The curved driveway leading to the front door is aesthetic and artistic, it takes me a while to accommodate the visual density and identify the house that Betty and David live in. It’s one of the leafiest front yards in the suburb. I walk from the densely populated high-rise hill, intense heat blows off the road, cars speed by.  I descend into a garden of magnificent trees and creepers, cooling the driveway.

This house is an inner-city Brisbane architecturally designed property (circa 1955)

Walking up their curved driveway, the chimes give out classical Balinese sounds. From a distance I can see two Indonesian carvings that surround the door.

After a series of rings, the door opens, Betty and David stand motionless and we all smile.

Betty and David have that quizzical COVID-19 look and are concerned, so I stay well away from them. Hugs are out and so we have a fist greeting which almost turns into a knuckle punch. We used to hug once, it used to be a common human greeting among friends, not anymore.

Here they are, looking like my parents at 80. There is a moment of recognition, fear and care. While the door stays ajar there is so much to see, objects of culture, a collection of wall hangings and art, items from their journeys abroad.

COVID-19 is a curse and is driving everyone crazy. It has played with the minds of older people more than the young. No one is able to accurately predict when and where it will appear next.

The last time I visited David and Betty they occupied the same space minus the two concrete apartment monstrosities that have since been built tight against their boundary on either side of this remarkable garden. I wonder when the truckloads of concrete had been delivered, breaking many green hearts. Stories abound about the process and the financial issues that plagued this construction. To the neighbours it seemed endless, the once beautiful treed corner, turned treeless, damaged and unfinished for an eternal period of time.

Once inside their house I walk towards the stairs that lead to the upper levels, I seem to run up forgetting that they will be slower.

We move towards the dining table, passing a grand piano on my left. It smells of mature wood, it’s well-used, and looks like it lived here.

I find it incredibly welcoming: soft background music played in this charming space. We move swiftly to the dining table and sit around, tea is served. Soon we are in recollection mode, about how our families are faring. Their families, daughters, and grandchildren, three generations in all. In fact, I remember getting a card from David the artistic one, it was a drawing of a partially undressed family sitting at a table having lunch, eight people sitting around the table with tiny pin pricks all over them and water draining out like a shower. This is David’s take on the funny side of my profession of Acupuncture. He’s always had a great sense of humour.

We quickly cover the history of the suburb before we moved to the purpose of my visit.

It’s about the suburb’s local heroes, people who have made contributions to the community at large. The idea is to consult with them and capture and preserve their local and historical knowledge, prior to these people being forced out of this area by age, isolation or cost. The local history group of which I am a founding member, has recently completed a project writing up the cultural history of the suburb. Plaques have been placed in Boundary Street West End.

Betty and David have been together for 47 years and have been extremely lucky to live next to family in the same street: in fact, the whole family lived around the corner block and would visit frequently and move freely between the two houses. Their grandchildren shared this remarkable arrangement with their grandparents and their uncle.

Betty and David clearly are local icons whose memory and talent we need to plumb, catalogue, and preserve.

They have had a tremendous impact on West End and Brisbane artistically, musically, and culturally, each having worked in their respective industries for over 60 years, in the heart of the suburb.

They are not keen on public display, not interested in being too exposed to the public even though they are revered.

The biscuits and tea disappear in the conversation, we are surrounded by beautiful wall-hangings and paintings which have a red, orange, black and brown hue which keeps the ambience charming in a Balinese way, “Om Swastiastu”.

Betty Beath recalls

 I have always felt that music was a special and important gift, something I treasured and do treasure, in my life.  I recall hearing, for the first time, a particular note played on the piano:   I was three years old and visiting my beloved grandmother and I was excited to see a newly acquired piece of furniture; In fact, it was an aged upright piano.  I remember standing at the side of this piano when my uncle came into the room and pressed one of the keys.  I was absolutely thrilled to hear such a beautiful sound (the note “D”), it was a lovely gift and, significant in the family decision to have me taught the piano. 

 I was fortunate that my first teacher, Lorna Pollard, was also a cousin.  Lorna had returned to her home in Howard, Queensland where my grandmother lived. After some years as a boarding student at Somerville House, Brisbane where she had received excellent tuition in music.  So, at age three, I began my first piano lessons.  Lorna was an imaginative teacher and I was fascinated to learn all she had to tell me.  For example, to assist in my recognition of notes, as they are presented in a preliminary music score, she drew little illustrations above each note.   She also told me that my right hand expressed ‘girl notes’ and the left hand ‘boy notes’…and so, right from the beginning I was introduced to quality of tone and to the expressive shaping of musical phrases.  I understood the importance of making the music ‘sing’.   I loved my lessons, and because my family lived in Bundaberg, I often stayed with Lorna and her family in Howard.  My musical career had begun. 

 Betty Beath the composer

 Betty was born in central Queensland and took up music lessons at the age of three. In fact, she was able to read music before she could read word. In 1950 she was awarded a University of Queensland music scholarship she graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, bringing her under the wing of composer and pianist Frank Hutchins at the Sydney Conservatorium.

After completing her post-graduate education, Betty travelled extensively abroad before she settled in Brisbane and took positions at the Queensland Conservatorium and was eventually appointed Head of Music at St Margaret’s Girls’ School where she had been a student.

Her early research into Balinese and Javanese music began in 1974 and had a significant impact on her future compositions.

She has also represented Australia on a number of occasions at the International Congress for Women in Music.

Betty Beath is now an internationally renowned, composer, teacher and pianist. She has produced a large body of work in orchestra, chamber and instrumental music including art song and music drama. Her work has been broadcast in Australia, the USA, the United Kingdom, Europe, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia.

Her compositions are remarkable and amount to over 100. She has been hailed as one of the first and most successful women composers in the country, braving the way for other women composers.

She is prolific and keeps developing her compositions with some of the most praised performers in the country, at times bringing in her grandchildren to accompany her. All her grandchildren play musical instruments. Betty taught them music daily before school.

David Cox book writer and illustrator

David Cox is a prolific writer and illustrator of children’s books and stories. David was brought up in inland Australia on sheep and cattle stations in the far west of Queensland.

At the age of 21 he gave up working as a jackaroo and went to London to study art. At the age of 25 he received his first commission for book illustration from Puffin books.

 David Cox recalls.

 ‘’I remember it well. In 1954, I was twenty-one and I had worked on sheep and cattle stations for a few years and had put away a tidy bit of money. I left station life in that year, left western Queensland forever.

 I had been drawing sort of seriously since I was a child, and I thought I might become an artist of some kind. So, I boarded a ship for London. There I enrolled in Beginners’ Class at St Martins School of Art. It was just three months later when someone recommended me to Puffin Books to carry out an illustration commission.  I showed up at the Puffin offices with a folio of sample drawings (I’d stayed up half the night to do them) and was interviewed by Eleanor Graham, the founding editor of Puffin Books and a famous name in the book publishing world.

 ‘You must realise, Mister Cox,’ she said across her desk, ‘you are in very good company when you illustrate for Puffin Books.’   She reeled off names of famous English illustrators: Paul Hogarth, Francis Marshall, Ronald Searle. I remember being just a bit intimidated. I think I still had a bit of the red dust of the mulga country under my fingernails.  I felt more the jackaroo than the book illustrator. She took agonising minutes to look over my drawings, then said words that would buoy me for the rest of my life, when I thought of them: ‘The work you do, Mister Cox, you do as well as anyone in London.’

 The book to be illustrated was Man-shy by Frank Dalby-Davidson, a story of horsemen and wild cattle, set in outback Queensland: of course, that was why I was considered for the commission. An Australian artist, Sheila Hawkins, was assigned to guide me through the work. I was lucky in that; she was a very good illustrator herself and very encouraging to me. We became friends. I worked on the book’s cover in Sheila’s studio in Dolphin Square. It was late at night; She fed me encouragement and cups of tea and just shy of midnight, told me: ‘Stop! Don’t do anything thing more to it.’ And that sure was good advice.

 So that is how my first ever paid commission was finished and a day or so later, Miss Graham would give it her approval. I left Dolphin Square just after midnight and walked through streets full of people to my bed-sit in Fulham. I was high of heart and light of step, maybe the happiest jackaroo in London.

I thought I might well become a book illustrator someday.  It was the first of January 1955.”

David’s first story was published by Elizabeth Magazine in London, then by Lighthouse magazine in New York.

He came back to Australia and worked for many years in the newspaper industry as an illustrator.

He has written and illustrated 12 children’s books, He made a living at it for twenty-five years, so says he would have illustrated some hundreds of books.

He and Betty have collaborated on compositions, music dramas, song circles and in the production of CDs and sheet music.

David and Betty have produced a number of songs, song articles and music theatre pieces. David has also designed sets and costumes for Opera, theatre and ballet company’s.

Betty and David’s most recent collaboration was the music theatre piece IL Poverello, commissioned by the Mandolins in Brisbane and performed at St John’s Cathedral Brisbane.

The development of the corner apartment block is complete, densely packed with accommodation, white- walled semi- high rise. Betty’s serenades now bounce off the concrete walls. Creating a different ambiance. Music, landscape and family. What more could one want?

Samples of David and Betty’s vast body of work can be found on their website and on you tube


All images by Phil Vanderzeil