It was the early 2000s and wallpaper was making a BIG comeback. I was working for a small practice doing a variety of projects, and we would regularly get reps coming into the office to show off their new range of finishes. 

Along with the obligatory morning tea, sample folders of wallpapers would take up most of the modest boardroom table; unprinted textured papers, classic florals and stripes, and various gloss-on-matte patterns. The folder that always stood out though, was the range of designs by Florence Broadhurst. 

At the time I had no idea who Florence Broadhurst was, let alone her connection to the part of regional Queensland I’d only recently left to pursue my architectural education. 

It was only after I’d returned to Bundaberg that I discovered the fascinating and varied life that led Broadhurst from rural Mt Perry to become one of the most recognisable Australian designers of her generation.

Florence Broadhurst’s early forays in the arts began in the 1920s in Mt Perry, initially as a singer and stage performer before touring South-East Asia and establishing a performing arts school in Shanghai. 

Badly injured in a car accident, she went to England. By the time she returned to Mt Perry in 1949, Florence had reinvented herself as a painter, exhibiting landscapes around Australia. 

In 1959 she founded the wallpaper design and printing studio for which she would become most famous. Her hand-printed geometric and nature-inspired patterns dominated the premium end of the wallpaper industry in Australia, as well as being exported worldwide. Broadhurst was not only a creative force, but an astute businesswoman across a range of endeavours throughout her life. 

Tragically, Florence Broadhurst was murdered in her Sydney studio on October 15, 1977. The crime was never solved, and speculation that she was the victim of a serial killer only added to the public interest in her incredible life.

The recent Florence Broadhurst exhibition at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery (read more on page 80) brought back memories of the early days of my architectural career, poring over the bold and luxurious wallpaper designs that were captivating 30-years after they’d been created. 

Twenty years further on and this is still the case, however, with a greater understanding of her background and the trailblazing path she made for women in the creative industries, the body of work is even more impressive.

Architect Tomas O’Malley designs buildings that reflect Central Queensland’s climate and lifestyle.