Serendipity across time

Sketch of Her Imperial Majestys Opera House Brisbane 1888 Trove
Unidentified 1888, sketch of Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House Brisbane, 1888, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

For Mother’s Day we took my mum to see the ballet Giselle broadcast live on the big cinema screen from London. On the way home she happened to mention that my paternal grandfather, Dinny Kunkel, had enjoyed opera and gone to see the Opera in Brisbane. Who knew?!

Like many things this was one of those snippets that leave as many questions as answers – after all he’d been born in a railway camp near Dalby:

  • How did he come to learn about opera?
  • When did he start connecting with it?
  • Did he learn a little about it from his German grandfather, George Kunkel?
  • Did he learn about it during his Paris leave amid World War I?
  • Was it part of a self-improvement program, along with joining the Masons (not looked on kindly by the Catholic church) or did he just like the music and drama?

Rigoletto record DJKInevitably I am unlikely to know the answer to these questions and it occurred to me to look among the gramophone records from my grandparents’ house, which I’ve inherited along with the gramophone. Sure enough there was this record…and a variety of classics but no other opera.

I turned to Trove to see what was happening in Dinny’s years working in Brisbane. Immediately before the war, the city was abuzz with the arrival of JC Williamson’s Madam Butterfly. I wonder if he attended, and did he perhaps go dressed up as he is in this photo? Perhaps he was even photographed there – I know I had photos taken at concerts I attended.

Denis Joseph Kunkel abt 15
Denis Joseph Kunkel (1880-1965). The original is held by Pauleen Cass.

The Opera was being staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, earlier known as Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House. Sadly no longer surviving thanks to Queensland’s political indifference to matters cultural, it was somewhere that most Brisbaneites would have visited for the ballet or a show. Quite grand, with heavy drapes, uniformed assistants and gilt embellishments.

Strangely enough, in a serendipitous link across time, we are planning to see Madam Butterfly ourselves soon, in a very 21st century way, at our local cinema, thanks to HD transmission from the Metropolitan Opera – a whole new experience unknown in Darwin.


1910 ‘”MADAM BUTTERFLY ” GRAND OPERA IN BRISBANE.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 11 October, p. 20. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 10 May 2016,  Madam Butterfly


13 thoughts on “Serendipity across time

  1. I am inspired by this post to dig a bit deeper into the Opera House that once packed in audiences in my mother’s Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. home town. Growing up, she never knew it existed, but I will bet my ancestors went there. As for your mother’s casual comment, so true! Some of my dad’s best stories, leading to discoveries, came from our family history car trips together. Still wish I had jotted down a few more notes on his asides!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to take my girls somewhere special in the city around Christmas time. When my oldest was about 16 and the youngest 11, I took my four daughters to Place des Arts in Montreal to see The Nutcracker. When I told them we were going to the ballet, they all looked at me as if I was nuts and I got choruses of “the ballet?” (with a lilt). It was an anniversary of the ballet and the company got all new costumes that year – it was spectacular!! The girls loved it, and they still talk about the time they went to the ballet.
    My husband’s 7 year granddaughter loves dancing and was taking ballet. I made a book for her for Christmas one year of her dreaming she was at the ballet and had images of her doing all the famous ones, including Gisele, The Firebird and Cinderella. She treasures that book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What special memories for your girls! And how very very special to make that book…inspired! An older lady who lived across from me as a child took me to see Swan Lake when I was quite young….like your daughters that remains a special memory (but unfortunately doesn’t include what I wore).


  3. I was captivated by the start of your post and the reference to “Giselle”. I love ballet and have my mother and aunt to thank for introducing me to it as a child. I too saw the broadcast of the Royal Ballet production to cinemas across the country. I was also struck how a casual remark of your mother’s led to such a fascinating blog post. Congratulations on your research.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Pauline, Your comment about grandfather born in railway camp near Dalby resonated with me as I sit reading on the 16th floor of a Sheraton overlooking Mississippi River in Memphis. My Dad was also born at Dalby, not in a railway camp but to parents who milked cows beneath the shadow of Bunya Mtns. He had very little education and also spent his whole adulthood milking cows so who would have thought he’d have a grandson writing software for Google in Silicon Valley and able to give us the holiday that we are now having. I always enjoy your blog’s very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a coincidence isn’t it? Yes, I wonder what they’d think of what our generations have achieved, standing in the shoulders of their hard graft.

      Thank you so much for your kind comments.


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