Miss Danetree asking me if I had blisters in between two dances as I removed some band-aids (which had curled) from my heels. My friend Pat White (now Mrs O’Brien in Toowoomba) also passed her Solo Seal that day.
In 1944 the Queensland Patriotic Eisteddfod was held and as the Bassetts were keen
on this type of experience we all entered. Gloria Gerrard had passed Solo Seal the
previous time (1942 or 1943) and was expected to win the championship. She danced
a beautiful Hungarian dance (in the character section) in a lovely costume with
blue predominating but I managed to win with my waltz from Les Sylphides. Pat
Macdonald and pat White were my special friends at the time and we always danced
together in recitals and fêtes. Gladys Gillingham was another special friend who
went on to become my assistant, and that was the year Judith Espinosa examined my
grades. We took her to lunch and were amazed at the procedure she had to go
through before lunching. Large tumbler of water into which she spilled white
powder and mixed furiously with a huge tablespoon.
Tiny little lady she was, and remember Elsie Segus picking her up under one arm one day, and she was not amused by it.
Gladys was a dental nurse before she started helping me. Mr Culverhouse at Stones Corner, and he was quite annoyed that she was leaving on “some money-making racket” as he called my class. Glad’s mother was amazed, as we all were and she added to Glad “make sure it is”! But it wasn’t as we all know unless you have a hide like a rhino. Ballet does not make money.
It is the furthest from your mind when you teach Ballet as you have to put hours and hours into your students and can’t charge for it all. The teaching hours are long enough, but the hours of choreography and music selection far outweigh them.
In the early days, Diane’s mother, Lady Phyllis Cilento used to refer her patients to me when in need of exercise for strengthening, and we always started our classes on the floor with exercises, each child bringing a towel to lie on.
Nadia came into our family at the time when Val, my sister, was suffering from the very tragic loss of her only son Philip of 19 years, in a motor accident. We were all very shaken by this, to say the least, and I remember staring at young lads in the hope that I could find him and uncover a mistake that might have been made. It is so hard to believe, when this type of accident happens. He was the same age as my eldest son Rod, and they were very good friends.
Jim and I were married on 8th Jan 1949 at age of 22 years.
Rod was born on 8th [14th] Feb 1950. We were still living at 8 Waverly St Annerley with my mum and dad.
My sister Val and I were both born in this house so when we decided to sell and build in Tarragindi it was quite a wrench. Jim’s parents allowed us to live in their house at Manly until it was built.
While living in manly I started a Ballet class in the progress hall and had some very talented little girls. Of course mother accompanied me on the piano and little Rodney played beside her on the little stage. One day we discovered him putting all his loose pennies down between the piano keys.
In the first year down there I entered two girls for grade 1, both of whom gained honours. While living at Manly, we decided to start a class n the Tarragindi Hall in Andrew Avenue, and my dad would drive us up in his little truck. Then when came up here we had a nice little class already going and decided to keep the Manly one going until I found a suitable teacher. So poor Pa continued the ferry service down to Manly. Ruth Ellis had just returned to Brisbane after dancing n the Australian Ballet so I gave her the manly class.
Copyright © Frances Thompson 1994