Noël Coward’s koala encounter
Unrivalled master of charm, elegance and wit, Noël Coward undertook a morale-boosting tour of Australia in the early years of World War II.
AS BRITAIN’S MOST influential entertainer of the interwar years, Noël Coward was eager to contribute when war was declared in September 1939. A man of prodigious talent, he was sent to Paris to establish an anti-German propaganda operation, but soon began to look elsewhere for ways to support the war effort. Coward headed to the USA to gauge attitudes and use his influence among the elite to gain support for an US entry into the conflict.The nature of his mission was confidential, but his extensive travels and socialising among society and Hollywood friends drew criticism back home in embattled Britain.
In late 1940, he accepted an invitation from Australia to entertain the troops, raise funds for the Red Cross and generally drum up support for the war. Coward arrived in Sydney on 15 November to huge crowds and began a relentless round of public appearances, concerts, receptions and radio broadcasts. He was mobbed wherever he went and police were often called to restrain enthusiastic crowds.
He travelled by train from Melbourne to Adelaide on 10 December and took time out to visit the Koala Farm in the city’s north parklands, fulfilling the Adelaidean custom of visiting celebrities being photographed there with the animals. In his final broadcast for the ABC on 22 December, Coward recognised Australia’s post-war potential.
“Here in the Commonwealth you have millions of miles of territory, some of it the loveliest and richest country I have ever seen, and a relatively small population,” he said. “Surely, in the years immediately following this ghastly war...there will be thousands of war-weary people at home who, could they but realise it, might find peace and work and happiness here.
“And, if they could be made to realise also, that if they came open-heartedly and without prejudice, they would find this land far less alien and strange than they imagined it to be. The same spirit is here – the essential and indomitable British point of view, with all its virtues, and all its defects.”
Noël Coward visiting the Koala Farm in Adelaide as part of his wartime tour of Australia in November–December 1940.