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Ann Blainey

People spent a lot of time looking for the pioneering aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. When he disappeared for the final time in 1935 just south of Myanmar, then known as Burma, he was just thirty-eight but felt ancient. Hopeful rescuers came from far and wide, but their efforts were not rewarded ...

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On page sixty-two of Ann Blainey’s thoroughly researched, excellently written and beguilingly human biography of Nellie Melba there occurs a transition that is simple but that defines, in an instant, the moment the singer went from learner to legend. It happens when the young singer, under the wing of Madame Marchesi (née Mathilda Graumann; nickname ‘the Prussian drill-master’), is ready to make her public European début and requires a new surname. ‘Armstrong’ had to go; in its place, there had to be something ‘distinctive and memorable’:

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