Bundaberg’s other great singer
Memory Lane BY ROSS PEDDLESDEN
Just before the First World War, when the South State School Choir sang, one voice stood out.
Born in Bundaberg in 1905, Molly de Gunst was recognised from an early age as having a special voice. She was tutored in singing and piano by well-known local Irene Marles, and competed in numerous eisteddfods.
Not nearly as well known as Gladys Moncrieff, but arguably as talented, Molly also completed her school education in Bundaberg. Just before her eighteenth birthday she auditioned for Madam Ellen Christian of the Garcia School of Music in Sydney and won a residential scholarship to study there.
Her music education in Sydney was thorough and formal, and included foreign languages and opera knowledge, as well as singing technique. Slowly, Molly began to get work singing with a range of companies around Australia, but her big break didn’t happen until 1932. Initially an understudy, she graduated to a lead role with the Italian Opera Company, brought to Australia by J.C. Williamson. The company toured across Australia and then on to New Zealand. Molly gained rave reviews for her huge and demanding lead role in Verdi’s Aïda.
In 1935 Molly travelled to England and began to look for work in what was one of the cultural capitals of the world during the 1930s. Again, she was met with success after auditioning for the prestigious Saddler’s Wells Opera Company and spent four years as a principal soprano in their London productions, including another demanding lead role in Wagner’s Tannhauser.
As it did for so many, WWII changed Molly’s life. Opera productions in London were suspended and she worked on the war effort of the British Arts Council and entertained the troops, touring with the Entertainments National Service Association.
In 1939 she married Gordon Kingsley Lark and when he was transferred to the north east of England towards the end of the war she went with him.
Molly continued her engagement with the arts even when she wasn’t on stage and worked with a number of regional arts organisations in the north east for many years. Sadly, a serious dental operation in 1954 ended Molly’s ability to sing but she remained involved in the arts throughout her long life.
Molly de Gunst died at her home in Gateshead in 1994.
For many years it was thought that no recording of her special voice had survived but in 2017 at the prompting of relative Kay de Gunst, Leonie Egan of the Our Glad Association went to the family home in FE Walker St and found a dusty box of Molly memorabilia. Amazingly a cassette with a recording of Molly singing Retorna Vincitor from Aïda was found, and you can find it on YouTube.
A whole cabinet of Molly De Gunst memorabilia can be seen at The Bundaberg & District Historical Museum in Bundaberg Botanic Gardens on Mt Perry Road. Open 7 Days.