Stella Bowen: Dancing at Government House

Stella’s mother was well-connected. Among her friends were the bishop’s wife, the governor’s wife, and the wives of university professors and the higher clergy. Stella wrote that at the turn of the century, in this quasi-British society, "There being no aristocracy in Australia, the professional classes led the way."

Some of her earliest memories are of playing with the children of notable Adelaideans. She and her brother played with Governor Tennyson's three sons. Hallam Tennyson, son of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, was Governor of South Australia from 1899-1902. He and his wife Audrey and sons lived at Government House on North Terrace.

Stella enjoyed playing with the boys, except for the youngest, Harold. She noted that he would have extreme temper tantrums, which she dreaded: "Lord Tennyson called these tempers ‘a rush of blood to the head’ and prescribed its immersion in a pail of cold water. But in the absence of authority, no such reprisals were possible, and when I was invited to stay to tea with Harold after the Government House dancing class, and he sloshed my new white fur-trimmed coat with green slime out of the goldfish pond, I was much too frightened to complain to his nurse, who gave me a good scolding for getting so dirty."

Despite Harold’s temper, Stella enjoyed her dance classes in the Government House ballroom: "That ballroom was my idea of true elegance. Banquettes of crimson plush, white and gold walls with panels of crimson brocade, great mirrors from floor to ceiling, and immense crystal chandeliers. I imagined Society in England to be one vast extension of this kind of glory.  

"Watching us, the mamas would sit on pale blue tufted satin chairs with Lady Tennyson in the inner drawingroom. The other reception rooms were all flowery chintz and white paint, and the house, a vaguely Georgian affair planted squarely in the centre of the town, had a portico for carriages in case people arrived in the rain."

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North Terrace, Adelaide