Elfreda Marie Schwaebsch

"Miss Freda Northcote" (1904-?)

Born Elfreda Marie Schwaebsch in St Kilda in 1904, Freda was the first child of Carl August Adolph and his second wife Amy Schwaebsch (nee Walker).  Carl moved his family back to his childhood neighbourhood of Northcote before 1909 and the children were sent to the local state school.  Freda showed a young vocal and musical talent which was nurtured by her parents.  Her father’s social standing on the Northcote Council opened doors for Freda’s performance with invitations to accompany them to Mayoral Balls.

In 1924 Freda competed in the A. N. A. (Australian Natives Association) performance competition in Wonthaggi.  She received 90 points performing a contralto solo and was awarded first place in her class.  Freda’s vocal career was launched and in the following year she began performing on the musical circuit.

One of her early concerts as a contralto was singing opposite the soprano Miss Ines Hunter under the direction of Miss Amelia Banks in a vocal recital at the Queen’s Hall in 1925.  It was around this time that she took on the pseudonym "Miss Freda Northcote" in honour of the suburb where her family lived and her career began.  By the late 1920s Freda’s voice was appearing in regular evening spots on 3LO Melbourne Radio as "Mary Gumleaf" and "Little Miss Kookaburra".

During this time Freda met the young baritone Ernest Wilfred Wilson from Bendigo.  The couple were married in 1924 and thereafter performed regularly together on the Melbourne circuit and national tours.  They lived a nomadic life over the next fifty years moving from St Kilda to Northcote, Armadale, Canterbury and Balwyn but twice came back to Northcote in the mid-1930s to live in Prospect Grove and again through the war years and after in St Georges Road.  Ernest’s work too was wherever he could supplement his love of music.  In the electoral rolls he is listed as a displayman, a salesman, a vocalist and an advertising man.

In her heyday Freda often featured in the society pages of The Argus newspaper.  In 1939 she performed at the Nicholas Building for the Austral Salon’s first meeting of the year.  It was noted that she delivered “several vocal items with agreeable animation” at a charity concert in the Prahan Town Hall in 1936.  She was one of a number of leading artists J. C. Williamson Ltd., commissioned to entertain at a fundraiser in the Regent Theatre to raise money for an X-ray machine for St Vincent’s Hospital in 1937.  Sheet music printed locally often featured her photograph if the song was one she had performed.  She and Ernest performed at New Years’ Balls, charity concerts, society openings, private weddings and war relief concerts.  The couple were known as Melbourne’s most prominent vocal artists and in 1961 Freda received the honour of a life governorship to the Royal Melbourne Hospital Birthday League for her support in arranging musical programmes for fundraisers.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Thursday 26 January 1926, p. 21
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Friday 28 January 1924, p. 15
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Wednesday 15 April 1925, p. 15
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Friday 17 February 1939, p.13
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Thursday 28 may 1936, p.14
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), Friday 12 November 1937, p. 6
The Age, 21 March 1961, p. 7