Esther Rofe


Southport Beach, 1940 (AOT, PH30/1/1809)

Esther Freda Rofe (19042000), 'grand dame of Australia's composing community'. A child virtuoso who joined the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at thirteen and performed with Nellie Melba, she wrote the first Australian ballet to enter the international repertoire. By promising to put composition before marriage, she was accepted by the Royal College of Music (London) and taught by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Her ballets Sea Legend and Terra Australis won much acclaim.

Inspired by the sea, she and her artist sister Edith moved to Southport where Rofe lived for twenty years: 'her kitchen table was always full of half completed scores'. She fostered a child, built two cabins and took a 99-year lease of Pelican Island, occasionally returning to the mainland for stints of work. Her ashes were scattered in Southport Bay.

Further reading: Australian Music Centre, Esther Rofes Songbook, Sydney, 2000; P Petrus, 'Esther Rofe', Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2000; B Poulson, 'Death of famed Southport composer ', Huon Valley News, 7 February 2001.

Bruce Poulson