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OBITUARY Lady Kathleen Callaway






Lady Kathleen Callaway

Born: Dunedin, New Zealand November 1921

Died: Perth 12 July 2007





When Kathleen Callaway with husband Frank and their four young children arrived in Perth from New Zealand in 1953, it was the longest journey she had ever undertaken from her native New Zealand. It is most unlikely that she would at that time have anticipated the countless travel miles she would clock up at the side of her husband in the cause of music education.


A happy childhood was interrupted in 1929 when her stationmaster father Alexander Allan died, aged only 37 years, and the family returned to Dunedin to live with Kathleen’s maternal grandmother Jessie Shore which allowed Kathleen’s mother to enter the workforce, a crucial need during the Great Depression.


Despite difficult times, music was often heard in the Allan household. Little Kathleen  began lessons when she was about 10 years old.  Even in those early days, little Kathleen punched above her weight in competitions and established an enviable reputation as soloist and accompanist.


At Otago Girls’ High, Kathleen was accompanist for the school choir and this was a skill which would be honed to an extraordinary level as the years passed. After completing a clerical course at Rossbotham’s Commercial College, she obtained a post at Dunedin’s leading music store – Beggs – later working at Stanton Brothers, stationers.


At a musical evening in 1940, Kathleen met her sister Pat’s violin teacher. His name was Frank Callaway. It was the genesis of a 63-year-long partnership.


Kathleen and Frank were engaged on 17 November 1940, Kathleen’s 19th birthday. They married in December 1942.


June, the Callaways’ first child, was born in April, 1944, Barbara in September 1947, just a fortnight after Frank went abroad for two years’ study. These would have been trying, tiring days for Kathleen who, with her two infants, spent some of the time with her mother. Frank  returned to Dunedin in August, 1949. Allan was born in 1950 and Ross the following year.


During this time, Kathleen’s superb mothering instincts came to the fore as a profound and deeply held belief in the importance of family unity. Again and again, friends recall the care and love lavished on family and home. And for all who visited the Callaway home, there was a warm welcome. Emeritus Professor David Tunley recalls that when he came from Sydney to Perth to join UWA’s Department of Music in 1958, he was invited to lunch with the Callaways every day for an entire year. 


Physically,  Kathleen was a tiny person.  Professor John Ritchie recalls her “as dainty and delicate” and  “having difficulty reaching the piano pedals. And stretching an octave would have been effortful……..but the artistic and musical results gave no inkling of these purely physiological limitations. Hers was a sensitive response to the demands of the music she played”.  A “treasured memory” of Ritchie is a performance in 1950 of his own Passacaglia (OK)and Fugue (OK)for piano and strings with Kathleen at the keyboard and Frank conducting.


While the domestic environment she provided for her family was all-important, Kathleen would dutifully accompany her husband on innumerable journeys around the world necessitated by the demands of high office. Here, she was, in the words of long time family friend Wallace Tate, the ‘perfect consort’, her calm, moderating influence often dissolving tensions that might arise.


And of those many journeys shared with Ritchie and his wife Anita, Ritchie recalls with pleasure and admiration innumerable Scrabble games played on long train treks across the world and generously acknowledges the Callaways’  superiority in these word contests. There were frequent meetings of the four in London, too, where the Callaways had the use of Australian pianist Eileen Joyce’s flat.


Kathleen’s skill in completing cryptic crossword puzzle was legendary.  As well, she was an outstanding canasta player and a formidable opponent, encouraging less successful players with her usual comment: “It’s only a game”. In rare defeat, she was gracious and accepting.


Although family was Kathleen’s highest priority, her contribution in other fields was significant. For ten years, she was organist at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Nedlands. A profoundly compassionate person, Kathleen found time to work as an off-air counsellor for Nightline, and, as a member of the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Auxiliary, worked in one of the hospital shops.


For over 25 years, Kathleen was accompanist for the UWA Choral Society which was trained and directed by an indefatigable Sir Frank Callaway. Many former choristers  such as Helen Edmonds recall with pleasure Kathleen’s artistry at the keyboard, not least for her extraordinary sightreading skill and an ability to adapt instantly to whatever style of music was being essayed. Beryl Hendry speaks of Kathleen’s warm and giving nature. “She played the organ at our wedding and still remembered the date after 49 years!”  Kathleen was heard, too, as piano soloist in recitals for what was then the Australian Broadcasting Commission.


Kathleen was a lifelong cricket enthusiast. Ritchie recalls that “although a fully committed Australian supporter, she was torn over New Zealand cricket, I suspect, out of sympathy because the Black Caps usually got beaten by Australia when it mattered……”


Let Ritchie have the last, graceful word: “We know the late Lady Callaway as a mother and musician, as a wife and organizer – a pianist, harpsichordist and organist, a charitable, friendly and loving colleague; a miniature giant”.


Lady Callaway is survived by children June, Barbara, Allan and Ross, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.


Neville Cohn