Gertrude Johnson OBE 1894-1973

Gertrude Johnson

Gertrude Johnson

Gertrude Johnson died on 28 March 1973.

Her legacy is her beloved National Theatre, whose schools and auditorium are now located in the former Victory Theatre in St Kilda.


Gertrude Johnson died on 28 March 1973. For almost half her 78 years she had laboured, unpaid, to provide young Australians with training in dance, opera and drama. Her legacy is her beloved National Theatre, whose schools and auditorium are now located in the former Victory Theatre in St Kilda – a living tribute to a remarkable woman who, with selflessness, determination, imagination and inexhaustible enthusiasm, provided several generations of young Australians with a unique blend of arts training, experience and support.

Here are a representative few of the hundreds who can thank Gertrude Johnson and her National Theatre for their start or for their early stage experience:

Singers Robert Allman, Valda Bagnall, Harold Blair, John Cameron, Verona Cappadonna, Marie Collier, Ian Cousins, Dorothea Deegan, Gregory Dempsey, Ormonde Douglas, Ronald Dowd, Alan Eddy, Jenifer Eddy, John Dudley, Lauris Elms, Graeme Ewer, Elizabeth Fretwell, Kathleen Goodall, Clifford Grant, Nance Grant, Stefan Haag, William Laird, John Lanigan, Raymond McDonald, Joy Mammen, Margaret Nisbett, Lorenzo Nolan, Betna Pontin, Marea Prerauer, Justine Rettick, John Shaw, Robert Simmons, Charles Skase, Anthony Strange, Joseph Talia, Halinka de Tarczynska, Neil Warren-Smith, Wilma Whitney, Barbara Wilson and Lance Ingram – later, as Albert Lance, a stalwart of the Paris Opera.

Dancers Marilyn Burr, William Carse, Maxwell Collis, Marie Cumisky, Henry Danton, Mary Duchesne, Lynne Golding, Walter Gore, Joyce Graeme, Brenda Hamlyn, Strelsa Heckelman, Geoffrey Ingram, Marita Lowden, Leon Kellaway, Jack Manuel, Edward Pask, Rex Reid, Margaret Scott, Valrene Tweedie, Ronald Reay, Aina Reega and Steven Woodgate. 

Choreographers Joyce Graeme, Marilyn Jones, Leon Kellaway, Louise Lightfoot, Laurel Martyn, and Joanne Priest

Actors Carl Bleazby, Bunney Brooke, June Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Anne Charleston, Blair Edgar, Noel Ferrier, Lewis Fiander, Mary Hardy, Joan Harris, June Jago, Douglas Kelly, Patricia Kennedy, Patsy King, Barrie Kosky, Ray Lawler, Irene Mitchell, Gerda Nicholson, Helen Noonan, John Orczik, Frank Thring and Joy Westmore.

Designers Ann Church, William Constable, Anne Fraser, Louis Kahan, Barry Kay, Robin Lovejoy, John Rowell, Kenneth Rowell, John Truscott, Harald Vike, Tim Walton and Angus Winneke.

Musicians John Antill, Eric Clapham, Douglas Gamley, Deith Harrhy, John Lanchbery, Dorian Le Gallienne, James Penberthy, John Tallis and Verdon Williams.

It’s an impressive line-up; and as long as long as the National’s schools of drama and dance continue, the list will keep on growing.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

Biographical references

Thérèse Radic: ‘Gertrude Johnson’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14, Melbourne University Press
Frank Van Straten: ‘Gertrude Johnson – Master Builder’, in Stages, July-August 1993
Frank Van Straten: National Treasure, Victoria Press, 1994
Neil Warren-Smith: 25 Years of Australian Opera, Oxford University Press, 1983