Florence Broadhurst was born in rural Queensland in 1899. Initially in her career, she was a singer, winning local eisteddfords – the first group she joined was known as the “Diggers” who performed in Toowoomba. In 1922 she joined a comedy sextet known as the “Globe Trotters” and later the “Broadcasters”, who toured South East Asia and China.
Charismatically fearless from the word go, she spent the roaring twenties singing across the Far East’s colonial reaches and in 1926, established the Broadhurst Academy finishing school in Shanghai, where she taught violin, pianoforte, voice production, banjolele playing, modern ballroom dancing, classical dancing, musical culture and journalism.
When she later moved to London, she married Percy Walter Gladstone Kann and became “Madame Pellier”, a French couturier proud to dress the rich and famous.
When their marriage fell apart she became involved with diesel engineer Leonard Lloyd Lewis and moved back to Australia with their son. On her return to Australia she was an aristocratic English lady; an entrepreneur, society figurehead and landscape painter. From 1949, she travelled Australia and produced 114 landscape paintings, which were first shown as “Paintings of Australia” in 1954 at the David Jones Art Gallery in Sydney. At this time she also became a founding member of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, a member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia, and also a teacher of printmaking and sculpture at the National Art School. She was also involved in a variety of charitable activities. In 1961 she separated from her husband.
With every incarnation Florence became somebody new – new hair colour, new accent, new history. Even, on occasion, a new name. At the age of 60 she did it again, launching in Sydney her defining venture – an internationally-successful, luxury, hand-print wallpaper business. She announced she would colour Australia. In so doing she re-drew the world. Everywhere she had been and everything she had seen found voice in a whirlwind of creativity. Florence’s archive grew to over 500 images ranging from tapestries to geometrics, florals, psychedelic, and delightfully eccentric chinoiserie.
Upon her death, Florence disappeared. A suspected murder that was never solved, there has been some speculation that Broadhurst was a victim of serial killer John Wayne Glover. In Gillian Armstrong’s film Unfolding Florence, friends and employees of Broadhurst stated that they believed the killer may have been known to her and that the motive may have been financial. This was due to the presence of two cups of tea near her body, suggesting a meeting or appointment, and the killer’s apparent knowledge of her factory’s layout.
Today, thanks to the passion of Sydney’s Signature Prints and Signature Design Archive, she is stepping back on to the international stage with designs that transcend fashion – work so boldly glamorous and versatile it speaks to innovators in every field.e