Out in the beautiful Yarra Valley, I came across a winery I had seen on one of those TV travel shows. But not just any old winery – Coombe Estate. Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe Estate. One of the largest AND oldest family estates in the Yarra, Coombe was established in the late 1800’s by the great Dame herself, and was named after a home she had rented in England whilst performing at Covent Garden. She paid just $2,165 for the 61 acre piece of land and It is still owned and operated by her descendants.
Nellie was born Helen Porter in 1861. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a musician and was one of the most famous singers of the early 20th century. She trained and performed in Melbourne (though probably not in the Bourke Street Mall I’m assuming!) before she headed to Europe to embark on her singing career. Nellie found success in Brussels and performed in most European cities before she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1893.
Most famous for her role in the Barber of Seville, she was known for her flamboyance style and surrounded herself with many a celebrity friend – artist, actors, royalty and the like – even chefs (most notably French chef August Escoffier who went on to create Peach Melba, Melba Toast and Melba Sauce in her honour.
Dame Nellie returned to Melbourne in 1912, where she taught singing at the Conservatory. Coombe Estate has a wonderful small gallery of Nellie’s memorabilia, including paintings by Hans Heysen and her Louis Vuitton luggage – made by the great man himself.
Nellie died in 1931 in Australia. The world came together to mourn the death of the ‘most famous woman in the world’ and her funeral was a national major event. Cheers Nellie!