Dorian's Life

Dorian's Education

Young Dorian, like most of his cousins, attended the Grange Preparatory School.(2b, 18, 20) Originally situated in Domain Road, South Yarra, it had, by then, moved to Ash Grove in East Malvern. On leaving this, he was enrolled, in 1928, at the Senior School of Melbourne Church of England Grammar. Having passed the Intermediate Examination in 1930, he entered the class preparing for the Leaving Examination in 1931, but was forced, by illness, to discontinue study during that year, and he never returned to school.(18, 21) There is no likelihood that his father contributed to the cost, nor that Stella's small private income was adequate to pay the fees; it is quite certain (18) that his aunt, Florence Barrett, paid, at least some of them, and probably all. She certainly took considerable interest in his progress.



Dorian: at the Gully, Concord                     . . .  at Donati, his home                                 . . . at a relative's house, St Kilda Road                 . . . a portrait, details unknown           

  After leaving school, Dorian devoted much of his time to various arts and crafts, which returned him some modest sums of money. I do not remember that his interest in music, though certainly noticeable, predominated at this stage; but Rod Barrett, much closer to him in age, and living so near to him, found it very marked. He remembers how he once asked Dorian, who was then only eight years old, to teach him how to play the piano. Dorian responded by giving a lesson, including a tune, which Rod still remembers; and information about the metronome and its use.(18) His aunt Florence, I believe, was very disappointed when he finally devoted his main attention to it; she had hoped, no doubt, that he would devote himself to some more useful, lucrative, and hence 'successful' occupation.

  Despite his position as the only male in a household of mother and aunts, young Dorian had plenty of contact with boys, some of much the same age; there were his cousins, the Barretts, six of the total of seven (the eldest having moved to Adelaide) living just opposite, in what was an open house for friends; other cousins, the Whites, not far away; and sundry friends, of whom Ian Nair, who lived for some time nearby with his family, and whose elder sister married the cousin in Adelaide. Rod Barrett and John White, only slightly older than he, were his closest friends. At some time about 1933 or 1934, while John White was away, Stella became very friendly with Mrs Downing, a widow, and Dorian also became a close friend of her son Dick, then just starting his academic career.(20) This friendship became very close, and lasted until Dorian's death.

  Dorian had a general interest in artistic activities during his school years; and music was, of course, included among them; inevitably, because of Stella's interest in it. I can recall an occasion when I was at Donati, and a gramophone record of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony was played by Dorian; and I, from the superiority of ten more years of age, and possibly with teasing intent, remarked on the lack of thematic development in it. Dorian defended it strongly from any detraction. I must say, however, that I still believe that my criticism was sound. Whether Dorian would have agreed with me in his later years, I cannot tell, for I never tested it.

  Nevertheless, despite this episode, there was no clear indication that I saw, of his intention to make music his life's work; this must have come later; and the first I heard of it, I believe, was when he began to study at the Conservatorium. Of his progress there, I have little knowledge, but it is probably well known from other sources.

Eltham and the Bush

  Dorian's first acquaintance with the countryside near Eltham began at an early age. I can still, though rather vaguely remember his visit, with his mother, to my father's property, called  'Concord' near Research, when he was about two years old. My memory is the better sustained by photographs that I took when we were having one of our frequent picnics in 'the Gully' at the bottom of the hill to the east of the house.

   My father, John Cuthbert Traill, who had relinquished active part in my grandfather's business because of increasing deafness (very willingly, I suspect, for he was much more disposed to enjoy scenery or to play or listen to music) bought the property after his marriage, and set about developing parts of it as a farm, through two men who lived who lived on the extensive acreage of hilly country at a considerable distance from each other. The family also occupied the house during school holidays. The active farming gradually faded away, and there was little enough of it during the twenties; by the thirties, it was practically at an end, though the house was still used from time to time, but only by his family, indeed later, rather little but by other relatives. While my brother, sister and I were still at school, those cousins in the Barrett's family about our own ages, were frequent visitors; but Dorian, who was so much younger then any of us, did not go to stay there then. However, when about fourteen or fifteen years old, he went several times, mostly with his cousin, John White, sometimes accompanied by their aunt Kit, the last time being in December of 1930, with either Rod Barrett, or a friend Blair Holt, though the recollection is now not certain.(18) Later, Dorian and Dick Downing stayed at Concord together. This was often repeated during vacations until the property was sold after my father's death in 1944.

                                  'Concord' at Research, from the South West

  The house, substantial, with a rough cast finish and a red tile roof, stood on a ridge running north and south, with a good view of the Dandenong mountains to the east, and a distant view of Mount Macedon on the west, surrounded, in part, by cleared land; but beyond that, most of the land was covered with virgin bush. It was, perhaps, a quarter to half a mile north west of the intersection of Reynolds Road and Gumtree Road, which was then called Three Chain Road. Normal access was from the main road from Eltham to Research, a short distance from the store of the latter, by Reynolds Road, of which a short section led to a gate into the 'Yaramie' property belonging to my father. Reynolds Road, presumably called after Mr E. R. Reynolds, who was one of my father's workers, and who lived at Yaramie, was nothing better than a bridle track for half a mile or so beyond this point. After reaching Yaramie, the track wandered through the bush, probably as shown today by Thomson Crescent, which seems to be derived from it. Soon after meeting what is now Norman Road, it turned south on to a level stretch of a hundred yards or so from the southern-most point of Thomson Crescent, and arrived at the front gate of Concord (so named by my father; though it was originally known as Ferny Hill, for reasons not clear to me). Thus it seems to be, from the map; but I have no wish to confirm this by a visit to the area, where once wild ground orchids flowered freely in the spring, but which is now probably cut up into small blocks, denuded of much of the native plants; memory is sometimes better than reality.

  I suspect that my father's 'gentleman farming' was rather a rationalisation of his liking for the place; and, when financial returns were shown to be meagre, he was content to drop the rationalisation and enjoy the country and the isolation; and to forget, too, the hay-shed without hay, the stable without horses, the workshop where the only work done was by my brother and me during school holidays. Anyway, I felt that way about it and, when it was no longer ours, I felt a deep regret that I must part from what had been a part of my life of almost forty years; and for years after that, it entered my dreams, usually as a place changed from its isolation; perhaps the road through it had become a public road; perhaps it had become a the terminal station for a railway; or the farmyard was cluttered with shops and houses; or our home was turned into a boarding-house; anything to destroy its quiet.

  It may be surmised, that Dorian and perhaps Dick as well, through their association with the house and its surroundings for a shorter time, also valued it, as John White did (20), for the same reason, which had probably caused my father to give it the name 'Concord.' Dorian felt its loss keenly, and this turned his mind to the thought of getting a place of his own in the neighbourhood of Eltham; and he found this at Yarra Brae not, indeed, on the top of a hill, nor with a distant view, but with the twin virtues of being well covered by native bush, and of being well isolated. He told us of this, and of the building of his pisť house, though I did not then, I believe, understand that Dick was also in the venture; it may be that he came in after Dorian had started things going; but I do not know. Anyway, it was not until the first part of the house had been built and was occupied, that we paid it a visit, on the twenty sixth of April, 1951.

  During our school days, motor cars were a rarity, and the only person owning one amongst our relatives and friends, that we saw often, was Arthur Barrett, our uncle. Almost all our journeys were made on public transport, cable trams in the city, railway trains elsewhere; and so, when we went to Research to stay at Concord, we went to Princes Bridge Station to catch the train for Eltham. At first, we had to change trains at Heidelberg for the much less frequent train for Eltham which, was then, the terminus; unless the train from Melbourne was one of the rare ones that went through for the full distance. The service improved later; but by that time, we had a car, and had little benefit from the new train service.

  The station at Eltham was some mile and three quarters from Concord in a direst line, and a cross-country walk to it was quite possible; and sometimes, some of us would do this. However, normally we travelled from one to the other by road, over a distance of nearly three miles; and this was in a horse-drawn vehicle with two seats and four wheels, open to the weather, which we called a buggy, though, I doubt if that is the right term*. This remained in use for those without a motor car for many years after; and Dorian and Dick would probably both have ridden in it often. I have read somewhere, though I cannot now remember the reference, that Dorian derived the musical ideas for his music to the Jinker Ride in the film 'The Prize' from his experiences in riding in such a vehicle, owned by an acquaintance; and it is quite possible that this was my father's buggy that took him between Eltham and Concord; but it might also have been the governess' cart which Miss Betty Land (later Mrs Staughton), a friend of Mrs Barrett, sometimes drove to the Grange School in the morning.(20) However, neither of these would have the same pace, or give the same exhilaration as a jinker would, and this account may be doubted.

*The Macquarie Dictionary describes a buggy as a two wheeled vehicle, but in the U.S.A., it is a four wheeled carriage with a single seat on a transverse spring.

      The 'buggy' near Concord (Photograph by John Traill)







In 1938, Dorian went to England on a scholarship, to study composition under Professor Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of music in London.(20) He arrived there about the thirtieth of June. My wife, Dorothea, and I, with our two year old son Robert, were also in England then. We met Dorian several times: the first was when we were in Cambridge, where we saw much of William S. Drew, his wife and two daughters; he was a teacher of singing, from whom I had had lessons some eight years earlier, and was then having more. I now quote from my diary :-


Dorian with John White in London 1938 (Photo, John White)


   "Sunday, August 7th: . .  Mr and Mrs Drew are going out this afternoon, but we arranged to take the children and the girl who looks after them, out then. We set off again towards the Drews', and had just crossed the weir, when we saw Dorian approaching along the path with a collection of gramophone records under his arm. We exchanged greetings and asked him to supper; and he said that he would go to tell the lady who he was staying with, that he would be out. We discovered that he had been staying at the Malting House, which is next door to Drew, and belongs to him, and his was the piano playing that I heard in the morning when going to sing at Drew's. Which is all very strange; he said that he had lost the address I had given him, and had been very busy in a part in Dryden's version of the Tempest for the music festival during the week. I introduced him to Drew, who asked him to go to his evenings in London in September. We then went punting with the girls, while Dorian went off .  . . . Dorian turned up just as I was telling Mrs Baxter of how Dorothea and I did not meet in Cambridge. We heard of all his doings, and his hero worships. He was very impressed by Professor Dent's erudition. I was interested to hear that he had not seen his father, and does not, apparently want to. The latter is (at) Gamages, he said.  I must look him up. We are to take him to London tomorrow morning."  It should be noted that Mrs Baxter was our landlady, and that Professor Dent was Professor of Music at Cambridge.


  To this may be added that Dorian said that, because his father had shown no interest in his mother or himself, he was of no consequence to him. I find it surprising to note how soon I forgot that reference to Gamages, a well known shop in London, when I made my vain visit to Hatton Garden only about a month later; with better memory, I might have tried Gamages, and been successful.


  John White also noted his lack of interest in his father, but heard no mention of Gamages, though he shared his room with him after Dorian returned in September, from a visit to Germany.(20) Rod Barrett states that Dorian was very bitter towards his father who, he felt, had deserted his mother and him.(18)


  Two further entries in my diary are :-


   'Monday August 8th: We picked up Dorian, and set off  about nine, reaching London soon after eleven, dropped Dorian and his huge suitcase at a tube station, and Dorothea at Oxford Circus, and I went to Millbank.  . . . I gave Dorian the address of Japhet and Co., to whom Keats at I.C.I. recommended him to go for Reichmarks for his German visit.'


  Our final meeting in England is recorded thus :-


   'Sunday September 18th: . . . Dorian and Dick Downing came to supper; and then we talked up in the bedroom. They arrived with much luggage, which they dumped in the hall, Dorian being on his way to his new quarters which he is sharing with John White. They took it all away in a taxi. We heard of their German tour, which they seem to have enjoyed, and much besides.'


  To this I should add, that what our very kind and obliging landlady, Miss Fanny Hardy, thought of the heaped mass of packed and unpacked luggage in the small entrance hall of her boarding house, we can only guess at, for she did not tell us; and that John White's rooms were at Scarsdale Villas, Earls Court, Kensington.(20)


  We did not see him again before we left England on the twenty fourth of September. The next year, Stella arrived in London in the company of her brother-in-law and sister, Mr and Mrs Arthur Barrett. It may be assumed that Stella, at least, saw her husband , but I know of no record of this. John White relates :-


   'When the War was imminent, I was in the Territorial Army, and away at camp . . . when Uncle Arthur sent me a telegram saying that he, Fol*, Bid and Dorian were going home, and could I go with them. I only saw them once again to say goodbye, until after the War was over.'(20)  (* = Flo, see Appendix A.)


  It was probably after the War too, that Dorian became involved in the building of his pisť house in Yarra Brae in Eltham. Soon after Dorothea, our daughter Mary and I visited it in April 1951, Dorian made another visit to England to continue studies under Professor Jacob, and Stella went with him. I went on the twenty fifth of July to see them on the P and O liner 'Strathmore,' before she sailed.

  In London, they had rooms at 2B Pembroke Road, Kensington (19a,b,c,d). At Christmas, 1951, Dick Downing, who was then working at Geneva, came to stay with them, and at once had to take to bed in the living room, which was also Dorian's bedroom, for five weeks, with an attack of pneumonia and pleurisy.(19a) Dorian himself, was in bed in February, 1952, with a gastric attack, which interrupted his studies.(19b)

  After the summer vacation, Dorian continued studies under Professor Jacob, still finding them very helpful (19d; but, as the winter approached, he and Stella left London to live in the cottage called The Bungalow, at Westwood, between a village called Normandy and a small hamlet called Christmas Pie (19e, 22), just north of the mid-point of the road between Guildford and Farnham, along the Hogs Back and close to Aldershot. There, it was cheaper and, without distractions like theatres and concerts, which Dorian could not afford; so that he was able to devote his time to 'struggling' with a symphony; and struggling too, with the 'Ideal' boiler, which should have given him hot water, but gave much trouble instead.(22) Sir Arthur Barrett wrote :-


  'Only in 1953, did Jean & I visit them in England, where little Dorian was, presumably, studying composition, having won a scholarship. They were then living in a small, thatched house, near a hamlet called Christmas Pie. This was in the vicinity of Guildford and Aldershot, & Dorian made a friend of one Russell, who took him to Woburn Abbey, where he was very impressed with the pomp and ceremony.'(9)


  At that time, he expected to return home about the middle of 1953; but he suffered further illness, from which he recovered, but was left very weak. He decided, however, to continue further study while he had the opportunity, and they returned to London, staying at a house at 106 East Sheen Avenue, belonging to a South African couple who were admirers of an American concert pianist, Maurice Euphrat, and they often accommodated him and his wife Olive.(19f, 23) Dorian became well acquainted with them both. Stella and Dorian went to Manchester to attend a rehearsal of his overture (probably that in E flat), the score of which he had submitted for consideration, by the city of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, in May 1952 (24); the performance was later broadcast, and they heard it when back in London. They also went to Geneva to meet Dick Downing; and Stella found this stay, with its rounds of parties, very enjoyable. In October, Dorian and Dick went to Greece, and Stella returned to London. Dorian found Athens hideous, but was enchanted by the Greeks.(19f) They eventually left London on the eighteenth of December, 1953, on the Orion (19f), which reached Melbourne on Wednesday the twentieth of January, 1954.


  Back in Australia, Dorian returned to Eltham, from which he drove to the University (of Melbourne), being then on the staff of the Conservatorium; and he was joined by Dick Downing, when the latter returned from Geneva. When Professor B. Heinz vacated the professorship, Dorian was among the applicants for the position, which was filled by Professor Loughlin. He sent a case of Australian wine to Professor Gordon Jacobs as a birthday gift on at least three occasions, thus testifying to the regard in which he held his former teacher.(25a,b)


  For some years, Mrs Munson, who formerly had worked for his mother and aunts at Donati, kept house for him at Eltham; but she left when once, during his absence, she took offence over the behaviour of some of his acquaintances, to whom he had lent the house.


  After Stella died in 1959, Dorian again went to Greece, working on composition whilst at a house that he rented on Khelidonous Street in New Kefissia, a northern suburb of Athens.(22)


               Dorian Le Gallienne, the musician (details unknown)


                                                 Other Recollections



  In later years, we saw Dorian rather rarely. This was not because of lack of interest, but mainly because he was very busy. When he was monitoring the orchestral concerts given at the Melbourne Town Hall by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, he would emerge from the little box at the east end of the south gallery at the interval; and later, as critic, at first for 'The Argus' and then for 'The Age,' he would also be present; and on such occasions, it would  also be possible to speak with him briefly; but only rarely was it possible to have his company for a more extended conversation, either at his home or ours. Because we, therefore, valued any occasion when we could speak with him , I seldom sought to draw him into discussion on those musical matters on which he and I had different views; an argument, or even discussion, would interfere too much with other pleasanter matters. Of his views on those and other things, therefore, I was not well informed then, and can remember little now. It is, however, worth mentioning a few matters in which memory does not fail me.





Dorian at the bank of the river Yarra, near his home in

Yarra Braes Road, Eltham, April 1951

                                                                                                                                                                               Dorian's Personal Views


  Dorian's love of his native country, and his use of native plants exclusively around his house at Eltham (which we thought to be too close to the bush, if there should be a bush fire) are well known; as was his liking for the Greeks and their way of life, which drew him to their country for a long stay.


  So far as I know, he had little, if any, religious conviction, and this may be  implied by the story he told of how he remarked to his eldest aunt, Kit (or Catherine),  after something that she had said to him, that he would become a Roman Catholic; and she, whose main interest, when away from cooking and other housekeeping duties, was in the affairs of the local Anglican Church, of which she was a staunch supporter, said that she did not care what religion he had, as long as he had one. Is is certainly not to be imagined that he was serious over this. However, his choice of the poems by Donne, for setting to music must introduce some doubt, unless, which I have not heard, he was asked to set them; however, I suspect that he chose them largely because they were serious words that would set a challenge to his ability to match them.







Dorothea and Mary Traill with Dorian at his home in

Yarra Braes Road, Eltham, April 1951

(He may have a cigarette in his left hand)

    As a Member of Staff of the Conservatorium


  Dorian told us that he disliked teaching because it led him into emotional involvement in the personal problems of students, and this worried him. Though that must have been a factor inducing him to leave, and to take up criticism for newspapers, he was also troubled by his difficulties with professor Bernard Heinz, who, having become involved in conducting orchestras, was so busy with this that it was very difficult for members of staff even to speak to him and, especially, to obtain answers and decisions to enable their work to be carried out satisfactorily.  Dorian said once to us that, if he ever should apply for a position of professor of music, he would emphasise, as a point in his favour, that he did not conduct orchestras.


  As a minor incident, I may mention that, at one time, he asked to take classes in counterpoint, about which he knew, or cared little, and asked if I had a book on it that he could borrow. I lent him a copy of E. Prout's 'Counterpoint, strict and free.' I never heard, I believe, how he got on with this teaching; and I never saw the book again; it was not found among his books after his death, and it is probably, if still existing, at the Conservatorium. I must say that I have scarcely missed it.



As a Composer


Though, for a composer in Australia, Dorian was quite successful, his success did not go far in providing him with a living. In his earlier days of recognition, as he told us, the financial return on his work was barely enough to pay for his manuscript paper; and though this improved later, he was never able to make a living without the regular work and pay from teaching, or writing critiques. The same can probably be said of all composers in Australia; and it is indeed, scarcely surprising, when even the more popular European composers, in a society more receptive than ours, and more active musically, have found living financially very precarious. I discussed once with him, the desirability of undertaking commissioned composition, not necessarily for payment; and he expressed strong support for it, and said that he always (or almost always) undertook such work; and, indeed, I believe his view on this has been recorded elsewhere.


  Dorian explained to me once that, because of the problem of copyright, he usually set old poems to music, and not modern poems. While this is understandable, it is very unfortunate that poems reflecting the past, rather than the present should dominate new song-writing; or, rather, that they should do so if, in fact, there were enough interest in new art songs, to make this more than a minor matter; for, in fact, the only songs, new or old, that make any real impression on our society, are popular ones, far removed from what Dorian wrote.


  Dorian was once very critical of a report that a well-known conductor had stated that he wished to take one of Dorian's scores for performance overseas, but that the Australian Broadcasting Commission would not let him have it. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the score belonged to him, not the Commission, and that nobody had approached him to ask for permission to play it, or for the score itself.

He was in hospital, probably during his last illness, when he received a disc of the recording of his music for 'The Prize', and he was very pleased to receive it. At that time, tape recorders were still quite uncommon, and recorded music was only on disc; and very little of his music was available in this form.

  Dorian said that the form of his larger compositions was essentially conventional; though he filled in that form with modern melody, harmony and rhythm. He was especially fond, he said, of 'false relation;' and he defended the use of ever increasing dissonance on the ground that this is a continuation (inevitable, one might suppose) of the whole history of music.


As a Critic


It seems to us, that his life as a critic, first for The Argus, and, when that newspaper ceased publication, for The Age,  must have been very wearing to him, involving, as it did, the meeting of deadlines late at night, to be followed by a rather long drive to Eltham; and I believe that it was. He, however, made light of of the distance, and compared the time needed to reach Eltham favourably with other suburban journeys. As well as attending the widely known concerts in the city, he often attended those given by small suburban groups, never, as far as I know, reported by other critics, before or since. He regarded this as a duty, to give help and encouragement to worthy efforts of perhaps inexperienced but enthusiastic musicians, often amateurs. Thus, he reported concerts given by the Kew Philharmonic Society, which I also heard. On one occasion, in 1959, works of local composers were performed, including a suite by me. I thought that his reference to it: 'Kew, to judge by the work of Ralph Traill, must be a very conservative suburb,'(26) very brief, and I mentioned it to him. He replied that it was true, as, indeed, it was; and I believe that, apart from limitations of space, he had good reasons for not going further.



As a Man



    The late Professor R. I. Downing (Dick), his close friend, has already written on Dorian's character (27), and so has John Sinclair, his colleague as a music critic (28). I add to their tributes, that of his cousin, John White, with whom he was so closely associated throughout his life, and to whom he left the management of his affairs while he was overseas :-


   'The characteristic that stands out above everything else that he had, was his absolute genuineness; a sincerity and honesty, that made him completely disregard other people's opinion of him; a horror of hypocrisy. Also, he had a very deep compassion for anyone worse off than himself, and a great cynicism of worldly success. Race, breed and colour, he completely disregarded. He also had a very well developed sense of humour. I still have some very amusing letters he wrote to me at various times. Sometimes, his humour was very subtle indeed.' (20)



  Illness and Death


  In 1931, the year in which he expected to sit for the School Leaving Examination, Dorian was on a walking tour with Rod Barrett and another friend. They had walked to Kinglake, and were proceeding towards Toolangi, when Dorian collapsed on the road, and was taken by a truck-driver to where other help was available.(18) This was the first sign of diabetes, the probable cause of the ill health that he suffered in the last few years of his life. It did not respond to dieting, but could be controlled by insulin, and he once remarked to us that, of all chronic illnesses, diabetes is the easiest to cope-with because, injections can keep it subdued, with minimal disturbance to normal living. It may well be that he changed this view as his health deteriorated in the last years; for it seems nearly certain that it was due to that illness, which caused his death in hospital, in July, 1963. (It occurred on the 27th of July.)


  After the funeral service at Christ Church, South Yarra, his body was taken to the cemetery at Eltham. Here, amid the quiet countryside that he had loved, he was buried, not far below the artists' colony at Mont Salvat, for some of whose members he had written some of his best known music for their films. His grave lies at the edge of the highest part of the cemetery as yet used, next to that of E. R. Reynolds, who must have been well known to him. It has been marked by a rough-hewn, pyramidal stone, some five feet high, set up by Matcham Skipper, a member of the colony, and maker of the silver vessel bearing scenes of the Crucifixion, for a film for which Dorian had written music. The lack of finish on the tombstone  worried Dick Downing, who wished it to bear some appropriate carving; to me it seems not unsuitable, for formal design seems somehow out of keeping; but, for many years, it has borne no name to show who lies below it, and this, I regret.




                                                                            The stone marking Dorian's grave at the Eltham Cemetery

                                                                                                         (the grave in the left foreground is of E. R. Reynolds)









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Copyright © Estate RC Traill 1982

Edited edition copyright © MA Traill 2009

Ralph Cuthbert Traill

Malcolm Adams Traill