Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Rieke Parker

1893 - 1977

Pianist, music teacher

Personal Photo 1

In the late 1890s a little Tasmanian girl named Florence Carmel Parker but known as Rieke arrived to stay at The Steyne in St Heliers Street Abbotsford. She was bedridden due to a back injury and had come to be treated by Josephine McCormick, a gymnast and talented physical therapist who specialised in such cases. Eventually cured, Rieke would go on to become a noted pianist and remained living at The Steyne until the 1950s. 

Rieke was a Catholic and enjoyed writing to ‘Aunt Patsy’, (Marion Knowles) editor of the Children’s Page in The Advocate. Thanks to these letters, we know how she occupied herself whilst her back kept her prone, when she got better and was able to ‘run about and romp’ and how much she enjoyed her schooling at St Euphrasia’s. She was a very cheery little girl even during her illness, raised money for the orphans at St Joseph’s Home in Surrey Hills, and encouraged other pupils at her school to write to Aunt Patsy. In June 1901 she mentioned her improvement, explaining that she could be taken out of her support and allowed to stand two or three times a week – a treat after lying down for nearly three years. In 1902, recovered, she was studying French, German, English and music, and loved all her lessons. The question which has not been answered is why Rieke did not then return to her Tasmanian home near Cressy, where her mother was a pianist and music teacher, and her father a sheep farmer and racehorse owner. She continued to live in Abbotsford with Mrs Anna McCormick, her daughters Josephine and Ellen, and Josephine Russell, a gymnast employed at Josephine’s gymnasium.

Rieke was one of a family of seven girls and she and her sister Kitty inherited their mother’s musical ability. It was not long before we hear about Rieke in the words of others rather than her own sweet-natured letters. As early as December 1904 Rieke gave a public performance when Miss Atchison’s pupils participated in an ‘at home’ at the Austral Salon. ‘Miss Rieke Parker gave a most poetic rendering of Garlitt’s “Bruthen and Knopsen”; she is a mere child yet, but brimming with talent.’ Both sisters played piano solos at the Women’s Work Exhibition in 1907, Kitty winning first prize in the Over 18 category, Rieke coming second in the Under 15. Kitty studied at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium from 1904 to 1906. Perhaps she also lived at The Steyne? In early 1909 she went to London to study with Percy Grainger who described her as the most gifted piano pupil he ever had.

Rieke began tuition with Mrs W E (Jessie) Nott at the Albert Street Conservatorium. In 1909 Mrs Nott’s pupils gave an ‘at home’ at the Paris Café with about 180 guests, ‘Miss Rieke Parker’s performances were much admired, her touch being most artistic, and showing much talent.’

In October 1910 a report in Table Talk gives a charming description of The Steyne’s garden when:

Rieke Parker entertained between 50 and 60 of her friends in a novel and picturesque manner at a Japanese dance. The garden, which abounds with roses and bowers of wistaria and is prettily situated on the Yarra, was illuminated with innumerable lanterns, and the whole scene was fairylike.

Among the guests were Mrs Rennick who lived with her father Sir Arthur Snowden in St Heliers Street, and Dr Constance Ellis. Rieke was still in her teens: it seems more probable that the McCormicks organised the party. Constance Ellis could have been known to Josephine through her paediatric work at the (Royal) Children’s Hospital.

Shortly after this event Rieke performed at a concert in aid of a new surgical ward at the Children’s Hospital. The Australasian critic commented that she ‘made quite a sensation by her brilliant and tasteful rendering’. The Advocate went even further:

 …it was to Miss Rieke Parker … that the chief honours to the soloists were paid. Miss Parker – a child still, but with the soul of a woman in her sensitive fingers – played Godard’s “Etude de Concert” with such wonderful technique and refined feeling and sympathy of expression that a storm of applause insisted on her return to the piano, where she gave a clever rendering of MacDowell’s “Hexen Tauz” in her usual earnest manner. A great career should await this child-genius, as it awaits her friend, Miss Leila Doubleday, now studying in Europe.

The critic being none other than Marion Miller Knowles who as Aunt Patsy had been Rieke’s confidante, this high praise is perhaps unsurprising.

Numerous performances ensued until, following recommendations that her talent should be furthered by studying in Europe, an energetic committee organised a complimentary concert in the Melbourne Town Hall in July 1913. The Bulletin in its Melbourne Chatter section wrote a typical tongue-in-cheek review:

The clever young Tasmanian pianist scored a success with her Town Hall concert … the balconies were inhabited by the Best People, and even the south Gallery was ennobled with bare shoulders and powdered noses … a very dainty little figure in soft blue crepe rose splendidly to the occasion in the big Greig concerto.

This event raised a substantial sum of money, and Rieke set sail to study in Berlin under Artur Schnabel. Her timing could hardly have been worse, arriving in Germany in 1914 not long before war broke out. In October 1914 she managed to get back to England safely but her health, never robust, broke down and she was advised to return to Australia. She left London in April 1915 to return to Melbourne.

A series of concerts and social events ensued. Rieke became a member of the Lyceum Club, joining the McCormick sisters. A notable event in 1920 was a large At Home which Rieke organised to welcome her sister Kitty, now married to Hubert Eisdell. The two had arrived in Australia for a concert tour, and Kitty took this opportunity to introduce them to influential people in the music world.

In 1924 Josephine McCormick died. In 1927 Rieke was able to return to Germany to resume her studies, returning to Melbourne in late 1930. Mrs Anna McCormick died during her absence. Rieke continued to feature in newspaper articles describing her performances, including live radio performances. She formed the ‘Rieke Parker Trio’ which added a violin and a cello to her piano.  She was also regularly mentioned as the valued teacher of other impressive young pupils who would travel to Europe to further their studies. She offered lessons at Sonora House in the city and at home in St Heliers Street in addition to her teaching at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium.

After decades of frequent and laudatory mentions in Australian press, we stop hearing of Rieke. Like many talented musicians she faded into the background from early in the 1940s.

In 1943 a sad death notice appeared in The Argus: ‘on October 6, Ellen Maria McCormick, of The Steyne, the dearly beloved of Rieke Parker.’ Ellen was the last surviving McCormick sister and her will left the house jointly to Josephine Russell and Rieke, but specifying that if they chose to sell, the Convent of the Good Shepherd should be given first preference. Josephine Russell moved out some time in the 1940s, so Rieke was left alone in the riverside house that had been her home since early childhood. But not for long! It comes as somewhat of a surprise that Rieke, now in her fifties and after many years of living in an all-female household and devoting herself to her music, should not only marry, but wed a man so many years her junior and from a different social milieu. Bertram Dunham (usually referred to as Clive) was a factory hand in his teens when he joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1938. On entry he was described as 5 feet 4 and a half inches tall with fair hair, blue eyes, and a fresh complexion. He was about 27 at the time of the marriage in 1947, when he moved into The Steyne. Rieke downplayed her age by five or six years, stating that she was 47.

Another surprise ensued. Though no contemporary evidence of a birth is accessible, later records indicate that Clive and Rieke had a son, Clive, whose birth has been recorded as 1 March 1948.

Ownership of the house was transferred to Rieke in 1950, after Josephine Russell’s death in 1949. Josephine had also left Rieke some money, a brooch, and her silver bedside clock. By 1954 Rieke had sold the house to the Convent of the Good Shepherd and re-located to Kew with Clive, who after progressing to Able Seaman had left the RAN and took up work as a carpenter.  He then enrolled at teachers college, and taught in Victorian schools as a temporary assistant. His reports rated him highly, stressing his firm, friendly and vigorous teaching style. He was granted leave of absence from early 1959 and the couple moved to Queensland. While the electoral roll continues to describe her as a musician in that state, no evidence has been found of any musical activities. Clive Dunham junior was also described as a musician in the 1970s.

In her eighties by the time she died of a stroke in 1977, Rieke was residing in Toorak separately from Bertram, who was living in NSW. Rieke had been suffering from arteriosclerosis and hypertension. Son Clive filled in a confusing death certificate giving her age as 68, her age at marriage as 35, and her father’s name as Francis Parker rather than Erskine Parker, and had her gravestone engraved with her year of birth as 1909.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1893 Cressy, Tasmania
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Bertram Clive Dunham, 13 May 1920 - 19?? 25 June 1947 Clive Dunham, 1 March 1948 - 25 April 2002
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
18 St Heliers Street Abbotsford Extant
Church Lodge
Immaculate Conception at the Convent of the Good Shepherd, Abbotsford
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
23 May 1977 Toorak Springvale Botanical Cemetery

AdvocatePunch (Melbourne), Table TalkThe AustralasianThe ArgusThe AgeThe HeraldWeekly TimesDaily Telegraph (Launceston), The Australian Women’s WeeklyThe West Australian.

Trove list:

Gillison, Joan, A history of the Lyceum Club Melbourne, 1975, Melbourne, Lyceum Club.

Ellen death notice 1943

VPRS 13579, Teacher Record Books, TR 48481



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